Neverwhere: Home, But Not

Libby Parker-Simkin - Brazil


September 13, 2013

In the 30+ hours I spent flying down to Brazil, I read Neil Gaiman’s fabulous book “Neverwhere.” Its about an ordinary man named Richard Mayhew who helps out a mysterious girl he finds injured in the street and is transported into an alternate version of London called London Below. London Below is part in the past and part in the future, half fantasy and half reality, with its own systems of government, trade, and transportation. Its grimier and more dangerous and exciting than London Above. It’s reality tilted about 35 degrees sideways. The basic plotline is that Richard Mayhew, along with his new Below friends, has to complete a series of challenges to get back to his real life, and along the way he discovers a lot of new things about himself and his city. His view of London Above is fundamentally altered by his experiences in London Below, and he comes to be more sure of himself and the things in his life that are really important.

I feel a bit like I’ve woken up in Home Below. Some things here in Florianopolis are shockingly similar to my hometown, but just slightly off and slanted. There is traffic congestion at home, but the center line doesn’t double as a motorcycle lane. The night sounds in Home Above are city noises: Sirens, airplanes, cars. In Home Below the nights are punctuated by the barking of hundreds of dogs. Spring may be chilly, but it comes in March and April, not September and October. People have pets inside their houses rather than inside their fences and walls. You can navigate by street names and addresses rather than bus stops and landmarks. The public transportation runs on schedule every 10-15 minutes at home. Here, if I miss the 8:10 bus, I have to wait for the 8:45 bus. In Arlington, if I drink tap water, flush toilet paper, or forget my ID nothing too bad happens, but here the results are more immediate and could be worse. (Don’t worry, nothing terrible has happened. I’m okay.)

I’m learning to measure successes on a different scale. Things like asking for directions in Portuguese, trying new fruits, finishing this post, and navigating on the bus count for more in my daily life that they ordinarily would. My classic measures of success, things like GPA, test scores, and weekend plans aren’t as relevant here and now. The world feels much more immediate. Every little thing has become a bigger and more difficult accomplishment. The days are long, and what matters most is measuring the successes as they come. I made the bus and got to The Language Club on time. I learned a new phrase. I got cafezinho with friends. I had a conversation with my host mom in Portuguese. It was a successful day. I feel good about the interactions I had both with others and with myself. I made decisions that got me to where I needed to be. Things like trust, communication, and camaraderie matter more here, especially within the cohort, because we are all starting a new adventure in a new context. I will get to my permanent placement and my apprenticeship in a few weeks and I will have more new starts and new adjustments, but I know now that I can take them a little at a time and, eventually, I’ll figure them out. When I get back to Home Above I’ll be a different, clearer, version of myself. I’m ready. Bem-vindo a meu adventure brasileiro.

Libby Parker-Simkin