I may not be doing, but I’m still living

Julia Shankin - Brazil


March 17, 2017

In the past seven months, I have spent more time doing nothing than I have doing something. I have hours of unconstructed time every day, with no obligations, responsibilities, or anything better to do.
I spent the better part of seven months waiting for whatever I was doing to be over so that I could begin my next activity. A normal day in my life looks something like this:
Wake up
Exercise
Wait for breakfast
Eat breakfast
Wait for lunch
Eat lunch
Wait for the bus
Catch the bus
Wait for the bus to arrive at my apprenticeship
Wait for my apprenticeship to be over
Wait for the bus
Catch the bus
Wait for the bus to arrive at my house
Eat café de tarde
Wait for dinner
Eat dinner
Wait for an appropriate hour to go to sleep
Go to sleep

As you can see from my schedule, I spend more time waiting than I spend time doing, and these in between times used to make me go crazy. My productivity-obsessed American brain considered every minute I spent doing nothing a minute wasted. I felt useless, unproductive, and my self worth plummeted. I had spent my entire adolescence piling myself with so many responsibilities that free time for me never really existed. Time that I was inactive was time that I was ignoring a task that needed to be completed.
My new life in Brazil, stripped of the responsibilities of household chores, earning money, leading school organizations, homework, and extracurriculars, left me with very few tasks to feel guilty about ignoring. My empty schedule gave time that was all mine to do whatever I wanted with, but the constant waiting made me restless and riddled with anxiety rather than relaxed and rejuvenated.
The contrast between my need to be productive and my community’s way of life is extremely vast. My four year old host sister stays home from school if it is raining, my host mom stays home from her job working in a garden if she still has bread baking in the oven, and my older host sister has a three hour lunch break from her job. When it would rain, my host family would encourage me to stay home from work or not walk to Zumba, which made me want to scream. Why did these people want to sabotage my one opportunity to leave the house today! Why don’t they understand why doing nothing is killing me! But to them, work is work. Even if you like your job, that job exists so that you can earn money to enjoy the time you have when you are not working. I, on the other hand, did not have the ability to switch my brain out of work mode. I had no idea how to just live and exist.
Out of all of the challenges that moving to another continent and living with strangers who don’t speak my language presented me with, my biggest struggle was simply existing.
I didn’t know who I was without having a task to do! What does a person like me do when I have nothing to do?? How do I sit still for an hour? Well, turns out that there are lots of good options available. Sometimes I talk to my host mom, sometimes I scroll through my phone’s camera roll, sometimes I watch TV, sometimes I write emails to be sent later when I get access to internet, sometimes I journal, sometimes I paint or draw, sometimes I go for a walk, sometimes I watch my little host sister play, sometimes I think. But mostly, I breathe in and out, my cells divide, my hair grows, my eyes see, my stomach digests, and I live.
I have learned so much in Brazil. I have learned more than I could possibly write in a blog post. I may not have learnt a trade or gain any hard skills from my apprenticeships, and I can’t write on a resume that I stayed home and relaxed from 9am-12pm every weekday, but I learned something that I truly think is more important for me as a human than anything else. I have learned how to let my brain and body simply exist on their own terms.

Julia Shankin