wk2, entry 2 - Bus 174

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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In class today, we watched a movie, Bus 174, that highlights Brazilian social divisions, causing the viewers to sympathize with a bus hijacker who killed a hostage. 

The movie, as with all movies that portray moving social issues, had a profound impact on me, causing me to reflect on how I live my own life, and where it is headed.  Invisibility is the worst crime against humanity, the worst atrocity committed in today’s world.  It affects Africans, South Americans, North Americans, Europeans, Australians, Asians - all the people of the world.  No societies, no countries, are exempt.  Each person in the world has his (I use the masculine for simplicity, its okay to be sexist here in BA) own reality that he lives with each and every day.  For most Estadounidenses, that means working Monday through Friday, having some sort of home life, some sort of recreation outside of those two, and enjoying a high standard of living with high purchasing power.  It is possible for a US citizen, for myself, to live his entire life with such a reality, making the most out of it, perhaps becoming relatively wealthy, or perhaps just scraping by in a lower income level.  Or perhaps I have a debilitating mental disease, or perhaps I make some very poor decisions, and I end up on the streets of Boston, Tampa, Atlanta, New York, hungry. 

It is so easy for people to become absorbed with their own reality, to be absorbed in the goings-on of their own lives - it may never become necessary to think about the realities that other, less fortunate, people are living.  Of course they spend lots of time considering the realities of those who live better than them, they grumble and whine and strive to improve their position.  They know, somewhere in the back of their unconsciousness, that people somewhere else, in some far-away land called - what is it again? - Africa, which they aren’t sure is a continent or a country or one big village of indians with pooching bellies and rings in their noses who graciously allow photo-shoots by National Geographic, are living differently than them, worse off than them, so worse off that their Moms sent their unfinished plates of food off to Africa where they would be appreciated.  But that’s just Africa.  Certainly those realities, those horrifying day-to-day realities that people don’t like to think about, happen nowhere else, only in that intangible, immaterial world called Africa.  Bums on the streets of their city?  Sure they’ve seen ‘em.  Those drunks. 

People maintain a mentality that exacerbates global conditions of inequality and allows them to coexist with injustices and atrocities.  A defence mechanism.  It separates their reality, their everyday existence from these problems, to allow them to live happy, unburdened lives, uninhibited by guilt or other uncomfortable feelings that bring the realities of the less fortunate to rational consciousness.  I do it.  Even consciously.  To stay sane.  Then experiences come along and rock my boat, and it becomes even more clear to me that I can’t live a complacent life.  Thinking about these issues, about the realities of others, is uncomfortable.  I don’t want a comfortable life. 

Rural Bariloche, like most areas of Argentina, especially in the provinces, has a large number of mostly ethnically Native American poor residents, living in extreme poverty.  I briefly glimpsed this life and some of the favelas common to rural areas when I rode through Colonia Suiza on my rented mountain bike.  In the town of Bariloche, the tourist section, as in Buenos Aires, as in Atlanta, there are people, especially outside the church (like Catedral in downtown BA), asking for money.  If not with words, than with their eyes and their stomachs.  I went to church at 11:45 on Sunday, hoping for a noon mass, but instead caught the end of the 11 o’clock mass, the last mass.  My bus left at 5:45 that afternoon, so my plan was just to bum around the town until then, do some shopping.  There was a sweet pair of Puma rock-climbing shoes for a decent price, US$80.  Though I couldn’t use them on this trip to Bariloche, I hope to find places to climb outside Santiago while I am studying there next semester, or maybe even while traveling around Brazil.  US$80 - 240 Argentine pesos.  After church, I sat down in the pews to think, reflect, relax, meditate, focus, and pray.  A little girl tapped me on the shoulder -

"Moneda señor?"  ("Any change mister?")
"Lo siento, No."  ("Sorry, no.") 

240 pesos.  I wonder what she would do with that.  Quite a moral dilemma.  Rock-climbing shoes I might use in a few months.  Or food for a little girl and her family for at least a week.  (Or the pessimist:  Just money for her alcoholic father).  I saw the little girl leave the church and meet up with a woman outside.  I sat there a while longer.  Then I got up and went out the door the little girl went out.  She was standing out there with the other girl, who I now saw was much younger. 

"Moneda señor?"  ("Any change mister?")
"Lo siento, No."  ("Sorry, no.") 

I asked how they were doing, as if this tourist really cared, and if they were sisters.  They gave each other quizzical, apprehensive looks, unsure of how to respond to this strange man.  The older girl answered no.  Mother and Daughter?  No.  Amigas?  Si.  Do you guys live near here?  Again, apprehensive, not sure how to respond.  No.  Do you have family here?  Yes, we take the bus here from (somewhere in rural Bariloche).  Things relax a bit, they adjust to my presence.  How old are you guys?  6. 16.  Me llamo Derek, un gusto.  We shake hands.  Are you hungry?  The little girl looks up eagerly, expecting money.  Would you like to come to lunch with me?  They look at each other, once again unsure of what to think, wary.  An uncertain “No...”  Okay, no problem, just an offer.  In retrospect, maybe I should have said “in a restaurant.”  They may have been wary of a strange man approaching them trying to take two young girls to lunch.  Understandable.  Some more small chit chat.  I extend the offer one more time before bidding them adieu.  I walk away.  Back to my life.  Back to my reality.  A sobering encounter.

Experiences like this.  Uncomfortable brushes with alternate realities.  For me, one of the most important reasons for this trip.  Not that we don’t have it in the states - even my school city of Atlanta is rife with social issues.

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