A day in São Paulo, Brazil is hot and smoggy like each day previous. And like every day, I am getting on a bus heading towards a section or bairro of the city known as Pinheiros.
As we round a corner and head for the Pinheiros Bridge, the bridge that is going to carry us across the Tietê River, I brace myself. I dread this part of the bus trip and I know what is about to happen because I have gone this route to Pinheiros many times before. "Here we go.” ,I think. Soon after, I find myself coming onto the bridge.
Immediately, a foul stench flies up and into my lungs from the brackish, stagnant waters of Tietê River that lay some 20 meters below. In vain, I cover my mouth and nose with my right hand in order to stifle my gags and prohibit the entrance of the awful smell coming from the river.
The smell causes me to think about how polluted the river is. And I know that this stench is coming from countless gallons of sewage and industrial waste being dumped into the river everyday from homes and businesses in the teeming metropolis of 25 million plus people. In greater São Paulo alone, 300 metric tons of untreated effluents from 1,200 industries are dumped into the Tietê River every day as it flows through the city. As a result, the river contains high concentrations of lead, cadmium, and other heavy metals. The city also dumps some 1,000 metric tons of sewage into the river each day, of which only 12% gets any treatment whatsoever. In the last 100 years, this river has been used as one, huge toilet to flush away the filth of the gargantuan city.
I tell myself that something needs to be done about not only this river, but also every major river in the world. And that water gives us life. Water keeps us clean. Water quenches our thirst on a hot day. Water is our life. However, water is getting dirtier and many rivers contain no aquatic life whatsoever because their waters are so polluted. Such is the case of the Tiête.
As I ponder this, I look out the windows of the bus and as far as my eyes can see in either direction, the river's waters are black; they boil and bubble and look very soupy and dense. Thus, it flows slowly and languidly. No evidence of wildlife, plant or animal, are on the desolate, brown banks of this once mighty river, whose waters have given life and support to São Paulo for almost 300 years.
Remorsefully, I shake my head in disbelief, knowing that this innocent river will only get worse before it gets better. And no matter how many times I have crossed this river before, I will always have the same stirring, stifling and gagging reactions.
Suddenly, I am jolted out of my morose and static state by the jostling of the bus and I am brought back into the reality of my journey to the Pinheiros bairro . I can see we are on the down slope of the bridge and buildings seem to grow taller out of the horizon as we approach the end of our crossing.
The wind changes direction and we are now up wind of the Tietê River. I take a deep breath and push out the dank air that lingers in my lungs as the bus rounds another corner and then comes to a stop. I get off the bus and walk into a convenience store. I purchase an ice, cold bottle of filtered water. I take a long drag of water and feel thankful that it has refreshed me, but only momentarily.