January 6th, 2017

“People a while ago said I was an outlier. Activists have to be outliers. My mother was a cleaner and my dad cut hair. They had no college education whatsoever. But my mother always said “You have to study, you have to study.” I learned to love to study. When I was 17 I wrote a book. When I was fourteen I was working through the church through the activist groups there. The work I did with my church combined with the book I read made me very worried about the future   Given my background I could have become a drug trafficker there were two paths. Seeing groups like coming abroad makes me know this was the right choice.” –an activist from Guanabara Bay translated directly by Caren

Still on the way to the museum from the Guanabara Bay mangrove reforestation tour. Again, it was nothing at all like I had imagined. Again again, I did not come to this country with expectations. I do admit, again again, that I did have images in my head of what this place would be like. During the Bay tour, for example, I did not see a single piece of trash floating anywhere. Just yesterday at Caren’s house we were cracking jokes about how smelly it was about to be and how much poop we were going to see because of the rain. It didn’t seem that bad at all! I wasn’t aware though, until the presentation this morning, how much work had already been put into reforesting and cleaning up Guanabara Bay. Eleven tons of trash was cleared out of somewhere, but I still don’t know where specifically. *Side note: I’m getting really sleepy in this car after seeing everyone else sleep. My lower back is also starting to hurt quite noticeably from all the sitting I have done today. I don’t have that TINS machine on me either. Drat!* I guess I was expecting us to be tromping around in water that was supersaturated with debris and undissolved poo. I thought, and I’m pretty sure we all did, that it was going to be a much more hands on and gross experience. Instead, it was a lovely boat ride throughout which we learned fun facts, played and took selfies with crabs on muddy beaches, got ourselves and our boots horrifically stuck on those muddy beaches, and felt the bay spray on our faces (which may or may not have been a good thing now that I think about it) underneath the shade of the boat cover. I also just remembered how I need to clean off my camera lens. It got so salty from the bay while I was trying to take photos! We saw dolphins from a drastically depleted population breaching for air and birds perching on the skeletons of indigenous and illegal fish traps.

It was very odd to see the irony in the beauty of the place while so much wrongness still infests it. The fish die in those traps because they bake in an every-shallowing bay because of the massive deforestation of the mangroves. Since the mangroves were destroyed (for a reason I cannot recall) and the surrounded forest has been depleted sediment has slowly filled it over time. That’s what is causing the dolphins to die, too. There use to be 800 in the bay, now the count is down to just 39. We were lucky to encounter the remaining pod today, but their presence served as a reminder that just underneath all the superficial beauty of Rio de Janeiro there is a treasure trove of injustice to even the environment.

Just thinking back on what that activist said to us right before we left Guanabara Bay, the thing that stuck out to me most was how he said that he, and activists, are tethered to life as outsiders. I believe I have recognized that for a long time. It baffles me that the life of those who care deeply are the outliers of humanity. Why is passion unusual and mediocracy adequate such a social norm at this point? That’s what drove the leader of the Rochina tour to his state of such extreme discontent. So few people care about topics that matter these days, and that’s especially prevalent in my generation. Maybe I am a millennial—I grew up with the kids that cared not at all about anything.

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