Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Brazil Diary - Like a Lotus Born from Mud

When I mailed that application for the study abroad program, my heart was beating nervously.  At the mailbox on the corner of Church and State St, off-campus of my university, I hesitated before dropping the thick manila envelope down the wide mouth big blue slot.
Do I really want to do this?  Go live in another country for a whole semester... 
I don't remember exactly what I was scared of, but I remember feeling really apprehensive about sending off that app.

Then the plane landed among a sea of green tropical trees, and this time my heart beat with anticipation.

The next four months of "school" passed with the pace of Brazil itself.  They passed with color, with smiles, with hugs and kisses.  They passed with boat trips, swimming in rivers, and long thick rainy afternoons napping in hammocks.  In a way it seemed like paradise escape from the too serious and rigid US life.  And in another way it was a splash immersion in a world of trash, bugs, dirt, poverty, and the messy intersection of cultural and economic pressures on ecology.

Imagine a ceramic vase painted and sculpted beautifully portraying rainforest utopia for sale in a house, but to buy it you step over a drain littered with trash and plastic water bottles.  In this city, few dare to drink the abundant polluted water.  In the Amazon region, the left fist slashes and burns the forest while the right hand feeds the family hope of a country lifted from third world stature.  The native village and wildlife refuge drowned out to build a hydroelectric plant powerful enough to bring the gift of light and television to millions of people.

Brazilian concept of sustainability is on a different point in the 'green' stratum.  Individual eco footprints here are much smaller.  Fast food doesn't come packaged in paper and boxes upon layers of junk, and portions are smaller so I've rarely seen anyone waste food.  Soda and beer are all served in glass bottles that are returned to the factory, sterilized and refilled.   Gadgets and products are expensive, so people rarely buy some new thing that never gets used.  When something breaks they fix it.  A/C units are by room and only turned on when people are occupying that room.  Same with electronics: lights and computers are turned off when not in use.  Everyone hangs laundry to dry in the sun.   It's pretty cool to see how easy life flows with so much less packaging and megawatts being interchanged.

But one thing this city majorly needs is some cleanup teamed with education.  You just get used to stepping over the trash.  What doesn't get picked up gets washed away by the winter season rain, clogging and creating dams of rotten sloth refuse, eventually swimming to sea to join and mingle in the great floating trash gyre.

I know it's never cool to criticize someone else's country.  But really now I consider Belem my second home.  I find the expressions of art among simplicity beautiful.  I love the use of colors to paint the houses and the textures created through heavy rain weathering. Its so different from the marble and brick dominated architecture in DC and the HOA approved colors from back home.

It's so strange that my life has taken a permanent stake in this dirty city.  I never imagined this would happen when I dropped that study abroad app in the mailbox.  Shows that you never know where your life will land you.  And like the lotus flower, so much beauty can emerge from an unexpected messy place.

And to end this post: some poetic graffiti.

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