Saturday, August 05, 2006


a) an economic theory which emphasizes that the control of the means of producing economic goods in a society should reside with those who invest their labor for production. social classes supposedly no longer exist, there is no coercive governmental institutions, and everyone lives in abundance without supervision from a ruling class.

b) an economic and social theory that promises to maximize wealth and opportunity for all people through public ownership and control.

c) an economic theory in which production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development is related to the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a ¨free¨ market. emphasis is on profit and the individual.

some pineapple, carrots, a sleeping child...

which sounds the most reasonable? i´m not advocating any of them. at least i don´t think i am. keep reading, or put the hovering right pointer finger to use and click on that ¨x¨ and be done with it (after a quick scroll through the photos, of course...).

all conflict stems from inequality.

it´s 12,000 feet. dead of winter, but sunny. almost hot. if your eyes are open, they will see sand. and that is all they will see. infinite horizons in every direction. a piercing blue sky undisturbed by even the hint of a cloud. some would say desolate, monotonous. i found its nothingness exquisite. day after day, where it seemed i pushed, more than rode, my bike in the deep sand. and then one day, my eyes also saw this. some mud huts. and some unrecognizable movement. where very little life exists was a man. sixty-five, minimum. bending over. lifting a stone. putting that stone down on other stones. and doing it again. i stopped. he didn’t. i called out to him. he stopped. but only long enough to return my look of incredulity. and then he lifted another stone. i asked him if he had any fruit and he, though kindly, balked at the question. swept the land with an open palm thus silently and poignantly answering the question i now felt silly for asking. i sat in the shade of an adobe hut and forced some crackers down. and i watched. the man was building a fence. he was building it yesterday. and will be tomorrow. he told me he was alone, though i think his wife would have disagreed. he was building a fence, he said. and he continued to build. stone by stone. with a hunched over back. on the high plains of bolivia. i offered him a pack of crackers, refused his reciprocal offers, and was on my way.

this is someone´s home

a field of mud. the potential for food. the only source of food. a tractor?, a crazy dream. rather, two cows. crudely tied and pinned together with wood. behind them, a plow. with two children precariously balanced on either side of the supports. weight to till. a man, behind the plow and kids, whipping the cows; skillfully missing the kids. behind all of this, more kids, picking things up, seemingly clumps of mud. the potato harvest, he said. and he continued to plow. step by laborious step of the laboriously slow and unwilling cows. in the mountains of bolivia. i offered him a departing wave, accepted his return, and pedaled on.

if you are interested, i am looking to hire someone to pull my bike on the uphills. the pay´s not great.

a man. a shovel. loose sand. for each strike to the earth for its removal, half of what he takes out seems to fall back in. very loose sand. but he keeps at it. a glance up, perhaps with the sole purpose to inspect me, perhaps my passing and the crick in his neck needing relief just happened to correspond. he gives me no more than a nod, which i return. and he strikes our planet once again.

me in the mines. a token wheelbarrow full of earth.

this guy is the real deal. everyday, here. he knows he will die early because of it. but there is no other way to support his family. so the decision, which really isn´t one, is made for him.

a boy. maybe 6. with his mother. and a heard of goats. he is receiving instructions. ¨sssthh,¨ makes them turn right, ¨fuusshh,¨ to the left. ¨akkee,¨ to stop: ¨eekka,¨ to go. he can not read. he can count. he knows nothing of a school. he knows his goats. his goats are his life. his life is in an adobe hut that will one day melt in the rainy season, and crumble to nothing when it dries out. it will be built again. maybe when the boy is older. when he has a boy of his own. who will take care of the goats. while he rebuilds their house.

houses are built. houses fall.

a kid with a box and pigments of brown and black. a rag. a face mask for the fumes. he points at people’s feet. begs to shine the dead animal skins that surround them. some simply ignore him. most dismiss him. but sometimes the outstretched finger of the boy is met with a vertical head nod. the boy, anxiously, for this means food, falls to his knees. and begins to buff. the man attached to the foot is on his cellular phone, using the headset, plotting out the rest of his day on his palm pilot. when it is all over, a quarter is exchanged. nothing to the man dropping it, something to the one picking it up.

it´s the kids that kill me the most. but maybe it´s all okay. maybe it shouldn´t kill me.

three children. sent to the hills with pieces of metal. they knock down dead branches off trees. they collect them. the tie it all up, crudely, with rope-like pieces of bark. they put these bundles, bigger than their own bodies, on their back. they look at me. they walk home.

or they play in the middle of the street.

a promise is made. it was ··2005·· and ··this·· promise was made: you will have potable drinking water this year. a community rejoices. they even make a sign celebrating this proclamation. the promise is not kept. a year later, now, and still no potable drinking water. they drink what little they have anyway. babies die from dysentery. there is no other choice.

and so, what is a promise?

a woman picks lice out of her young daughter’s hair while nursing her newborn boy. she is also selling bread. she sits on the side of a gravel road. a truck goes by, raising a tremendous cloud of dust. she is temporarily invisible. i wait for it to settle. i cross the dirt road. i buy some bread.

i didn´t give her money. i could have. i didn´t.

and this is what i see. as i ride. as i live. the two are synonymous.

and now, it´s a matter of ··why·· this is. now that i am within it. every day. it´s not a page in a magazine to be closed. or a clip from a documentary to be forgotten. it is today. it will be my tomorrow. it is my life - this bizarre life of experiencing the lives of others.

but why, why? the most cursed of questions. if we need a fence, we go to home depot. if we need food, we choose from seventeen varieties of peanut butter at our grocery stores. if we need a hole dug, john deere does it. if a kid wants to be a sheep herder or a shoe shiner - or - a nuclear physicist...she has that choice. if we want to cook or keep our houses warm, we flip switches or slide thermostats. if we want potable water, we can get it out of our toilets. if we have lice, we have medicine; and if we want bread, we don’t buy it from the same hand that extracts lice from a dirty child’s head. that is we. this is them. it’s all humanity. but there are differences, tremendous ones.

and these differences, i mean, so much depends on where we come out of our mothers...

is everything in america perfect? no.

does the ability to buy things rather than work for them equal happiness, contentment, progress? no.

do infinite possibilities and choices and options make for a better life? no.

but these aren’t my questions.

my question is this. my questions are these. why does the guy in omaha have the option to go to a hospital while the man in tunapa, bolivia does not...and doesn’t even know that such an option exists? why can the family in philidelphia have their choice of tomatoes, cucumber, avacado (picked from a shelf and placed in plastic) while the family in yolapa, bolivia has a diet consisting 90% of potatoes whose market price is so low they aren’t even worth attempting to sell? why can the girl in tuscon choose whether she will take chemistry or geology while the boy in millares, bolivia won’t ever know how to multiply two numbers together?

it was a nice tune. i gave him money.

yes, i know, i know none of this is original. none of it new. a classic tale of a dawning reality. but the thing is, i always knew this. the discrepancies, the unbreachable gap between we and them. the rich and the poor. but no matter how many pictures or movies or first hand accounts you may see or be told, it´s never real until it’s your reality. and sure, there’s no shovel in my hand. i´m not digging the holes. i´m just, well, i´m just watching it all.

he had great ideas...and then he started using guns...

while kid a in america contemplates which of his 544 channels to watch, kid b, kid bolivia, walks four miles round trip so his family will have water, dirty of course, to cook with. while kid a in america chooses which, from thirty, shirt she will wear to school that day, kid bolivia takes out his one and only shirt, ripped down the back, but it´s all he´s got. and so, why is this?

there is the argument that the bolivians ··should·· be more advanced. that they ··could·· have mechanized plows. and bull dozers. and home depots. ...if they just weren´t so darn lazy and opposed to change. if they would just ·do· something.

**i** need to do something.

but then i think of the guy in tunapa. building that stone fence. one stone at a time. not even a wheelbarrow. and i remember looking around him. sand and stones. and scrub brush. as far as they eye could see. and my question is, how do you make anything out of that? and what do you do first, because you don´t have water either. or much food. what´s the priority? where do the pipes come from? who digs the trenches? with what? and, oh yeah, it´s the desert, so there´s no water to tap anyhow. and the land is not arable, so no food either. dang lazy old man, shouldn´t have chosen to settle there. but that´s his home. that´s ··all·· he´s got.

and that´s all anyone really needs, you know. a home. and people to love and be loved by. maybe that´s enough.

and then i´ve seen this. a crumbling home. made of earthen brick. adobe. leaky leafy roof. filthy children. a drunk father. a knitting mother. very little food, most of it processed and sugary, wrapped in plastic that will be caught by the wind and deposited wherever the wind chooses. and inside this home, somehow, i don´t know how, a generator, and a tv, and a dvd player, and there´s leonardo on a doomed big ship, dubbed in spanish.

it was a spectacular movie, sure. but don´t you think clean drinking water should precede it?

and then i´m in the city, and there´s a man. three piece suit. cellular phone clipped to his waist. $150 dollar sunglasses. hair gelled back. rolex on the wrist. beautiful girl´s waist on the other wrist. he walks briskly and acts as if everyone else is somehow in his way. then he climbs into his mercedes, and without a glance pulls out into traffic.

the gap, sure, it´s always been there, but i can´t help but to believe that it´s getting noticeably wider. but as long as the poor stay that way, and how can they not?, then we have what is often referred to as a ¨functional, and sadly inevitable, society.¨ that is, one in which the majority of people have no real voice. and no way to mobilize themselves, preferably peaceably, to do anything about it. yes, sure, ok, they (some) can vote. but a vote, i argue, is not a voice. it´s the appearance of one. it´s a way to rationalize that they ¨could¨ do something, a mirage of power.

a trash plant.

i am rich. i am poor. it´s all perspective. when i wake up in the mornings, i search for a stone. i then search for some soft ground. i dig a hole. that i will defecate into. perfectly sterile. no wasted drinkable water needed. some would say only a poor man would do such a thing. when i reach a pueblo, i look for a little store. i buy crackers, chocolate, fruits, bread. some would say only a rich man would do such a thing. when the sun is low, i search the sides of the road, somewhere hidden and alone, for a place to call home. a poor man. i have a tent, a sleeping bag, and a very nice bike. a rich man.

the folks are so nice, so interested, so kind, so giving, so willing to help.

and so, some would say, ¨well, that´s just the way the world is.¨ and with this, i wholeheartedly agree. but the point of all this is that it ··doesn´t have to be like this.··

and so now, of course, the hard part. the solution.

and i don´t have one. i won´t pretend to. but i do have quite a few ideas rumbling around. being an idealist is nice. but nothing ever seems to happen...

and i want to make something happen...i just don´t know what...yet...

i´m in bolivia. i´m on the dirt roads. i´m in the high desert. i round a corner and drop down to a river canyon. beautiful and unexpected. i decide it will be my home for the night. i set up my tent and stand at the edge of a sheer cliff. the sun is creating incredible shadows, long ones. i throw rocks down into the river. silence, splash, delay, echo. the sun is hidden. instant cold. i prepare to go into my tent. but then i hear footsteps.

we can buy it; she does it.

i freeze in place. see nothing. hear a grunt. smell a man. up, from the gorge. over one of his shoulders is a leather strap that he holds with both hands. the leather strap drapes down his back where it forms a loop radiating out from his body. inside this loop are thirty pounds of wood. despite the cold, he wears only sandals. made of scraps of old tires. his pants, his shirt are torn, but both are still functional. he wears a cap, slightly twisted to one side, not for fashion, but because that´s where the sun, now almost set, shines from. he is, a guess, fifty-five years old. he also wears a smile.

this was someone else, a lady. i see it all the time. old people, still active, because they have to be.

i greet him. he is suprised to see my tent, my bike, all my things. i tell him i´m sleeping here tonight. he tells me i will freeze. i tell him not to worry. i ask him where he is going. home, he says. where is home?, i ask. there, he says, pointing across an empty desert. i ask him about the wood, if it is for cooking. yes, he says gladly, and swings the pile to the ground with a thud. here, he says enthusiastically, take some for your cooking. no, no, thanks for your offer, but i was just curious, i reply, once again, amazed by the kindness of humanity. are you sure?, he is truly concerned when i explain to him that i have nothing to cook with, that i don´t cook. i´m sure, but thanks again friend. he leans down, and with a breath before doing so, swings the load up to his shoulder. hunched over, he wishes me a goodnight. i tell him it was a pleaure to meet him. he walks away. i watch until he is only a speck, indistinguishable from the infinite scrub brush, in a light that is all but gone.

tomorrow, all his tomorrows, he will do the same.

a is communism. b is socialism. c is capitalism

from the dictionary and from my head


Blogger Hughes said...

It doesn't have to be a, b, or c. Best to you, Hirsch.

Saturday, August 05, 2006  
Anonymous Nate said...

iFitiStObeiTisUptOmE? Some, like the man building the fence, might argue that iFitiStObeiTisUptOsoMeoNeELse. a, b,and c are not so different in this regard. Even "c" has resulted in the concentration of political and economic power in the hands of very few.

Saturday, August 05, 2006  
Anonymous Ted said...

Another sensational blog with superb photos, outstanding narrative and provocative questions! Keep it up and keep enjoying the experience!

Saturday, August 05, 2006  
Blogger Shane said...


I'm pretty sure that a) is socialism and b) is communism...

Monday, August 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

aaron says:
mr hirsch is correct about the a, b and c but you should be careful with that kommunism word, mr hirsch, that is a fightin word.

by definition, america is more of b then c.

anyway, an excellent narrative and beautiful pictues. you are worth what you witness.

Monday, August 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"this guy is the real deal. everyday, here. he knows he will die early because of it. but there is no other way to support his family. so the decision, which really isn´t one, is made for him."

what gives? iFitiStObeiTisUptOmE? i thought everyone and anyone has options.

Monday, August 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Hirsch is saying he would like his ¨ifitistobe...¨ philosophy to apply to everyone.

But he is realizing it doesn´t.

And that is what he is having trouble with...

Maybe I´m wrong,

Monday, August 07, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part of the problem has to do with the concentration of wealth and how it occurs. While the free market in America has allowed for a lot of wealth to be concentrated in the hands of relatively few; the absolute size of the economy produced by this systems means that even the crumbs can provide for a decent amount of wealth. Its not that there is no economic potential in the areas you visit, its just that the current government doesn't allow for its growth. The strict controls prohibit a large economy from growing while at the same time allowing for those at the top to be just as well to do as their upper class American counterparts. Whatever new weatlh is generated in these poorer countries is quickly gobbled up by higher taxes. If you want to find whom to blame for these peoples plight, don't look at DC or New York to lay the blame, try Bogota, Lima, La Paz and Santiago.

Communism is not the answer...ask the people of the former communist block nations or Cuba. I'm glad that I was born in a country where I had the opportunity to be the first in my family to attend college. I can be a white collar chemist whereas three generations prior to me were religated to workinging as labors in the steel mills in Pittsburgh. Why is this possible, because the economic potential was not hindered by the government and I was given the opportunity to opportunity that these unfortunte souls will never have because of those the rule them.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry Hirsch (forgot to put my name)...that was my post (just above)...later. Toth

Tuesday, August 08, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hirsch can see the exact same things, smell the same smells, and experience the same feelings of hunger, thirst, poverty, hopelessness, and desertion here in the good ole US of A. I would recommend instead of complaining about the US from afar, make a difference here in the US, from where you originated. Head to Appalachia, WV. Then criticize the country which you so strongly detest.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006  
Anonymous craig said...

I love your blog, Hirsch. Not only the stories and photos (which, by the way, are they getting smaller?), but the community that responds to your page. How many people must read this blog, and what a rush to know that your words are so eagerly consumed by others! Well, my friend, I'm glad for you, and as opposed to all those people who write so much but think so little, you're a welcome respite.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006  
Anonymous Rena said...

hirsch - you have given me much to think about and know what the future holds for my son. you two think a lot alike - and somehow his soul is a wandering one such as yours. may you have the protection of God as you travel along - living with the people sharing their lives - through your words and pictures - mom of Eric's GAME

Saturday, August 26, 2006  
Anonymous Rena Wiese said...

Hirsch - tried to remember a quote yesterday and couldn't but it describes you.

I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying. - Andy, "Shawshank Redemption"

You are living!

Sunday, August 27, 2006  
Anonymous Patrick said...

James Ralee a fisherman from Vanuatu is here with me in Minnesota. He is going to try and find out who your family was in North Efate and tell them what a crazy bastard you are. Big smiles all around. It is good to know you are doing well my friend. I hope you publish this story and I hope we get a chance to see you again real soon. It is so interesting to see so many people afraid of such honest questioning. Keep asking them. Aaron and Sarah, the communists, just came to visit this weekend. A, B, and C are all wonderful ideas and people fuck them up in a wide variety of ways.

We all miss you.
Much love
Patrick, Molly, and James

Friday, September 22, 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home