Moving Forward

Juno Fullerton - Brazil


February 18, 2015

A few Sundays ago, I went to the beach with my family. For the first time since I came here, the stereotype completely fit the reality. Garopaba (the town I live in) is a town that thrives on summer tourism; the beaches were packed with people from every city around. Walking around the beach were people with various carts. Grilled corn, beach clothes, cold drinks, you name it. I entered the beach with my family and we staked our claim on the best spot on the sand. After setting up our umbrella and spreading out our chairs, my host sister and I headed towards the open water.

The ocean in Brazil is much different than the ocean in Los Angeles for many reasons. The sand is much softer, and there are green mountains on the coast, I mean really green. Naturally, beautifully, green. The kind you see in paintings but never actually believe existed when the reality is that the paintings don’t do this green even a little bit of justice. But above all that, there seems generally to be more of a pull. The waves are very orderly and strong. Back home, whenbody surfing, you are lucky if you can catch a couple of waves. It needs to be at the perfect time for the wave take you. But here, every wave is perfect, every wave rideable, so strong that it will “take you” whether you like it or not.

So, VitÌ_ria and I are playing around in the surf, racing each other and seeing how far we can ride each wave. Suddenly she sinks underwater for a few seconds and comes back up. Naturally, I asked her what she was doing and she told me she was looking under water. To me this just seemed really strange, because in Los Angeles nobody would ever purposely do something like that. I mean, there just wasn’t any point. You can’t see anything, the water is murky and unclear. I had always made sure not to when I was younger and as did the junior lifeguard program at my local beach. I somehow knew that doing so would remind me of how much I couldn’t see. Of how big the ocean really is and what things were below me and above me that I didn’t know. I didn’t, and still don’t, want to think of the ocean as a different, vast ecosystem with living organisms and cycles and systems, although that is exactly what it is. Although it seemed simple and harmless, to me, it also seemed completely crazy. So, somewhat reluctantly, holding my sisters hand, we both sunk underwater and to the sandy ocean floor and I opened my eyes and watched the waves roll by above me. The feeling I got when that happened is indescribable. It’s a feeling a person gets that is a direct result of wanderlust and traveling, but nonetheless still special and relevant to who I am and my growth here.

My time here has been like an amusement park ride, completely clichÌ© but true. Some of my happiest moments would not seem especially unique, like watching my host sister play solitaire on her computer during a seven hour drive to Porto Alegre, the city my family grew up in. Or one night when our house lost power and it waseleven o’clockand 95 degrees outside and my sister and I blasted music on the steps of our house and danced until we couldn’t breath anymore. Likewise, my worst moments haven’t seemed at that moment bad at all. It wouldn’t be until I would get a wake up call and realize what I’ve been doing the past couple days (or weeks) mentally was unhealthy. I convinced myself somehow that staying in my room and reading all day was a productive use of my time because I was reading, but in reality I just wanted to feel a little bit of security.

So, there I was in this beautiful climate surrounded by a loving host family having just experienced this amazing THING, but in that moment I wanted nothing more than to go back home and crawl into my bed and under the covers. I still don’t really know if that moment on that day in the ocean was a good moment or a bad moment. But it was a moment. After five long hours at the beach, we finally returned home, ate churrasco (barbecue), and I took a small nap. After waking up, I realized I had gotten possibly the worst sunburn burn I had ever had in my life. The kind where you can lie perfectly still on your bed and still be in pain.

Before I left for Brazil, in early August, I met with my rabbi at the synagogue I had always gone to growing up. Over the years, I haven’t been(in any way) a good Jew. I had subpar attendance at Hebrew school, and after I was bat mitzvah-ed, I dropped out completely. Every year my mother had to drag me to services for the “high holy days”, in which I sulked in the back folding the supplementary prayer leaflets they gave us into paper cranes. I planned the meeting with my rabbi mainly for my summer fundraising campaign, thinking I could maybe get a small donation from the temple. But it actually turned into one of the most helpful conversations I’ve had in my life. Rabbi Rachel and I talked about many things but one thing I distinctly remember her telling me, one very important piece of advice she gave me was telling me to love myself. When we talked, it seemed so easy. I thought,”That’s simple. I already do that, don’t I? I mean, I made the decision to do this, I must believe in myself already a great deal.” But here, I’ve learned that loving myself isn’t just a good thing; it’s imperative. And it’s not so easy. I need to be able to depend on myself. I need to trust myself. I need to be able to find my own sources of comfort.And when I speak, as it’s usually grammatically incorrect and much of the time obviously wrong, I must say words and thoughts that I believe in and that I myself respect, not because I want other people respect them.

Maybe that’s the thing about some kinds of beautiful moments in life, they don’t seem all that beautiful in that moment. Some kind of fear we have isn’t the obvious kind, even to us. What I felt that day in the ocean was somewhere in the middle of fear and denial. Fear of making a great connection with Brazil despite all of its problems and frustrations. Of having moments here that I couldn’t have back home, because that would mean I have something to leave behind when I go. Denial that this country is having such a large effect on who I am now and who I am becoming. This country has made me quiet, something I didn’t even notice until multiple Fellows used that word to describe me, a characteristic that at first scared me, thinking I had lost my spunk, but what I’ve come to believe this means is that my voice is more centralized, that the things I do speak up for are more meaningful and relevant to me.

This country has made me more thoughtful; I pay attention to the way people act and speak and think about theory more, like what communication is, or honesty. This country has led me to have more patience with people. I listen and understand. And although some people’sworries wouldn’t be a big deal to me, that does not make them any less important or real to others. Along with these good changes though, this country has also made me more emotional and sensitive. I tend to analyze everything a bit too much. I’ve started caring more about everything. I’m less quick to forgive people or let things go, which I’m still not sure means I’ve become more stubborn or have gained more self-respect. I’m hoping for the latter. The lack of motivation I’ve felt here is stronger than anything I’ve experienced and completely terrifying. Because I’ve felt so useless, I’ve called in to question why exactly I did anything that I did back in high school. But I’ve realized my struggle to find purpose won’t stop when I leave Brasil. Every day, I will need a reason to get up in the morning.

Although I still don’t know whether the moment was good or bad, this year and these new parts of me will eventually make sense: right now I’m in the middle of it. Like going on a run. If you stop and start walking, the blood rushes to your face and you lose your stamina, making it more difficult to begin again. When you get to hills, something I learned recently is that you’re actually supposed to increase the power and sprint up the rest of the way. I know when I finish, I’ll have sweated out all my imaginary toxins and when I jump in the cold shower (the only kinds I take here) it’ll feel divine, and the next day I’ll feel that deep, great, aching soreness, but for right now I’m trying to make sense of everything and I’m in it and I’m exhausted, and all I can say is that I’m trying to keep running however slow it might be.

Juno Fullerton