“I pretended to be a garbage collector for 8 years and lived as an invisible being”

Article published on a brazilian newspaper, related to the Presentation Video
(if you notice any mistake on the translation, please, use the comments box below. Also it would be interested if you would share your experiences in your country! :)

(artigo em português: clique aqui)

“I pretended to be a garbage collector for 8 years and lived as an invisible being”

A Psychologist sweeped the streets of USP (University of São Paulo) for his master thesis on “public invisibility”. He proved that, in general, people only see other’s social function. Who doesn’t have a good position based on this criteria, becomes a mere social shadow.

Plinio Delphino, Diário de São Paulo

Social psychologist Fernando Braga da Costa dressed the uniform and worked 8 years as a garbage collector, sweeping the streets of the São Paulo University. There, he found ot that, to the eyes of most of the people, hard workers are “invisible beings, without a name”.

In his master thesis for USP, he managed to prove the existence of “public invisibility”, that is, a human perception that’s totally damaged and conditioned to the social division of work, where one sees only the function and not the person.

Braga worked only part-time as a garbage collector, didn’t get the R$ 400 (US$ 200) as their broom mates, but guarantees he had the biggest lesson of his life: “I found out that a simple good morning, that I never got as a garbage collector, might mean a breath of life, a signal of your own existence”, explains the researcher.

The psychologist felt on his own skin how it feels to be treated as an object and not as a human being. “Professors who usually hugged me on the corridors went by me, without recognizing because of the uniform. Sometimes they would even bump on my shoulder and without even apologizing, followed their way as if they had bumped into a pole, or on a public phone”, he says.

Despite the punishment of the strong sun, the hard work and the daily humiliations, according to the psychologist, they are warm with those who see them. And find on the silence the defense against the ones who ignore them. 

Diário – How did you come up with this idea?

Fernando – My supervising professor since the bachelor studies, José Moura Goçalves Filho, suggested his students, as one form of evaluation, to engage on a proletarian task. One form of activity that didn’t demand academic nor technical qualification. So, basically, the occupation of poor classes.

Diário – For which purpose?

Fernando – My master thesis was on understanding and analysing their (the garbage collector’s) working conditions, and the way they are inserted on the public scene. In other words, to study the moral and psychological condition which they are subjected to in our society. Another level of investigation, which I will priorize on Phd. is to analyze and verify the barriers and aperture operated on the encounter of the social psychologist with the garbage men. Which are these barriers, which are the appertures, and how is the approximation?

Diário – When you started working, did garbage collectors notice you were a student on research?

Fernando – I dressed a red uniform, cap, t-shirt and everything. As I got there, I expected to introduce myself as a new worker, recently hired by USP to sweep the streets with them. But they soon realized what it was all about, however they didn’t say anything. There’s one thing that’s typical of garbage men: they come from the northeast of Brazil, black or dark-skinned in general. I am very white, but this was not the biggest difference, since many garbage men are also white. There’s a series of factor that determine this difference, like the way we speak, the way we look and the way we position the body, our gestures. Garbage men can define these differences with some phrases that are just formidable.

Diário – Give an example

Fernando – We were sweeping the floor and, at one moment, I started chatting with one of the garbage men. Suddenly, he saw a guy on his 35 or 40 year old, going up the street by foot, very well dressed and holding a leather suitcase in one of the hands. The guy passed by us and didn’t greet, which is common in such situations. The garbage man, without clearly referring to the man that just passed by us, turned to me and said: “Fernando, when the guy walks by you already know if he has money or not. Because hard-workers walk softly, barely making any noise. People from other classes you can only hear the “toc-toc” from their steps. And when we’re waiting for the train it’s the same: the hard worker is always shrunken, looking down, while waiting for it. Not they. They look up all the workers, holding their briefcase”.

Diário – How long did it take until they talked about the perception that you were different?

Fernando – That didn’t need to be put down on words, because since the first day of work it became very clear that they knew I was not a garbage man. I was treated completely different. Garbage man ride on the back of the truck, together with the tools. It’s like they were tools themselves. They didn’t let me go on the back of the truck, wanted me to go on the cabin. I really had to insist to go on the trunk. Coming to the workplace, they kept on treating me differently. The brooms were all too old. The only new broom was already reserved for me. They didn’t let me use the shovel and the grubber, because it was a heavier work. They managed to make me work only with the broom and, even so, on a cleaner place, and all of that gave me the dimension that the garbage men knew I didn’t have the same socioeconomic origin as they had.

Diário – You mean they diminished themselves in your presence?

Fernando – It’s not a matter of underestimate themselves, but one of protecting me.

Diário – Did they test you?

Fernando – On the first day of work we stopped by at the cafe. They put a thermic bottle on a concrete platform. But there were no cups. There was a strange atmosphere, I was a guy from other social class, sweeping the streets with them. Garbage men barely talked to me, some would come closer to teach me how to do the job. One of them went to the garbage can and got two soda cans, cut them in half and serve the coffee on them, which were really dirty and sticky. Since we were a big group, I waited for them to serve their cups first. I never liked coffee. But, intuitively, I felt I should take it and, of course, not free from bad feelings. After all, the guy took those cans from the trash, where there’s dirt, ants, cockroaches, everything. On the moment I took the improvised cup, it seems that everybody stopped what they were doing to watch the scene, like they were wondering: “will the rich guy really drink from this mug?”. And I drank. Imediatly the anxiety disappeared. They started talking to me, telling jokes, playing.

Diário – What did you feel working as a garbage man?

Fernando – Once, one of the guys invited me to have lunch on the central cafeteria. I went to the Psychology Institute to get some money, went by all these places where there were lots of people I knew. I went to all these places and absolutely nobody saw me. I had a very weird sensation. My body shook like I didn’t have any control over it, I felt anxiety, it’s like the top of my head would burn, as if I had been sucked out of this reality. I had lunch, but I couldn’t taste the food and as I got back to work, I was really shook.

Diário – After 8 years working as a garbage man, did it change?

Fernando – I got used to it, just like they also get used to these non-healthy situations. So, as I saw a professor coming near me – a professor that would teach me – I even stopped sweeping the floor, because he would go by me, we could maybe chat a bit, but people went by as if they went by a post, a tree, a public phone.

Diário – And what happened when you were back home, to your real world?

Fernando – I cry. It’s very sad, because, from the moment you are inserted in this situation on, you can never forget it. I believe this experience cured me from my bourgeoisie disease. These men are now my friends. I know their families, go to their houses on the suburbs. I changed. I always greet the workers now. I really make an effort to show them I know they exist. They are treated worse than our pets, which are at least called by a name. They are treated as if they were a thing.

Source / Fonte: http://www.consciencia.net/comportamento/gari.html

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4 thoughts on ““I pretended to be a garbage collector for 8 years and lived as an invisible being”

  1. I really enjoyed reading this – we all have a lesson to learn about basic human compassion and the lack of it in our daily lives! A bit of common decency goes a long way to making the world a better place. My personal experiences of Brasil have been a mixture of overwhelming hospitality when you are invited by a Brazilian into their home to unbelievable rudeness when you are in a public place – pushing, shoving and general bad behaviour lacking any manners. We all have a long way to evolve and Brasil is a place that shows many opposites including economic and educational inequality which is an assault of all the senses. Work in progess…

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