17 March 2009

Letters Home

I sift through journal pages and notice a common theme: letters.

My normal methods of communication ceased to exist during the trip; students were limited to a mere 2 hours of Internet for the entire voyage and my cell phone became a foreign object. In fact, I still forget it constantly after months of being home.

Far removed from my reality, in the middle of the ocean and unfamiliar territories, I think I reached out by writing to those whom I missed.

I wrote the first letter the same day of the flip-flop drop. With wet feet I traveled on a guided bus to the outskirts of Salvador and Bahia to the Saramandaia community. These outskirts communities are called favelas, which roughly translated in English are slums. The word slums, however is not only degrading but also presents a connotation of poverty that cannot even skim the surface of the depths of the conditions in Brazil. It even suggests a level of ignorance that the people living there might possess. What these Saramandaians lack in what I might call “formal education”, though, they compensate for in innovativeness and street smarts.

Upon arrival we met the leaders of the Grupo Cultural Arte Consciente, a grassroots movement devoted to reducing violence among children in the favela. Many community members teach the children boxing, acrobatics, dancing, drumming and painting to foster their skills and promote neighborhood peace.

On the way to Saramandaia I saw a man flying a kite on the highway. I saw another man riding his horse, weaving in and out of zipping cars. Culture shock was quickly setting in… and this letter is proof of my boggled mind that day.

Dear Professor

Before I left for my voyage, you advised me to “document, document, document.” You told me to take endless pictures so that I might use them in my future journalism endeavors, and you reminded me to always keep my audience in mind.

I’m afraid that I have already failed your mission on the first day in port at the first port of the journey. I’ve landed in Salvador, Brazil. My lack of prior knowledge about Salvador has sheltered me to the extreme poverty that I witness as I walk the streets of this favela. Skeletal children walk barefoot in dirt, scraps of metal and what I gather from scent can only be human waste. Mothers and countless children crowd into windows of shacks to watch a large tour bus of Americans invade their grounds. Tattered, ripped clothing lines the fences for hang drying.

Colorful. Chaotic. Filthy. Crowded. Disheveled. Perhaps the most shocking element is that these people are alive. The bold graffiti they paint on any visible surface throughout their neighborhoods reflects the reality of their being. The artwork sings a song, it dances to their drums, it tells their story. Every inch surrounding them become their canvas.

In your classes I’ve learned that my main objective as a journalist is to tell someone else’s story in the most vivid way possible. My job is to jot quotations, snap photographs and create a tale with my words and images. These tales then become my artwork. I cannot do my job as a journalist today. In order for me to “document, document, document,” someone else’s reality becomes my artwork. And I don’t feel quite right about it.

I’m putting the camera away for now. Instead of my lens I will use my eyes. The only audience I can document for right now is myself. I might not be doing my job as a journalist, but I think I’m doing my job as a human.

For more information about Grupo Cultural Arte Consciente, email Alex ou Fabio at programarteconsciente@hotmail.com

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