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Published: October 17th 2018
October 15th, 2018
When you have a heart like mine, you can’t travel without seeing things that make it bleed. I am incredibly sensitive to suffering existing in others. We all suffer, some quietly and some without the luxury of privacy. This post is in honour of the suffering I have witnessed in my life’s travels. This post is filled with love.
My travels in Morocco today:
Today, on the first leg of our journey to the Sahara desert, we pulled to the side of the highway to purchase grapes from a man a few years younger than my husband who had weathered skin from a difficult life, was missing all of his teeth but had the most gorgeous green and hazel eyes. I couldn’t help but notice what an incredibly gorgeous face he had and I wondered how he would have looked had he lived a more forgiving existence with all of his teeth in his head. I worried for him because his green grapes were getting very ripe and I knew that if he didn’t sell them before they began to decay, he would lose his investment. Hassan gave him more money for the grapes than he had asked for and Aziz gave him half a pack of Camel cigarettes before we got back into the car. Cigarettes: the poor man’s comfort all over the world.
I just love Aziz, Hassan’s brother, closest in age. He is a special person with a kind heart and great empathy for animals. What I love the most is that when Hassan is with him, Hassan laughs and smiles far more often than usual.
Further along our journey, while waiting our turn to pay at a highway toll both, I noticed a boy no more than 18, dressed in his best with beautiful, dark curly, hair and arms that were far too thin, sitting on a barrier between toll booths selling packages of gum. I could see he was shivering a little. Behind him the sun was setting in the distance and I wondered if his clean, youthful face would look like the grape salesman’s in 30 years from now.
It is the hungry carriage horses in Benslimane that reminded me of the difficult things I witnessed in Brazil and opened the floodgates for me to finally write about them. The carriage horses here in Morocco are most certainly loved and cared for by their handlers. They are not hungry because of cruelty. They work all day with their handlers who are also hungry, taxiing people through the streets in their carriages. Hassan tells me that the young men and teenaged boys who are, for the most part, the people who do this job, are among the poorest people in his home town. Their horse’s ribs show not because they aren’t fed. Both eat, but neither get full.
Brazil is a passionate place full of dichotomies, moral dilemmas and extremes. I felt completely alive in that country. Life and death, love running hot and hate running hotter, dancing and gun shots ringing out, colour and heat, lust and garbage, fun and fear, heaven and hell. Brazilian life itself is sexy; but don’t you think for a moment that you can escape her embrace with your heart in one piece and without a craving for more.
When visiting my boyfriend Marcelo’s aunt Zelia, at her farm in the interior, I was treated to some horseback riding in the fields. At first a cowboy lead the horse around with me on its back. After a little time I was asked if I was comfortable taking the reins, to which I replied, “Sim!” Soon after the cowboy gave me the reins the horse bolted, trying to get me off of his back. I held tight and eventually the horse gave up trying - only now he would not move. He stood stubbornly no matter what I tried. I sensed something was not right so I leaned forward to look in his right eye and I asked him, “What is the matter my friend?” At that moment I discovered what the problem was. This noble creature had an open, raw and infected wound caused by his bit cutting into the sides of his mouth and without healing before having the bit put back in his mouth subsequent times. Whenever I pulled the reins it must have caused him unbearable pain. “Oh my God!” I cried and began weeping. I immediately let go of the reins and jumped down from the horse. “I’m so sorry my beautiful friend. I am so, so sorry,” I sobbed. Knowing he was understood and sensing my compassion, he stayed with me and allowed me to pet him tenderly, hug his neck and kiss his lovely face. I turned to yell at Marcelo, asking him to come over so that I could show him the wound. “You have to tell those cowboys not to put the bridle on him until the wound heals! If not the wound will never heal and if this infection spreads, the horse will most certainly die!” He gave me the same indifferent shrug that his aunt later did when I told her about the horse’s malady. The answer was almost the same: the cowboys won’t understand. They are illiterate, uneducated and ignorant. I sensed that a veterinarian would not be called. I couldn’t enjoy the rest of that day, nor did I enjoy the next, because I could only think about the miserable existence that lovely animal had ahead of him: seen as nothing more than an object, without emotions or intelligence, or even the ability to feel pain. I still feel an empty sensation deep in my gut when I think of him.
That trip to Brazil forever broke something inside of me because suffering was so blatant everywhere I looked.
One of my most fond friendships was with a dog who had the mange so bad that his entire body and eyes were dry and scabbed. He looked a lot like a pit bull and when I looked into his crusted, brown eyes I immediately recognized a gentle soul looking back at me. He was sweet and tame but unwanted. People would yell and kick at him to frighten him away. Whenever I saw him I would hug him, stroke his scaled, skin and tell him what a good dog he was. He would join me on my walks along the shore, wagging his tail enthusiastically all the while. The mange is not contagious to humans and I chose to look beyond the disgusting appearance of his condition. Whenever my hand stroked him I could feel relief in his body. I imagined what it must have felt like for him to go so long without being touched affectionately. Contemplating this made my heart swell and overflow with love for him. Reminiscing about him now has me crying.
I have always felt that mercy is incredibly powerful. It is a godlike power and I choose to live my life by it. I choose to love where others don’t, to forgive those who cannot forgive themselves, to listen with my spirit, and above all, to be gentle. To be merciful is absolutely my highest value.
The day in Brazil that most affected me was a day trip by car with my boyfriend Marcelo’s parents from Maceio, in the state of Alagoas, to the city of Recife, in the state of Pernambuco. After that trip I went into a deep depression from which I could not release myself for more than a week. To be honest, I have never been the same since. It began when we drove through a favela. The stench was so vile that I gagged as I closed my window frantically. I spotted a girl outside who looked exactly like me! She seemed to be completely desensitized to the oppressive smell all around her. She swept her stoop, surrounded by putrid piles of garbage and in that moment I saw a parallel universe. I knew with my whole soul that I was not more entitled to a comfortable life than she. She was me. I was her. The randomness of it all crashed down on me and buried my spirit under the weight of the rubble.
The world is inequitable by nature. It is chaotic, and that fact is devastating for a person like me with an overdeveloped sense of justice, to discover. I saw so many more things during that day trip that overwhelmed me because I had read so much about the country’s history before going and could see the never ending sugar plantations and the widespread poverty for what they were; but the most emotionally impactful experience took place on the way back to Alagoas. Marcelo’s parents insisted that we stop at the roadside so that I could try sugarcane juice. Two men and a woman sat at a table with a sugarcane press. Already spiritually heavy as a pile of concrete bricks, I didn’t want to face their poverty with my starkly contrasting privilege staring back at them. Unfortunately Marcelo’s parents wouldn’t take no for an answer. Sugarcane juice was mandatory. As we approached the table, the woman, about my age, jumped up. She reached out and touched my hair, and in Portuguese exclaimed, “You are so beautiful!” The way she looked at me, with her incredibly kind, admiring eyes that didn’t hold an ounce of resentment, was as if I was a movie star; and by standing in front of me, she could have a glimpse at a different life through my eyes. I didn’t feel flattered. I felt deeply ashamed of my complete collection of white teeth; my smooth, flushed skin; my thick, healthy hair; and my clear eyes - all of which screamed, “I eat healthy every day!” It was so unfair and her genuine admiration made me feel small. “Come and see my baby!” She led me to the window of a one roomed shack that was only inches away from the edge of the highway. As I followed her, I noticed that she had a great deal of menstrual blood on the back of her pants, too much for her not to be aware of so I didn’t point it out. The indignity of it kicked me in the gut. I leaned through the glassless window and directly below it I saw her beautiful baby sleeping on the bed that was placed there. Before that moment I didn’t think I could feel lower or more devastated. She was so proud of her perfect, little child and although I didn’t let on, I wanted to cry, imagining a speeding driver loosing control and smashing into the front of the shack where I stood. I smiled brightly and told her just how beautiful her daughter was. Quietly behind my facial expression, I thought about the dust and exhaust wafting in through the window each time a car passed by at 100 kilometres an hour. I didn’t want to portray pity. This woman deserved so much more than my pathetic pity. As I contemplated the baby’s future, I was only comforted by one detail: this baby would most certainly be loved deeply all of her life. I decided to reflect back the same enthusiasm that exuded from her loving mother’s eyes. After we hugged and said our goodbyes we returned to the car. The first thing Marcelo’s mother did was start joking about the menstrual blood on the back of the woman’s pants. I could feel myself shrinking into my seat with shame continuing to grow inside of me.
After driving away I had nothing left to say for days. I was rendered empty and silent and could no longer write. Now, twelve years later, after finally writing about these women who impacted me so deeply that day, I again have nothing left to say, but tomorrow I will write. Thank-you Morocco, for helping me to tap that well.
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