Eleven Days in Brazil This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

   Thatfourteenth day of June marked the beginning of a life-changing eleven days.

We had left for Brazil the night before, and tension hung like fog inthe airplane. It was going to be a long flight. After three days of gettingacquainted in Miami and learning about Brazil, we were used to being away fromhome, and now we were ready to be on our way. Most of us thought we knew what waswaiting in Brazil, and you've never seen so many girls so willing to step out oftheir comfort zones to try and make a difference.

Entering the airport inRio De Janeiro, it seemed we had not left the United States; the terminalfelt familiar and comfortable. But things were different when we stepped outsideto board the bus to the military base. For a girl who has grown up in theMidwest, the city was a culture shock. I was in awe as I stared out the window atthe buildings and houses that went on for as far as I could see.

Ourlodgings were quite unique: we stayed on the military base at one edge of thecity. It was the safest place to stay. Americans think Los Angeles andWashington, D.C. have high crime rates, but crime is actually a career choice inRio De Janeiro. There are prostitutes on every corner in the business district,and drug dealers. It is very dangerous to walk alone, even in broaddaylight.

The worst part was seeing the children. There are so many whodon't have families. The orphanages seem almost as numerous as cars back home.Though they have no families, children in the orphanages we saw did not seem tobe wanting for much. These were the places we visited with our play. The childrenloved it, especially our make-up and costumes. They would come to us asking forhugs, then rub their cheeks against ours to get some of our make up on theirfaces. Then with eyes shining, they would run to their group of friends and talkexcitedly (in Portuguese, of course).

We picked very public places toperform when we weren't scheduled in schools or orphanages; one time we picked apark. We set up in the middle only a short distance from a church and beganperforming. Midway through our drama, a man in a business suit fell to his knees,weeping openly. Only a few people stared.

I would rather forget thememory of a little girl who was so afraid we would take her away that she criedas she ran away from "the Americans," but there is one scene I willalways remember.

One rainy afternoon our team made the long bus trip to abridge that crossed the bay. As we traveled, the high-rises gave way to slums.Trash was everywhere, the small streams that ran under the bridges were filthy,brown and polluted with who-knows-what. Children ran after each other, playinggames, but they had bare feet and thread-bare clothes. We gaped as we watchedthem run in and out of the tin shacks that were squished together andlooked like a pile of discarded automobiles.

To keep the busventilated we'd left a few windows open, but as we neared our destination weregretted this. The stench was horrendous even though we were still two milesaway. As we rounded the last rocky peak, it came into view. In Rio they call itthe dump. It was a mountain of garbage. We came within a half mile and the busstopped. We all looked at each other. A discussion was taking place between ourtranslator and the bus driver. Finally he turned and said, "He will go nofarther, for fear they will steal the bus." What he meant was that thepeople working the dump would strip the bus for parts.

We got out andhiked through the village that was built of objects from the dump. The stench gotworse. When we stopped and looked up, the mountain that greeted us was unlike anyother. Paper, plastic, aluminum and clothing were jammed together so tight noteven air could pass through. It went almost straight up. So we began to climb,and nothing could have prepared us for what we saw.

It was tucked into themountains to the west of the city across the bay so it wouldn't ruin the view ofthe city, but this was a view no one should have to see. We got to the top andwere greeted by a sow and her piglets wallowing in a pool in the garbage. Welooked past the sow to the never-ending landscape of trash and the people whosurvived by gathering scraps.

Each person worked from sun-up to sundowngathering what they could from the heap. There were children who looked likethey'd just started walking, and, of course, they had no shoes. Sad doesn't evenbegin to describe this sight. Our translator told us that a pile as high as westood on would only gain each person the equivalent of four Americandollars.

The next day the silence on our flight back home was a perfectreaction to the seriousness of what we had seen.

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This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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