Postcard — June 24, 2014, 4:44 pm

Below the Beautiful Horizon

Futebol and family in Belo Horizonte during the opening week of the World Cup

On the opening day of the World Cup, I helped my brother Ramon deliver groceries in the suburbs of Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s third largest city. Driving his boxy new truck with one eye on the road, he thumbed through a batch of receipts to find the address of a home in a neighborhood where milk cows wander the streets, occasionally bringing traffic to a halt. The back of the truck was stacked high with red crates full of beans, cookies, cooking oil, laundry detergent, rice, and other staples that cost more today than they did last month.

When we arrived, Ramon’s client let us inside, and we unpacked her groceries in the kitchen while she and her daughter stood in front of a TV, watching the World Cup opening ceremonies. Dancers dressed as trees, flowers, and soccer balls performed on a bright green pitch in São Paulo for an overwhelmingly white audience. If we could finish our deliveries in time, we’d make it home for the opening match between Brazil and Croatia.

Ramon was giddy with anticipation, not for the game, but for the birth of his first child. In just four days his wife Cristiane was scheduled to deliver a daughter by cesarean section at a nearby public hospital. They married last year, and their lives have never been busier. His freelance driving and her cake-and-candy business have afforded them a house in a neighborhood full of family and old friends. In the evenings and on weekends, they prepared the nursery.

The baby would be born at a tense moment for Brazil. Few here in Belo Horizonte will be able to attend a World Cup game in their own city, adding insult to seven years of hasty preparation plagued by wasteful spending and broken promises. Last June, more than 50,000 people took to downtown streets during the Confederations Cup, to grieve the hundreds of millions in public funds committed to projects that were never finished, or that never broke ground in the first place.

On the way to our next delivery, we drove past signs of the unfinished projects, and of the lack of basic services in many neighborhoods: A hospital that was supposed to offer some of the best services in the country, operating at half capacity after years of delays. A nearby stream brimming with litter that the sanitation department had yet to pick up. A web of unpaved, unlit streets.

“People out here are frustrated,” Ramon said. “They work hard. They’re paying taxes like everyone else. Why can’t they get the roads paved?”

It seemed to be more a question of priorities than of money. On a delivery to a nearby favela, we passed a shiny new military-police car parked at the bottom of the hill. “Para inglês ver,” Ramon said. For the English to see.

All day we passed boys flying kites in the streets, celebrating the first day of a long break from school. It was a familiar scene for Ramon, but one I’d only seen as an adult. I was adopted as an infant in 1981 and grew up in rural Oregon. He was born almost two years later and grew up here as the country transformed from a military dictatorship to a burgeoning democracy. We met for the first time in 2006, and since then we’ve been making up for lost time on Skype and during my visits, staying up late to swap stories, watch YouTube clips, and improve my lumpy Portuguese.

By late afternoon, most of the boys had packed up their kites to go watch the match. We knew it was time for the coin toss when drivers all around us started honking. Ramon joined the racket and tuned the radio to the local news, which was reporting on demonstrations in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and just a few miles away in Plaça Sete, the historical heart of Belo Horizonte, where that night vandals would overturn a police car and strike a Reuters photojournalist in the head with a rock. Yet despite the turmoil in the streets, most folks around town barbecued as we did, donning yellow jerseys and pouring cold beer and going bonkers when Neymar scored Brazil’s first goal of the Cup.

Saturday night, the family gathered at Ramon’s house for the baby shower. We feasted on hot stew and cold drinks while Cristiane sat beside a mountain of diapers and displayed gifts of baby clothes for everyone present. The eldest women in the room were children the last time Brazil hosted a World Cup, in 1950, and they’d raised their own families during the two decades of dictatorship that followed. The youngest children in the room knew about those years only from history books with other chapters focused on the electoral process and freedom of speech.

The next morning, President Dilma Rousseff published a brief op-ed advising Brazilians that soccer transcends politics. She wrote of spending the 1970 World Cup in jail with other dissidents. When the tournament began, she said, many of her cellmates refused to root for the Seleção, fearing that a win for Brazil’s national team would only strengthen the dictatorship. Rousseff wrote that she’d felt no such compunction, and by the time Brazil had sealed its win, everyone in the prison was rooting for the team, too. The editorial was part of a huge government effort to turn the tide of public opinion, a PR campaign to accompany the military one in the streets.

Photograph by Chris Feliciano Arnold

Photograph by Chris Feliciano Arnold

On Monday afternoon, four days after the 2014 World Cup opened, Luana de Souza Santos Feliciano was born at a public hospital near the northernmost stop on the metro line. Visitors were allowed the next day. I arrived during the second half of Brazil’s match against Mexico. In a quiet waiting room, dozens of visitors gazed at a muted television overhead, leaning forward in their seats. We heard cheers and groans from a room down the hallway whenever Brazil attacked the goal.

Only one person was allowed to visit the maternity ward at a time, and for only a few minutes. When my turn came, I found Cristiane and Luana healthy and hungry. Ramon had recorded every moment of the delivery on his camera and proudly showed me a picture of Luana just after he’d given her a bath.

Back downstairs, as the other visitors took their turns greeting the baby, Ramon and I watched the final minutes of the match on the waiting room TV. When it ended in a 0–0 draw, there was commotion from the room down the hall. A clutch of doctors, nurses, and orderlies emerged from the break room and scrambled back to their stations.

“And there you have the health system in Brazil,” said Ramon as the P.A. resumed its regular announcements. “Now the hospital can function again.” 

Share
Single Page
is the recipient of a 2014 Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts.

More from Chris Feliciano Arnold:

Postcard July 8, 2014, 1:40 pm

World Cup Boom and Bust

Will a four-game stint as a World Cup host city improve life in Manaus?

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2016

The Hamilton Cult

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Held Back

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Division Street

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Innocents

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quiet Car

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Psychedelic Trap

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Hamilton Cult·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The past is complicated, and explaining it is not just a trick, but a gamble."
Illustration by Jimmy Turrell
Article
Division Street·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Perfectly sane people lose access to housing every day, though the resultant ordeal may undermine some of that sanity, as it might yours and mine."
Photograph © Robert Gumpert
Article
Held Back·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"'We don’t know where the money went!' a woman cried out. 'They looted it! They stole our money!'"
Artwork by Mischelle Moy
Article
The Quiet Car·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Flor Arely Sánchez had been in bed with a fever and pains throughout her body for three days when a July thunderstorm broke over the mountainside. She got nervous when bolts of light flashed in the sky. Lightning strikes the San Julián region of western El Salvador several times a year, and her neighbors fear storms more than they fear the march of diseases — first dengue, then chikungunya, now Zika. Flor worried about a lot of things, since she was pregnant.

Late in the afternoon, when the pains had somewhat eased, Flor thought she might go to a dammed-up bit of the river near her house to bathe. She is thirty-five and has lived in the same place all her life, where wrinkled hills are planted with corn, beans, and fruit trees. She took a towel and soap and walked out into the rain. Halfway to the river, the pains returned and overcame her. The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion.

Photograph by Joshua Lutz
Article
Innocents·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion."
Photograph © Nadia Shira Cohen

Average amount of time a child spends in Santa Claus’s lap at Macy’s (in seconds):

37

Beer does not cause beer bellies.

Following the arrest of at least 10 clowns in Kentucky and Alabama, Tennesseans were warned that clowns could be “predators” and Pennsylvanians were advised not to interact with what one police chief described as “knuckleheads with clown-like clothes on.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today