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December 11, 2005

Um dia de diversidade

Paul and I had a pleasant day today, one filled with the full
diversity of the city.  First, I spent a slow morning preparing my
pictures from Brazil for printing and developing before biking to “the
truck” (the fresh produce truck stand on 44th Street, where nothing
costs more than $1–not even a 4 lb. carton of grapes) and dropping off
the film Crash, which is at the top of my recommendation list if you’re looking for a good movie to rent. 

Around 12:30, Paul and I left for Camden to bring one of Paul’s
students, Elijah, to the aquarium.  It was such a joy to watch
Elijah, who was quiet and soft spoken on the ride to the waterfront,
burst with energy and enthusiasm once we entered the aquatic zoo. 
He bounced, almost literally, from tank to tank, pointing at fish and
sharks and lobsters with wide eyes.  “Now can we go see the sea
monsters?” he’d ask after every tank, enthused by the smaller fish but
enthralled by the thought of seeing something really out of this
world.  When we finally saw some real sea monsters (sting rays the
size of a small UFO), he said he would like to be a sea monster,
too.  When I asked him what he’d do if he were a sea monster, he
said, with impish gusto, “eat people!”

It touched my heart to watch Elijah run around the aquarium with such
wonderment, but it also tugged at it.  As warming as it was to
watch Elijah, it was also painful–painful to know that today was
literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him.  Elijah is
likely never to experience such a stimulating, educational excursion
again during his childhood unless Paul and I–or another teacher–takes
him out again.  At $14 per child and $16 per adult, such outings
are far out of reach of most of Camden’s families, yet each of Camden’s
children deserves just as much as suburban youths to visit exciting
educational exhibits that have the potential to pique their interests
and inspire them to learn and work towards neat, cool careers like
oceanographers, paleontologists, deep-sea divers, and seal
trainers. 

After dropping Elijah back off at his parents’ rowhouse just east of
downtown Camden, Paul and I crossed the river over to Northeast
Philadelphia to listen to Alo Brasil, a Philadelphia-based samba group
started by a U.S. citizen who went to visit Brazil for two weeks but
ended up staying for 14 years.  The informal concert took place in
a crowded Cafe Brazil (where Celso and I go for lunch every day), where
patrons clapped, swayed, and danced to the contagious, invigorating
samba beat.  Even Paul and I, two among few Americans, jiggled to
the beat in the aisles between the tables.  I really felt like I
was back in Brazil for one brief hour, surrounded as I was by Brazilian
food, dance, and music–and Brazilians!  Then again, I’m getting a
little piece of Brazil everyday from my new job at the Brazilian
Service Center.

When we returned home, we turned on “60 Minutes” to a story about
illegal border crossings along the U.S.-Mexico border.  Captured
in the back of a Border Patrol  vehicle was a crushed, exhausted
Mexican youth, his teenage face distorted in anguish at his failed
attempt to slip into the U.S. workforce undetected so he could send
much-needed money back home to his family.  Tears clouded his eyes
and threatened to stream down his face as he explained to the reporter
that all he wanted to do was work, that he wasn’t going to do anything
wrong.  My thoughts turned back to the Brazilians living in
Northeast Philly as well as the thousands still waiting in hotels in
Sao Paulo, where coyotes will retrieve them when their illegal
passports are ready to fly them Mexico, from which they’ll make the
grueling trip across the border into the United States–if they’re
lucky enough not to a) get caught or b) die of a snake bite or
dehydration.

My joy is always measured by the pain that surrounds me in this
world.  I am not willing to let that hurt go as something that is
out of my hands and thus as something that shouldn’t get me down; but
it doesn’t get me down, it just gets me angry and motivated–motivated
to do something about the injustice that pervades human life.  I
allow myself joy, but I will never allow myself to forget that much of
my joy comes at the expense of others due to the way our society is
currently structured.  I’m thankful for reminders of that
injustice, even if they interrupt otherwise blissful days.  I
don’t want to forget that I have a responsibility to give back to this
world as much happiness as I have been given–or more.  The world
needs some serious work, and whether or not there are any easy answers,
not doing anything is NOT an option.  I have privilige, which
means that I have power.  I can do something, and I will.

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