Thursday, August 18, 2011

1 in 6 billion

Hello everyone!  How are you all today?  I am, in fact, fantastic.  Joseba and I just visited the San Telmo Museum, the oldest museum in San Sebastian that just reopened after about 3 years of construction and remodeling.  The museum houses a permanent exhibit about Basque culture and history, which one day I would love to see, but we went for the special exhibition at the moment, called 6 billion others.  I can honestly say it was the best musuem visit I have ever had. 

The project is a collection of videos - 4,500 hours of footage to be exact.  Yann Arthus-Bertrand has dedicated over 5 years of filminga long with his crew to conduct 5,600 interviews of people in 78 different countries.  With conversations in over 50 languages, him and 6 reporters were able to ask the same 40 questions to people all over the world and piece it all together in an amazingly coherent and heart-touching way.  The museum had set up different 'tents' with a video screen in each.  Each tent dealt with two topics that pertained to some of the 40 question interviews.  From the meaning of life, fears, differences, love stories, family, forgiving, leaving one's country, childhood dreams and more, the video presentations were clips of parts of these interviews.  The people - from Sweden to Mexico, from Tunez to Argentina, from China to France were all deadly honest and open while sharing thier deepest feelings and secrets and answering some of the most difficult questions you can think of.  To give you a taste - here are a few questions from the 40 question list:
 - What do you want to hand down to your children?
 - What do you find difficult to say to your children?  Your family?
 - What gives or what gave you the most joy?
 - Are you happy?  How do you define happiness?
 - How do you define love?  Do you think you give and receive enough love?
 - Out of all the days in your life, which could you not do without?
 - What would you not be able to forgive?
 - What does money represent to you? 
 - What for you is the meaning of life?

So, as you read these, I am sure you all each had something come to mind immediatley.  Now the amazing thing with this project is that not only do you hear one answer, but hundreds - from all different and unique people.  What someone in Rwanda wants to hand down to thier children is completely not on the same page as something someone from Ireland does.  Or how a Chinese woman defines love isn't so similar to how a Spanish man does.  And although we always expect that people across the globe think so so different than us, you would be surprised with how often we give related answers.  First, think of your answer to the question about how you define happiness.  I don't know all of your answers, but I'm guessing it has something to do with a healthy family, maybe success in your line of work, maybe continued learning, maybe being content with yourself,  maybe giving and receiving of love - a multitude of topics no?  Well, throughout the videos, those were very prominent themes, but then you come across some that kind of slap you in the face - a woman from Madagascar who said that for her happiness is water, and when it is in her life, she feels joy because it grows the crops and helps feed her family; or a man from Morroco saying that to him happiness is buying a new cow; and a chipper Chinese cook who said making delicious food is what makes him happy because it is his job in life.  Would you have expected those responses?  Probably not.  But then, you take a step back and see how happiness could be measured in a different person's life - because in the in end, our 1 answer was only 1 of the 6 billion people in the world's thought.

We spent over 4 hours in the exhibit, which in the end has 11 hours of video to see.  So although we didn't see even half of it, what we DID manage to watch was moving.  When we first arrived we headed to the Love Stories tent.  Being a crybaby to start, hearing love stories from all over the world of course started up the water works.  The pureness of love is universal.  From the Egyptian woman explaining the person she used to loved was someone she saw in the village every day and for years they only shared smiles and from that her love grew; or the Chinese woman sharing how as a matchmaker, she spent a lot of time looking for a wife for one of her clients when in the end he told her it was her that he was in love with; or the Australian lawyer lady who told us that one day in court she went up against an attractive defense attorney but figured he was married, when to her good luck, he had taken note of her too and called her office after the hearing to ask her on a date and now they are happily married.  With these stories, our hearts swell, and for me a few tears come too.  But then, there were sprinkled far and few between some stories that show people's lack of love:  an Italian stone-faced woman who said that her husband passed and took the sun with him and that she no longer has love in her life, only had; or the Romanian woman who said she merely married her husband to escape poverty and never loved him nor her second husband; or the Japanese woman who said that as soon as she had children she dedicated all her energy to them and now doesn't feel love for her partner, just her children.  Love works in mysterious ways it seems all over the globe. 

The themed tents went along like that - some stories ringing a bell to you, some touching your soul and letting a tear drop, some that you couldn't even empathize or relate to in any sense and some that make you raise your eyebrows in shock.  The project was created to promote living in harmony - because although yes we all live in different countries ruled by different administrative systems with wars, poverty and climate change, we are all somehow involved and should act together.  We may be different, but not as much as you would think.  Although American, and although I could easily understand the featured Americans opinions on racism, family life, early childhood memories and such, I most identified with people from different countries.  My heart swelled for the Hungarian (I think) woman who has spent the majority of her life in another country and although she is fully accepted into the society and has lovely friends, still is sometimes reminded that she is, in fact, an outsider.  Or the man from Burkina Faso who tells how he met the love of his life and that he tried to impress her by climbing a tall tall tree to grab her the prettiest flower of all and in the process fell and had to go to the hospital, but that it was all worth it because she came too.  Or the French woman who was the sole survivor in a plane crash who said after that ordeal was incapable for feeling joy for many years, and that only recently with the birth of her child was she able to regain that feeling again.  But the one story that immediatley and still brings tears to my eyes is one of an Argentinian girl talking about a day in her life that she could not possibly live without - and that was a day that her and her grandmother sat on her front porch and she taught her how to crochet.  I myself have some priceless moments with my Grammy - and would consider them among some of the days in my life I couldn't do without.  Tears just writing it. 

I honestly don't want to sound like a promoter for this exhibit but I tell you it is amazing.  I have posted some Youtube links if you want to see the footage on some of the themes.  The interviews are shown in thier original language, and here were shown with Basque and Spanish subtitles, but for you I'll let you have them with English subtitles ;)  haha.  I hope hope hope you enjoy them, and take a moment to think about your own answers.  They are questions we don't ask ourselves very often, and the fact of seeing some of these people answer so candidly makes you evaluate your life from a bit of a different perspective.  And watching them, I make a full disclaimer that 1) I probably remembered countries wrong when I just shared some stories above with you and 2) you MIGHT cry.  

And, if you feel moved enough, you can participate as well wtih your own answers to the questionarre at this website:  Here you can learn more about the project too.  The next stop for exhibition is Russia, but I hope that one day it passes through your town - wherever you may be - and you get the chance to see the world through someone else's eyes.  


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