Settling In, Reflecting

Michael Stivers - Brazil


January 11, 2011

The past three weeks in my new home-stay have been an absolute roller coaster as have the emotions that have accompanied it. One of the, if not the most present emotions hasn’t been the likely culprits such as homesickness or culture shock. It’s an unexpected one: privilege. Material possessions and conveniences that I thought I would get an opportunity to leave behind in the States, I’m experiencing here. I thought that I would be out in the thick of it, truly experiencing the lifestyle of those less privileged than I. In many ways I am not.

I live in front of the ocean, frequent nearby restaurants, and upon arrival in my very modest, but comfortable home I was reintroduced to the seemingly long lost concept of hot water. This is not to say that either my dad or brother (the only two permanent members of the house) hold an elitist attitude or live lavishly. We have a bean bag in our living room. Occasionally my dad Joselito or brother Josinan will sleep here, pillow and blanket-less merely because they find themselves too exhausted to make the twelve foot trek to their respective rooms. I hope this gives an accurate insight into how easy going these people are.

Even still it has been hard to accept that while trying to understand poverty a little bit better I am living outside of it (although the community center Bagunçaço is located the relatively poor area of Jardim Cruzeiro I live a couple miles outside in the slightly wealthier area of Ribeira).I envisioned this experience pushing me to my physical limits and for the most part it has not. At first it was hard hearing from friends in Africa who do their personal business in a hole for the lack of a better word. At the same time I’m catching up on email in my living room.

I then started thinking that I had been jipped. I wasn’t learning or benefitting as much as I could on this gap year because I had been blessed with a washing machine and a father with four cell phones (even for Brazil where the system of cell phone compatibility is a nightmare, this is crazy).It took me a while to realize how ignorant that mindset was. Instead of focusing on my day to day and working to improve it, I was spending huge chunks of time thinking about how experientially unprivileged I was because I was…well, privileged.

It’s difficult to be completely content with a situation. I mean 100% wouldn’t change a single thing content. Ask yourself how frequently you get to a place where you wouldn’t alter the temperature just a degree or two, reduce the sound outside just a tad, or change the people that surround you. These moments are pretty hard to come by.

While talking to other Fellows (not only in Brazil) I find that we each crave certain parts of each others experiences. I’m sure those in the rural towns outside out of Quito would die for a beach visit that happens to be just a bus ride away for us city folk of Salvador. Then again I find myself in this concrete metropolis yearning for the countryside of Senegal. I would also be willing to bet that those who have come to call Leona and Dakar “home” could use a day out of the seemingly blistering heat, maybe in cooler local like Ecuador.

While my home, area of work, family, or location may not be exactly what I had sought after, my situation has one thing going for it. Its mine. And it shouldn’t be desirable to anyone besides myself. That would be distracting you from your own.

Michael Stivers