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Five: India

Marisa Handler Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

71


A boy of about eight is riding an adult-sized women’s bicycle. The seat is far too high for him, so he hovers as he rides, bottom angled out over the left side of the bike. His left foot works the left pedal while his right leg extends between the bars to push the right pedal. I watch from the garden where I sit, on an agricultural ashram I am visiting several miles outside of Bangalore. The dirt road he travels becomes a bridge of sorts, a mud dike elevated between two shallow bodies of water. The sun is behind him, and I squint watching his silhouette framed and reframed against the unforgiving midday light. I am holding my breath, convinced he will topple at any second. But this lopsided contraption, boy and bike in baffling harmony, perseveres. It shouldn’t work. He is heavily weighted on the left side, and his arms barely reach the handles. But somehow it does. As he approaches, strains of a hugely popular Bollywood hit waft toward me over the heat’s assault. He is whistling.


India. Nothing in this subcontinent of over a billion seems to work. Buses break down with near-clockwork regularity, trains leave dependably late or occasionally early. Post offices lack stamps. Gas stations run out of gas. You pay for one thing and get something else entirely—and invariably delivered with great pride. Tradition tussles with modernity, democracy wrestles with caste, Indian-produced Thumbs-Up dukes it out with global goliath Coca-Cola. The Hindus despise or endure the Muslims. The Muslims—a largely moderate minority of 130 million—struggle at coexistence. Meanwhile Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, and even a few Jews busily carve out their own customized niches.

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Eight: Miami

Marisa Handler Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

133


Run, Marisa, run. Go. Go. Go. Faster. Keep running.

There is no other line of thought in my brain. The panic stretches so wide it exiles all but the nonessential. Run. Run. I am clutching my sign, my backpack is jogging hard against me, and it will be simply a matter of luck if I don’t slam into another runner. Sirens shriek. I am surrounded by choppy swells of black, a surging swarm of sprinters veering at manic angles. Cops at the jagged edges of the beast, prowling. Run. I’m not sure why, but I must keep running, can’t be left behind. Go. Faster. Move. Can’t see much in front: just bobbing heads. Behind: generous crescents of white around the eyes, pink Os of mouths.

Can’t—get—quite—enough—oxygen.

“Run!” someone is screaming, as if we weren’t already, as if hundreds of pairs of lungs weren’t already aflame. “Run!” Rape! Fire! Murder! they may as well be howling. Panic stabs through the crowd, and the pace picks up. Somewhere in the conjoined brain of this terrorized animal the primal impulse to flee has been slumbering; once aroused it is overwhelming, irresistible, familiar. A cheer arises from my left. On a window glints the strident black of a fresh-scrawled anarchy sign. Running through the streets of Miami with the Black Bloc: not what I pictured when I contemplated going to Miami to protest the FTAA.

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Four: Nepal

Marisa Handler Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub


The women of Pathan are washing their laundry.

Dip, smear with soap, scrub, dip, swish, knead. Dip, smear, scrub, dip, swish, knead. Then a muscular wring and reach behind, to a growing mound. And ahead, to an eroding knoll. Dip, smear, scrub. Barefoot, squatting in bright salwar kameez above tin tubs. Dip, swish, knead. Working quietly, breaking rhythm only to borrow a neighbor’s clay-colored soap ball, or tender a lean limb of conversation. Dip, smear, scrub. The washing place is a sunken stone courtyard adjacent to a temple. Centuries of gentling by water and feet have worn its rocks smooth. Dip, swish, knead. A stream gushes from the side of the temple into a trough in the square, giving way instantly to extravagant suds, iridescent pinks and purples glistening voluptuous in the early evening light. Dip, smear, scrub. Occupying the center of this courtyard—as with most—is a shrine, a small cement replica of the temple, surrounded by oil candles and festooned with the vivid litter of devotion: smears of tikka red, plucky yellow marigolds. Dip, swish, knead, wring, reach—

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Nine: Sarayacu, Ecuador

Marisa Handler Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

153


“Once, there were many sabios here. They were very pure. They were able to transform into snakes and tigers. They knew everything—sickness, healing, they understood it all.” Atanacio Sabino Gualinga Cuji, a shaman himself, is giving me a crash course on three and a half centuries of Sarayacu history. His gaze is piercing, unbending from eyes blued by cataracts, eyebrows riotous as the jungle floor. “Then the Christians came to convert us. Then the companies came to drill for oil.” He shakes his head. “In ’35 Shell came and put a pipeline in. Before, there were lots of fish, turtles, alligators. After, nothing was left. Everything died from oil.”

Atanacio is tiny, earnest, serene. His hair is oiled and neatly combed, his goatee white-filamented, his checkered shirt clean and pressed. We are sitting in his yard on two well-worn stump-stools, beneath the cool relief of palm-thatch. He looks beyond me to where Mario, my host here, sits with his wife, chatting in tempered tones, sipping homemade chicha. “I saw it. Everything died.” He considers the sweat-polished wood of his walking stick, propped scepterlike beside him. “There is money. But here there are marvels. Here we have pure air. Here women can walk freely.” He giggles, now a mischievous six-year-old dropping a punch line. “We only have to watch out for the snakes.” Then he’s abruptly somber again, with all the burden of his seventy-odd years. “The oil corporations—they want to kill everything here. They don’t understand. They live apart from real knowledge. We wouldn’t want that kind of knowledge.” Atanacio pauses as a tame toucan—the family pet—dashes boldly at us, formidable beak parted in an ear-splitting screech. He tosses it a nut. “We want to maintain our culture and identity. My role is to maintain the consciousness.” He looks past me, past the palm fronds, into the legendary mar verde of Amazonia. Quietly, now: “The earth is our mother and father. We can’t sell our mother and father.”

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Twelve: Fort Benning, Georgia

Marisa Handler Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub


Have you ever stuck around after they’ve all gone home? After the march has passed through, the rally run its course? There isn’t a whole lot left. Papers littering the ground announcing upcoming events, pleading for a wealth of good causes. Posters pimpled with the imprint of street and sole, leaflets tattered and grimy. Trash cans towering, cathedral-like, amid variegated landscapes of aluminum and plastic, a topography molded from the drained and consumed. Wind shuffling these crumbs about, or stillness amplifying their silence. These intersections are the loneliest of poems, the ghostliest of towns. Everyone gone back to their bunkers to wrestle with the same doubts and the same people they wrestled with the night before. The echo of songs and speeches, of outrage and hope and entreaty, bouncing against the concrete and glass like rubber balls in a lockbox.

Later the city’s forces will emerge—those forces that tidy and groom the apparatus being protested—to clean it all up. Laborers who can’t afford to live in the city they clean will sweep away what remains, and the next day the apparatus will trundle on, humans in tow like ducklings. One day closer to demise. Nothing lasts forever, and that which consumes its own flesh falls a good deal short of forever.

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