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Some observations from a Utah globe-trotter

January 5, 2004

Last night I chased a naked man down the streets of Tel Aviv.  Then a van full of rabbis stopped, and they jumped out to dance for everyone.  It was a strange night, but I was thrilled to see Tel Aviv for the first time.

Several days ago, in Burkina Faso, I watched a dignified woman cope with being different than everyone else in her small, African village.  She and a friend built a mud and straw home with their bare hands, and the woman made a living by baking cakes over an open fire outside her house.

In Iceland the other day, an adorable little girl told me in all earnestness about the tiny hidden people who live inside the boulders she passes on her way to school.  Some of the adults in her town see these people, too, and even speak with them.  They all seem to think it’s completely normal.  Iceland is gorgeous, by the way.

I’ve sat on a curb in the early morning darkness in Fes, Morocco, as young homeless boys next to me sniffed paint out of paper bags.  They know it’s the only life they’ll ever have, and I couldn’t say they’re wrong, nor could I help them.  Their sweet smiles and the humor they managed to find were unexpected gifts.

In the slums of Calcutta yesterday at lunchtime, I went with an 8-year old girl inside her mother’s apartment.  It was unbelievably small, with only some filthy clothing and a couple of cooking pots.  They live in a brothel, and her mother had work to do, so Kochi and I went up on the roof and took photographs that may someday save her from repeating her mother’s fate.

Once I watched a group of Tibetan monks, many of them still boys and all of them crazy for soccer, go to hilarious lengths to get a satellite dish for their little cliffside monastery so that they could watch the World Cup.

My Mexican road trip was a vivid experience.  I took off in a cloud of dust in Juarez and traveled southward for days, the music on the car’s radio changing along with the scenery from small-town Wild West to massive, metropolitan Mexico City, to my final stop, the verdant, tropical sights and warm, rhythmic sounds of the Yucatan.

In Kenya, terrified, and with tears streaming down my face, I gripped my husband’s arm in horror as a 9-year-old girl was mutilated in a cultural rite of passage.  No anesthesia was used.  We were right there with her in her hut near Nairobi, but there was nothing we could do.  We also sat with her younger sister, who was watching between fingers clutched to her face.  She screamed in agony, both with empathy for her sister and the terrible realization that she was next.

Later, in crisp white dresses to commemorate this milestone in their lives, the girls recited a poem about what it’s like to be pinned to the ground and circumcised.

I’ve lived in Salt Lake City all my life, so you’d think experiences like these would be few and far between, but I have them all the time.

Every January, for about what it would cost me to fly to Denver, I see the world.  I make friends with people all over the planet, meet their families and learn of their struggles.  I see the way they live, often venturing directly into their homes.  Sometimes I experience what a normal day is like for them, other times I’m there at the worst or best moments of their lives.  I hear them speak their native languages, I listen to their music, I hear the sounds of their streets and the birds in their trees.

The Sundance Film Festival is my transportation.  I love Sundance because it broadens my world view, showing me things I can never hope to see in real life.

For some people, going to Sundance is a sport, with celebrity-spotting as the way to earn points.  Others love the bragging rights they get when they see a major film long before the general public gets the chance.

I’ve had fun doing both of those, but what brings me to Sundance every year, and keeps me in my seat for 25 or 30 films over a 10-day period, is this rare and amazing opportunity to learn about the world.  Instead of jostling in line to see the premieres of films I can see anywhere in a few weeks or months, I take in as many films in the not-that-crowded documentary and world cinema screenings as possible, saving the posh premieres and Park City parties for others.

When I was younger, people often referred to Salt Lake City as a cultural wasteland, but we’ve grown a lot.  One reason is Sundance.  Sundance is helping to generate and educate a community of people here who have seen the world and care deeply for it, even if they’ve never set foot out of town.

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Barb Guy works for a nonprofit corporation and lives in Salt Lake City.  She has written several columns for The Tribune.

 

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