Saturday, December 5, 2009

jarring yet nurturing lessons

The sage and her student were standing by a pool discussing longing and ambition.

"What do you want more than anything else?" the sage asked.

"To perfect my ability to love all of creation the way I love myself," the young man replied.

At that moment, the sage tackled the student and shoved his head beneath the water. Accustomed to letting his teacher shape the unpredictable contours of his education, he did not resist.

One minute went by. Then another. The student began to struggle and kick. His teacher was strong.

Finally she released her grip and the student surfaced, fighting for breath.

"What did you want more than anything else during these last few minutes?" the sage inquired.

"Nothing else was in my mind except the desire for air," gasped the student.

"Excellent," beamed the sage. "As soon as you are equally single-minded in your desire to perfect your ability to love all of creation the way you love yourself, you will achieve your goal."

what's with the violence, stace? you might be asking yourself. well, this 'sacred advertisement' summed up my experience in brazil thus far so aptly that i felt compelled to share it with you, my loyal audience, to save my breath and a bit of your time. however, i have some details to fill in, for your sake as well as my own. so i'll begin with the thesis statement: as per usual, life has knocked me on my ass. i made some plans, took some risks, let my idealism take over, and then had life stare me straight in the face and say, "no, seriously, WHAT are you doing?"

i have been drifting about (in case you haven't gleaned that from previous posts) and searching for ANSWERS, dammit! some days, i feel so happy to let it all melt on the horizon of sugary sand and breathtaking mountains, and just say 'YES!' to that ice-cold cerveja; but other days i quite literally burst into tears and can't even make out the words 'bom dia' to my neighbors. sometimes i can't believe how cool it is to have ended up in rio- meeting professional belgain soccer players and local rap artists and break-dancers and receiving invitations to batizado's at the fluminense football club banquet hall! and sometimes i get all thinky and neurotic and stressed that i'm not practicing yoga every day or going to capoeira, and i haven't taken a single dance class! they say the grass is always greener, but my problem is that i don't even know that i want grass! my varied interests lead me to believe that if i'm not accomplishing everything, NOW, PERFECTLY!!!, then a small (but very vocal) part of me believes that i have failed at life. gee, don't i sound like a barrel o' laughs?

sometimes all it takes is a bit of perspective. as in, no, x-y-z didn't happen, buy p-q-r DID, and those are really amazing and important letters! what good is it to come all the way to brazil and maintain exactly the life i had in the states? why leave? visiting somewhere and living somewhere are two different beasts. i can hear about a place from the comfort of my own home, which, for some, is fine. but i wanted to LIVE in brazil. which means laying in bed at night with firecrackers and gun shots outside my window, and being kept awake until 8am because of the baile funk, or holding the hand of a one and a half year-old in vila kennedy whose grandfather abandoned him at the shelter. transplanting oneself is really difficult and if i leave here with nothing more than a firm grip on reality and on what i want to make of myself (see below for the answer), then, you know what? that's actually what i came here to do! and now i know who to talk to, what it will take to live here and how much i need to make it happen. hell, i know that i WANT to live here!

because i came to brazil, i have learned things that can never be taken away from me. i am part of the social dialogue i so desperately want to engage in. i can speak to issues that interest me rather than just 'knowing' they are important. i know why i believe that educating women is the most important thing we can do for society, and that protecting the rights of children is right there on it's heels. creating a life in line with one's heart is incredibly powerful and it takes TIME. god, it's so annoying when you learn a life lesson and remember the inane and obvious adage you learned in third grade that already explained it all for you...

but beyond the over-arching "life-lesson" i am integrating into my being, i'm saying out loud to the universe that what i want more than anything is to dance professionally. i love afro-brazilian dance and music and i am passionate about creative, group movement. i am dedicated to my physical health and accomplishing specific physical goals as i work towards this career path. so it may shift the direction of my plans temporarily...and it may not, for that matter. but what i've learned is that life requires focus, and even though there are lots of causes and adventures and boys out there (let's be honest...), a little bit of light and satisfaction will always be diminished in me if i don't follow this aching desire i feel inside.

and that's all, folks. that's all you get from me for now, because i'm still processing and integrating this new mentality into my being (for good), while remembering the words of a wise, wise person: "do it now, do it now, do it now!" thanks, chip. and thank you, loyal readers, for being there with your words of encouragement. and don't forget to leave a comment about your own ideas regarding 'longing' and 'ambition'...just for fun...

tchau for now.....and axe!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


as i contemplate my future, i'm reminded of things past. i stumbled across this today- an entry i wrote over a year ago during my time in brazil, and i am just as humbled by that experience now as i was then. i didn't edit this, so there are some "stream-of-consciousness" gaps that i hope you'll forgive.

week 9:

cinelandia protest, or demonstration. the excitement over free condoms is incredible, but what people don't know is even more incredible. here, in a culture driven by so much sexuality and expression, there's a serious problem with teen pregnancy and lack of sexual education. this problem is mostly in the favelas, as in most countries- the poor are left out of the equation, but the government seems to feel no inclination to address it. what is their role again?

grupo so capoeira batizado. 9 year-olds with more guts (not to mention technique) than most of the adults in my classes. and without knowing my last name or what i'm doing in brazil, professor cocoroca welcomed me to the family and committed to finding me a job.

centro de convivencia infantil. my first experience with vila kennedy (a favela, or 'communidade' outside the city of rio) was on a visit with my friend saulo. he grew up there, and we went to stay at his sister, fabiana's house. inside, the bathroom is right next to the kitchen and has a sheet hanging from a cord for a door. to flush the toilet, i fill a bucket from the spout in the wall. the shower has no curtain, and the same, raw concrete floor as the rest of the house. the babies get a bath in the bucket out front, where the extra cinder blocks serve as patio furniture. 10am, smoke a joint, drink some coffee with lots of sugar, eat a piece of bread with margarine and turn up the funk music. we watch the babies and their big brother slowly learn to dirty dance while mom, dad and tio watch, laughing and clapping and singing along. "can the kids understand these words?" i week later, vila kennedy is in the news. the comando vermelho from vila alianca broke into vila kennedy (their rival favela) as part of an ongoing power struggle for drug traffic control. gunfire and explosions all night. some injuries due to stray bullets. buses can't leave to take people to work. schools are closed. the next time i go back to vila kennedy is with another volunteer, ines. she learned about an organization there that provides space for kids before and after school hours to keep them off the streets and out of trouble, or to care for very young children whose parents (or mom, or grandparents) have to work. i arrived at 11am and spent an hour taking photos of/with the kids. they don't know my name, but call me 'tia' (aunt) and hug me tirelessly. i meet a one and a half year old boy who has been left with his grandfather. mom is in prison, dad went missing, and his grandfather all but begged ines to take him away. what he said was, "can you take him right now? i can't take care of him anymore." this little one follows tia cleide (the woman who runs things) around, crying, pointing to the door and calling out "mama." when he finally let me get close, i gave him a little back rub and held his hand. from then on, any time i was sitting, he was between my legs. before i even said good-bye, just as i started gathering up my things to leave, he started screaming. he doesn't trust anyone, and he knows that he's alone. how does that happen to an infant? and what was incredible to watch was the way ALL the other children help take care of him. there are children here with no parents and nowhere to play but a dirt lot. there's no money to buy food so every day they get spaghetti, black beans and sausage. lots of candies. hugs. kisses.

what's the most important "nutritional supplement?" i think love (excuse the hippy-dippy sentiments), but vegetables also do growing bodies good. not to mention balancing out the effects of starches and refined sugars on the energy levels of kids.....i think of this often when i see the rotted front teeth of two four year-olds at CCI. playing, laughing, smiling, and eating fistfuls of candy. they guard the candies fiercely, and drop all the wrappers on the ground. i'm not surprised considering the amount of people i see doing the same thing daily throughout the city. i couldn't stand seeing this wonderful place littered with trash, so i initiated a 'game' of trash collecting, and suddenly everybody wanted to get the garbage off the ground! how great, i think! until they start grabbing flowers and leaves to put in the bags....and as soon as the game was over, the mess reappeared within minutes as though some little filth fairy were taking the trash out of my bag when i wasn't looking.

i came here with the intention of doing yoga with the kids. they were really enthusiastic about it! so i taught them yoga, in a tiny room with a smooth concrete floor and beautiful blue walls. i taught them sun salutations and talked about the names of some of the postures. the mostly wanted to look at my tattoos...then we closed our eyes and breathed deeply...imagined the sounds of traffic were the sounds of the ocean...breathe in and smell the salt water.....i opened my eyes to scan the room and two boys in the back, paulo and gabriel, were so focused and engaged i almost forgot i was teaching! as we walked back to CCI i asked them how they felt after doing yoga, after spending some time on the beach (wink-wink)... gabriel opened his arms wide, took a deep breath in and smiled at the sky. "a natureza ajuda," he said. "nature helps." i can't help but see the weeds littered with garbage and smell the diesel fumes as we walk back to our building. just for a moment, we got to be together on a clean beach with fresh air.

antonio is perfect beyond belief. to look at him, orgasmic, to hear his resume, divine: violinist, soccer star, chess champion, drummer, lady killer. when i ask if he has a woman, saulo says, "quem quiser." "whoever he wants." but i don't see anyone. the one possibility lingers silently at a distance. an ex? a potential? one of those that slips through the cracks and gets a taste? he's high and has lost and beautiful eyes, and as i stare at him i realize we're all lonely. he can have anyone, but he doesn't want anyone. he wants someone. or maybe he wants to be wanted by someone who doesn't want him. i wonder as i watch him how many times he's cheated on a girl or broken someone's heart. i wonder how many times he's cried himself to sleep. i wonder why it feels like i'm suddenly without a home.