Balancing the Old and the New

Linny Blumer AC ’89 talks about finding harmony between life in rural Brazil and the modern world

by Jane Falla

Linny Blumer ’89 and son Matti, now 17, on their land in a remote section of Brazil.

Linny Blumer AC ’89 and son Matti, now 17, on their land in a remote section of Brazil.

Linny Blumer AC ’89 is a free spirit. Just after graduating from Smith, she followed her new husband to Russia, where he moved to work for the American Embassy. From there they created a family life in Switzerland and enjoyed plenty of travel. Nine years ago, Blumer, her husband, and her three children left Switzerland and landed in Blumer’s native Brazil, where they decided to buy an inexpensive piece of land and build a home from scratch in the highlands of Fortaleza in the state of Ceará.

“We just bought some big knives and started exploring our land,” says Blumer, who homeschooled her three children.

Today, Blumer has the rare experience of living a remote, rural lifestyle while simultaneously embracing the advantages of such modern technologies as computers and the Internet. She uses Facebook and Skype (voice only, not video), and her children, Werner, 20, Xandra, 19, and Matti, 17, are now in college and high school in the United States.

The AASC asked Blumer to share some of her thoughts on how she manages to blend old and new ways in her homeland of Brazil, a country that has more than “50 indigenous tribes who don’t have any civilization.”

Combating boredom
When we left Switzerland and moved to Brazil to set up our small homestead from scratch, I remember my older son saying, “Mommy, I’m bored, there’s nothing to do!” and I said to him, “That is wonderful, you are free, go out and explore the land we just bought. It’s all yours; go find out what trees we have. Find one that I can climb on and look at the view. Go open some trails.”

Using technology
We brought our computer—a laptop we all shared but was mostly used by my husband for work. We did not have Internet; we had to buy a special cell phone at the time with a modem to connect to the laptop via a special cable, and then find a place on our land at the top of a hill where there was phone reception (very precarious). We literally had to climb trees with the laptop and cell phone in hand to collect our e-mail (strictly text).

Balancing technology with family time
We did not raise our kids with computers, and we still have no landline phone at home. We only use a cell phone when we leave and drive somewhere with reception. Eventually, we bought a computer for the kids to use as a writing tool; we bought encyclopedias and atlases and other such info on discs for them, but we had no Internet connection.

Only after the older children were accepted to a school in the States, and about sixth months before they left for school, were we able to connect to the Internet via radio signal, and eventually got Skype capability. Nevertheless, our youngest son, who left for school in the States in August, only used the computer occasionally. This never kept the kids back academically in any way. They still got information, they were still able to do research, and once they had the Internet available to them they learned very fast. The kids are now totally computer literate—that is something that really doesn’t take too much time to learn.

What takes time to learn are the other things we miss out on when we deprive our kids from learning about values and relationships and our connection to nature. We never bought the kids their own computer or any electronic games. We always shared one computer among us. We never had a TV (no reception here), so we watched occasional movies together and had a lot of discussions, especially during mealtimes, about politics and family issues, our finances, and everything that was going on. We also played a lot of board games when it was raining and we were stuck in the house, often without electricity.

Real connections
I have nothing against technology; the problem is how we use it, how we overdose on it, and how we deprive ourselves of real life because of it. It’s like teaching a very young child to read and encouraging her or him to sit all day and read, read, read. I have nothing against reading; our kids were raised with books all around them, but it is also important to go outside, to stick your hands in the dirt and plant your garden and eat from it. It’s also important to play ball barefoot, ride the horse bareback, not to be afraid of swimming in the mud hole or jump in a river. It’s important not to be afraid of getting wet by the rain and learning how to go out and deal with people—all types, all ages. We have to be careful not to let technology take over our humanity.

My son was asked to tell his class about himself and where he was from because he was a foreign student, and to tell about how things were different back home. He said that he lived in the countryside where shopping required a 10-kilometer trip into town. He said that when he went to town he knew and greeted everyone—the crazy people, the regular folks, young, old, everyone. That what was hard in the States was not to know most people you are surrounded by, who you live with, and that when people greet each other it’s more of a formality or politeness—people don’t seem to genuinely care how you are because everyone is rushing and too busy.

Weighing the pros and cons of technology
When our donkey broke its leg slipping down a muddy hillside and getting tangled in the brush, having no vet available we consulted with vets all over the world via Internet. We got the help we needed from a donkey sanctuary farm in France and were able to save our donkey. That’s valuable. But when a child sits all day at the computer playing games or making cyber friends over the Internet, that’s not valuable.

Current efforts
I am trying to set up a project with the Kanela-Ramkokamekrá natives at the edge of the Amazon Forest to help them preserve their way of life from the encroachment of the civilized man, which is happening at a frightening speed because of advanced technology.

Learn about Blumer’s experience as a homeschooling parent in “Teaching with a Mom’s Touch” in the Spring 2011 issue of the Quarterly.