A Beautiful World

Below is a text about the Nicaragua project, which I wrote for Orkut.

I organised a youth exchange of 2 weeks in Nicaragua, with 10 youngsters from 16 to 22 years old. Most of them had never been out of Europe and certainly not to a development country. They like to talk about expensive cars, shops, and perfume and make-up. One voted for an extreme right-wing party (Wilders).

So it was a completely new experience for them to go to a poor country with broken roads, bad houses, a lot of sweat and dirt, hard work and primitive circumstances.It went well, it was difficult for them but they had a good time. Their efforts to conquer their difficulties were big. It took some time for me to realise how much the poverty strikes them, how hard they find it to live under these circumstances themselves and how much they are shocked by the poverty they see around them. For me it is not such a shock, I already knew it is like that, and I don't care to live like that myself for 2 weeks (or longer).

And this is why I want to organise these projects, to achieve that young people open up their minds and see that there is more in the world than their own lives in a small rich country like the Netherlands. I thought because they succeeded in overcoming their disgust and shock during these 2 weeks, it would make a change for them which would remain. But now one of the girls said: "I am too young for this experience, I cannot stand it. I will not go to a development country anymore. The next vacation I will stay in a 5 star hotel again. I want to believe a bit longer that the world is beautiful."

I was shocked to hear that. For me the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua is one of the most beautiful places in the world, with the beautiful nature, the friendly people, it is like a paradise. And do you want to go to a cold big concrete 5 star hotel then, in order to believe that the world is beautiful? I see so much more beauty with my projects in e.g. Nicaragua and Senegal.

And how is that possible, to believe again that the world is only beautiful? Will she forget what she has seen on Ometepe, what touched her, the faces of the children, how heavy the work was, and how people do that their whole life? Will she forget that we could take a plane and travel to the other side of the world for adventure, to see something more of the world, and how the youngsters at Ometepe probably never get the chance for that. In a youth hostel on the main land it was the first time they saw the Internet. You know that a large part of the world is still like that, nothing will change by not looking at it.

My mother raised me with a strong sense of justice and a desire to do something against injustice. I have always known that there is a lot of poverty and injustice in the world, already before I had seen it with my own eyes. I always wanted to go to Africa and when I finally went there in 2001 I felt a relief. I feel happy when I can do something for a better world, also if it is something very small. You cannot be too young for that (what about children who are born in poor countries or in a civil war, what if they are too young to face that). It is strange also that I am often considered to be naive and too optimistic. As if I dream of a very beautiful world but that I deny the problems in the real world. Still I want to be in development countries as often as possible, to do what I can there. Somehow I don't deny the dark side of the world and I can stand it to be confronted with that.

But I won’t be angry with the girl that she decided to close her mind for poverty. She cannot help it that she feels like this, in the same way as I can't help how I feel either. It would be useless if I try to convince her of my point of view. And she is open and honest, to talk about it like this. But it touched me a lot, that she doesn't want to go to places like Ometepe because she wants to “believe a bit longer that the world is beautiful”.

I got many reactions on Orkut. I would like to post one here, from an Orkuter I will call here Redouan. And also my reaction to him.

Redouan says:

"Life should be beautiful; not the natural setting!.. there is the earth is beautiful anyway... the african Sahara, the Amazons, the Glaciers of Alaska, the prairies of Siberia... all are beautiful... but life is a seperate issue... life can not be beautiful unless people make it beautiful, regardless of the natural setting where it is happening! ... beautiful are people, the atmosphere, the happiness, beauty is optimism, beauty is dedication, friendship... and yes... a warm Cafe in the middle of a concrete jungle called Manhattan can be a far better display of the beauties of life than a fisherman's shack on the coast of Senegal... it is that simple... that little girl needed the luxury of five star hotel to restore her confidence in the existance of the good things in life, things that make our lives beautiful... not having to worry about money makes life beautiful... Champagne makes life beautiful... a loving partner makes life more beautiful than a million palm trees... a life we will probably only live once before we become nothing! That little girl was right... she had a shattered confidence in the beauty of life, after seeing the dispair in nation far away from her home... after experiancing a poverty that she had no role in creating... she had to make sure her life was not that... she had to make sure she still had it! We must enjoy life, rather than wasting our times finding out how others are living theirs... life is a once per human experiance, don't do anything with it except enjoying it... that's why I'll never travel to a Malaria infested African nation... I travel for joy... and I find joy on street side cafe in Rome, not on mosquito stricken hammack in a tribal tent somewhere in the Amazons!
If you are lucky enough to have a beautiful life, then you gotta grab it by the horns and enjoy every second of it and not try to make people feel guilty for something that is not their fault by making them experience the hell others are going through..."

My reaction:

"I agree that a feeling of guilt is useless. If people want to do some something for a better world then it should be out of a desire that comes from their heart, out of compassion, not because of feeling guilty.
And most people on Ometepe don't consider their lives as in hell, not at all, it is not only the nature that makes the place beautiful and good. For rich people it can look like hell, the bad roads, dirt, lack of education, lack of means, lack of health care. But life is not bad for the people who live on the island, they have enough to eat (although not varied enough), enough clothes and basic stuff. They lead a normal and often happy life. It all depends on how you look at this. I don't blame the girl for her decision, I accept and respect it. In fact I respect it more than what Redouan said. What the Dutch girl said showed that she was deeply touched by what she has seen in Nicaragua. She had her eyes wide open while she looked at the poverty, because she likes luxury so much her self, it was a big shock for her to see the poverty. She imagined in a very concrete way how it would be for her to live like the people on Ometepe. She looked the children in their eyes, the dirty faces, the children who are sick and could easily be cured if they would live somewhere else. The youngsters of her age and all the things she has and they don't have. Not that youngsters will always be more happy if they are as rich as the Dutch girl. Just that she finds these things important, so in her eyes the youngsters at Ometepe miss a lot. She was really touched and shocked and that is why it is difficult for her to go back to such a place now. She wants to protect herself against becoming cynical, becoming indifferent. She is wise that she realises this.
To say that you only want to enjoy life and that you don't care about the misery of others, if you are yourself not the direct cause of their misery, is something I find morally wrong and it is something totally different than to say that you want to help and that you care but that you pesonally can't stand to see the suffering right now."

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