Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Beautiful Feet

The following is from my journal during a recent travel abroad. I'm going to build on these ideas in later entries when I write about functionalism, simplification, and getting back to the basics of life.

It’s a liberating experience not to shrink from mankind. I’m seeing poverty in a different way that I’ve seen it before. I’m seeing the humanity in it, which is easier in countries where gun violence is not a problem and the cities are centers of humanity rather than crime and pain. Clothing is worn for function, not fashion. Pants and shirts clash; they are dirty or small; they are sweaty or rolled up; they are mere afterthoughts for the body and soul inside. The same goes for shoes. Some people wear them, but many of the shoes are old and falling apart. The feet inside are calloused and tanned, the nails are rounded and thick; the feet have an animal quality to them, which cannot be civilized by a piece of protective skin. These feet are ugly, but that makes them more beautiful. They drive tuck tucks in Chennai and sink into wet mud in the village Erode. They grip weathered wood on boats in the Mekong Delta and chase tourist buses in South African townships. They are more natural than soft, pink feet with painted nails. The clothing and shoes here do not change the person, just as the people and their civilizations did not change the land in countries like Morocco and Namibia. I like when humans and nature can maintain their integrity in relation to superficial or invasive things (clothing and humans, respectively).

The houses we have seen are not bunkers like mine. They let the heat and humidity through the windows and the rain in through cracks in the roof. They are small and pieced together by colorful pieces of metal and wood. Some of them—in the South African townships, in poor areas of Chennai, and on the riverside in Vietnam—look as though they will collapse with one puff of wind. They do not cover or hide the people. The people are outside—tending the clothesline or cooking food, washing things in a bucket or holding a child. There is more transparency here—the same as with the clothes. The people seem stronger because they don’t hide behind thick walls. They seem happier because the community is closer knit and everyone raises every child. I don’t mean to romanticize poverty. These peoples’ lives are hard—filled with hunger, drugs, violence, and disease. I do not want to have their lives—or to live in their homes—but I respect them, and theirs is not an inherently doomed or sad way of life. I’ve seen their faces fill with joy, and I have seen human strength.

Woman pulling her boat through a traffic jam in Vietnam (click to enlarge)

Man in Vietnam

Child in a village outside of Chennai, India

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