Hi all, my name is Chrissy Goldbaum and I`m a rising sophmore majoring in International Relations with a concentration in International Security. This summer I will be spending 9 weeks in Cochabamba, Bolivia as an intern with CEADESC (el Centro de Estudios Aplicados a los Derechos Economicos, Sociales y Culturales; info here — ceadesc.org). I will be keeping my own blog while in Bolivia (christinagoldbaum.blogspot.com), but below is my first entry from week 1!
In his preface to the book “We Wish to Inform You,” Philip Gourevitch quotes a passage from Plato’s “The Republic.” It reads:
“Leontius, the son of Aglaion, was coming up from the Peiraeus, close to the outer side of the north wall, when he saw some dead bodies lying near the executioner, and he felt a desire to look at them, and at the same time felt disgust at the thought, and tried to turn aside. For some time he fought with himself and put his hand over his eyes, but in the end the desire got the better of him, and opening his eyes wide with his fingers he ran forward to the bodies, saying, `There you are, curse you, have your fill of the lovely spectacle’”
Gourevitch fills the subsequent pages with a recount of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, but the emotion this passage captures is something that I believe intrigues every one of my fellow FSD interns and me. In fact, I would argue that the desire Plato describes is one felt by every individual working in the field of development or truly anyone working in what we consider the developing world. Like Leontius we cannot cover our eyes to shield ourselves from the poverty, devastation and destitution that defines humanity. Instead we are drawn to it; despite the temptation to close our eyes, to walk away, there is some force within that compels us to bring down our hand and stare in wonderment at the incredible sight that lies before us. Where most people see bleakness, we find beauty. Where most people see hopelessness, we find faith.
This summer I will spend 9 weeks working in Bolivia, a country whose history is defined by the exploitation of natural resources by foreign powers and mass uprising to combat those injustices. The foreign bodies that robbed those resources, ranging from Spain’s elite to companies like the Betchtel Corporation, saw beauty in the natural riches that fill this country. The consequences their actions caused for the Bolivian population were not so picturesque. The country is currently one of the poorest in Latin America with a per capita income of roughly $2,800 and 64% of its populace living below the poverty line. Undoubtedly the country’s historic floods of exploitation, corruption and dictatorship have opened the gates to its current structural and political turmoil in which disastrous neoliberal policies have been replaced by the sometimes illogical actions of Evo Morales. Moreover, environmental degradation through deforestation, erosion and poor land productivity also pose a significant threat to the lives of thousands of Bolivians living in rural farming villages. Not to mention the issue of coca farming and narco-trafficking, a crisis currently crippling the entire continent.
Amidst this economic and structural nightmare it’s quite easy to give in to the immediate feeling of complete and total defeatism. It’s an unthinking, habitual reaction to read articles about USAID’s disastrous coca eradication plans or Evo Morales failed structural adjustments and put down the newspaper or type in a new web address. Recently one of my friends jokingly asked me if I just choose to go to the poorest countries I can find. The answer is no, but significant structural violence and political uprising certainly don’t make me stop my research and type a new country into an internship database. Most news articles on developing countries evoke responses of despondency and despair while anyone who chooses to go to these places does so because they see hope; they have a mysterious ability to find faith in what can be a quite desolate everyday reality. Amidst the dust, dirt and dilapidated buildings there is an uncovered beauty and the optimism that is subsequently born allows all of us to work in what is so often construed as completely discouraging context. The passion that springs from discovering what is a black and white wrong on a gray scale canvass feeds on that sense of hope, that perhaps naive confidence or idealistic outlook. The melding of the two is beautiful. That sweet marriage is what brings down our hands and fixes our gaze on the lovely spectacle.