Are you comfortably numb?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

How many times have you heard a British person say...

1) Wow, I'm so glad we have a really good, free, education system that gives you degrees that are some of the most globally respected!

2) Isn't it great that we have politicians who are generally honest and kept accountable, despite mucking up sometimes? (If any of you dare to say that we have corrupt government, please read up on the state of South American and African politics, and then come back to me!)

3) I'm so thankful that over in this country, we have a generally very high standard of living, and more than we need.

4) The NHS is so good! Having free health care at the point of treatment is such a blessing!

5) I'm so grateful for the police in this country. I know that if my house is burgled or even if I'm just lost, I can turn to them to help me, without shooting me or stealing from me.


Even though I suffer from culture shock whilst being in Brazil, sometimes the 're-entry' of coming back to Britain after just a few weeks can be as bad. Being faced with almost obscene levels of affluence after seeing the reality of a poorer place (albeit well off compared to other parts of the world or even Brazil) is often hard to deal with.

Earlier this week, we lunched with a family who live in a small house with 2 bedrooms and a large kitchen/dining room/lounge. There were around 10 people living in this place. Was there a word of complaint? No. They cooked us an ample lunch and showed us every kindness.

Compare this to Britain, where a family can justify upsizing to a bigger house because their 3-bedroom semi is too small now a second child is on the way, and I cannot help but baulk somewhat. It's not the fact that we are rich in England (because God has given us material things to enjoy to his glory) so much as our ignorance as to just how rich we are. And sometimes it's not so much the ignorance, as the insatiable obsession to have more, to earn more, in quest of a happier life that is unreachable while we are so materially driven. I mean, why are we so obsessed with having the next level up? We buy a better car in the expectation that when we get that pay-rise, we'll get an even nicer one. We get on the housing 'ladder'. You can never reach the perfect rung; you're always climbing.

The phrases above sound so ridiculous because in Britain we love to moan. We moan about the state of the education system (be it top-up fees, Section 28, or A levels getting easier). We complain about the NHS, forgetting that even in America, a vast proportion of the population can simply not afford to get ill. We denounce our politicians for being untrustworthy liars. Maybe it's time to take a step back and realise just how much we are blessed with.

I know this sounds glib, and it's been said a thousand times before, but it's true. What comes out of our lips more? Complaints, or gratitude? I'm just as guilty as the next person in this but another visit to Brazil has helped to realign my perspectives. I don't mean we shouldn't refrain from any criticism when things do go wrong or when our politicians do lie and the health service does fail us. I just mean our general attitudes could perhaps do with a makeover.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

21

Thank you to everyone who kindly sent me birthday messages. I had a lovely birthday. We did mostly nothing during the day, interspersed with an amazing pancake breakfast, episodes of CSI and trips down memory lane looking at old photo albums. Then in the evening we went out for a great meal at It's Italian. The food wasn't French.

I was feeling quite awful about turning 21, but I think yesterday I got over it. I can't quite explain it but I feel grateful to God that I've got this far and in some ways, feel like I have grown up quite a lot in the last couple of years. Obviously in other ways there's a long way to go, but I don't feel astounded that I'm 21. (Although when I write it down like that, there is a small part of me that breathes in sharply in incredulity.)

21 is sort of a landmark age. Back in the old days it signified that someone was fully adult, ready to leave the nest and make a life for themself. Well, I'm still dependent on many people in lots of ways, but I do look at it like a landmark. I want to see it as an opportunity to really evaluate my life and live as God wants me to. I haven't done a very good job of that so far, so here's praying 21 is the start of a new era in my life.

At risk of sounding like an Oscar-winner, I want to thank everyone who has been in my life over the last 21 years, loving me and supporting me. I don't know what I would do without such a great family, and by that I mean the whole extended family, especially while Mum and Dad have been so far away. And of course everyone at Haywards Heath Church, and those who I've met at Uni who have been such great friends, and all my good friends from home and elsewhere that have "been there for me". Thank you!

But most of all, thanks to God, who is the one who loves me most but who has surely been the one I've most hurt, the one who has been most saddened and angered by the times when I've turned my back on Him, and the one who has brought me back each and every time in his infinite grace. Every breath I breathe is from Him, every smile and every achievement however small is given from His hand, and above all the salvation I have and eternal life I'm waiting for was given to me at His cost. So thank you to God and thank you to all of you who have been used by Him in my life.

May the next 21 years be even better! (Now THAT'S a scary thought!)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Garota de Floripa

...for that is what I am, for now.

Since we have arrived here several things have happened.

1) I read Atonement by Ian McEwan. This has had one of the most profound effects on me a book has ever had. To a disturbing extent. I was waking up in the night unable to stop thinking about the characters after I finished it. I highly recommend it. It is an interesting subject for a man, who as far as I know is not a Christian, to tackle. The premise is that a young girl makes victims of her older sister and their childhood friend through her imagination, and then spends the rest of her life trying to atone for the irreparable and dreadful damage she has caused. The writing is powerful, the characters believable. Again, one of those books that everyone read around the same time (like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which you must also all read), yet not a bit underwhelming as a result. Not for the faint-hearted though, in any sense.

2) I removed my eyebrow piercing. I just didn't like it any more. And what is the point of having a piercing if you don't like it? Some would remove the last five words from that sentence and let it stand.

3) I became ill and recovered. So is that two things, or one? Who knows. Who cares.

4/5) We went to our friends' beach house on the South of the island, and although it poured with rain the whole time, we had a sweet time of fellowship enhanced by playing the Dictionary Game and Boggle. We also watched whales playing in the sea. Dad did keep trying to see Wales from the sea, but we told him it was never going to happen.

Two things have not happened:

1) I have not yet written the sample column for the Birmingham Mail, nor decided the subject it will address.

2) I have not yet turned 21. 14 hours and counting...

We are having a lovely time here with our parents. No, I didn't lift that sentence from a 'Language for Beginners' phrasebook; it is true. The culture shock is really bad this time, as it's been a good 18 months since I last visited, and I seem to have become (even more?) decidedly British in that time. The Brazilian in me is diminishing. It's quite odd how on the one hand, it feels just like 'slotting back' into a previous life, living here, and how on the other, the person inside me has changed so much.

I should go now. I need to actually do something about that column...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Leaving on a jetplane

I'm sure I've used this post title before, and that says it all really. Anyway, we're FINALLY off to see the rents after NINE MONTHS of separation. Yes, in just 11 hours, we will be in the air. Please pray for us as the journey's gonna be pretty tiring, involving a bus and a stop in Amsterdam airport (it's okay, it's a nice one). Catch you all on the flip side (of the pond). I will keep you posted (literally) on our activities whilst over there, as I think this wonderful invention called tinternet has actually arrived in the third world now. Adieu.


Me and the boy in front of Buckingham Palace. He's called Aidan by the way. And apparently, this picture is only nice because my brother Thomas took it.

My amazing week at the Birmingham Mail

Bet you thought you'd never hear those words in the same sentence, eh? God has been so good this week. I'm way too tired to post a full report now (having got up at around 6:30 or EARLIER this week - didn't even know that time existed), but I'll do a quick summary.

The main highlight of the week was getting to meet, interview and lunch with Sir Trevor McDonald. Details will follow. I have a cutting from the Mail to mark the occasion.

I'd heard quite negative reports of the Mail before from fellow students who've done work experience there, but my week was amazing. I got sent out on all sorts of different jobs, including a murder trial, voxpop on the new all-male lap-dancing club and research for an article on the morning after pill.

Overall, the week was very encouraging. Although journalism is notoriously hard to get into I found myself realising that with enough hard work and initiative it is possible to get at least near where you want to be. The best thing about the week was that they've offered me a column in the 'Family Life' section of the paper in which I'd write from a student perspective on different lifestyle issues. I'm going to send them a sample column in the next few weeks so I'll keep you posted! Obviously I wasn't expecting that and it's a great opportunity which I'm really chuffed about.

Thank you to everyone who prayed for this week. I was really not looking forward to it and was feeling apprehensive about being in Birmingham on my own, but God really helped me through it and blessed me so much more than I was expecting or asking for.