I have felt lost more times than I can count this year. Since I left home on August 19th, I have found myself fiddling with things to pass the time, struggling to keep my mind focused on one thing, and frantically searching for the blinking sign that tells me “You Aren’t Lost!”
The first time I felt lost was in mid-September. I began living in Garopaba, Santa Catarina, Brasil, a small town surrounded by even smaller communities along the beach. When I drove through the main road I was in awe… it was fully green and abundant with mountains and ocean, everything clean and preserved. I remember thinking to myself that I couldn’t have been put somewhere better, that I was home.
When I met my host family I was excited and eager to make sure their first impression of me was positive. I spent the first afternoon with them unpacking my bags and having coffee and dinner with them. We shared our interests and our stories. In 2 seconds it went from the assumed awkward, yet giggly getting-to-know-you conversation to a total feeling of loss. My host dad looked at me and asked, “What is your religion?” I told him politely that I didn’t have one. He looked at me as if he had seen a ghost and quickly responded telling me that in his house I do. On top of the extreme machismo in this house that already made me feel small, I was just told for the first time ever that I had to believe in something I had never believed in. I had grown up my whole life never stepping foot in a church, never being forced to be apart of any religion and now I was thousands of miles away from home and my new family wanted me to join their religious lifestyle. I agreed to go with them, after all I was trying to “immerse” and “experience another culture”.
I felt like I had compromised all of my beliefs. Each time I wouldn’t know whether to kneel or to stand or to sing or to shut up, the woman next to me would lightly slap me on my thigh and give me a direction. I felt brainwashed. I was spewing off words that I had no connection to and kneeling before a God I don’t believe exists. I have always respected religion and found it interesting, but this was pushing and compromising my own beliefs and I didn’t want to be forced into it anymore.
I stayed in that house almost one month, and they went to church 4 times a week. I would often tell them I was sick, or had Portugues homework, or that I needed to skype my mom so that I didn’t have to go. I was living with a family that was entirely contrary to me, and that didn’t respect my own beliefs. I was lost.
A month later in October I had left Garopaba and was staying with a new family in another part of Brasil called Florianopolis. I was feeling antsy and decided I needed to exercise. The Brasilian diet was beginning to threaten the toned body I once had and I was fed up! My host mom told me that if I followed our street all the way to the end it would meet the huge park and I could walk through the dunes and meet the beach. I decided I would run on the beach because ya’ know, when in Brasil!
It was beautiful. I walked through a forest of thin trees that arrived to a mass stretch of dunes and finally arrived to the beach. It wasn’t quite summer yet so the beach was pretty empty except for some surfers. After an incredible run on the beach I saw that it was almost lunch time and began heading back. After about an hour or so of walking through the massive sand dunes I realized I was officially lost. I had left my house with sufficient battery, but ran it out by listening to music and was now left with 10% battery. I told myself not to panic and just breathe. It wasn’t working. There was not a single person in sight, all I could see around me were giant dunes for miles. I attempted to call my host parents and program coordinator but my battery ran out mid conversation. That’s when my anxiety kicked in. I began to sweat profusely and even attempted yelling out into the distance for help. I was officially lost. I felt sick. My body ached from my toes to the very top of my head. I hadn’t eaten all day and had no water. As the tears I had been fighting began to well-up in my eyes, I noticed a funny looking tree.
This may sound dramatic, but at the time I felt like the tree saved my life. I had finally gotten out of the dunes and into the forest section when I came upon this tree. I remembered I had taken a picture of it earlier and knew I was almost home!!! Long story short, this time I was physically lost but after 3 hours and a very sore butt, I was home.
There are times where i’ve been lonely, sad, mad. There are times where i’ve been so happy I could cry and felt like I never wanted to go home. I have been lost and I have been insecure and I have been totally sure of the path ahead of me. Everyday I think about the next journey I am supposed to take in my life, trying to ignore all the pestering questions from my peers. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s okay to feel lost and it’s okay to not have a clear path. My biggest challenge has been to be okay with what is happening in this very moment and not to look to the future or the past. I am still learning how to be here now, and that’s okay.