It took a few days and a few chopps, a few “tudo bem?!” and many kisses, but it was waking up in the middle of the night in my own sweat to violently scratch at multiple mosquito bites sprinkled across my right love handle like a message in braille that made me finally go “ah, yes. I am home again.”
We all have those indicators after travel – the first real solid bowel movement in the comfort of your own bathroom, the first shower with all your familiar products, the first deep night’s sleep in your own bed – that let us know we have returned. For me, in this deceptively cute Rio apartment, it’s the singular experience of swinging in the hammock on the balcony that I affectionately call “the office,” cursing the constant barking of the dog across the street, tucking an ice pack into the sports bra and underwear combo that constitutes my summer look, and drinking flavorless but ice cold Brazilian beer. And also going pee in the middle of the night without a light or my glasses and confronting a cockroach as big as my face crawling over my birkenstock.
That’s when I really know.
Then I know “I am home.” Home in this place that has been ‘home’ for three years, that I finally got to share with family. Gma ended our month long sojourn here in Rio – my beloved, hot, crazy, slow, colorful Rio. We earned our time here – the flight from Buenos Aires to Galeão was super hectic, friend. We were seated apart, probably for Gma’s benefit, as I turned into a right mess during the insane storm that fell upon us. We were nearly on the ground when the landing was suddenly canceled and we went from a steep downward slope to a rapid climb back into the air and I not so quietly lost my shite.
Flying has never been easy for me, and after a few incidents in the air, and then after the crash of the Brazilian soccer team, I am antsy. And mentally navigating through the emergency announcements in two languages that aren’t your native, even if you speak them, can put one on edge. I was bargaining with God the whole way and still trying to stick to my mom’s advice afterwards to keep my promises because long story short, even though I totally freaked out the small children next to me, we eventually landed and made it to the hotel I’d booked, where we monopolized the last ten open minutes at the bar and then collapsed into post-travel oblivion.
I was so happy to feel the soggy heat of Rio on my skin, to speak Portuguese, to see recognizable landmarks out the window and know where I was . . . sometimes the best part of traveling is not only where you go, but in coming home again.
I feel this way when I move anywhere – to Santa Barbara, to Concord, to North Carolina – nowhere was ‘home’ until someone had visited me and I could show them what it meant to live there. Only Ry has visited me here in Rio yet, so I was super excited to show it to Gma.
I overestimated our enthusiasm for adventure after a long travel already, and the heat and humidity of Rio is something to be reckoned with. So we didn’t manage to tackle all of my ambitious itinerary, but I was so happy to introduce her to my favorite beachside happy hour, my best friends down here in Brazil, to climb up to big Jesus, to stroll through Hippie Faire, and watch a few memorable sunsets slide down through the heavy clouds of a Rio summer sky.
And I was so happy for her to drink a caipirinha, to stick a toothpick into a plate of sizzling meat and aipim, and to meet some of my cariocas. I can’t even . . . I’m trying to think it, to type it . . . but what it means to me that I sent out an invite and so many of them showed up to meet my grandma, on a traffic-heavy Friday night, during vacation, and to be so kind to us . . . my heart was and is full to burst at it. Brasilians are the kindest people I have ever met. They might be late, very late. They might flake out entirely. But my friends here are so, so good. In the midst of whatever madness our work might bring, it is so good to build these memories of the people we spend life with.
Despite the toll so much time together might have taken upon us (near the end of the trip, I asked my favorite Scottish couple “how do you marry someone? How do you commit to this?! You’re signing up to hear them sleep and eat and breathe and share a shower for the rest of your life?!”) we still both cried at our parting. Four weeks together and we still like each other. A remarkable feat for any relationship. It was hard to watch Gma scan through customs and then wave goodbye at the last visible point. I called out “fly, little bird, be free!” but no one understood me because it was in English and she was too far away to hear. So I was just yelling into the void. Naturally.
Now I am back on land and probably never getting on a boat AGAIN if I can help it. I am in swinging in the hammock, and grocery shopping, and binging on Netflix, and pretending life is normal. Oh, but it is not. The election results mean that it is not.
I don’t know what to say – if I said what I really feel, people from church and even my family wouldn’t talk to me again. And if I never say anything, I’ll disappoint people who know how I really feel. A lot of people are already saying stuff, so I could just chill and keep quiet. But I also think that if we don’t start making politics more personal, and if we don’t stop generalizing large and small groups of people, we will never be able to have a conversation with anyone who isn’t just like us ever again. And I don’t want to live in any kind of place that is like that.
So I sit here, dozen of job apps flying off my fingertips into the internebula, but I don’t know if I should keep applying to work abroad and try to help people understand that no, not all Americans think like Trump does (the 9 year old Colombian I tutored today (in English, in Brazil!) expressed fear because “well, Trump says mean things, so many mean things, and there will probly be a war soon, and that makes me feel scared and I’m worried I will never go to Disneyland again.”).
Or should I go home and *really* join every effort at resistance that I believe in? Or should I just ‘do me’ as society often encourages, forget any moral obligation or Christian obligation to fight for the widow the orphan the foreigner in my land, and just go find a cool Asian island to teach and party on for the next few years and damn the consequences and try to get tickets to the next Olympics? Do I stay in education – the one place I think makes a real difference in the life of a child and a generation? Do I try something else?
There has been a thing going around my friends on Facebook, this “10 year look back” to see how much you’ve changed. Ten years ago I was protesting everything from cuts to higher education to scabs to term limits from Berkeley to LA to DC to Sacramento and always yelling about something in Santa Barbara.
A few days ago I got fired up and I went to the small but heartfelt Women’s March here in Rio and I remember, and I feel so much and so deeply, and my spiritual gift is truly to yell enthusiastically for hours without end about something I feel passionate about and then I accidentally end up the loudest voice on the march.
I remember how important things are to me, and the things I want to believe in that could truly make America the greatest – that we can march, that we can yell, question, ask for truth and transparency. That we can demand to be heard by the people in the offices we pay for.
We are a country made up of so many people that no official national language exists. That we honor all religions, races, and reasons we might be different from each other. That we offer home to all refugees and have the best food on the planet.
I found a very old picture of my sisters and me. We’re young, dressed in matching clothes, and my hair is straight somehow. I can recall the rose bush that sprawls behind us, and the metal playground that was to my left in the photo that always burned your skin in the hot sun, and the weeping willow tree beyond.
I was at Strandwood Elementary, we swam on the Dolfins, played soccer for AYSO, had pancake breakfasts every Fourth of July served by senior citizens, watched fireworks at College Park, and cheered every Tuesday night for my dad’s softball team full of his high school buddies. We walked to Eastman video to rent movies, there was no downtown, and the tune of the ice cream man threw us into fits. We had family fiestas via Taco Bell. Ahhhh pintos n cheese. Still brings me back. Water from the hose and come in when the streetlights go out.
I don’t know when I will find someone smart and interesting enough to marry, and when we will have kids (this is my not so subtle dare to God to make this man show up because I am in need of a solid cuddle and someone to think I am cute and fun).
At this point in my life, I don’t even know what country I will be living in for the next few years where I might stumble upon said imaginary man (I also hope he has a beard, God? But whatever you think is best). But when I do have children, I hope it is in a world that was as lovely and kind and as full of opportunity as the one I grew up in.
I live in cidade maravilhosa, on the beach, it’s almost Valentine’s Day, which is every single girl’s FAVORITE DAY (to eat sushi and watch/read feminist agenda-esque material) and then it’s Carnaval in Brasil. I love the people I live with, work with, and know what I do is important and has an impact, even if I never get to see it this side o’ heaven.
The white house administration and their decisions and the fallout is a dumpster fire. 2016-7 also took Carrie Fisher and Mary Tyler Moore from me, two women I have loved and adored.
But there is always beauty in the ashes – a kid screaming that he missed me over the Christmas break, a late night crying and laughing and smashing the patriarchy with good friends, karaoke with a four year old.
we live in a beautiful world. yeah we do, yeah we do. and oh how I want Jesus to come back but not yet. lets redeem this world just a bit while we can, shall we? I’m in if you’re in.
And if you haven’t heard it yet today and you need to – you are worth it.