The front yard

Mitchell Ryan - Brazil


April 7, 2014

In this flimsy white chair, on this slightly chilly and sun soaked afternoon, alone, I look down at Juba, our 2 year old mutt. He blinks lazily up at me seeming to never have any trouble taking it all in. Teach me to be like you, Juba.

I’ve found myself in this same position countless times before within this homestay. Our cozy front yard consists of a small strip of flowers and plants along a wall, with the narrow driveway separating it from the rest of the yard. I love feeling the sun warm up my chilled legs like a couple of wiener dogs over a hot fire.

At this hour of the day a slight breeze joins me — it also too lazy or too content to want to put in any real effort. The sun is still high in the sky, but sometimes I’m out just as it is departing behind the hills off to the right, a job well done, leaving a fantastic art pallet of goiaba pink and maracujá yellow in the sky.

On other days I come out after an entirely too filling lunch and dig the legs of the chair into the soft ground underneath the wide canopy of trees. Falling asleep under the generous shade of the lime trees is a true luxury.

Days like today, as I look at the small strip of flowers next to the driveway, I’m overwhelmed with such feelings of satisfaction that I feel a smile come to my face and wrinkles to my eyes. They young flowers are bashful still but are in bloom and reaching for the sky. I can remember back to November when my host mom spoke to me in the slowest Portuguese she could manage, explaining how to plant these once delicate flowers. Now we look at them with pride and joke about the good old days.

A thick rope hangs limply from another tree. It’s been used far too many times as a make-shift leash, securing Juba in place as the whole family takes part in what is usually an entire afternoon of panicked screaming by my host sister, frothy soap, spraying water and a howling dog.

Every piece of this small garden opens a door to another world where the stage is set and the memory begins to play. I like the yard for this.

Other days when I feel the effects of being alone begin to creep in, I set up this white plastic lawn chair and look out past the front gate at the street ahead.

A mom walks her daughter home from school, smiling down at her as the young girl rambles on in quick Portuguese. My host dad comes out with a joke on his tongue to tell me fresh coffee is on the table and that he is going to pick up fresh bread.

An elderly woman is already returning home from the bakery with an assortment of breads in her hand, heading home for café da tarde. She smiles and greets me as all the neighbors do in this small neighborhood. Children walk slowly through the streets — drained by the afternoon sun and a day full of play. More people pass by, forgoing prior commitments to stop and chat with one another. Motorcycles roar through. A young boy rides by on a horse. And a man with his cows in hot pursuit.

I can’t help but look on at this scene playing out before me, day after day, with some kind of sadness. Thinking back to the quiet, secluded households and streets of my suburban neighborhood, I have no comparison waiting for me.

I like my host dad too because he likes to nap. I enjoy a good nap myself. Sometimes when the neighbors are too loud, he’ll shout out loud words I don’t understand at them. Sometimes we get a response. Most times it’s met with silence, and we go on napping.

Mitchell Ryan