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October 31, 2004


Hey there,

I went rafting today up in the mountains north of Porto Alegre with other students who will be participating in UFRGS’s Model UN this coming week.  It was quite fun, but not as rough as I thought (and hoped) it would be.  We did get to body surf through some of the rapids, though, and got flung into the air by holding onto a rope stretched across the rapids by the guides.

Overall I enjoyed myself, but with pangs of guilt when I saw the tiny homes dispersed along the riverside.  What must the people who live there think of all of the rafters that pass by them on a daily basis?  Do they feel invaded?  Do they feel resentment?  Or do they shrug it off as silly tourist shenanigans?  [I can’t help but think of FISH when I write that word!]  I was horrified when one student joked, “Look, there’s a native,” when we passed a black man in flip-flops [And I can’t help but think of John Kerry when I write that word thanks to the Bush campaign] and a t-shirt and shorts walking along a dirt road near the edge of the river.  It was unsettling for me to be on a bus full of middle to upper class college students singing Beatles songs and Brazilians hits without a care in the world as we headed towards our eco-aventura along an unpaved road past shacks and tiny concrete homes speckling the verdant, sloping landscape.  The journey was rustic and adventurous for us, but for the people who live there… ? 

I guess the Brazilians are used to it–but isn’t that the problem?  Something struck me the other day when I was talking with Alex about our class visit to Eldorado do Sul on Tuesday.  I was telling him about how I felt like we were lying to the residents there when we told them that we didn’t have physical or monetary resources to offer, only our skills and creativity–because really, we could all offer so much more if we were to give up some of our luxuries and use the leftover money we’d have to help out the eldoradenses.  Alex replied, “Yeah, but that’s not the answer; that’s not going to really change anything.”  But isn’t it?  And wouldn’t it?  True, we can’t donate the world into a better place; we need to work together.  But it’s not just the municipal governments and poor communities that need to be shaken–it’s us, too.  As I’ve written before (and will probably write again!), it’s those of us who go about our lives thinking it’s okay to enjoy all of the luxuries we have while millions don’t even have the basics that is really the problem, in my opinion.  We’re not bad people; we care.  But we wait.  We wait for other things to change–the government, the economy.  We do nice things like volunteer in soup kitchens, donate to charities, but we don’t often do things that don’t fit inside our accustomed lifestyles.  We don’t demand that things change by refusing to be a part of the current world order that sustains so much poverty. 

Yet I spent R$42.00 on rafting today, so who am I to talk?  It’s hard to leave this lifestyle, but I’m determined to do it.  And I know that the space it leaves will be filled with things that are much more beautiful than money could ever buy:  with love, with conviction, with the sense of joy and inner peace that I feel when I’m in places like Wheeling, Lame Deer, or Passo Dorneles, building community and sharing resources with people who really need them.  And this doesn’t mean that I can’t treat myself to little pleasures every once in awhile; indeed, doing something special on occasion is good for mental health.  It’s when “doing something special”–like going to the movies, to nice restaurants, rafting–doesn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary anymore that I know I’m slipping back into the attractive trap of the middle class:  comfortable, cozy, not too rich (so I don’t have to feel guilty), but not too poor. 

To live simply isn’t so simple at first, but it becomes easier as I learn more and more “other” pleasures that manifest themselves when the T.V. is turned off, shopping malls are off the radar screen, and the DVD player is still on a shelf in Circuit City rather than on my own.  Friends, family, community, nature, reading, conversation, and cooking–“simple things”–all take center stage and make me overjoyed to be alive. 

So like Mahatma Gandhi said, “Live simply so others can simply live”–but also so that you, too, can really live.


From → Brazil, Uncategorized

One Comment
  1. Hey Hun,
    Your entry reminds me of what I think Buddha said (something like this):  If we become overwhelmed by the amount of change that is needed in this world, we can corrupt our own sense of hope. 
    I don’t fear your sense of hope being threatened–but I am reminding you not to carry the weight of the world on your back.  Let the rest of humanity shoulder some weight, also–there are plenty of folk in Brazil who, after you leave, will be performing random acts of kindness toward those who are less fortunate–and, who will have been motivated (hopefully) by an American of your character and thoughtfulness. 
    love, paul 

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