From Neon Spandex to Hiking Boots

Camille LeBlanc - Brazil

September 18, 2012

Apologies for the infrequency of the blog posts! For the first time in years, I’m keeping a journal,which, unfortunately, is resulting in a reluctance to blog. But let me bring you up to speed: I arrived in Brazil two weeks ago, spent four days in Salvador, and am now in a small rural village in interior Bahia–Capao. Although my stay in Salvador was brief, I felt like I got a real sense of the city’s flavor. On my very first morning, I woke up to a car blasting bossa nova from massive speakers strapped to the roof. Everything is just a little more intense there–the voices louder, the clothes brighter (and smaller), the air more ridden with salt and sweat and life. The city is alive and moving in all of its senses–even the guy selling frutas on the corner recites his produce to a certain rhythm. We had to leave, but I’ll be back, and I’ll tell you all about it. Last Tuesday, the 12 of us Brazil Fellows hopped on an early bus headed to interior Bahia (where we’ll be for the four weeks of “in-country orientation”), specifically Chapada Diamantina, a mountainous region in inland Bahia. Eight hours later, I stepped into the square of one of the strangest and most wonderful towns I’ve ever seen, Capao. Oh, the dreadlocks and acoustic guitars, the seitan and Chacos sandals. This village, among towering mountains and clear, dark rivers, homes a small, international community (and every backpacker passing through) that has embraced the simple life. Life is slow here, and that is exactly how everyone likes it. There is a vegetarian commune, a circus, trekking gear around every corner, and countless stores selling dream catchers and feather earrings.

As I met my new host family for the next month and began the twenty minute climb to their house (down one mountain and up another), the first reality of this year finally hit me. I am far away–from the language I know, from the people I love, from warm showers and familiar comforts. And so I will be–for eight months. As I stepped into my new home, a rat-sized cockroach scurried across the floor. That incident should have said it all, but, of course, this was going to be a bigger adjustment. Forget toilets and even luke warm water, refrigerators, electronics, and outlets. Embrace the headlamp, the dusty road, and the mosquito net. As I lay in my new bed that first night, fighting mosquitos buzzing in my ears, I tried to remember why I’m here. Suck it up, I repeated to myself. I signed up for lonely, struggle, and discomfort. I wanted this. In fact, I needed something to push me–to test my limits. So here I am, Capao: trying not to allow myself to slip into any kind of normalcy or predictability, trying not to disengage from the language or people despite frustration, and, more than anything, trying to find purpose and meaning in an orientation period that lacks a strict structure. And then, after whiny nights of personal pep talks, I wake up to find myself in this beautiful place. I run along steep, dirt roads, alongside and between even steeper mountains soaring above me in all directions. New Jersey ain’t got nothin’ on this, and I am so incredibly lucky to be here.

Camille LeBlanc