Sometimes a pleasant jaunt down memory lane is all it takes to jolt oneself out of the “blues.”
Recently I came across a journal I kept during a two-month visit to Olinda, Brazil in 2005, in which I volunteered as an assistant English teacher in a public school. I have had very few truly joyful and soul-satisfying experiences in my life, but the time I spent in Brazil nearly eight years ago (I can hardly believe it’s been that long!) was definitely one of those experiences. Re-reading my journal brought back many happy memories, as well as some “what was I thinking” and “boy, I was stupid and naive then” moments, particularly in regards to a brief relationship I had with a Brazilian young man while there. (I will not be sharing the details of that drama, as it’s far too personal, and did not end well.) However, I feel as if it would be a shame not to share at least some of what I experienced during this time in Brazil, if only to impart to those who have never visited this amazing country some of the richness and beauty of its people, culture, and landscape. Brazil, more than any country I’ve been to, feels like home to me, and I hope one day I can literally call it home. I am, and always will be, in my heart, a “brasileira.”
Without further ado, the first installment of my “Brazil diaries”:
8/19/05 Here I am at last, in Olinda, in the home of R. and C. and their three-year-old son, M. They are definitely not poor by Brazilian standards–probably middle-class–but they are still without many of the amenities that I, as a spoiled American, am used to, and they live in what looks like a rougher section of Olinda. The apartment is small but clean, and they have cable TV and internet, but there is no AC, the toilets don’t flush toilet paper, they wash clothes by hand, and the shower involves two shower heads–one that spouts only scalding, hot water and the other, only cold water. I took a shower today and used the cold water–it actually felt good, since it’s so warm and humid in the apartment.
The window in my room has a bottom portion that has no glass or screening of any kind, so fresh air and breezes blow in my room constantly. I get to hear all the noise outside as well. During the day there are children playing in the courtyard below, sometimes people blast music next door, and the traffic outside is nearly constant. It’s definitely a very different sort of environment here, but I’m adjusting!
8/21/05 Since I’d still seen so little of Olinda, I was able to procure the company of A., S., and W., three of the Brits, on a trek into the historic district, or “old town” center, of the city. It was quite a walk, especially into the historic part, which sat atop a huge hill, but I welcomed the exercise, and it was well worth it in the end. The “old” part of Olinda is beautiful. Gorgeous, colorful, Spanish-colonial-style buildings line the streets, and they all overlook a magnificent view of the Atlantic Ocean and nearby Recife. All along the main road there are shops and outdoor vendors selling massive quantities of handmade crafts and jewelry.
We wore ourselves out on our trek, so W. suggested a nearby restaurant/bar to go to for some drinks. It hit the spot. It was a gorgeous place–we sat at a table on the veranda in the rear, which was situated atop a steep hill and gave us a breathtaking view, through flowers and palm fronds, of the beach in the distance and the skyscrapers of Recife. It felt kind of surreal, and we had a lovely time.
By the time we departed, dusk was beginning to settle in, and the “brasileiros” began to emerge in throngs. The main square was filled with the mostly dark-skinned, fun-loving people, and we immediately heard drums beating. We saw a crowd gathered round one part of the square, so we hurried to take a look. Pairs of men were taking turns doing the “capoeira” dance, most bare-foot, and some bare-chested. Though I’d seen capoeira before, it has always fascinated me, and it was extra special to see it actually done, on the spot, in a Brazilian street. It just added to the whole “flavor” of the day.
I can’t wait to explore more in the days to come, and to immerse myself even more in this beautiful and fascinating culture.
8/22/05 Today was my first day “teaching” English. I was a bit nervous and a bit intimidated, but once I entered the classroom, full of those beautiful, dark-skinned, dark-haired children, noisy and wild as they could be, yet grinning at me, I felt strangely at ease. I felt a weird sort of confidence.
The English teacher, a middle-aged Brazilian man (a Profesor S.), was very nice, and mainly just had me do the pronunciation with the kids. I was so glad I was simply an assistant, for the teacher had to spend half the classroom time keeping the kids in order. I actually helped him with three classes–the end of the first, all of the middle one, and the beginning of the last one. It was the middle class that was the rowdiest, as most of them were fairly young, but I actually enjoyed them the most. They had so many questions for me and about me, wanted my signature on their notebooks, and when I left the classroom, they surrounded me and showered me with friendly goodbyes. In short, they stole my heart!
My time here so far has been very thought-provoking. Though I wake up every morning to a warm, muggy room, though I am without many of the luxuries I am used to, and though I look around me at filth, decay and poverty that are unheard of in the US, I wouldn’t trade this time here for anything. I rode on my first bus this evening to get back to C. and R.’s, and as I sat there, wind blowing from the open window on my face, just watching the scenery go by, I kept thinking, This fits me, this brings me contentment. A deep sense of joy flooded me.