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December 10, 2004


Four days left.  That means everything that I’m doing at this point I’m doing with the knowledge that it might be my last time doing it.  Going to the market.  Seeing a film at the Santander Cultural.  Walking the streets of downtown.  Eating lunch at Fonte do Sul.  I pause after each of these places and do my best to absorb and capture their essences so that I can keep them with me in my memories.

But it is the people, not the places, that make a place truly near and dear to my heart.  Last night I didn’t know whether to smile or cry when Arlete, one of the municipal employees who has been working with us in our study and seminar, gave me my first going away present–so I simply gave her a hug.

Earlier in the semester I had thought that I would leave Brazil without the usual sentimental attachments I feel to places I visit like I feel for Mexico and Montana, South Africa and Philly, and so many others; but as I have befriended more and more people here in Rio Grande do Sul, my heart has become attached, and it’s going to be hard to tear it away–especially 5,000+ miles away.

Little moments keep flashing through my mind as I think about Tuesday, the day I head for home.  Moments like when Sr. Ervino–the community representative I interviewed about the Participatory Budgeting process–laughed bashfully as his son bombarded me with questions over the afternoon tea we shared with his family during a break from our interview.  He and his wife chuckled robustly but apologetically as their intuitive 15-year-old asked me if I’d seen the Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro, if I’d watched this movie or that movie, if I had a boyfriend, and if all Americans are as beautiful as the ones he sees on TV.  To that last question, his father reminded him that producers always pick the prettiest people to act on TV just like they do in Brazil, and that the United States has beautiful and ugly people, too.  But his witty son replied that he wasn’t only basing his question on TV but on reality, too, since there was a beautiful American sitting right there with them; now it was my turn to laugh bashfully!

Sigh.  And moments like playing monkey-in-the-middle with Cris and Kelly in the park in Porto Verde.  I had asked them if kids played monkey-in-the-middle in Brazil, too, but mixed up my vowels in the word for monkey, so Kelly thought I had asked if they played “bucaco no meio” instead of “macaco no meio” (I had actually said mucaco, but Kelly thought she heard bucaco)–so as we played, Cris and Kelly would occasionally break out in hysterics at my mistaken word for “monkey,” saying, “Haha, now YOU’RE the bucaco!!”

But no matter how much I’ll miss Cris and Kelly’s laughter and giddy energy, and no matter how much I’ll miss the kind eyes and smile of Sr. Ervino and of the sweet man who runs Fonte do Sul–and of so many others–I’m so thankful for the opportunity to have met each and every one of these beautiful people.  People are not beautiful for their physical features, but for their smiles and their spirits, and Brazil is full of them–full of real people with real feelings, real dreams, and real kindness.  If there’s anything I have gotten out of my time here, it is the reminder that people on the other side of the world are just as real as you and me.  They aren’t abstract figures on the news; they’re brothers and sisters who want what we want in life:  a little bit of peace and happiness.  Together with them, we, the normal, everyday people of this world, would make a force that no Big Business or politician could reckon with–we just need to reach out and link arms.  And that process starts in our own backyards–literally–by reaching out and linking arms with our neighbors, with our fellow hometown residents (or homecity residents, as the case may be), and from there expanding outward until the personal connections cross county and city lines and extend across national borders (which, remember, are only lines on a piece of paper) until we are all united with each others’ best interests in mind.  Rich and poor, black and white, young and old–we all want the same basic things when it comes down to it.  But in order to realize this, and in order to build up enough trust in each other to really work together, we need to know each other first.

So this holiday season, take advantage of the (somewhat) more open spirit and go around your neighborhood with cookies and/or carols to share.  Introduce yourself to neighbors you don’t know well.  Participate in community events.  Create a climate of friendship and trust to help our tense nation relax and release the kind spirit that we demonstrated after the September 11th attacks but that has since been squandered in favor of fear.  Creating a truly peaceful, merry world is up to you; it’s up to us.





From → Brazil, Uncategorized

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