In my work in Global Mission for the ELCA, part of our unit’s routine consists of receiving homework from Rafael. This can range from, “think about how accompaniment affects your life on a daily basis”, “research the political situation in South Sudan”, “read Ephesians chapter 4”, or my favorite, “go watch the movie __________.” Back in January he assigned us to watch Elysium, I hadn’t had time or the motivation to go out and rent it in order to watch it. So I let that homework assignment slide a little bit. With all the work and recent traveling for work I hadn’t found the time to watch any movies, let alone Elysium.
A few weeks had gone by when a large group of us from Global Mission went on a work trip to Mexico and I still hadn’t seen Elysium. During our time there (in addition to the real purpose of why we were there) our executive director, Rafael, wanted to help dispel the “myth of the Mexican”. Americans often looks down on Mexicans, especially immigrants that have risked their lives to cross the border without proper documentation. It is not uncommon for people to tell them to go back where they belong, to call them illegals, and to have them deported back to Mexico. People think of them living in shanty towns in a dusty dirty village with poisonousness water, who hasn’t heard the phrase “don’t drink the water in Mexico!” Our time in Mexico City was my first trip to Mexico, and I must admit very different from what I was expecting to experience. Mexico was a beautiful country, with large parks, lots of cars, well dressed business professionals, hardworking people, and DELICIOUS food. It really made me think about all the negative things I had heard about Mexico and Mexicans while I lived in Arkansas or really anywhere in the south for that matter. Where had this impression come from? And why is it so pervasive?
I returned from Mexico exactly one week before I departed for Nigeria. My favorite thing about international flights is that I can FINALLY catch up on movies that I’ve missed. Guess what movie my United flight had showing? Elysium. I thought okay, I’m traveling for work, Rafael assigned this movie…ergo watching this movie is work. (Like how that works?) This next part might contain spoilers: This movie is about two different worlds. Planet earth, where the poor people live. The planet is run down, filled with disease, and quite frankly looks dry, dusty and dead. And the other “habitat” is called Elysium, a structure that is floating off in space where the rich people live with plenty of food, lush green plants and a miracle medical machine that scans your body and fixes ANYTHING that is wrong with you.
Now one genius parallel the directors of this movie did was who lived on which planet. Earth was filled with primarily Hispanic people, and a lot of Spanish was spoken during those scenes, and Elysium was…. You guessed it, rich white people; fascinating parallels to our country and our neighbor Mexico. The people of earth frequently tried to escape to Elysium, risking everything they had to board ships that were less than acceptable, and questionable to whether or not they would ever make it to Elysium. The government officials on Elysium, with all their technology and security, could see these ships approaching and shoot them down before they even reached their atmosphere. Shooting down these ships and killing everyone on board, without so much as flinching. They were just satisfied to keep THOSE people out of THEIR perfect habitat. One ship managed to land, and as soon as the doors opened everyone scattered and ran in order to try and find these miracle medical machines. One particular mother risked her life and her daughter’s life to get her into this bed in order to heal her. I am hesitant to say the earthlings were content with their living conditions, but their real motivation for traveling to Elysium was to use their medicine and cure any illnesses they had. Which is a very reasonable thing to do! Using these machines cost no money, and there was no limit as to how many people could use them, or what illnesses they could cure. The fact that they were not using those machines to cure everyone blows my mind… but then again…
Rewind to our time at O’Hare waiting for take-off for Nigeria.
I had been trying to figure out what I forgot, I usually always forget one thing and as soon as I realize what it is then I can relax. I was thinking, thinking, thinking, and then it struck me, I was supposed to have started my malaria medication one day before I left. Here I was ready to hop on the flight and I had not taken any. I knew Rebecca, another co-worker, and I were taking the same pills so I figured I could just ask her for a pill when I saw her (as mine were in my checked luggage) and it would be close enough that I’d be fine. As soon as I saw Rebecca, I borrowed a malaria pill and would give her one back once we landed in Abuja. Of course I’m processing this all out loud with Andrea, who is also traveling with us, and she says, “Don’t worry, if you get malaria I have the cure. The pills you’re taking are prophylactics but I have the cure for malaria with me, so you’re fine.”
This conversation played over and over in my head as I was watching the movie Elysium. The medicine to cure diseases whether it be in the form of vaccines, prophylactics or antibiotics exist and are well within our reach here in America. We get immunizations before we travel to most countries in order to prevent us from picking up diseases that have long been eradicated in America. We take pills along with us just in case something happens and we need them. Meanwhile in countries where we have partner churches, people are literally dying every day from simple diseases like the flu and measles, while we have the cure. But at the end of the day the pharmaceutical industry does not exist to cure diseases and make the world a better place where people do not die. Big Pharma exists to make money, and lots of it. They make money off of overcharging people for life saving drugs; they make money by patenting their recipes and not allowing others to develop similar medications. I realize that I live in a very optimistic world and think highly of every one and believe that everyone has others’ best interests at heart…and I’m aware that not every thinks that way. (And that the world does not operate in that fashion) But I can’t seem to understand why we don’t live in that world, and why others do not share my point of view.
What does it mean to live in a world where we have the answers, but not everyone has access to them? What does it mean to live in a country where people literally risk their lives to get here for a CHANCE for a better opportunity, and we round them up and send them back as if they weren’t human? What does it mean to try to make a profit for ourselves rather than truly looking out for the best interest of others? What does it mean to live on Elysium and do everything in our power to keep THOSE people from earth off our habitat?