Privilege and the Little Things

by kangcuzzi

In four days, my fellow Bridge Year companions and I will be heading off on a month-long adventure of our planning. First we’ll trek the Chapada’s breathtaking Vale do Pati trail, and then we’ll be spending a few weeks in the Amazon (and possibly the dry sertão region of Bahia as well). Our planning started much later than usual, which left us with some last-minute meetings filled with disconnecting phone calls and the occasional cake; but thanks to the classic laid-back jeito we’ve picked up in Brazil, we all work with the consolation that things will (probably) work out just fine.

In any case, one can’t deny that we’re incredibly lucky to have the opportunity, and the resources, to travel. We joke about throwing all our plans aside and blowing our budget on fancy dinners and paradisiacal islands, but we’re also very aware that, regardless of what we do and how ‘rugged’ our experience becomes, a lot of our choices are granted to us because we’re very, very fortunate. And definitely privileged.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: I’ve had my privilege checked many times here in Brazil. Coming from a socioeconomic environment where international travel was the norm, I sometimes feel embarrassed by the fact that I’ve seen more of the world than most teenagers — and for no other reason than the arbitrary birth lottery. Yesterday, I went to an English class taught by Conor’s homestay dad, Marquinhos, in which one of the prompts for class conversation was ‘where have you been in the world’? The class wanted to hear the full list of places I’ve travelled, and so I gave it — at the end of which my homestay sister, who spends hours of her days reading about places she’s never been, said (in English): ‘I’m sad.’

She said it jokingly, and everyone laughed. But I was a little sad. I didn’t deserve to see the world any more than the others in that room.

The same phenomenon occurred during a conversation with my homestay mom the following night, as I was eating dinner. She asked if we’d finished planning our trip and where we were going to go. I told her we’d be hiking the Vale do Pati, after which I asked você ja foi? (Have you already been?). The hike starts an hour or so away from Palmeiras, and my homestay dad was a trail guide, so I thought it’d be an appropriate question to ask. My homestay mom said she hadn’t been — and I realized that that wasn’t entirely unexpected. The trail is actually pretty darn expensive, if you include the costs for the guide, accommodation, food, etc. It’s a ‘rugged’ experience, but it doesn’t come without its privileges.

When I talked about the Amazons, I felt the same way: most people I’ve met here in Palmeiras haven’t been to the Amazons, let alone many other Brazilian states — unless it was to find work.

Yesterday night, in light of these reflections, I found myself talking with Alejandro about the idea of looking forward to things. The act of looking forward to things, I said, often comes with a lot of privilege. When we left Candeal, we had the privilege of looking forward to future adventures that buoyed us through what was a very difficult time. Still today I can’t help but wonder how our homestay moms must’ve felt. This whole year I’m looking forward to doing something — like going home, then starting college — and a lot of it is due to my ability and my resources to move around freely.

To Alejandro, however, the best part of looking forward to things is found in the smaller things. And upon thinking about it, I realized that something I’ve learnt in Brazil is how to appreciate the small stuff as much as their bigger counterparts.

Over the past four weeks, I’ve settled down and created a routine for myself here in Palmeiras. Granted, ‘routine’ in Brazil means something entirely different from ‘routine’ in Hong Kong, as I’m in a place that is so culturally and linguistically different (and has a deadline). Yet whereas my routine in Hong Kong was often a source of boredom / mild frustration with the static nature of things, my routine in Palmeiras is one that inspires little surprises or events that make me look forward to just being.

Things like:

Going to Jordan’s house early Friday morning expecting to spend some time conversing with Dona Toinha, but instead tasting some homemade canjica do milho and learning how to make crepioca (tapioca-based crepes) with Jordan’s homestay sister Johama. Playing basketball in the evenings and shooting an unanticipated goal, and afterwards hearing someone shout: Coreia! and feeling triumphant that they finally know I’m not Japanese. Sitting in the praça with friends conversing about various topics, waving to familiar faces as they pass by in cars, watching a Korean drama with my twin sisters, lying in a hammock at the pousada… really simple things, but always meaningful.

(And I know, I could probably find the same amount of inspiration in Hong Kong — I think the complacency of having been there for fourteen years caused otherwise. But if there’s one thing I’ll be taking home, it’s the realization that I can take ownership of my time to do things entirely spontaneous and super rewarding.)

In any case, I definitely cherish my small change of psyche, and I’m interested to see how it’ll carry on when I go home. For now, it’s a real shame we’re leaving Palmeiras so soon. Our four weeks here have been more invigorating than what any of us expected, especially after the tumult of leaving Salvador behind.

***

Yesterday, we went on a historic tour of Palmeiras and ended up on a hilltop overlooking a small panorama of the city. I looked across all the landmarks and was taken aback: like that, I could see my favourite memories and pastimes in Palmeiras mapped across the landscape, and it felt so warm to know that here, I’ll always find a home.

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