This is a sad post. I've been thinking about how to write this for over a month, and I'm still at a loss.
We moved into our apartment in the Gutierrez neighborhood a little over a year ago. Within a week of moving here, we started to notice Cristina. She lived on our street, and she was....well, she was a character. A very unique and eccentric person. Some might say crazy. But a wonderful Brazilian woman with a large and lovable personality. She had 4 Dalmatians. She liked to walk them without their leashes, and they were hyper and ran like crazy. She yelled at them. She wore biking clothes most of the time, as in spandex biking shorts, gloves, shoes with toe clips, and a bike helmet. Sometimes she rode a bike. Most of the time she didn't. Cristina talked to herself. Everyone knew her. She was friendly, and liked to talk to the children. She didn't know that my Portuguese was limited, and most often I didn't understand what she was talking about. I just smiled and nodded.
On August 16th, she was out walking, like she usually did. She was crossing Avenida Francisco Sá at the end of our street, and was hit by a car. She refused help, even though she had been injured. She returned to her apartment by herself, and passed away.
There are so many things wrong about this. There is a TOTAL disregard for pedestrians in this city. Cars do not stop. Crosswalks are totally disregarded. I know this is not the case in all of Brazil, but for some reason in Belo Horizonte pedestrians seem to have no rights. Last year at Christmas, there was a big sign in our neighborhood that essentially read, "For Christmas, be kind and respect traffic laws." The city started a campaign about 6 months ago to raise awareness and to encourage drivers to respect traffic laws. I did see an article (can't find it now) talking about the INCREASE in injuries and deaths during the campaign (not saying that the campaign was causing it, but that the campaign wasn't really working). As a person that cares about the condition of our planet and a concerned citizen, I love walking and try to walk as much as possible. We moved to Gutierrez so we wouldn't have to drive so much. My husband uses public transportation to get to work. The children complain all the time, but we are trying to show environmental responsibility and to take care of our bodies by exercising.
But I am afraid. I have become much MUCH more concerned about crossing the street. I don't trust any drivers. I know that pedestrians do foolish things at times, but the ones with the power here are the drivers. I really REALLY don't understand what drivers are thinking speeding up when they see a mother and two children in a crosswalk. I don't understand why 20 cars speed by when I'm attempting to cross a busy intersection without a light. I don't understand why cars run through red lights, or when motorcycles start entering the intersection before the light has changed to green. From my perspective, it just seems like drivers don't care, and they are willing to put other people at risk for their own desires. And I don't understand how someone could hit a pedestrian, and allow her to walk away, when it is clear that she is not well. There is too much of an attitude that "everyone does it" and too much cutting of corners and disregarding common sense. Honestly, I think what needs to happen is fines and stricter laws. Before the Lei Seca, it was common to see people driving down our streets holding a beer. But now motorists know that if they are caught with even a trace of alcohol in their system, there will be serious consequences, and drinking and driving has decreased. The only way to really change behavior is to create stricter laws, and then to ENFORCE them. But it seems like pedestrian deaths are not important enough to Belo Horizonte for this to happen. In the meanwhile, I am going to stop at crosswalks for pedestrians. I am going to yield to walkers. And I'm going to educate my children, and any one else who will listen.
Sinto falta Cristina.