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Two Weeks to Go - Scattered Thoughts



Because love is an act of courage, not of fear, love is commitment to other men. No matter where the oppressed are found, the act of love is commitment to their cause--the cause of liberation.

- Paulo Freire, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed

What could be more important than to live and work with the oppressed, with the "rejects of life," with the "wretched of the earth"?

- Paulo Freire, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed

He went on writing his letter. I looked around. The airport, Charles de Gaulle, has an angular, steel-and-glass simplicity, which struck me just then as frighteningly complex, which made me feel projected into a future I didn't understand. I thought of its duty-free shop, where one could buy first-class Pâté, confit d'oie, grand cru wines. "You started that letter on a hike in rural Haiti," I mused alound, thinking now of those arid highlands, of medieval peasant huts, donkey ambulances. "It seems like another world."

Farmer looked up, smiling, and in a chirpy-sounding voice, he said, "But that feeling has the disadvantage of being..." He paused a beat. "Wrong."

"Well," I retorted, "it depends on how you look at it."

"No, it doesn't," he replied, in a very pleasant voice. "The polite thing to say would be, 'You're right. It's a parallel universe. There really is no relation between the massive accumulation of wealth in one part of the world and abject misery in another.'" He looked at me. He'd made me laugh. "You know I'm being funny about something serious," he said.

- Conversation between Tracy Kidder and Paul Farmer, from Mountains Beyond Mountains

What happens to poor people is never divorced from the actions of the powerful.

- Paul Farmer, in Pathologies of Power

Do we North Americans eat well because the poor in the third world do not eat at all? Are we North Americans powerful, because we help keep the poor in the third world weak? Are we North Americans free, because we help keep the poor in the third world oppressed?

- Introduction to the autobiography of Father James Guadalupe Carney

"WL’s [White Liberals] think all the world’s problems can be fixed without any cost to themselves. We don’t believe that. There’s a lot to be said for sacrifice, remorse, even pity. It’s what separates us from roaches."

- Paul Farmer, from Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder


These are the kinds of things I have been thinking about recently. My greatest hope is that I will be able to connect, in a meaningful way, with poverty in Morocco. I do not want another YVC experience, which, despite all of its good intentions, ultimately maintained a "safe distance" between the (mostly white, mostly wealthy) volunteers and the recipients of their "sacrifices." I do not mean to downplay the importance of volunteerism. Certainly, though, we must judge the efficacy of our work. There is a continuum of sacrifice and efficacy; we must judge what we have done against what we could do, and, most of all, we must not use our small sacrifices as soothing balms, as gold stars, or as a substitute for real solidarity with the oppressed. We do not give ourselves because it looks good; we do it because it is the right thing to do, the moral bare minimum; what we owe back to those from whom we have for so long reaped privilege and power.
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