Stranded on the Beach

Drew Hayes - Brazil

January 9, 2013

I remember the buzz about cities. In Ted Talks and magazine articles, people were raving about the efficiency of cities because, according to some grandiose regressions, the larger a city gets the more productive it becomes per capita. Megacities were claimed the future of mankind. I was not impressed. I lived in a mid-sized city and I didn’t see how someone living in Chicago or New York had a leg up on me in productivity. My perspective was clouded, however, by the fact that I already lived in a city. Now, living in a village of five hundred, I feel the lack of connectivity. Almost everything that I want to do requires more time and effort.

Say I want to check my e-mail. I put documents I need on a flash drive. I take a ten minute uphill walk to the internet house. There is no guarantee that the internet house will be open because, like most storekeepers here, the proprietor operates on a personal schedule. If it is open, there’s always a chance that the internet is abysmally slow because internet here comes almost exclusively from satellite. It’s strange to have to say “Sorry I bailed on our Facebook chat, it’s storming here!” After using the internet I walk back down the hill, making the entire trip at least 30 minutes. The same errand in my home takes one or two minutes.

Even more difficult, say I want to buy clothes. I haven’t had to buy clothes yet, but this is the process as described by community members. In order to find reasonably priced, quality clothes, I would have to go to Salvador, the capital of Bahia. First, I would have to walk 30 minutes to the highway. Then, I have to take a 2 hour bus ride to the bus station. From there I could take up to another hour riding city buses to get the right mall. Then, I do my shopping, probably without stopping for a meal. On the return, I do the same route, taking another two to three and a half hours. Once I arrive back home, the day is over. To shop for clothes takes a minimum of a full day.

That things take longer is a rule of living here in Diogo. Whether it is washing clothes, washing dishes, or buying ice cream, everything is slower and more arduous. A large part of it is simply a lack of labor-saving technologies: washing machines, internet, cars, etc. These technologies are becoming more common in Diogo but haven’t become a part of the lives of most people here. Another difficulty that slows things down is simply the lack of certain services. To find a hospital, mechanic, locksmith, etc. one has to travel, navigating through the pitfalls of public transport.

The result of all these challenges is a solid barrier to being productive and, as a result, a barrier to development. As I’ve conversed with tourists who pass through Diogo, I’ve seen that it’s easy for outsiders to point fingers at a slow, rural culture as a cause of slow development. Perhaps there is some truth to that, but more concretely, living in a rural, somewhat disconnected location lessens the potential of each and every day. I don’t know how I feel about a future of megacities, but from my experience, rural environments have serious drawbacks. As with everything, however, it’s a balance. Where else can I come across the serenity and natural wealth that Diogo has to offer?

Drew Hayes