Volunteer in Mission to Brazil

11 February 2006

Let it snow

As we are experiencing the first snow storm since I have been back in the Washington DC area, it is a good time to catch up on the blog. I have felt bad about not writing so regularly, but when I am swept back into the U.S. workforce, it becomes very difficult to find time to write.

One thing that has really struck me as I have been riding the subway to work is how detached everyone seems here, and to what great lengths the people on the subway go to avoid interacting with other passengers. Almost everybody has something to read, earphones, a cell phone or a combination of the above. It is so strange compared to Brazil, where the object of the game is to strike up conversations with those around you, not to ignore them. While I enjoy reading during my commute, some days I purposely leave my book at home and just watch people and make eye contact. I have long felt like part of my "ministry" in life is simply acknowledging people that are often overlooked, making deliberate eye contact and offering a smile. One thing I enjoy about the subway is the mix of people from all over. I have always felt more connected to society when I take public transportation. Although the neighborhoods are still racially polarized (which means at certain points within the subway system, the passengers appear very homogeneous), there are some places in the city (particularly during rush hour) where everybody is all mixed in together on the subway trains. I imagine for some people, a train full of people is a delight--all kinds of people to observe--and for others, a full train must be a horror as they fight claustrophobic and xenophobic tendencies.

One sign of how much I miss Brazil is the infusion of energy and sunshine I got from a five minute phone conversation with the Brazilian employees of the Brazilian-American Cultural Institute (BACI) when I called to arrange for Portuguese lessons (so I can maintain and improve my Portuguese communication skills while I'm here). Going to my first lesson also had the same effect. Even though it was the end of a long day, I didn't feel tired and was so happy to be having a "Brazilian" conversation.

I am very thankful for my job and the opportunity to support myself and save money while I am waiting for the visa, but it is very difficult not to feel like a lemming. The days run together, and it's difficult to make each day feel purposeful and unique. It's a definite reminder of how precious life is to be working again in the same building as the NIH hospital, where some of the most ill patients from around the country and the world participate in clinical trials. You go to get coffee and see a child from another country with no hair and a deformed face and skull. After saying a prayer for her, you remember to give thanks for your health, even though you sometimes feel plagued by small ailments.

I look forward to seeing the winter wonderland in the morning, and would not at all be disappointed to have a snow day on Monday if the government decided to close down due to the inclement weather...