Monday, February 04, 2002

Wow, I had another look at my last e-mail to everyone, and man I really must have been on one self-absorbed bender after all, it was like I was sitting there just namedropping to myself the whole time. Ecch. Sorry. Since then I’ve actually been feeling more and further-reaching changes in me than I’ve felt since late highschool—which is big—largely no doubt because of how many more Bahá’í activities I’ve been taking part in, which this message can’t help but reflect. It may well come as a relief to some of you that I’ve had to commit to coming home at the end of February—if only because future messages were likely to come off as an interminable succession of churchbakes. (I mean, relief for you because of no churchbakes, return home for me because of no visa. You know what I mean.)

So, as a bit of a stall before I get into heady spiritual themes, here’s a quick mood-setting peek into my physical themes—everybody dim those lights...

I have really long hair now, like I’m 14 again. It gets very frizzy in the humid air and when I rake the front down into my eyes with my fingernails, it makes me think of what one Howard Zinnman once said about my feathery hair reminding him of a young Wayne Gretzky. If any of you want to pay me a really good compliment, you can always say I remind you of a young Wayne Gretzky.

My earwax is now, for some unaccountable reason, a deep allpowerful pancreatic orange. If you want another way of complimenting me, you can also tell me my earwax is pancreatic.

On my rare returns home to my apartment, my feet are raised from the very floor by a thick layer of dust, and my skin is raised from my very flesh by a thick welter of mosquito bites. I am skinny and I see through walls.* I find myself floating through the sozzled world.

Okay. On the 15th I went down to São Paulo State to attend a Bahá’í youth conference—for photos go to Joshua’s website at, he’s an up-and-coming Montreal rocket scientist who I ran into there along with 700 kids from Patagonia through to the Panama Canal and also from Missouri. As far as I can figure anything out, there are two broadly interrelated reasons that Bahá’í kids and Bahá’í Counsellors† keep organising these youth conferences all over the place.

The first is that the only way to really foster a working world community is to hold regular get-togethers (churchbakes), and in this sense the whole week really was just a big prom, with the comedy and tragedy all upped a notch because now it’s a group of Brazilian supermodels and Paraguaian Indians and Argentines on roller skates and who knows what all else as the ones dancing together awkwardly and making out behind the bleachers. And, well, of course me on the sidelines. What I saw from there was mostly just mirror-image tongue-lolling between the North Americans and the Brazilians ... every white guy I knew was basically only ever able to register a stunned “My God the women here are unbelievable” when I came by to say hello, and meanwhile the Brazilian guys were all running around at all hours cooing over whatever blond-haired girl might be giving them the time of day. There were participants in a few intercultural marriage experiments hanging around there too, probably the best-looking, most-euphoric kids in the bunch, and to them the rest of us only grumbled behind their backs, citing the abysmal divorce rates among Bahá’í youth. Undeniably throughout, though, there was the impression of a growing, restless community, and damn em all anyway if they’re making mistakes at least they can have claimed to have had way, way more fun than should ever have been made legal in the process. Um, and also the fart competitions in the boys’ dorm at night were very funny and likewise regionally inflected and made my chest hurt laughing so hard that I had to spend one whole night just walking around with the security guards and listening to them tell cops-and-robbers stories, oddly enough.
The other big reason for these conferences is to hammer home the need for each of these kids to involve themselves in the spiritual rebirth of world society—yeah. Something in me would insist that the kids use this laudatory aim as a pretext for hanging out, and that the adults use the hanging out as a pretext for the laudatory aim, but then again there must be some overlap in everybody, and the fact remains. Humanity is coming apart at the seams in many many ways (as in, what is this Quintessence of Dust?), and one of the few permanent things we can do to promote a parallel self-reinvention (for in Action, how like we are to an Angel? in apprehension, how like a God?) is to transform people’s hearts and minds—to champion philanthropy, to herald philosopher kings. The potential of the Bahá’í contribution to this process ranges from idle to so great it’s unimaginable from today’s perspective ... in fact the idea here is nothing less than to bring the Monolith to every grunting afflicted soul on the planet, that everyone will live for Justice and Universal Love, Equality, and Peace—all minty and with a capital JULEP.

Coming home and serving the Black men who were here from the States was on a purer level than all this, though—it defies my will to anthropology and acronym entirely, and honestly here I have to admit that all the previous can only be read as a preface, a rhetorical plea to hear the blank joy that I had in helping ... maybe as a rhetorical plea to myself, too, to listen to what I felt unworded.

Every year in the States a group of Black Bahá’í men get together for a Black Men’s Gathering in an area I like to imagine looking like Camp David. They pray and they deepen and they go out to some black country to then try and help build this world with their brothers. This year they came to Bahia—black city—and stayed here for a week. A good friend named Mike Jester and I were the only vaguely bilingual kids around with any time on our hands, and we became their interpreters for the duration. And so for four solid days he and I had to clear our heads of everything except trading jokes between these men (old men, mostly, some with canes or soon to be) and the kids they met on the street, exhorting them to greatness in their futures, thanking their hosts for receiving them, pausing while they cried at their own thoughts and trying to convey what had led them there to crowds of watching black faces from village to village outside the city.

I don’t know, that’s probably enough ... if I itemize what happened too much I’ll just end up debauching it. This has been a tough message for me to write, don’t know if I can balance what I’ve been thinking here for every ear. Everything was very huggy when the Brothers left, they left a huge gift of drums for the Bahá’ís here, many people embraced this cause, God willing they’ll stick with it long enough to affect the lives of others too. One of the Brothers kept ragging on me and Mike, switching fast between trying to sell us into slavery with highway workers and trying to set us up with beestung waitresses, and several times told me I reminded him of his son back home ... he invited me to serve outside a future Black Men’s Gathering in the States, and it seems like a good thing.

Relations between American Whites and Blacks aren’t easy, and there are few projects that will let us all set aside our caught-up throats even for a while ... Bahia, to me, always was in large extent an attempt to see a little further into what the clash of races has been; Blacks and Whites are different to each other here, and much the same, and doubtless this life will offer endless opportunity to squint my poor eyes harder still.

Carnival is gearing up, and the city is filling up with giant storks and Zulu shields where there were none of these before. It’s finally hitting me that it’s summer break, and the people are feeling it—there are no young women passing by without their bikini straps on show underneath their beachwraps, there are no rear windows thrown open without noisy kids singing back to the radio, there is no bike without a pop-a-wheelie. Two days before Carnival, and a city as happening as Salvador is only now beginning to feel as pumped as Montreal was last summer ... ha ha, Montreal was one good town, it’ll be no tough medicine to be marched back home—given that I can come back here as soon as my visa clears up, I mean.

I’ve been struggling to find a travel partner for one final trip up north into the poorer states—on a mountain top near Maceió in Alagoas, in what used to be the escaped-slave kingdom of Palmares, there’s a statue of the great African rebel king Zumbi ... north of there are some pterodactyl fossils I want to see on a whim, and I have directions from a British professor that will hopefully have all the local paleontologists showing me stones doctored by Indians out there outside of Juazeiro do Norte in Ceará. Potentially I was either going to leave with a beautiful black girl or my ex-girlfriend’s younger brother. Looks like it’s boiled down to the younger brother. I’ll leave it to my next message to bemoan my cruel fate.

Your friend as always,


PS. And also way to go Pats! Super Bowl XXXVI woohoo!


* As a remedy for my skinniness, I’ve promised myself heaping portions of rice and beans and meat at every meal, my days of eating açaí and calling it a meal are over, even though this Amazon berry be prepared in the most succulent of manners, deliciously like a thick purple blueberry-banana shake and served ice cold. No—instead I go to the café down at the bottom of the largo and order my pork and listen to bossanova and Moon River on the oldies station.

† “Bahá’í Counsellor” A member of the appointed branch of public functionaries that runs parallel to the elected bodies of Bahá’í governance. They have no executive powers—their mandate is to “poke and cajole”—or something very like that. There are separate bodies of them on the various continents, and they all regularly get together for parties at the seat of the elected world government (the Universal House of Justice, or just “the House”) in Israel, returning to their home territories to keep reminding the Bahá’ís that we need to follow what the House has set out for us in its endless letters to Bahá’ís worldwide—serve everybody, teach everybody, and serve everybody.


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