No longer strangers

Recently I was reading an article (We take risks, others pay the price) about greenhouse gas emissions and their relation to “reckless risk-taking.”  The article discussed the fact that many industrialized nations refuse to fully support, and fight against climate change.  We would rather sweep it under the rug because it may not be profitable for us or it may not affect us directly, at least at this moment.  We would rather drive our air-conditioned cars two minutes to the grocery store, instead of walking, or riding our bike, because the groceries are heavy and it’s hot outside.  So, we don’t take much of an interest.  The author, Naomi Klein, writes, “Only when we feel that our fates are genuinely intertwined will we understand that a fire that starts in Africa will eventually incinerate us all.”

It’s a funny thing with life – we don’t really care until it affects us.  If it’s not in front of us, it’s not real.  It’s easier to ignore the issue, put the responsibility on someone else, or save it for later.  We must be personally invested before it matters.  We have to feel involved, affected and responsible.

And that’s what this journey has done for me.  I know what it feels like not having access to clean water.  I know what it feels like not having electricity for weeks during rainy season.  I know what it feels like to sweat yourself to sleep at night under a smothering mosquito net — no air condition, no ice, no basic amenities.

I saw my homestay family agonize over rain because rain brings food.  Without rain, no food, no income, no life.  These foreign, distant worries became real, tangible.  They became faces, instead of abstract words.  They are now my neighbors, my students, my friends.  They are a part of my life and I am a part of theirs.

It’s not a short-term project, it’s not a check in the mail, it’s not a concerned email, it’s not a discussion forgotten about by dinner time, it’s my life.  It’s living with the people.  I have become invested like never before.  Yet why does it take all this?  Why can’t we realize that their problems will become ours – one world, one people.  We may be distanced by language, culture or sea, but eventually, the message in a bottle touches our shore.

Before coming to Cape Verde, I saw Africa as barefoot children and swollen bellies — a world away from my own.  Now I see my homestay sister crushing corn for couscous, and my students grasping new ideas.  I see people; I see myself.  I see we really do share an ocean; we share a world; we share a life.

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