Babylon, the other side of Paradise


maceio

Right now, I’m sipping water from a coconut that grew on a tree 15 feet away. I spent the day in shorts and flip flops, and walked a gorgeous beach before taking a swim at sunset. The people I know here overflow with my favorite portuguese word: carinho (affection, care). They have a sense of humor and mutual respect that I admire. I learn alot from my friends here, and I love the gifts of mother nature – warm sun, plentiful fruit, powerful waves. It’s paradise here in Maceio, Brazil.

But…

There is always another side to things that becomes obvious when you stay longer than the typical tourist. I came into Brazil from the USA, where the selection and price of electronics is the best in the world. That said, I brought a slick new camera for my buddy who runs the pousada where I’m staying. I gave it to him on my first night in town, and he was stoked. He could now take photos of the surfers who stay at his surf camp. Less than 24 hours later, he was robbed at gunpoint walking back from the beach with his new camera. A swiss friend was robbed just two days earlier in the same area. The bandits wouldn’t even leave him his books, written in German, which they obviously couldn’t read. Tourists make easy prey, and these things happen all over the globe near tourist centers like our beach. It’s violent, and it’s terrible, but it’s mild in comparison to the stories I’ve heard.

Last week during carnaval, a young woman here was walking back to her home after the street parade. It was just after dark, and she was approached by two men on horses. They lassoed her around the hands and dragged her, screaming, down the street to God-knows-what end. When they stopped, neighbors came to investigate the noise. The guys rode off, leaving her in the street with bloody wounds from their ropes all over her hands.

Just two days ago, I was having lunch with a local friend. She introduced me to a neighbor walking by. He was built like a truck, tall, strong – the kind of guy you’d be afraid to fight. But this guy wouldn’t hurt a fly. He was a big teddy bear, a guy you want to hug the first time you meet. It was his 22nd birthday that day, and he was heading to the market to buy some stuff for his party. The party was to be on the beach around 9. Around 8, he was murdered.

The news reports called him a drug trafficker. My friends who knew him told me he was a user, but that’s it. Apparently, he had a run in with the local law recently, and was telling everyone how corrupt the whole interaction had been. The police don’t like this publicity in the community. Their response (according to my source) was arranging 4 shots to the head, on the beach, just before the start of his birthday party. In the end, the details don’t really matter. The fact is, a mob-style hit happened on the beach, and it’s hardly even newsworthy. These things happen, and it’s not that shocking when they do. I was told that Maceio, the capital of the state of Alagoas, had 198 murders during the week of Carnaval. 198! In a week! Although it is relatively unknown in Brazil, Maceio is now officially the murder capital of the nation.

I know these things happen everywhere. Humanity is capable of amazing atrocities at times. In fact, just this week, there is a story from East Texas that’s even more monstrous than the Brazilian news. 18 men raped an 11 year old girl, recording it all with video and photos. Some major newspapers have reported that the girl dressed and acted more mature than her actual age. Others have said that it’s the mother’s fault for not keeping an eye on her child. This is meant to somehow excuse the men’s behavior? These responses are a shame. I know a guy in Thailand that’s stuck in a wheelchair. The owner of the bar next door shot him, upset that his bar was more successful. I spent much of the last year in Philadelphia (the city of brotherly love). There were shootings in my friend’s neighborhood almost every week. C’est la vie, right?

I don’t understand the violence of men. I mean, I understand it from an intellectual perspective. I can explain it all with theories, but it’s sad. Ultimately, it all goes back to a lack of love. Happy people don’t rape little girls. And they don’t shoot young men on their birthday. People with love in their hearts don’t use violence to solve conflicts. Healthy cultures don’t start wars, spending all their money on weapons. Peaceful people don’t enjoy watching violence on tv. How has humanity come so far? These things happen all the time everywhere people live, and it hardly even catches our attention. I’ve always felt enraged by these stories, but anger can’t solve anything. At best, it mobilizes energy for action. But normally, it just creates more violence. Only love works. If you see the perpetrator of the crime as child lacking love, it is easy to see the path to correcting the problem. Ultimately, we are responsible for it whether we like it or not. Denial of the problem only keeps it festering. We are a part of a human system that is sick. If we do nothing, someone else has to do the work.

The TV in the courtyard of my guesthouse is showing news from Japan. The earthquake and tsunami that rocked the land of the rising son has awakened compassion from the world. In fact, these things always do. In Haiti, Thailand, Indonesia, at 9/11… the world always responds with carinho first. When the TV cameras are on and the world is watching, people act. There is a heart in humanity, but it’s false when it’s done for recognition. I believe that Philadelphia (the word) is possible and sustainable. But we have to remember to act even when no one is watching. It’s really not that hard.

It all starts with knowing that the other is as valuable as you. That’s the root of it all. It’s the message of all the religions. If this message really hit the heart, violence would simply disappear. Would you want to be shot, raped, ripped off, misinformed, exploited, judged, jailed, suppressed, poisoned, or whatever? Me neither. So I try to catch myself doing this to others. When I do catch myself being judgmental (we all do it), I forgive. If anyone can figure a plan to teach this effectively, do it. Be the example. The world needs this more than anything else.

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