Saudades

I haven’t posted since Brazil. The last couple months have involved a lot of internal reflection, and there are many fragments I’m still parsing through.

It’s hard to describe the kinds of changes that took place in me while I was in Brazil. Undefinable. Unrestricted. Unexplainable.

I spend a lot of time these days on my hammock, the one I bought in Alfenas, looking up into the trees. The other evening at dusk, I was lying on it when a small owl landed on a branch right above my head. These moments are private, safe, part serene and part tumultuous.

Brazil provided me subtle ways each day to think about who I am without making it some sort of tortured, meta experience. It was gradual like the slow weathering of a rock with the tide. But now that I am separated from the experiences I had there I realize that I see things differently. I see food differently. I see materialism differently. I see myself–my spirituality, my values, my outward person–differently. It’s this internal conflict that makes me wonder about which words to use.

I’m on the edge of something being pushed from many directions. I’m the one being pushed, but I’m also the pusher. At times I feel like I’m in my hammock looking up at the owl and simultaneously the owl looking down at me.

I’m hoping to shift this perspectival turmoil into a beautiful space, but I’m not there yet. For now, I’m sifting through memories from four short weeks and trying to understand a lifetime of who I am and where I need to go from here. It’s partly an effort to know and love myself better and partly an effort to accept each moment for what it is, to not block the tide from weathering the rock but to also not need to understand how the rock is being weathered or what the rock will be in the future.

Brazilians have a word that I love. Saudades. It has no direct translation in English. It means a longing, an emptiness, but also somehow a fullness after an experience. It’s whole-bodied nostalgia, joyful and melancholy all at once. One definition I read online says that it “carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing may never return.” It’s a celebratory, wistful feeling that somehow also sits heavy in your chest.

Following my monthlong journey, the word saudades fills me each day. I use it regularly with my friends in Brazil to express how deeply I miss them. But perhaps the saudades extend even deeper… to the me who I was before the trip and the person I’m unfolding into now that I’m back. Whoever she may be.

Eu Te Amo, Meu Brasil

Today, we are in Jaboticabal. We arrived last night after attending the Rotary district conference in Atibaia. The town is named after the jaboticaba tree, which produces little dark purple berries. I tried one and it was a little bitter, but I’m told they’re not really in season right now.


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My host family is very nice. They live in an apartment with a lovely view of the city (including the town’s McDonald’s!). It’s peaceful to sit on their balcony and look out at everything.

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My host sister just got back last night from a year-long exchange in France; her accent now is an adorable French/Brazilian combination. And my host brother is getting ready to go to France for his exchange.

This afternoon, we visited the mayor’s office. They gave us pão de queijo (cheese bread) and suco (juice), and they told us about the city. Then the mayor signed books for us all about the history of Jaboticabal. Every time we visit a place here in Brazil, we always leave with gifts. Brazilian people here are incredibly generous, and I wish I had more to give them.

Our group with the mayor

Our group with the mayor

After the mayor’s office, we walked around the small lake that is on the property. Apparently, capybara live in the water, but we didn’t see any. 

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Then we tried pasteis for the first time. All of us have eaten so much fried food over the last few weeks, and we’re all starting to feel pretty lethargic. It’s safe to say, a trip to the gym is massively in order for me when I get back to the States. At this point, my stomach is feeling better, but I now have a sinus infection. Thank goodness my doctor back home gave me a prescription for antibiotics before I left. It’s been a lifesaver.

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Pasteis

 

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The shop where we bought pasteis. Note all the Volkwagens (we see a lot of VWs here!)

The remainder of the trip will no doubt go by quickly. We’re here for a few days and then off to Franca. Later this week, I’m supposed to split from the group and go to Alfenas, which is in the state of Minas Gerais, to see my friend Luciana.

Here are a couple more photos…

The Statue of Liberty in Brazil

The Statue of Liberty in Brazil

My host mom and sister in  Sertaozinho and Rikke (to my left), an exchange student from Denmark

My host mom and sister in Sertaozinho and Rikke (to my left), an exchange student from Denmark

Cada Dia uma Nova Aventura

Sorry for the lack of posts. The internet in Brazil is not as easily accessible, and I’m having some troubles importing photos.

We’re on day 12. It’s been an amazing adventure. Each day, we are incredibly busy. We have visited universities, a school for people with special needs, a sugar cane mill, a sock factory, an airplane museum, a factory that manufactures turbines and several farms (including one that specializes in artificial insemination of cattle–that was quite the experience!). We also planted a tree in Sertaozinho, where I’m currently staying. In about an hour, I’ll head to another town called Atibaia for a conference.

I’ve eaten a LOT of arroz and feijao (rice and beans). And I have learned many new Portuguese words. My favorite is the Portuguese word for hummingbird — beija-flor. It means flower kisser. *Gush*

My mind is often overflowing with thoughts here. There is so much to take in. People around me are speaking in a language I hardly understand. The food is different. Even the bathrooms are different–you can’t throw toilet paper in the toilet bowl in Brazil because it causes plumbing problems. But the people… Brazilians are the most welcoming, wonderful people in the world. I’ve become deeply attached to so many people here. Even if we can’t always understand each other, we somehow find a way to communicate. Everyone is so gracious, giving up their days to drive us around and to make sure we’re comfortable. It’s pretty indescribable.

I don’t have to long to write, so here are a few photos from the trip so far.

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My AMAZING host family in Sao Carlos

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The gang at TEM Museum

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Rikke from Denmark and I show off our fancy footwear for the farm

Rikke from Denmark and I show off our fancy footwear for the farm

My host family in Araraquara (including Sarah, an exchange student from Illinois)

My host family in Araraquara (including Sarah, an exchange student from Illinois)

Blogwell in Brazil

Day one has been a whirlwind, but estou aqui! This morning, we landed in Sao Paolo and were met by some of our new Rotarian friends. They took us by van to Riberao Preto. Along the way, we stopped and ate lunch at what I understand is sort of a gas station that also serves food. They had an impressive selection, and as you can tell, I pigged out on a large selection of vegetarian food. It’s a buffet, but you pay by weight. One of my teammates, Alyssa, compared it to a Golden Corral Brazilian-style.

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I also tried a soda that is only sold in Brazil.

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And I found some cat cookies. Photo opp… duh. (Please forgive the fact that I look gray and haggard in this photo.)

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After lunch, we continued on our journey (about 4 hours in the car, but I slept a good portion of the way), and got to Riberao Preto around 4:00 p.m. We checked into our hotel and then headed across the street to the mall to buy SIM cards. It took a while, but we got it figured out thanks to help from one of our amazing hosts, Thiago. Thiago was on the team that came from Brazil to Texas for the same Rotary exchange program. Now, he’s showing our Group Study Exchange team the ropes.

Everyone has been incredibly helpful, and we’re already making new friends. I’m completely overwhelmed by the language; although I have been practicing Portuguese for about six months now, I still feel like a child when I speak. My sentences are very slow and simple, and I get the subject verb agreement wrong every time. But people are patient with me, and I’m getting good at nodding and smiling if I don’t fully understand someone!

Another one of our hosts is Raj, who is also a vegetarian. This has been immensely helpful to me as he knows what dish might be a secret harborer of meat. Plus, I don’t know all the words for meats yet, so he has prevented me from accidentally eating something I shouldn’t.

For dinner, we had pizza. Brazilian pizza is a little different than American pizza. The four cheese was super thick because of all the cheese, and my stomach might need to develop a little fortitude during this trip if I’m going to keep eating so much gluten (before leaving the States, I was on a predominantly gluten-free diet, but I knew this would be impossible in Brazil and also not very convenient for my host families). One of the pizzas had ham and peas on it, which looked very interesting, and my teammates seemed to enjoy it.

Tomorrow, the adventure continues. We head to Sao Carlos and stay with host families.

So for now, I will sleep and hope to provide more updates soon. Ate logo!

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View from the car on the way to Rib. Preto

Boston. The way I know it.

I wrote this post a year ago after I just got back from Boston. I left the day before the bombings. A year later, I am finally publishing it.

***

I left Boston on Sunday following a tearful goodbye with my niece and nephew and heartfelt embraces with my brother and sister-in-law.

It had been my first trip there–part business and part pleasure–and I walked the cobblestone streets thinking that this could be a nice place to live one day. So much history, lovely architecture, good restaurants. Even the rain had an aura about it. 

Then Monday came and along with it the news. I’ve spent the last few days trying to get images out of my mind while simultaneously gluing myself to the news, searching for answers. Of course, the real answers we seek–the explanations for “why” and how”–will never come.

Last night, as I tried to fall asleep, I felt grateful for inane blog posts (like some of my own) that could momentarily take me out of my head and provide temporary peace. But the grief comes back, along with fears for the future.

It’s right to feel despair. It’s right to feel angry. But it’s also right to not give up hope.

I’m fearful that Monday’s events will take away my memories of Boston the way I first experienced it, so I’m using this post to recount what I experienced there. I refuse to let one person or group’s violence and hatred forever sully my memory of a city and its people.

While I was in Boston, the city was abuzz with pre-marathon activities. Runners were everywhere, exuberant about the upcoming race. The weather was cold and drizzly a couple of the days, but that didn’t slow the city down.

I finished my conference one evening and walked with some new friends to the North End. We warmed up with a round of beers at a pub and then had homemade pasta at a small Italian restaurant. Afterwards, we walked a little further to Mike’s Pastries, which was filled with people shouting their orders for cannoli and cheesecake slices.

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We planned to take the T back to our hotel, but as we waited in the station, three trains came by, each filled with fans from the hockey game that had just ended. So we chose to walk back instead, misted by a light drizzle on Newbury Street.

ducks

On Friday, I had lunch with a friend I met at another conference in Vermont last summer. I tried my first oyster, and she and I caught up on the events of the last year. I window shopped at the Prudential Center and bought Patrick an MIT shirt.

On Saturday morning, my niece and nephew climbed into bed with me in the morning, and I held them both as tight as I could. I played with stickers with my niece, and giggled with my nephew as he tried to tickle me. Then the kids, my brother, my sister-in-law and I bundled up and walked to the Public Garden.

The kids showed me the Make Way for Ducklings sculpture, and we noticed that someone had put bonnets on the ducklings. It was the first day the swan boats were open, and even though it was cold, we enjoyed the second boat ride of the season. Weeping willows reflected in the pond, and I explained to my niece how the boy ducks and the girl ducks had different colored feathers and how you could tell them apart. We quacked at them, and they quacked back.

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ducklings

After the swan boat, my brother and I accompanied the kids on a nearby merry-go-round on Boston Common. My nephew rode a zebra. My niece hopped on a jewel-encrusted pony. We waved to my sister-in-law as we passed.

Following the merry-go-round, we stopped at Starbucks for something hot to drink. A homeless man was standing outside singing. He called out to passersby in a baritone singsong voice: “Anybody got any change? Anybody got any change?” A lady with two dogs walked by. He sang out, “Anybody got any huskies? Anybody got any huskies?” I admired his direct approach and found some loose change in my pocket to put in his cup.

We walked a bit longer before heading home to get the kids ready for their naps. That evening, my brother and sister-in-law took me to a couple bars in their neighborhood. I sipped on fancy cocktails and relished being around such vibrancy.


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The next day, I packed up and prepared to head home, thankful for a wonderful trip and for such special time with my family.

Today, I thank God that my family in Boston and the friends I have there are okay. I pray for those who weren’t so lucky and for the loved ones of all the victims. And I thank God people around the nation are gathering together in solidarity to prove that light penetrates darkness.

I didn’t buy any souvenirs in Boston (other than the MIT shirt for Patrick). I brought home a few photos on my phone, a handful of business cards and some priceless memories. While I’ll never forget what happened the day after I left, I will cherish the memories I have of my trip to Boston. It’s a place where people are thoughtful enough to put bonnets on bronze ducklings when it’s chilly; where the homeless don’t beg–they sing; where children find endless joy on public merry-go-rounds; and where runners will always continue to run.