Wednesday, 28 January 2009

You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs

Or, more to the point, you can't have a march in the Amazon without torrential rain.

The World Social Forum proper started yesterday, with a march of about 50,000 people I think, though it's hard to tell. When it rains so hard that you are drenched in seconds, you look down. Your umbrella shrinks your world. (So does who you share it with!). Without the rain, would I have noticed how many people marched in bare feet? Would I have realised that all the drums in the drum band were made of rubbish?- empty gas bottles, broken metal bins, leaky plastic water drums. Would I have stayed so close to the friends I have made if I wasn't afraid of losing them? Would that Amerindian chief have smiled so warmly if my camera wasn't waterproof and therefore rare?! Would those fifty people have got so close, marching together under a roof of 'Stop Nuclear War' banner? I don't know- maybe. I hope so.

I lost B within 5 minutes and didn't see him again until the end, 6km later. (Surprise surprise!). I marched with the South Asian People's Initiative. These are a part of our Ignatian pre-forum group, 29 Indians, mainly tribal people (Dalit and Adivasi). They are unobtrusively astounding, which I suspect is a rare gift. Some speak only Tamil, or only Hindi. They were in their element, marching. Pradeep had a long drum, which is played with a beater in one hand doing one rhythm, and a brush in the other doing a much faster rhythm. He played without stopping for 45 minutes on the bus and then 5 hours on the march. People came to us and danced. The leather cord was digging into his neck. The SAPI group have been marching for 27 years. I was exhausted after 5 hours.
Pradeep rousing the rabble on the bus

Frei Betto told us the day before that we need different eyes. We need awareness of our internal ecology. At home I recycle, but how much attention do I pay to the waste in my heart? How sustainable are my relationships? Am I better at washing and recycling glass than I am at tending living things? Ouch!

Just a few impressions. Hundreds of Amazonian indians- the dignified and the sulky, chanting Macuxi or drinking coke with white girlfriends, painted, tattoed, feathers in traditional headdresses or funky jewellery. The barefoot marchers tired by the end, but OBVIOUSLY still dancing. Rivers of water running down the street, water pouring off the edge of banners on to unwary passers-by, waterlogged shoes, water pouring out the bottom of the broken drums, water running off tattoos on indigenous shoulders oblivious to the rain.

I was in some pain by the end. I haven't walked that far since my DVTs in 2006. Is that real solidarity? I'm not sure. It felt like it. Pointless pain that doesn't achieve anything tangible. Wasted pain, which so many people in the march understand more deeply than I ever will. Walking together with friends made over the previous four days, not to get sponsorship, not to collect water, not to deliver a petition, but simply to walk together.

The pain is gone today. We're staying in, having a restful day. We handwashed clothes this morning, and now I'm typing this, thinking of friends in distant places. Then we'll relax and have lunch and perhaps go downtown (no sessions at the WSF in anything other than Portuguese today!). Solidarity yesterday, recovery today. Hmmmm! Luxury! Still, I am who I am, frail in my privilege. My poverties are in stamina, in persistence and in understanding. I am so happy to find that these people I've met here, who are rich in those things, value my different gifts too. I think that's very generous of them. xxx

Nirmala on the march

A Brazilian Amerindian marcher

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