Monday, July 23, 2012


I am here in Curitiba celebrating the end of the (3-day?) winter, by working and trying to recuperate from a pretty stressful week. While at the gym and enjoying my favorite class, JUMP! Aerobics, which takes place on a trampoline, I fell on my ankle and sprained it very badly. I wanted to see a doctor immediately and make sure nothing was broken and take the necessary action to prevent it from getting worse. Calling my international insurance carrier, they told me of a private hospital they had a contract with. The various people I had consulted didn't really advise one way or another to go to a public or private hospital, so I thought it was best to use the one the insurance recommended. After getting my Brazilian friend to accompany me to the hospital. At triage they never asked what was wrong with me after I limped in, and had me standing for over an hour disputing the insurance issues we were having before I could be seen. It took a long time, and was a terrible experience with more details that I do not need to meditate on, but I left without any medicines or a wrap on my ankle and an undeniable sensation of being taken advantage of. I felt like the hospital was full of malandros. Malandros are characters in Brazilian daily life that take advantage of a situation, with cunning and often dishonest means the malandro character uses all their resources of cunning, charm, or anything necessary to come out on top and ahead. They practice malandragem. I have unfortunately had a number of run-ins with malandragem this year, and when you live in Brazil you kind of have to be on the defensive to prevent being taken advantage of. Honestly the intangible idea of the malandro/a is kind of difficult to describe, because you use it in many different situations and it comes from a different world structure than we encounter in the U.S. I am not saying that we trust every structure and business in the U.S. blindly, but we do in reality have a certain level of trust in business interactions and others that are not as certain in other places.

I say this because growing up in Argentina, I have come to know and intimately understand this character, or as we call it in Argentina, El vivo. I am not sure and would not offer up any generalities but this very Latin American archetype so deeply engrained in the culture for centuries (literature, music, etc.) does come from very specific histories and narratives of cunning and resistance. I was raised with this character as a comical relief in many Argentine children's books and without realizing the cautionary tales I learned and appreciation for hustling that I have always had. There is no U.S. reflection of this word that refelects all of the complexities and forms the malandro or el vivo embody but I would say something the malandro is somewhere between the hustler's lazier brother and Robin hood's less benevolent cousin.Although historically, the malandro and el vivo have often taken the forms of womanizers and vagabonds, the modern definition also includes politicians, business people, activists working against the state, entire government institutions, gang members, social climbers, and hu$tlers of all kinds. Anyways being in Latin America always means staying on your toes, or in my case until I get out of my boot, at least five out of ten toes. Beijos.

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