Who are these men on the sidewalks? I ask this question often. Sometimes out loud. Who are the men on the sidewalk, selling so many things? Where are they coming from? What they do? What do they think? Some smile. Others barely blink. The eyelids that harbor that distant gaze seem immobile. So many of them embracing the solitude. It is as if they were alone in the heart of the restless Porto Alegre. Who are these men on the sidewalks?
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He was wearing white T-shirts and shorts, two simple pieces that grew in contrast to the dark black skin and the light of the late afternoon. Actually, I do not know if I could call it shorts, maybe it was what I used to call a capri in my teenage years, a type of short pants, right below the knee. He was wearing slippers, he was comfortable with the sand touching his feet. He was stylish. The whole outfit was part of an ensemble that he finished with a thin jacket from a well-known sports brand. It had a hood. Adidas, maybe? I think I remember the stripes being mixed up with the perfect teeth that appeared with the easy and authentic smile, typical of someone who does not know shyness. He gave every indication that he wanted to talk. That he needed to talk.
I met him on the beach. While my mother was negotiating a hammock with Mr. Messias, I distracted myself with the dozens of glasses that this immigrant was selling on the sidewalk, right in the corner of the pharmacy, near the supermarket. He had an incredible collection. He smiled. That same easy, authentic smile remained, unwavering. While I was trying some of the glasses on and showing an extreme inability to put it back in the proper place, Mrs. Gertrudes appeared with the new hammock in hand, reprimanded my impulses.
“More glasses, Georgia? This is almost an obsession. “
“Mom, it’s not that bad.”
It was that bad. I laughed and tried to convince her – and myself – that I needed to make that purchase. After all, the price was so good and the frames were so beautiful and I was so into it. He also laughed as she rolled her eyes and I pretended it was not about me. I said goodbye without asking his name. I was in a hurry, the wind was intense and I swayed between almost breaking my teeth while chewing grains of sand, trying to keep my eyes open and taming my hair, which seemed stuck in a whirlpool vortex. I left, but determined to go back.
I came back. The next day, I stopped at the same busy corner and he smiled again, again easy, again authentic. He remembered me. Not just me.
“Where is your mother?”, he asked, laughing, probably reliving in his memory the ridiculous scene we played the day before.
“Not today. I ran away!”, I joked.
Well, not exactly a joke. I took advantage of the company of my husband, who was not very concerned about what I do with my money, and bought the glasses without the maternal instinct of disapproval. With more calm and less wind, I asked his name.
Mamadou is this 27 year old man who has been in Brazil for two years now. He came here looking for a job, just like most of the 1.06 million foreigners living in the country, according to data from the Ministry of Justice. More than 50,000 are in Rio Grande do Sul. Sociologist Aline Passuelo works with the Immigrant and Refugee Advisory Group (GAIRE) at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul’s (UFRGS), which provides legal, psychological and social counseling for free. She explains that foreigners arriving in Rio Grande do Sul come mainly from Haiti, Senegal, Colombia and Syria.
“I´m from Senegal. Have you ever heard about Senegal?”
“Of course, Mamadou.”
“Really? A lot of people don’t know where Senegal is.”
Senegal is one of those places where nature mesmerizes. The colors are warm, the clothes make up a mosaic backlit while the earth and the green lie near the salt water. It has long been considered a successful West African democracy. Since the independence of France on April 4, 1960, there are already decades of tradition of stable governments and civilian command. It is also an extremely safe country. The capital Dakar is home to arts with its Village des Arts, home and gallery of about 50 artists. Also comes from there the first film of the continent. Borom Sarret (1963), by Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène, was the first one filmed in Africa by an African and black director. It is breathtaking.
But it’s one of those places that takes your breath away and does not give back. The country is one of the poorest in the world. In comparison with the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of other nations, World Bank data show Senegal in 154th place in a list of 185. The result is a also low Human Development Index (HDI), a comparative measure of factors such as wealth, literacy, education, life expectancy and birth rates. In the United Nations (UN) classification, Senegal ranks 162 in a role with 168 countries.
With 15 million inhabitants, the majority of the population is made up of young people who do not have jobs or opportunities in a land that survives from agriculture and has to face ever-worsening droughts. The dust cloud can be beautiful to the spectator of the celebrated Dakar Rally, but in reality it is the representation of the thirst, the lack of air, of an arid destination. The solution is to find the future somewhere else.
Professor Juliana Rossa helps Senegalese immigrants in Caxias do Sul in various ways and, after a few years of socializing and a long visit to the country, she realizes that there is a pattern in the profile of the immigrant.
“The family usually choose a representative to migrate, he will have a responsibility with the family that stayed. This representative is young, healthy, eager to work and generally educated. ” The men on the sidewalks come from Senegal. They come to work. As Professor Juliana says, “if it were not for the job, it would be tourism.” And it certainly is not tourism.
Senegal’s immigration is not a recent movement. After the independence of France in 1960, Senegalese men migrated to the United States and Europe in search of something to believe in. Mor Ndiaye’s father went to Spain in the 1980s, but he decided to come to Brazil instead, looking for the place that appeared in stories told by a friend when they were children. “I had a childhood friend who was vacationing here, his father was working at the consulate in São Paulo. When he came back, he would talk about it all the time. So I grew up and I chose Brazil to live.
Mor arrived in 2008, when there were only a few compatriots in Porto Alegre. But in 2014 the migratory movement increased when a terrible drought hit Senegal at the same time that the Brazilian market needed labor because of the World Cup. Thousands of Senegalese have decided to look for the future in Brazil.
“We knew that Brazil was very violent and difficult, but also a country of high growth. When I arrived, I arrived at the time when opportunity was abundant. ” Mor works as Public Relations in a large company, he found the opportunity he was looking for. Even though he is privileged, he knows how difficult it is to plunge into a state like Rio Grande do Sul. He has therefore created the Senegalese Immigrants Association to help more than 4,2 thousand patricians living in the state – 1200 in the capital and around 800 in Caxias do Sul.
“Do you like to live here, Mamadou?
“It’s good here, we can earn some money to live with dignity and help the family. But you have to work hard. Anywhere in the world we have to work hard, right? “
“Right. But is it still good? “
“When I arrived, it was not long before I got a job. I worked on many things, had a permanent job. But now things are different. So I had to figure out what to do. “
Mamadou is not laconic despite the tone. He said that with that smile. The easy and unshakable one.
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THE UNEMPLOYED AND THE EXPLOITED IN BRASIL
Optimism does not alter the fact that the situation has changed much in less than four years. Data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) show that last year, from November to January , 12.7 million people were unemployed in Brazil. It is practically the entire population of Senegal. And this, of course, affects foreigners. Lawyer Márcia Abreu, from the University Legal Advisory Service of UFRGS (Saju), explains that in 2014, the main difficulties faced by immigrants were the language (the Senegalese speak French) and homelessness, besides the issue of regularization of documentation . Today, it is the lack of employment. “It was already a problem before. At any job interview, even at Sine, when they saw that he was an immigrant, they didn’t even look at the curriculum, they offered what we call underemployment. And now it is even worse, we are living a very different moment, it has no comparison with years ago. “
Mamadou did not tell me his last name, but said he is happy to be able to work quietly, feed himself, sleep well. He knows that he is, in a way, privileged. Most of them take a long time to achieve a stable life and this makes it endure a condition of extreme vulnerability. And the problems that accrue to the lack of jobs are innumerable and immense and inhuman. “The immigrant’s greatest concern is to work, to start and get regularized. He will not worry so much about the type of service he has to choose, what salary he will receive, and where to work. Often, immigrants work in services that Brazilians do not work, but this is still a decent service. “
Mor was talking to me in a room on the fourth floor of a building in downtown Porto Alegre. At Rua dos Andradas, before and always Rua da Praia. While he talks about the demand for service, from the window I see the men on the sidewalks. I do not see Mamadou. But I see Mohammed, whose name I still do not know but to whom I promise to talk to. I can not stop thinking about how vulnerable they are. And they are. Our conversation is interrupted by a young man who chose not to divulge the name.
“This guy here is an example of what I was telling you.”
“Has he suffered any kind of exploitation?”
“Yes. He was working and was dismissed months later without just cause. He has not received any rights, he has not received any salary, he does not know who to turn to, and he will end up in a vulnerable life. But it’s not just him. This shows that a lot of immigrants live in this situation. “
And it was enough to speak of the first story so that the reports of oppression spring in the painful memory of those who see the consequences of slavery entrenched in Brazil’s structural racism.
“There is another case of three immigrants who were working and were dismissed. Three months without receiving salary, more than three years without vacations. “
“A girl worked as a maid in a house and she got hurt inside the house because she worked more than she should. She worked almost 24 hours a day. She lived in the work place. She did not have a specific time of day to start and finish. She used to wake up before everyone else and go to bed after everyone. So she fell and broke her arm while working, but her employer told her not to mention that she was working. In the end, she was sent away, paid no salary, had no place to live and still could not work. “
The prosecutor Luiz Alessandro Machado, from the Rio Grande do Sul Public Labor Ministry (MPT-RS), says that two years ago a promotional procedure was instituted (3124/2016) to deal with immigrants living in the state. Especially in relation to slave labor, human trafficking, and discrimination. “Immigrants often do not know where to report, have no one to trust, have difficulty communicating, that makes them much more vulnerable to exploitation.”
There are numerous records of cases of exploitation and / or racism involving Senegalese and Haitians. And there are cases involving people of other nationalities. In the region of Passo Fundo, in the cities of Arvorezinha and Doctor Ricardo, the MPT unveiled a scheme of enticement of Uruguayan, Paraguayan and Argentine workers for the production of yerba mate. Even with the intervention of so-called middlemen – or coyotes. They were kept in degrading conditions and analogous to slave labor.
The MPT collides with the immigrants’ resistance to carry out the abuse allegations. “Most people who come, do so only in an extreme situation when they do not receive the money and want to leave.” He points out, however, that immigrants can feel safe in conducting any denunciation to the MPT, which can also help in the production of new documents. The approval of normative resolution 122 gives prosecutors the attribution to give a provisional visa to those who were victims of exploitation or human trafficking. With this, they can stay in Brazil for up to five years.
But the prosecutor admits there are flaws in verifying the problems. “We are mapping the situation and opened an investigative procedure for each of the companies that employ immigrant workers and ask for inspections of the Ministry of Labor.” So far, the biggest problems are linked to bullying and racial discrimination.
The greatest limitation is in the verification of informal work, in which Attorney Luiz Alessandro Machado acknowledges that there is room for action. The RS is the third state that most employs immigrants in the country (10%), even though, fewer and fewer Senegalese workers are able to get a job with a formal contract. By 2014, the formal market absorbed newcomers in construction, large factories, cleaning and general services companies, and especially in slaughterhouses. As the export of meat to Arab countries has grown, the demand for Muslim labor has increased to implement halal slaughter, which is how an animal should be slaughtered according to the laws of the Qur’an. But with the economic, political and social crisis that Brazil faces, the immigrants were the first dismissed. And if it was already rare for someone to value their intellectual capacity, the Brazilian political situation made this even more difficult. The teacher Juliana Rossa said that even the curriculum can be a problem. Documentations are different, fluid addresses and vouchers are difficult to present. “There are many peculiarities in the world of work, and this market does not open to them.”
Mamadou then resorted to what he knows.
“I like to sell. In Senegal, most people work in agriculture, but there is no room for everyone. Then the young man sells. We start selling early. “
___ . ___
SENEGAL AND A POPULATION SHAPED TO SELL
I didn’t know the word painstaking. My ignorance kept me from knowing that meant something done with or employing great care and thoroughness. Immediately I thought of the men on the sidewalks. It is no coincidence that they opt for street vending. In Senegal, 70% of the population is made up of young people who have nowhere to work in a country that survives from agriculture and suffers from drought. As a result, they migrate to large cities in the hope of being absorbed by commerce, an art that if not innate accompanies them from an early age and is part of the culture of the country of Muslim majority.
Juliana Rossa é jornalista e professora da Faculdade Murialdo de Caxias do Sul. Há mais de cinco anos convive com os imigrantes e pesquisa sobre aspectos culturais específicos do Senegal. No doutorado em Letras pela UCS/UniRitter, centrou o estudo na poesia oral e na performance dos cantos religiosos. A caxiense viajou ao pa´is, onde pôde não apenas aprofundar a investigação mas também desvendar um vínculo fortíssimo entre a religiosidade e a habilidade comercial.
Estima-se que 94% dos senegaleses sejam muçulmanos. O islamismo praticado no país é influenciado pelo Sufismo, conhecido como uma corrente mística que tem no Muridismo uma das fraternidades mais expressivas na etnia Wolof (que abrange quase metade da população do Senegal). O aspecto religioso é tão importante na sociedade que as crianças são encaminhadas para uma escola árabe desde muito cedo. Geralmente, os meninos passam a frequentar a escola corânica a partir dos cinco anos.
Juliana Rossa is a journalist and teacher at the Murialdo Faculty of Caxias do Sul. She has been working and socializing with immigrants for more than five years and she is currently doing a PhD research about a specific cultural aspect of Senegal: oral poetry and the performance of religious songs. She traveled to the country, where she was able not only to deepen her research but also to discover a very strong link between religiosity and commercial ability.
It is estimated that 94% of Senegalese are Muslims. The Islam practiced in the country is influenced by the Sufism, known as a mystical current that has in the Muridism one of the most expressive fraternities in the Wolof ethnic group (that covers almost half of the population of Senegal). The religious aspect is so important in society that children are referred to an Arab school from an early age. Usually, boys start attending the Koranic school from the age of five.
“They learn Arabic and memorize the Koran. Depending on the family, the child gets more or less time. These Koranic schools are maintained with donations and provide spaces where children spend a lot of the time alone and have very little time to play. This school molds their personality. For example, sometimes, for lunch, they need to ask for food from their neighbors’ homes. In making this gesture, they place themselves humble. It’s like an exchange. When they ask for help, they are also willing to help, to treat everyone well and with great respect. So why do they sell very well? Because they return to this initial formation. “
A Senegalese teacher explained the relationship to Juliana. It is a kind of solicitude that one learns from an early age, as an exchange of kindnesses. Something that is reinforced in people who, within Muridism, practice the current Baye Fall, easily identifiable by the colored clothes and the dreadlocks – sometimes confused with the Rastafari. “If you find a Baye Fall and you’re cold, he’s going to take his clothes off so you do not feel cold. If there is a religious feast, he will cook, he will do everything, he will help. “
The report by Professor Juliana Rossa shows how negotiation is part of who they are. They sell, sell, sell electronics, sell food, sell art, sell clothes, sell.
“We are born in that environment where people sell on the street. Many people who are selling here were already selling there.”
Mor is not a salesman, but confirms that there is such preparation. Cities are shrouded in the atmosphere of business transactions. Therefore, faced with the crisis in the Brazilian formal market, resorting to street and informal commerce is a natural choice for the Senegalese. Natural, but not an easy alternative.
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“THE IMMIGRANT, WHEN HE DECIDES TO LEAVE, IS ALREADY PREPARED. YOU ARE GOING TO ANOTHER COUNTRY, YOU HAVE TO TOLERATE SOME THINGS. “
It takes courage to face the streets in the white Porto Alegre. Certain things that Mor says they have to tolerate are too heavy. I soon realize that he is talking about racism, xenophobia, intolerance in every way, prejudice in every way.
“If I go out on the street and stop there to talk to the boy that’s selling, in ten minutes I’ll notice something biased that he will not notice.”
“What do you mean?”
“Because I’ve been here longer. I know there are certain things that do not seem to be what they are. “
“Do you speak of veiled racism?”
“Yes, there are little things I realize.”
“And how about things that are not so small?”
“Yes, that happen too. Last week, for example, I went to the notary’s office to accompany someone who needed my help to authenticate a document. When we arrived the guy said he would not authenticate because it was not an official document. Only it was a document from the Federal Police. The boy was devastated. “
I receive the information with astonishment. It’s the kind of story we all know exists, but still, is so shameful. I do not think I can hide the embarrassment and the blush that takes over my face. Mor is quick to explain that most Gauchos treat immigrants with respect, but I urge him to talk about who does not. Once the initial resistance has been overcome, he blows everything out in a gasp.
“The word” racism. ” I got to know the meaning of this word in practice not long ago. It’s not a problem in Senegal, but here it always seems to be. I was just talking to someone who was hired from a large, signed-up company for a good higher-level position. He went there today and was introduced to the person who would be his boss. She looked at him and said, “I do not want this guy.”
“Because of the color.”
“Yes, because of the color. Racism in Brazil exists and immigrants suffer daily. And the problem is not being an immigrant, but an African immigrant. The European immigrant with the same training does not encounter the same difficulties. Black Brazilian suffers and black African suffers. “
As he speaks, my shoulders weigh with the shame that every Brazilian should carry. Immediately I remember a phrase from the sociologist Aline Passuelo, with whom I had spoken long before. “I will never forget an immigrant who told me that he discovered that he was black in Brazil. He discovered that being black was a problem in Brazil. “
I will never forget what Aline told me. In the midst of the twenty-first century, an African man crosses the ocean to discover a country that does not allow itself to be freed from the cruel and slave tradition. And this social behavior has a devastating impact on the imagination of the Senegalese, who stand in silence and alone. Not a few are those with psychological disorders, usually related to depression.
“They suffer in silence because small things happen every day.”
“Like what, Mor?
“The immigrant goes to the pharmacy and is ignored. He goes to the bakery and someone notices the color, the different accent, and begins to treat him differently. “
“And how does he react to these things?”
“He has no one to complain to and usually goes through all this without complaining. That shocks. “
And they end up silent and alone. When I met Mamadou, I realized that there was something different. He wanted to talk, he needed to talk, and he did. Openly. With that easy and unshakable smile. This was unusual. The other times I approached an immigrant, whether for a conversation or an interview, the answer was friendly but monosyllabic. Mor told me that they were afraid of being mocked and mistreated. It made sense. The words were loaded with suspicion, with fear. So it was with Mohammed, the boy I saw in the window while I was talking to Mor. Turning off the recorder, I went to him. I bought a cable for the charger of my cell phone for R$15 and asked for his name. He looked surprised. He answered suspiciously. That’s when I remembered something that could break the ice.
“You brought a key to the lady at the building, did you not? Mor asked you to, I guess.“
“Yes, how do you know?”
“I was sitting in the chairs at the entrance.”
“Ah yes. Now I remember. “
“I was just waiting to talk to Mor, I’m doing a story about the lives of the Senegalese immigrants in Rio Grande do Sul, especially in Porto Alegre.”
“You’ve lived here for how long?”
“Two years. I’m 22, I got here with 20. “
“Do you sell enough?”
“I can not complain.”
“And you like to live here?”
“It’s good, I can help my family. But I want to go back. “
When he shrugged and looked away, Mor’s words echoed in my ears. I smile. He smiles back. I wish him luck and I’m on my way.
___ . ___
WHAT YOU GONNA DO?
My grandfather says that a lot. Mr. Orozimbo is the grandson of Italian immigrants. The Pellizzaro family arrived by the end of the 19th century. They were starving, pale from the cold, and dressed in tatters. They came here, more than a hundred years ago, in search of an opportunity.
Of the stories that nono Giuseppe told us, I believe there were no accounts of prejudice. At no point they faced the pain of hearing from a Brazilian that they were here to steal jobs or bring diseases. On the contrary, they were even encouraged by Brazilian government. They gained lands to colonize. And they prospered. Someone believed in them and they had the chance to thrive.
“We just need a minimum of opportunity. Of consideration and respect. “
What Mor asks is the same thing that Italian immigrants – and others – asked for. He just asks them to believe in the potential of these men who have crossed the world in search of a new life. He just asks someone to believe. They are young. They are struggling, working, living away from their parents, away from the family, away from everything they know. Away from parties in which they play and dance mbalakh. Far from the voice of Youssou N’Dur. Far from the plantations of millet and the diakhouté dishes. So, what you gonna do? Believe.
___ . ___
“Nice to meet you, Mamadou.”
“You too, Georgia.”
It was not an interview. It was a conversation, I just wanted to meet him. I was happy. That’s how I met one of the men on the sidewalks. I hope the smile remains easy and unshakeble.