Friday, April 11, 2008

Life in my nutshell

I think it’s time I write a good, long, juicy entry for everyone. So I’ll try to ramble for at least a few pages.

The last 2 months of silence have gone well overall on my end. My theory of travelling is that it’s a time of extremes: the good times are better and the bad times are worse. I feel like, without a doubt it’s a character building experience. In the last few days I’ve been thinking a lot about 1 Peter 1:6,7. It says, “In this [‘living hope’] you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that you faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Christ Jesus is revealed.” My life in Sao Paulo is far from suffering, but as I said the extremes are more extreme; so I would say that it includes more of an element of suffering than I experience living in the U.S. Equally, while I don’t think that most people’s lives as a whole should be characterized as ‘suffering’, a significant portion of it is. So I think this verse has a lot to say about a common experience for all of us.

My other general reflection on life while traveling is that you learn SO MUCH. Let’s say I were at home: I might run into 5 new facts that I don’t know in a day and thus I’d learn 5 new things. Here, I’m a total moron – I walk around confused all the time so I’m learning new things all the time.

Life with my host family is going well. My host grandma broke her knee, so she’s (hobbling) around a lot more. It’s nice to have someone else around. The dog, Eiku, is weirder and weirder. She’s a big, white Akita that reminds me of Thor (my cat from way back) in canine form. Soon after I arrived, she had some sort of allergic reaction and started losing clumps of hair. The hair-loss stopped, but she still looks like she’s got the mange. One day about 2 weeks ago, she spent all night long whimpering. The next morning, my family took her to the vet who diagnosed her with “psychological pregnancy” – she thought she was pregnant and missed her pups. She was lactating! This morning, she was walking behind me in the apartment and stepped on the back of my sandal. Does anyone remember “flat-tires” from elementary school?

My classes are, for the first time ever, all interesting yet conveniently little work. PUC’s educational theory is way different from Purdue’s and thus the view they teach of many of the same subjects is completely different. The first week, I heard a professor say that the purpose of university study is to learn theory not a vocation. You can learn vocations on the job. Studying at Purdue, a school founded to teach Hoosiers to farm and engineers, I hadn’t heard that before. All this translates into more reading, especially of original authors. At Purdue, we read economics textbooks that talk about Keynes, Adam Smith, and Marx, summarizing their ideas and incorporating more modern theories, etc. A PUC class is much more likely to just use Keynes, Smith or Marx straight up. The extra time has been a chance to read more too. Kyliah sent me a book that got me all fired up about human rights.

Speaking of which, communism and the cold war. I’m coming to believe that this is one subject in which the U.S. does not understand itself. Brazil’s foreign policy has historically been very independent, and thus did not really align with one side or the other. However, the U.S. concept that communism is a dead and bankrupt theory is super naïve and sheltered. For starters, ¼ of the world’s population lives in a communist government. If America was really over worrying about communism, would it still be so taboo to be a communist? Communism is about seeking equality and human dignity. Is it wrong for poor people to get a little bit of income redistribution? Did we oppose communism to protect human rights or our GDP? Since the end of the cold war, income inequality has skyrocketed. Communist parties exist (and hold parliamentary seats) all over the world except for the richest of countries, America. The U.S. is encouraging an ethanol policy that contributes to skyrocketing grain prices around the world. Long from being just a possibility, I saw on the news this morning how rice prices in India have double in the last 12 months. For a family who used to spend 50% of their income on food, that is 100% of their income. I agree that communism is an evil system, but isn’t capitalism too? Is the communist concept of class struggle that far off, and are we not really a repressive, callous elite?

There’s lots of communists at PUC J Also, don’t get me wrong: I’m not getting all down on the U.S; I still like us. I just think we could do some healthy self-examination.

Some random elements of life here:

1. Habib’s. Habib’s is to Arabic food as Taco Bell is to Mexican food. Their mascot is a genie. They started to expand into the U.S. right before 9/11 – unfortunate timing.

2. Recycling. Our house does not have a recycling container. However, once the trash gets to wherever it goes, some guy goes through it, picks out all the recyclable material, and sells it. While I realize that job sucks, this seems much more efficient and effective than America’s idea of separate collection systems for recycling and trash.

3. Pollution. Some days, my boogers are dark when I get home.

4. Softball. I was surprised to see some guys playing catch with a softball in the park the other day. Then I remembered that Sao Paulo has the world’s biggest Japanese population outside of Japan. This also means lots of sushi, by the way.

5. Crossing the street. I’m getting really good at it, even though there is a real chance of death between now and August. This is mostly for the guys at Purdue who make fun of how I cross the street.

6. Political correctness. It’s not that Brazilians are less sensitive than Americans; they just pay more attention to what you are saying than the specific words you use. Hip hop is generally called “black” music.

7. Rap. Most Brazilian rap songs seem to be about love – which makes them seem kind of pitiful. Truly, Brazilians are lovers, not haters. Also, I’m realizing how much Americans are obsessed with violence (that includes suburbia). Even forgetting the current situation, we are really a “war-like people”.

8. Making out. I don’t know if Brazilians generally get more action than Americans, but they certainly do in the subway.

9. Punctuation. In a list in English, you can add that last comma or not (A,B,C[,] and D). You can’t use it in Portuguese. Also, in Portuguese, the comma is OUTSIDE the quotations. “Isn’t that crazy”, he said. Stylistically, long sentences are considered sophisticated whereas we try to use shorter ones; so if you read something translated from Portuguese (or Spanish) you might notice that. It’s not that they just can’t write.

I and two friends recently took a trip about 4 hours outside the city to Campos do Jordao. It’s a little town up in the mountains whose exclusive business is tourism from Sao Paulo. The air was fresh, we hiked, and two of the three nights there we ate fondue. It’s colder up in the mountains so they have these really weird pines everywhere and maple trees lining the streets. The pines are so weird because they only have branches at the very top; it’s like a palm tree that loses its fronds every year, but with pine needles.

CIEE, my exchange program, took us on an outing recently to see Aparecida do Norte. Brazil’s Virgin, Nossa Senhora da Aparecida, is a little, black foot-tall statue of a woman found in a river during the 1700s. It’s displayed in the church we went to. Interestingly, it’s black which is important given that about 50% of Brazil’s population is black, and most all the figures in Catholicism are white. Race is an especially fertile and controversial topic within Brazilian religion. The cathedral is huge, and still hasn’t been completely finished. It’s shaped differently than most cathedrals, with the altar in the middle, and feels a little like a shopping mall because it’s so big and sparsely decorated. However, the architecture is majestic, and it’s really very beautiful. In contrast to most cathedrals which are so old, the one at Aparecida felt organic, like it’s still growing around you.

Beyond those two mini trips, I’ve been staying in Sao Paulo recently. School’s in full swing, and I’ve started teaching some English and computer classes which take up some time. For a while, I had a huge excess of time, so it’s nice to feel more busy again. I should cut this off. To you brave and patient people who read this all, thanks. I hope you’re doing well and would love to hear from you. God bless!



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey great post. It is awesome to hear how things are going even though the booger comment was TMI.

You mentioned in your post relating communism.

"For starters, ¼ of the world’s population lives in a communist government. If America was really over worrying about communism, would it still be so taboo to be a communist? Communism is about seeking equality and human dignity. Is it wrong for poor people to get a little bit of income redistribution? Did we oppose communism to protect human rights or our GDP?"

You have to remember that even though 1/4 of the pop is communist, most of that is made of China... which is embracing more capitalism.

Regarding economic redistribution... that is really nothing more than state-sponsored theft. Also, show me a communist country where the majority of its citizens were not in abject poverty and lacking essentials.

Also, I can't think of any communist country that did not violate basic rights.

I think the ideal situation can be found in Acts with how the Church took care of those in need. It was done willingly and generously, but it wasn't forced or coerced.

All in all while I wouldn't say capitalism was dropped down out of heaven on a rope it is considerably better than communism.