Tuesday, November 24, 2009

great expectations

i put salt in my coffee this morning. not intentionally, of course, but i dropped a heaping spoonful in there, nonetheless. the gods were with me when i realized this misstep BEFORE taking a sip. can you imagine? the funny thing is, i never put sugar in my coffee, but this morning, for whatever reason, i did. well, i tried. i also did laundry. and washed the dishes. and cooked chicken. and made a salad. i checked my bank account while filling in all the details for my flight to salvador, and suddenly i realized, "the cost of the ticket is more than i have..."

so the story goes, i've been in rio for 7 weeks, awaiting the fateful day when i would finally board that plane for my personal neverland, salvador, only to find that i don't have the means to do it. or, so it seems. i'm quite a resourceful person. i believe in miracles. and i also believe in following the path that presents itself. i've spent my day in a beautiful apartment in santa tereza, indulging in the modern day miracles like free internet, a flushing toilet, fresh food and a washing machine (god's gift to me, i think....), i practiced yoga overlooking three favelas and corcovado, and i discovered a magic link between some of my biggest passions.

here i am, in rio de janeiro, brazil. i came here to volunteer with an amazing organization called 'cinema nosso' that grew out of the favelas of rio and fosters young, brazilian filmmakers and artists of the future. the idea was that i'd be working in a favela, offering support to cinema nosso's programs in whatever way i could. well, that program doesn't exist anymore... so then an acquaintance told me about another program i could work with, but that never really panned out either. so i waited. at the pousada, around lapa, mostly at the beach. i met someone, learned to make love in portuguese, watched my abada collect dust in my suitcase, wrote in my journal. at least three days a week, i found my yoga mat. usually before someone made a caipirinha...

i'm at a crossroads. at this point, i could ask for money to go to salvador and worry about money there, or i could take advantage of some money-making possibilities here, in rio. i could also go home. i could sit in front of my computer, reading about all the ways in which other people are changing the world and making a difference, or i could attempt to create something of my own. i could stay with saulo in rio and make his wish come true, or i could make MY wish come true and travel throughout brazil and south america... i could go to that dance class tonight, or i could get a drink with a friend. i could say, 'yes,' or i could say, 'no.' i could worry about the way my life is going to turn out, or i could live my life moment to moment. i could make a choice, and then i could change my mind. i could let go. i could be happy no matter what happens; even waking up to a mouthful of salty coffee.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

abrendo o mau

it's more apparent to me than ever what living abroad can do for a person's health and well-being. speaking a foreign language presents enough problems for most, but expressing emotions in a foreign language presents a huge opportunity to overcome personal setbacks. in order to learn a language, one has to speak it. nodding in agreement, smiling and responding, "sim, sim," is not sufficient. the biggest problem for native english-speakers (i use this example because, around the world, english-speaking nations are the only ones without a culture of bi-lingual-ism....excuse me while i take great liberties with my native tongue) is that we are obsessed with looking good. we aren't used to being honest with each other in ENGLISH, let alone divulging our weaknesses and vulnerabilities in someone ELSE'S language. living in a community, with people of a similar class, from a similar background, with similar views, but especially with a COMMON LANGUAGE is COMFORTING. and i think we all just want to feel comfortable. but, c'mon folks, life is uncomfortable.

what have i been doing with my time here? good question. drinking lots of brazilian beer and homemade caipirinhas. riding lots of buses. eating lots of fried things (thankfully, a passing phase...), as well as acai to balance out the nutritional consequences. applying mosquito repellant. thinking about brazil. pinching myself because, oh yeah, i'm IN brazil. pondering the future. falling into something like love. missing capoeira. slipping into a secret street roda and hiking to hidden beaches. applying sunscreen. getting sunburned (on the beach, in the street, in my sleep.) attempting to hydrate. walking. experimenting with foreign ingredients (often in the produce section i can be heard saying, "what the hell is THAT?!) and occasionally watching 'family guy,' in english, with spanish subtitles.

last night we (my north american and brazilian friends) made a churrasco in a make-shift bbq pit (hub cap and wheel structure) while sitting in the street, drinking beer and listening to an eclectic mix of brazilian tunes (but, wait, was that, "rockette"???) the churrasco was scheduled for 6pm, but i think we actually arrived with the food at 8pm...peito and coracao...yes, heart. i ate grilled chicken hearts...really good, actually... earlier in the day i hiked up towards corcovado with alexandre and saulo to a hidden waterfall and drank a coconut on the side of the road. the kids from the favela stopped us and shared jaca (bread fruit) while the monkeys ate some overhead. then they showed me another secret waterfall. next we went to alexandre's brother's (allessandro's) house to use the bathroom, which consists of a tiny room, a concrete floor with a drain, a toilet and a shower head. the toilet doesn't flush- the extra water from the shower is used to flush it. the exposed concrete floors and cinder block walls make for a less than cozy "home" by most standards, but the sense of welcome i feel every time i come in this house is immense.

standards of living have NOTHING to do with one's address or amenities and everything to do with hospitality and joyfulness. and honestly, allessandro's view is one of the best i've seen...the focus here isn't on achievement and the aquisition of "things;" probably because the opportunities are few and far between. but also because people here relate to one another as PEOPLE, and not as co-workers or because they have the same car. at any given moment, the atmosphere is created by people, creating a home has nothing to do with what kind of floors somebody has or what's on the wall, and an awesome party can happen in a dirty workshop with a pile of wood for a "bench" and a hub-cap fire pit for a bbq.

with each passing day i learn more about myself. 1) the beach and the ocean make everyone happier and healthier. 2) being outdoors, in nature, is medicinal. 3) i have DEEP respect for immigrants everywhere. expressing one's self authentically in one's native tongue is hard enough, but doing it in a foreign language takes balls. and 4) letting go of fear and expectations can take you to amazing depths and frightening highs.

i'm repacking all my things today to prepare for my next move, and i absolutely have too much stuff. i brought a lot just in case i decide to stay. but even if i never leave, i have way too much stuff. what does one need in life, really? well, in brazil, one needs flip-flops, a bikini, a cunga (sarong), something to wear on top of that bikini- shorts and a shirt, and- well, that's kind of it... sure it's fun to dress up and have something new to wear, but if we're talking about necessity, than the first extraneous item on the list is pretense. it doesn't exist here. lovers are going to argue in front of their friends because everyone's in the room together and the argument is happening now. this guy is going to tell that guy that what he said was really messed up. students are going to get to class when they get to class because the buses are packed and they needed to stop and buy a snack. the passenger on the bus is going to call the bus driver a crazy fool for driving like he's in NASCAR. i'm going to wear flip-flops and use my bikini as a bra because it's more comfortable and it's CRAZY hot outside! and that's the way it is. brazilians live together, for better or for worse, til death to they part. and if you want to be a part of that, you have to let go of a little bit of self-preoccupation, and open your heart to the dynamic energy surrounding you in the hearts of others, and open your mouth and SPEAK. i never would have encountered the people i have thus far without jumping off that ledge every day.

i still believe the voice has to be used with purpose- not just to call someone a fool or make noise, but to really say something. especially because spoken language reveals so much about people- they're motives, the way they see the world, their spirit, their truth... brazilian portuguese is beautiful, complex, lyrical, sometimes overwhelming and full of sexual innuendos and jokes. it requires a certain confidence to speak it- the confidence to let go and really EXPRESS yourself. you have to sing the words. dance them. grab them with your mouth and show 'em who's boss. passionately, of course...

i'm ending one love affair in rio to surely begin another in salvador, with the rhythm of this language propelling me forward. like everything here, i'm keeping time with music and taking each day as it comes, one wave at a time.

Friday, November 13, 2009


occasionally i feel the poetic impulse...

wandering into the calm break of the ocean
riding the swell, bobbing up and down
like an albatross...
suddenly the tide sucks both legs
out from under me, dragging
my body into the giant, frothy mouth
i see approaching.
it gobbles me up, pulling legs back
spitting my body forward
twisting both arms around like
a pinwheel in the gale-force wind
of bubbling, salty sea.
i hear whispers and whistles, the psst-psst!
of all-too shameless men,
i have bruises from rio's streets.
i feel wet and sticky from
impulsive romances, my eyes, nose,
ears, mouth full of sound and silence-
this language seems to mock me every day...
and did you know, in the southern hemisphere,
the toilets flush backwards?
provided it's one of the fancy, flushing models, that is...