Outside vs. Inside

Mary Kate Mueller - Brazil


October 4, 2012

When I hear the words “outside” and “inside,” many situations come to mind.  Outside: a curious observer, or excluded, craving the warmth, acceptance and comfort the inside provides.  Inside: consumed, slightly overwhelmed perhaps, yet content.  In Brazil, the language and culture offer many of these moments where I find myself outside or inside.  With the language, I am surely not in the inner circle just yet, but every day I’m inching closer and feeling proud of my progress.  I am going to describe looking on the outside from the inside of one cultural circle….

It was a Friday night in the small eclectic village of Capão, the streets (well, the two streets), catering to the bohemians, hippies and the many Rastafarians.  I found myself surrounded by tapping feet and enthusiastically clapping hands.  Dancing pairs sprinkled the streets as we listened to live music.  The only appropriate way to describe this band is as the “Brazilian Beirut” (look up Beirut if that’s the first time you’ve heard of them, totally worth it).  There were two accordion players, a saxophonist, a clarinetist, two drummers, a guitarist, and many voices harmonizing and layering on this massive, strongly flowing river of music.  It was beautifully captivating.  What fixated my attention the most was the musicians’ shameless passion.  I always thought most people look a bit kooky when they play music passionately.  I always found playing the violin with an uncensored level of expression put me in a vulnerable state.  Eyes closed, swaying or stomping, musicians have the tendency to look a bit comical.  These musicians, however, looked beautiful as they swayed their hips, tapped their feet and closed their eyes.  I was so inspired, and couldn’t help but be sucked into a trance, almost drowning in this river of melody.

Lately, I have been craving the violin.  I find myself itching and yearning to let my fingers touch the fingerboard of the violin’s neck, and to let a bow voice a string’s suave sound.  I didn’t bring my violin to Brazil, for several reasons, and instead brought a guitar.  This guitar is one of the projects of my year. Naturally, learning Portuguese, immersing myself into Brazilian culture, and dedicating myself to my apprenticeship and host family are projects as well.  However I aspire to learn Brazilian songs, samba, bossa nova–you name it and I want to learn it.  I’m happy with my decision to bring my guitar, and have already started to learn a few songs, but I definitely didn’t expect to miss the violin this much.

After the street band concluded and the applause came to an end, I confronted a man with a violin and asked if I could borrow it for just a few minutes, to see if I could get the craving out of my system.  He agreed happily, and I played a few short songs for the Global Citizen Fellows within earshot.  It was really fun, and I was so happy to share such an important part of my life with my friends.  After I stopped playing, I realized musicians were surrounding me. Before I knew it, I had become a stream of sound in the street’s river of melody.  I was playing with the street performers!  My face was numb after a few minutes because I couldn’t stop beaming and smiling.  I was on the inside of this circle, this wordless conversation.  I felt like I was oozing with happiness, and was so giddy I couldn’t help but hop around with the fellow musicians.  Time stood still.  Afterwards, I had felt so refreshed and satisfied that I danced in the streets with a friend, feeling the street’s thump and bump in my veins, as if I had been absorbed into that very moment, consumed completely.

After October 6th, I will be living in Cidade Baixa, Salvador, where I will be living in an “intensely stimulating”, poor, and mainly afro-Brazilian area of Brazil.  No matter how eager or energetic I am, nor how far my Portuguese has come, I will be indefinitely on the outside of a cultural circle.  I am so curious and excited to use my guitar and violin to form relationships, learn Portuguese, and to experience the uncensored, raw Salvador.  Within time, I’ll be on the inside of this circle: consumed, slightly overwhelmed perhaps, yet content.  Until then, I can honestly say I look forward to the journey. I’ll be playing music, attending concerts, studying ridiculous amounts of color-coated notes, and trying anything I can get my hands on. I may have no idea what to expect with my next home stay  nor do I know if it will be overwhelming at times, but like I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, the oblivion is what keeps me excited for every next day.

Mary Kate Mueller