Sunday, June 28, 2009

Finding Heart and Leaving Brazil

Sometimes it's hard to tell your stories when someone asks...

We didn't see a single monkey, but we saw a ton of machine guns. It was crazy, to say the least, the first time we walked past a group of guys toting tall guns. But eventually we didn't think twice when they sat outside our doorstep nearly every day and night. Sometimes the guns were as tall as the boys that carried them. But that is not the whole story of my Brazil...
And it's true these narrow tools of destruction affected my psyche, my following experiences and my personal relationships. They made me afraid, and then annoyed, then educationally intrigued, judgmental, and finally understanding. It was my stages of grief, a departure from a sheltered world that many in my life, including myself, had come from. But I cannot say it was earth-shattering, or pious of me, no, I did not learn and come back one who can write poetically and carefully about the abject poverty I was privileged enough to live in. No, it made me care about myself and the world in an interesting way. It made me feel small, but not insignificant. The world began to look disheveled and unruly, a place of wild growth and equally wild change. And I asked could I please be a part of this? But in the space between, my life began to change, and my personal relationships suffered. Maybe because my body and mind were growing too fast, and I could see the stretch marks and scars.

Matthew and I had difficulties landing on the same level, on the same day and even month. And we came to love our trip at different times. He in the beginning, and I later on. Rocinha was our Rio de Janeiro. It was our home, and our life, and our noise was our own in our own heads. It was hard and often rough, but it was what life brought in our choices and our loves. It was what we had decided our life together needed. So I began to pick up the pieces of the black and white mosaic Brazilian sidewalks. We attempted to live, as harmoniously as possible in an organic and violent foreign country, as we could. Some mornings we drank coffee and read the paper, some we listened to the nearby shots and helicopters fly low overhead. We moved to Rocinha for an indefinite period of time. A spectacular adventure.

We saw the products of human consumption in it's rawest form. Burning mountains of garbage pushed the sidewalks to the streets. We walked exhausted in the streets, next to nerve-wracking perpetual motion. Passing once delicately prepared meals, served on humble glass plates, coveted and much loved clothing, kissed and forgotten about. Do you want to see my new outfit? How about my new CD? Just look at the streets. In Rocinha life was loud, it was fast, cheap and often armed to the teeth. People ask me, "were you scared?" and I think about it... I indeed was, at more than one point in the beginning. Wondering whose business it was to patrol my home, my community, and my body with guns. Wondering why I couldn't take a photo and why a rifle, a hunting rifle no less, couldn't take away those self-proclaimed robin hood's insecurities. My photo won't hurt you, but maybe someone before me ruined it. I was scared when our first bus ride shot us out of a tunnel and burning brakes stopped and let us off into a bustling, colorful raw state of being. But the frightened panic and pain I felt was so long ago, it's almost forgotten. Always learned, always educational, but not stored as fear. I have enough of that in other places, to last me til the next trip. So I answer, 'no, not really'. Briefly reminded of that first two weeks, but not allowing it to define me by what it implies.

Rocinha, and you expect people to ask questions but can only hope they understand the answers. But you sadly realize the sights, sounds, tastes and smells are pertinent and exclusive to a favela, and little more than a dream or nightmare to your audience at home. The sounds of motorcycles roaring past your aluminum and plastic sealed windows at 3am and the exclusive Sunday 5am Baile Funk bass that not only rattles your sleepy mind but also your bed. The smells of stale beer, vanilla, human wastes and aromatic drifts of marijuana nearly every hour. I will never forget. And these are not the negatives, because braided intricately with the vibrant threads of a natural community, were the positives. Fresh eggs, a dozen for a dollar, four dollars for a weeks worth of vegetables, dollar fifty for a double pint of beer...which although taste near water, was still a small delight in a stressful day.

Tattoos given cheaply out of fluorescent lit huts the size of an old, early outhouse with square windows in place of the traditional crescent moon shaped ones. Itau banks with early morning ATM lines, four dollar haircuts, always a customer and no matter what you ask for, always the same conservative-mohawk-like cut. Sex shops, clothing shops, dentists, produce, papers stores, mechanics and garages every-other storefront, pastry and beer counters. This is what surrounded the streets that comprised Rocinha. But the people are what made Rocinha. The temperament. The free-spirited, lack of worry, boisterous speech and flying street chatter, non-stop banter. Walk where you want, sit where you choose, buy what tastes good, and consume all. Leaving the waste for your community to compost and recycle. The people are the kids that make their toys out of PVC tubing and run naked in the streets. The people are my students, and they are the laughs, the arguments, and the choruses you could hear every day and night. They were the continuous wheels. They were why you come to Rocinha.

Is it possible to come back the same person?

Can the confidence that I had in myself, the confidence to make a difference, the confidence to take a chance on change to see if I have revealed a sliver of the path I am next to embark upon, remain? The confidence to love myself for who I am and not for what I think other people think of me. The confidence to see children on the street who need you, but not your money and tell them in Portuguese, no, I have no money, I can't help you like that....but I can give you food. The confidence to walk down the alley past the makeshift desks, manned by young men with a myriad of drugs in their bags and money in their pockets, and not be near tears nor violence. The confidence to pick where I want to go and when. The confidence to believe that Matthew loves me.

Beginning to find what will give me the resources to be selfless in the future, because that is what I have discovered is the most love I can feel. I may not have returned as a higher, better, more cultured American set out to help the needy and write beautiful research papers about her enlightened excursions. No, I came back as a fatter me. I found a half dozen or so new facets of personalities that were locked away in the dark and light places, and I hope they can come out and play this summer. I need some time to be a kid again, to tell my friends what I found out I want to do when I grow up. Maybe we can ride bikes together, inspire some new art, and think youthfully of ways to help those with less.

I hope that some of this makes sense, because right now, it makes little to me. It's why I often sit in silence, or with a book, and why I have no cell phone. I have not processed these things yet, and it needs more space than Tennessee has. My thoughts are strewn about, and probably in some pile of garbage. I have begun to collect them again. It's just a life process, and I often wonder what kind of other life processes my friends and friends of friends are going through.

I would love to hear what others have to say.

If you can't find anything else in your life that makes a damn bit of sense, look to your love. We've spanned hours, days, years, cities, states, and now countries and this journey has undoubtedly made our hearts stronger. This is what I know.

Friday, June 26, 2009

something of a farewell

with balloons, motortaxi rides, cultural parties, family, friends, caipirinhas, and eerie calm, we began to say goodbye.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


by the strings of our hearts.
my incredible mom came to visit these past days. she was refreshing and calm, as we are beaten down, 'chewed up and spit out by a city' as matthew so poetically told her. she was generous, and embodied smiling love with spiked hair and blue eyes. she and i don't always understand our relationship, nor how we should or want to act, but we are figuring things out as age kisses us into wrinkles and maturity. and i hope every mother and child can have that same blossom experience. hibiscus orange perhaps.

Concrete and Kids

Thursday, June 11, 2009

student work- part I

so life rarely happens as expected. and my first teaching experience has been no exception. teaching a familiar subject in an unfamiliar, foreign, and impoverished community has been an interesting and peculiar game of youthful jump rope. the kids and i learned together, me conversational portuguese, and they, minimal composition, subject matter, and exposure. it was an awkward dance that sometimes crashed into the bricks and mortar that surrounded our funny little classroom. but sometimes the steps were forward, fluid in tiny varying circles, and were graceful, achieving an image or two worth marveling at.

here some of the most interesting images that the girls took.

more to come.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Children's Eyes

after a ceaseless night of rain, a morning train, two-mini vans and a really muddy moto ride/quicksand romp, matthew and i arrived at the light blue gate of Casa do Caminho, an orphanage in the jungle, just outside of Xerem.

we came to meet new people, to learn, to explore, and to help. we both took pictures of the beauty that we saw, he with his digital 35mm camera and me with my film medium format. the children range from four to nineteen years-old, and live in three different houses. they are placed there through court order and are taken in with open arms and genuine love. they are shy and nervous, they are happy and welcoming, curious, rambunctious and most importantly they are just children. they are beautiful and have the biggest eyes i have ever seen. i wonder what they are thinking, and hoping that when i develop the film i remember that moment and those thoughts, and see something i may have missed through the lens. can't wait to have access to a darkroom.

here are a few taken with my digital camera, the ones that were nice but didn't quite make the film cut.