千里之行,始於足下 (A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step)

CHINA

I arrived in Beijing the afternoon of February 13, and was met by stinging smog and smothering crowds, two of Beijing’s most distinctive characteristics. I had three things on my mental to-do list that scrolled through my head on repeat: Find a bathroom. Buy a SIM card. Get a taxi. The first was easy; the second proved impossible, after over an hour of searching; and the third was deceptively easy (I later figured out I had been charged about 8 times what I should have for the cab). But I arrived at my hotel complex by late afternoon, and, after wandering around for quite some time trying to find the correct building, I collapsed into my first bed in China.

My first meal in China.

Find food. Since I hadn’t eaten in over twelve hours, I stepped back out into the gray China dusk, intending to walk towards the main road until I found something to eat. Thankfully, I ran into a little cafe right across the parking lot from my hotel. I sat there a long time, reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child while I ate. It was such a relief to submerge myself in English, my to-do list momentarily empty.

When I started making tomorrow’s to-do list back in my hotel room, though, I lost it. Complete breakdown. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, was completely overcome by loneliness. I was in the largest, most-populated country on earth, and I knew not a soul. I hadn’t seen anyone that looked like me or spoke my language in 24 hours, and everyone I loved was asleep half a world away. By the time my parents called soon after, when they woke up and saw my texts, I was just lying on my bed shuddering and gasping. Their comfort and reminder of God’s protection was just what I needed, and when we hung up I went to sleep for a long time.

Armed with mask, I go.

The next morning, I put off leaving my room for as long as possible. The breakdown of the previous night had pushed me a little further away from denial, but inside the room I could still pretend I was wherever I wanted. Outside the room, denial would no longer be an option. Stepping into the hotel hallway and closing the door behind me took a measure of bravery I have rarely used.

Register, find food, buy a SIM card.

The greatest victory of that first day was discovering that I would, in fact, have a place to live for the next four months. After being unable to register for housing on the Peking University housing portal in mid-January, I had tried unsuccessfully for a month to contact PKU about my housing situation. On the PKU campus, after roundaboutedly arriving at the international student office,  the director viewed my online profile with a surprised “What? You haven’t checked into your dorm yet?” Indeed, I had a room!

After registering, I received a list of tasks in addition to my student card. As I was wandering about trying to complete these to-dos, I ran into a group of five or six international students, mostly from Australia, who were on the same mission. Together we checked off a lot of the things on the list, and then we ventured into one of the on-campus canteens (dining halls) for the first time.

After dinner, we had nothing to do, and so we decided the best time to try out the Beijing public transportation system was at 7 p.m. in our group of foreigners with limited English. Continuing in the study-abroad spirit of throwing oneself headfirst into uncertain situations, we descended into the bowels of the Beijing underground and, upon seeing a picture of the Forbidden City at the center of the subway map, decided where to go.

I have to say, after a day and half of feeling quite thwarted by the country I had once anticipated loving, it was very encouraging to visit Tiananmen (the entrance to the Imperial City), a place I’ve wanted to visit for years. It was a reminder that, despite the challenges of getting used to this new life, everything I looked forward to in China was still waiting for me.

And challenges there were. I won’t bore you with my to-do list every day, but here’s a snapshot: it was the same. Every day. For the first few days, at least. Each day, I would get up and try to complete each task one-by-one, and each day I would hit a new obstacle. Before bed each evening, I would think, “What should I do tomorrow?” And then I would look at my list, and be like, “Oh, same as today, just trying everything I’ve failed at so far, cool.” I learned quickly that everything in China takes four times longer than you think it should, at least for someone unfamiliar with the processes, geography, and language.

Dinner with my new friends

There were many good moments, though! I continued hanging out with the group of people I met that second day, and we added more to our cohort. Little by little, I started crossing things off of my to-do list. By the time Nate arrived a few days later, it felt like I’d been in Beijing for several weeks.

Classic couple-in-Beijing mask selfie

The first weekend, PKU gave the international students a tour of the Forbidden City. Here’s my funnest fact: the bricks laid out on the ground covering the entire palace grounds are the original bricks from when the palace was built. Knowing that I was stepping not just on the same ground, but the same exact bricks, as dynasties of historic Chinese emperors was pretty exciting. The architecture of the Forbidden City was, of course, beautiful.

Tuscany refused to take a photo with this friendly fellow.

 

 

My first week in Beijing was definitely up-and-down, but by the end I had already learned so much about how to live in China.

One of my new friends had her own Tuscany-style travel companion. The two of them became phast phriends: the ‘phant and the phrog at the Phorbidden City. 🙂

Gearing Up for My Next Adventure

This summer I will be traveling to….

LONDON!!!!

I know. I know. I did Europe. So, why am I going back?

This summer I have been accepted to the London School of Economics summer program to study Genocide, Democracy Building, and Politics of International Development. This program is honestly a dream-come-true as I have never been to the United Kingdom before. In a blog post I wrote last year, I mentioned 21 things I wanted to do before I turned 21. Most of the things on the list I was able to complete. However, there were obviously things I was not able to finish in the short 365 day span and (as my birthday is next week) I don’t see them getting done any time soon. A lot of those yet-to-be-checked- off things can be completed in the good ole UK. So, without further ado, here is my:

London Bucket List

Sky Dive

maxresdefaultThis is something I was never able to complete due to insufficient funds (please give me money) and I have been wanting to do it for YEARS. Who’s to say that this year, 2017, won’t be my time?

Send a Message in a Bottle

message-in-a-bottle-1200Okay. This isn’t much of a London thing as it is just a thing in general. But the UK is surrounded by water, why shouldn’t I take advantage of that? Here’s to hoping my message in a bottle is picked up by someone who will actually read it.

Go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Hogwarts Express BW

Harry Potter World obviously isn’t in London. But you know what is? The studios where Harry Potter was filmed, the pub where J.K. wrote the books, and platform 9 and 3/4. I am expecting this summer to be an amalgamation of me realizing that the places I’m seeing have all been featured in a Harry Potter film.

Visit Scotland

crossraguel-abbey-bw2e

Something definitely on my weekend travel list is visit Scotland. Castles, greenery, ocean, hills – what more could a girl need? Hopefully, a few of the friends I make will want to take a train up to the land of pubs and beauty.

Now that I have my list, I’m ready to be on my way. Luckily, I won’t be leaving until halfway through June so I have plenty of time to add more things to do. Let me know in the comments if you have any must-dos for the British Isles.

 

XO

Is It a Muslim Ban?

One of the most contentious debates that is currently dominating American politics is whether President Trump’s Executive Order outlining a travel ban is really a Muslim ban in disguise. While the original ban has been halted by the court system, the question still remains. About a month ago, I listened to a lecture that debated this very subject. The lecture included distinguished professors from OU’s Religious Studies Department, and they gave their analysis of the ban, albeit from a religious perspective. One professor sought to determine if religion, specifically Christianity, could be used to validate the order. Another broke down the role religion plays in our government, as, even though there is a separation of church and state, religion remains a crucial part of our political system. Lastly, Dr. Kimball gave his interpretation on the question on everyone’s minds: is it really a Muslim ban? In his estimation, it was not necessarily a Muslim ban, but it had the potential to become one. Once “religion tests” entered the equation, this order could not be considered impartial to religion.

While this order originated in the United States, it had global consequences. Immigrants, tourists, and refugees were confused, delayed, and sometimes detained. The order even forbid migration from some specific countries indefinitely. The travel ban is an international issue, and it should not have been treated the way it was, without careful planning and care.

UPDATE: Recently, President Trump has come out with a new version of the travel ban. This one is slightly less extreme in nature, and Iraq is removed from the list of countries it affects. However, the Muslim Ban question is still up for debate.

Capoeira & Me

January 12th, 2017

That Rochina Capoeira lesson was really, really cool to me. In the beginning I was really embarrassed and nervous. The first warm-up was running for Pete’s sake—that’s one of the only things I have never been able to do, especially without my lift! But as we went on through the lesson and even afterwards after the five of us relished in our secret fun that everyone missed out on, I was wildly impressed with not just Capoeira and its history, but how it was being used in neglected communities like Rochina. The thing that stood out the most to me was how quickly one of the Capoeira leaders stepped in to help me after I managed to communicate that my leg was janky. I cannot remember his name, but a guy came over and individually stretched me. We stretched our arms, wiggled our hips, and worked on balance—all in compensation for me not being able to do the first usual warm-up routine.

That means something. Those Capoeira instructors are accustomed to helping people at all different skill-sets and levels of ability be able to learn Capoeira in a way they are able to by adapting to their own body’s individual abilities. Take me, for example. I couldn’t run, I have never been able to. I was so bad at kicking and whatnot because I have poor balance. I couldn’t even do a cartwheel #1 Because I was really scared and #2 Because I haven’t done one in probably over a decade. And that’s saying something because I’m only eighteen! They didn’t care at all. In fact, regardless of how horribly I executed a move or completely missed one of the parts of the routine, they would still high-five me and cheer me on. And so would Emily! I’m going to go ahead and include Emily in this bit because she taught gymnastics since she was twelve. She knows what it is like to handle kids, let alone people in general, who are trying to learn and develop new skills. It is incredible how encouraging they are. They were dealing with a touristy white girl who looks as able-bodied as possible. Instead of trying to get me to perform at their expectations, which many sports do, they instead met me where I am. Even when we would break into the big circle where everyone got to highlight what they were good at, they made sure the skills I was going to show off were what I could do. I moved my little energy ball around like a champ, squatting like a master and keeping hyper-focus on the tiny orb sandwiched between my palms. Instead of asking me to do cartwheels like Emily and mega-kicks like John, they took me for what I am.

It was obvious that they didn’t just do that with me, though. There was a little boy, he couldn’t have been older than two, whose name was Phillip. Phillip looked like he had, in a blunt way to put it, something wrong with him. His eyes were too far apart to be normal and his face was a little distorted in other aspects. They treated him like they treated me, with a little extra attention and care. The instructors would take any opportunity to let me and Phillip highlight the fact that although we are different, we are still capable of doing anything, maybe just in a little bit of a different way. Four fierce five all discussed after the fact how we immediately felt as if we were welcomed into the Capoeira community with open arms. It is incredible what that Capoeira class is doing, even if on a small level. They are not only providing an alternative for kids to direct energy into a healthy, wholesome medium (instead of joining the trafficking community), but they are doing it in a way that is all-inclusive and non-competitive. Capoeira is also uber-cool because there is no age or even skill division. That is something I talked about in detail with my father. In our relatively large Capoeira class there was the Maestro, probably in his fifties or older who has mastered the dance/fighting activity, to people like me, a total novice in the field who I just having the time of her life slinging her body around and sweating her eyeballs out.Capoeira was way-cool for so many reasons. That is definitely one of the most memorable experiences from the trip.

Home & Reflection

January 11th, 2017

It’s officially the end. I’m at home coughing by brains out, praying I would herniate another disk because of it, heating the bejeebies out of my wildly congested ear, typing away with a TV on and a MacBook Pro on my lap, a sweater on my body, heat on in my big-ass house, with a peeling chest making me reminisce to the morning I dove under the waves all day long. Looking back on my time in Rio, it felt like one of the most real times in my life, but now feels like such a haze. I am so thankful that I took the crap ton of pictures that I did. With them, I am able to stitch together my experience to remind myself that what I now feel was an incredible dream was actually a piece of my reality. Of course the conversations have already dulled, but that’s the beauty of photography. It sparks feelings, and even more surprisingly revitalizes memories. Take my photos of Sugar Loaf for example. There is a huge difference between going to Sugar Loaf versus remembering the interactions you had there. My pictures help me remember the hour long conversation our group had about Greek life on OU’s campus and the jokes Daryl and I were already having about being soooo sunburned. I have pictures of the up-and-coming photographer, Alex, letting me photograph him for a change. I have one shot of him taking a suuuuper up-close shot of some tree in the Botanical Gardens on one of the first days of our trip. That jogs my memory into recalling all the times he came up to me with a mediocre shot of a boat or a plant he was thrilled to show everyone about—I definitely remember those days. I told him about the Rule of Thirds and looking beyond the thing or idea that caught your eye to add a little bit more context, using your environment to frame your own idea to guide the view through your thoughts. But I don’t think he was catching on. Haha!

I’m also starting to notice, soooo late in the game, that my journal entries are not particularly reflective on what actually happened during my time in Rio, but what those experiences made me think about and feel. Like the Selaron steps? Those tiles made me feel so freaking tired. I loved realizing how much I appreciated the art of Rio. All of that graffiti ALL OVER THE CITY was absolutely incredible. It was also pretty shocking. In a city so full of disrespect, I still cannot believe how none of the graffiti was graffitied over each other. There weren’t even gang tags over the graffiti. It was art that was so surprisingly respected! And it was GORGEOUS! I never even took photos of any of it, there was absolutely no way to capture not only the art but all of the ironic respect that the graffiti represented. How is it that in a society where a huge fraction of the people are so horrifically ignored that an art form, which degrades other art structures (architecture), is so abundant and accepted by not only the public, but other artists?! That baffles me!!

One of my other favorite things about Rio was definitely the Capoeira that we not only watched in Rochina, but took part in with a lesson in one of Rochina’s big community complexes. It was the day of the African history walking tour with Syd (where the information was great but Syd was scary). That was our second to last day in Rio, and when you combine a week of non-stop go-go-going, a woman who scared the bejeebies out of you, and constant 100 degree temperatures with a scorching sun, only four of us went with Caren back into Rochina. It was me, John, Emily, and Alex. Emily used to be a gymnast so she kicked serious butt, John is John and dominated with all of his martial arts study, and then Alex was….well Alex with his hyper-fast metabolism and skinny body that could do whatever it wanted. Then there was me. Ha! The struggle started with my shoes having to come off because of the matts we were practicing on—then the first warm up was running, without my lift in. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to do anything! But immediately a guy came over and worked with me individually, substituting moves for me when I couldn’t run or jump like the rest of them.

Looking’ Back

January 10th, 2017

I’m back at home in Ardmore, Oklahoma. I’m huddling inside not because of the blistering sun and sweltering heat I had become so accustomed to, but because I have come down with a gnarly cold. My left ear still hasn’t popped after a three plane flights, a Muscinex, and half a day of heating it—I can’t hear out of it at all any more. Haha! This cold all started the last day I was in Rio. It was one of my favorite, too.

It all started with me sprinting down out of my three-tiered bunk bed (after Kelsy got sick and we switched) because of the wicked diarrhea I was having for the first time on the trip. What irony! I stumbled into class seven minutes late for the first time in my life, accompanied with Emily and Kelsy who were either waiting for me before walking to class or just taking a long time eating, and noticed that not everybody was ready. People were just casually chatting, going to the bathroom, and filling up their water bottles and the like. I finally understood Brazilian time on the last day of class. Nobody really cared if something happened right on time. I was only seven minutes late that morning butI felt so disrespectful and like a total failure—and I was even having the worst stomach cramps since my childhood belly problems. I shamefully scuffled up to Erika and quietly apologized for my tardiness and explained my bowel problems. She was so understanding that she didn’t even focus on my lateness but just felt bad for my mischievous belly! Thank you for your kindness!!

We had a ying-yang class of emotion and seriousness that swirled around because the pressure of our last day all together. We may never, and probably will never, be together again. Even though Caren is coming to Norman in a few weeks, not everyone will be able to come, I am sure! We will all have to get back to real life. Our time in Rio was great—I’m already showing everyone I recapping my adventure to my new Capoeira moves and recounting my obliviousness about the open-air drug market I walked through without noticing a single baggie of weed or handgun strapped to the hip of a red eyed adolescent. I can only imagine what everyone else finding out to be the most memorable of their trip! In addition to the mounting sadness and the impending marathon traveling to another hemisphere, we had to finish off our last marathon class, too. That is something I really appreciated the entire trip, our class was almost never in class. I loved that. It made me realize how much learning there is outside of the normalized, traditional “classroom experience.” While I’m recapping to my friends and family the highlights of my adventure, I’m finding myself telling the stories of my time in Rio, not just what we learned in class. Even more interestingly, even when I’m talking about what exactly we discussed in class, I am explaining it through the fieldtrips we took.

For example, today I went to my hairdresser, it’s the day after I got back. He’s  a pretty cool dude who is relatively updated with some of the Brazilian happenings because of the Olympics. He is especially up to date because his kids were swimmers—he knew “all about” the favela that butted up against that particular section of the Olympic park. He told me about some swim fanatics he knew that got to go to watch Phelps rock the swimming world…and how they complained about how “staying in the slums to watch the Olympics was so expensive.” What? #1 He talked about the favela like it should never have been there and #2 When did outsiders get to stay in the favelas like they were hotels?! I definitely didn’t set him straight because I’m not a favela expert or anything, but I did go through and talk about how negatively the Olympics impacted not only the favelas but all of the country. Sure I could recount what I read in books like The Spectacular Favela, Encountering Poverty, or Dancing with the Devil in the City of God, but I’m already figuring out how much more impactful my experiences were than I thought they were going to be. It’s like someone knew how incredibly amazing this trip was going to be!

 

Journeying Home

January 9th, 2017

Still sitting across from John in the airport in Rio. He’s on two phones right now and that is a little confusing. Maybe the little one without a case is the one he used while he was staying down here (in Brazil) by himself? I haven’t seen him whip out the blue phone before now, and he definitely looks a little confused by it. I love this deductive reasoning. He’s also rolling his ankles in a funny way that does not look comfortable in the slightest. We should be boarding soon, I’ll ask him about the double phoneage then.

I’ll miss this place and its people. It is so damn fun to look up and see so many different patterns and colors on so many people who rock the bejesus out of them.

UPDATE: John didn’t clarify whether or not the iPhone 4 was the one we used when he stayed here by himself, but he did say that it is a phone he would be willing to hand over to somebody who wanted to nab it from him on the streets of Rio.

Back to the colorful life of Cariocas. Throughout my short stay I ever failed to be impressed by the lives of the people of Rio. Maybe impressed isn’t the right word. I think I was always surprised. Especially after reading Barbassa’s book, Dancing with the Devil in the City of God, I guess I was expecting everyone who lived in Rio to be moping around about how horrible everything is in their city. And Barbassa’s depiction was even before the Olympics, most of its destructive construction, and that aftermath.

UPDATE: I have officially made it back to Dallas, Texas, USA! However, now I am camping out in front of the bag service counter waiting for the Aeromexico agent to arrive—my bad did not make it back to ‘Merica like I did. Additionally, I developed one nasty cold on the way back up north and have lost about half of my hearing to what is lovingly called airplane ears. Whoohoo. I was waiting for my ear drums to rupture and anticipating what that was going to feel like. On the way from Sao Paulo to Mexico City my right ear never popped at all. That wasn’t too bad, just really unsettling because, you know, all that pressure has to go somewhere. But the worst was the three hour flight from Mexico City to Dallas. My ears didn’t pop at all. That wasn’t even the scariest thing. Once I woke up from a nap I was able to feel the burning pain stretching from the bottom of my ear all the way to the joint of my mandible. Guess what? THAT STILL HASN’T GONE AWAY. I stopped freaking out once I got into the airport, though. At least there isn’t any more altitude to provide an immediate danger to my ears. And I am hearing some teeny weeny baby pops!! Whoohoo!

972-973-4122

That’s the number of the agent who has been “coming soon” since about thirty minutes ago. Two different guys who worked in the baggage claim area called her a total of about six or seven times…with no answer! They both suggested for me to go through customs without my baggage to talk to the Aeromexico desk on the other side of customs. That’s a hella smart idea to design the baggage claim area with the people on the other side—haha! I was strutting out of the baggage claim to go sassily chat with some folks about finding my bag when the two men starting pointing at a lady walking in and shouting That’s her! That’s her! The women was moseying in at a snail’s pace with a cup of coffee in her hand. A women, who had also become involved in the hunt for my bag and the Aeromexico agent, walked me over to her and told the agent that I needed her help. The agent’s response was hilarious. She made a little disgusted look and said with a Mexican accent, “For what?” She was flabbergasted that someone would need her help! That whole encounter ended with me finding out that my luggage was somewhere in Brazil or Mexico and that I would get it back eventually. Good thing it’s all summer clothes!

More Photo Thoughts & Headin’ Home

January 8th, 2017

How is documentary photography any different from other careers that do indeed capitalize on other aspects of life? If capitalizing on other people’s varying degrees of life is wrong, why is it okay to write anthropological books? Both documentary photographers and anthropological writers critically document the world around them. And as far as I can tell there is no restriction to the anthropological world on what is “okay” and “not okay” to study. Syd, the person who showed us around the port area this morning (my writing is getting all jumbled up now) “doesn’t take credit” for her (I am assuming Syd is a female and will refer to her as a her for ease of writing—I recognize I am not sure of his or her gender identity) impact on uncovering and telling the world how abhorrent slavery was in Rio and the long-term effects that are still evident in all facets of life in the city. Her whole life has been devoted to studying and exposing that injustice—and she was going to write a book about to make money. She isn’t just taking a snapshot of horrific wrongdoings in a sliver of time, in or out of context, but instead detailing every nuance she can find and then interjecting her thoughts and opinions (although highly educated) with all of her work she has produced. Take her tour today for example—it was riddled so intensely with her specific personal ideas and opinions that Erika could not have her own opinion without being wrong. For arguments sake, now think about the photos that were featured in the New Blacks museum. They are images that were printed out after staging and photographing a scene of Legos. I do admit and recognize that the artist behind the camera had a specific intent when producing his or her work, but the photos themselves would have no definitive meaning without the context the artist chooses (or chooses not) to provide alongside the image and, most importantly, the interpretation of the viewer. Why is one form of art, don’t forget writing or even public speaking is an art, more exploitative than others? Writing and speaking are so pointed that there is little room for wavering around ideas. With them, everything has to be so explicit to successfully convey ideas with their intended meanings. But I see that the beauty of the visual arts, including photography, is that option to be vague that so many disciplines lack.

I’ll get off my soap box.

By now it’s January 12th—you know what that means. Leaving day. I’m in the airport sitting in a food court with Emily, Alex, Tom, and John (who is somewhere). He just got back. He has a gnarly looking sandwich in hand. He’s plowed through it in only seconds. Some of the other gang is arriving, too. We just saw Kelsy, Parker, and Daryl wander in. It took us a few seconds to flag them down. John and I are traveling together tonight. I lucked out big time. Thankfully, as I concluded earlier in this journal, I scream to the heavens that I am American so I haven’t encountered too many problems with a language barrier. My Spanish helped me a lot more than I thought it would, which was admittedly very low expectations to begin with, but I could read menus a little bit and I was beginning to be able to decipher what John and Caren were saying to some people—I still couldn’t pick up on Erika’s Portuguese most of the time! Haha!

The biggest struggle I have had in Brazil has by far been with the airports. After shuffling around for twenty minutes in the B terminal of whatever airport this is in (in Rio), I was told and read myself three different gates for one flight. I had the same thing happen to me in Sao Paulo! It is terrifying! I spotted John walking by and howdy-doed him to get his attention. He was definitely equally distressed as me about the game of hopscotch our gate is playing. I just remembered something, too! When I was trying to fly into Rio from the Sao Paulo airport (which I have now complained about three times, the gate did the same thing. The flight was a hodgepodge of different airlines the first time around, and it is now, too! I shared this idea with John yet. He’s a little intimidating to travel with—#2 because I can’t always remember what I’m supposed to do when I check in and that is very shameful to admit in front of a seasoned travel vet #2 he seems very edgy when he travels. Whateves. We have a long time of traveling together to think that through.

 

Deflated

January 7th, 2017

I’m lying in bed in the middle of the afternoon for the first time on this trip (it’s actually the 10th though). I’m tired, but not just physically. My throat isn’t sore, but the muscles under my tongue are tight. I asked the all-knowing John for his opinion on the matter. He reminded me how extensive the lymphatic system is in our throat and in the mandible—my body is literally struggling to process this place at this point. Everyone has been complaining about their throats, too. We are all having a tough time adjusting not just to air and food and such. On that note, I’ve also been having the opposite problem to a lot of people on this trip. I am most definitely not constipated if you get what I’m saying. I have lost so much weight since I have been here. The freshman fifteen I gained on my back, arms, and belly during the first semester has dramatically decreased from a combination of the diarrhea, perpetual sweating, and sporadic meals (not complaining about the last two).. The salt is definitely not affecting me as much as everyone else for whatever reason. I haven’t felt or been this skinny in years. But I am sun burnt to a crisp after frolicking in the ocean all throughout the morning on the ninth, even after applying two coats of sunscreen. I think the UV index is around 11 or 12 in the joints? Rio has been a total detox that I was not expecting at all. But this isn’t the first time I don’t just feel relatively exhausted from a combination of Rio’s climate, food, culture, and problems, but a little defeated.

I don’t even know where to begin. I think I will start off by saying how grateful I am to have been allowed and able to come on this trip. I hyped up coming to Rio to study inequality and activism in my head a lot. I told myself and thought that if I could handle this, maybe I would have a shot at the life I dream about having. Being able to be thrown into any environment to adapt and learn about that place and its culture is something I value for myself right now and for the future, but I am wavering here. Other than Dr. Theriault’s class, Understanding the Global Community, I haven’t had a lot of exposure to anything even remotely close to the ideology of this class. I am not having difficulty understanding concepts we focus on most in class, but I think I am coming to realize that a lot of it has never been my cup of tea, in the sense of capturing my attention before this or having that motivate me to act upon anything. Of course I had an idea of poverty, and I think (and hope) it was one of more than just skinny black children reaching out for food, but I did not realize until coming here and being surrounded by a whole new world how many things, ideas, and practices I was just simply not aware of. That scares me for two big reasons. #1 How do people tromp around living a day-to-day life without ever knowing atrocities that are so indelibly and discretely stamped onto our lives. #2 How have I tromped around living a day-to-day life without ever knowing atrocities that are so indelibly and discretely stamped into my life?

Take the negative ramifications of photography, for example. What are the limitations to photojournalism in a context similar to what this class is exploring? Am I considered a photojournalist or a tourist in this context? Can I be considered a photojournalist instead of a tourist just taking photos by not only the people I want to document but also by my peers and instructors? I just posed a question to Parker and Lily about how I don’t completely understand why it isn’t always respectful to photograph and document the favelas, besides the danger that it would pose to our group and to respect the people who would be photographed. They both said things along the line of how it can be degrading to the residents because my photographing of them and their conditions make them, and my peers, feel like I am making a spectacle, a zoo of sorts, of their lives. Is there a way for me to show or prove that cheesy tourism shots and “wow”-factor photography isn’t my “game” with carrying my camera everywhere I go?

Unexpected Expectations & Realizations

January 6th, 2017

“People a while ago said I was an outlier. Activists have to be outliers. My mother was a cleaner and my dad cut hair. They had no college education whatsoever. But my mother always said “You have to study, you have to study.” I learned to love to study. When I was 17 I wrote a book. When I was fourteen I was working through the church through the activist groups there. The work I did with my church combined with the book I read made me very worried about the future   Given my background I could have become a drug trafficker there were two paths. Seeing groups like coming abroad makes me know this was the right choice.” –an activist from Guanabara Bay translated directly by Caren

Still on the way to the museum from the Guanabara Bay mangrove reforestation tour. Again, it was nothing at all like I had imagined. Again again, I did not come to this country with expectations. I do admit, again again, that I did have images in my head of what this place would be like. During the Bay tour, for example, I did not see a single piece of trash floating anywhere. Just yesterday at Caren’s house we were cracking jokes about how smelly it was about to be and how much poop we were going to see because of the rain. It didn’t seem that bad at all! I wasn’t aware though, until the presentation this morning, how much work had already been put into reforesting and cleaning up Guanabara Bay. Eleven tons of trash was cleared out of somewhere, but I still don’t know where specifically. *Side note: I’m getting really sleepy in this car after seeing everyone else sleep. My lower back is also starting to hurt quite noticeably from all the sitting I have done today. I don’t have that TINS machine on me either. Drat!* I guess I was expecting us to be tromping around in water that was supersaturated with debris and undissolved poo. I thought, and I’m pretty sure we all did, that it was going to be a much more hands on and gross experience. Instead, it was a lovely boat ride throughout which we learned fun facts, played and took selfies with crabs on muddy beaches, got ourselves and our boots horrifically stuck on those muddy beaches, and felt the bay spray on our faces (which may or may not have been a good thing now that I think about it) underneath the shade of the boat cover. I also just remembered how I need to clean off my camera lens. It got so salty from the bay while I was trying to take photos! We saw dolphins from a drastically depleted population breaching for air and birds perching on the skeletons of indigenous and illegal fish traps.

It was very odd to see the irony in the beauty of the place while so much wrongness still infests it. The fish die in those traps because they bake in an every-shallowing bay because of the massive deforestation of the mangroves. Since the mangroves were destroyed (for a reason I cannot recall) and the surrounded forest has been depleted sediment has slowly filled it over time. That’s what is causing the dolphins to die, too. There use to be 800 in the bay, now the count is down to just 39. We were lucky to encounter the remaining pod today, but their presence served as a reminder that just underneath all the superficial beauty of Rio de Janeiro there is a treasure trove of injustice to even the environment.

Just thinking back on what that activist said to us right before we left Guanabara Bay, the thing that stuck out to me most was how he said that he, and activists, are tethered to life as outsiders. I believe I have recognized that for a long time. It baffles me that the life of those who care deeply are the outliers of humanity. Why is passion unusual and mediocracy adequate such a social norm at this point? That’s what drove the leader of the Rochina tour to his state of such extreme discontent. So few people care about topics that matter these days, and that’s especially prevalent in my generation. Maybe I am a millennial—I grew up with the kids that cared not at all about anything.