I find that when I actively look for something amazing, interesting, or out of the ordinary to happen in my life I come up short. My actions remind me of the saying, “a watched kettle does not boil.” There are so many beautiful and wondrous things to glimpse, learn, and understand here in Brazil it’s sometimes hard to get a handle on everything that is happening. There are the bigger aspects about life here such as learning Portuguese, thinking analytically about social issues, Sundays at the beach with a book, and my family life. However, it’s equally important to enjoy the smaller aspects of life when all the rest seems to be too heavy a burden. These are what I have deemed “Brazil moments.” Moments where I truly realize that I’m out here.
Just the other day I was taking my bus home from work. It was about midday and it had been a long week of hour-long bus rides, late night Skype calls, and reading till I fell asleep. The last thing I imagined happening was the bus arriving with zero seats open. I had the pleasure to stand at the back of the bus leaning against a glass window, facing all those who were enjoying the comfort of a plastic chair. Normally standing wouldn’t bother me too much if the bus ride was fairly short. However, the narrow streets of Salvador nearly invite traffic jams and I spend at least an hour just on the bus home. Finally, getting used to my vantag point, I started to enjoy the window at the back of the bus. A man dressed in sandals, shorts, and a hat turned out to be keeping pace with the bus on his bicycle. I realized then that we were on the freeway and this man was nothing short of a daredevil. Armed with nothing more than a clown horn to alert others of his presence he was riding a mighty fine line between enjoying the breeze and enjoying the ground. Here I was safely on the bus, albeit standing, while this man was braving the freeway on a bike. Suffice it to say I was stunned.
Part of what I’ve learned through my time abroad is the sheer beauty of our planet. I knew that the world was beyond stunning through photos that I saw on television, in magazines, and on Instagram, but I wasn’t sure just exactly how much I was missing. If I could live vicariously through someone else’s photos did that mean that I still needed to go and travel for myself? The answer is most definitely. Months ago my cohort traveled to Vale do Pati in the Chapada Diamantina region of the state of Bahia. It was one of the most sobering experiences that I have ever had as I realized every single day just how detailed and old our planet is. There was a moment when we were close to our stop on our second day’s hike where I took a step back and simply looked around where we were. Surrounded by the mountains that made up the valley, I took a deep breath, understanding that I was incredibly fortunate to be seeing this. For all of the fauna and flora the land was silent as I scanned the horizon, feeling inconsequential in the face of giants. In front of me was a small pond that reflected the grandeur and immortality of the valley. I felt small and large at the same time while looking into the pond’s still. Here I had climbed for hours to get to this singular spot and here I was ready to do more. The entire Pati hike was a metaphor for my journey in Brazil: that I was thankful for my opportunity here, when hard things arose I would persevere, and that all the while I would remain hopeful and laugh at my own jokes.
Several weeks into my Salvador adventure I was exhausted. I felt that I wasn’t doing enough to be with my family, that my lack of Portuguese would inhibit me from making friends, and that I didn’t really know the city and should spend more time exploring. I began to understand the meaning of the word “overwhelmed” because that’s what I was experiencing. One evening I decided to take my angst on the road while I walked to the beach. I live fairly close and I get to enjoy the most scenic walk. As I was finally nearing the beach I stopped and looked around at the beauty that I had somewhat began to take for granted. A yellow-orange sunset was nearly all that I could look at for close to ten minutes. Slowly I began to notice the way the light sparkled off the sea and how there were still people enjoying its warm and salty water. Next came the wind and with it the sound of laughter and commotion. Hundreds of people were enjoying the same sight until the sun went down. Announced as always, it started to rain. A huge torrential downpour soaked everyone on the beach and I rushed to the nearest bus stop. Sadly, the bus stop isn’t the greatest place for shelter as speeding cars splash water nearby and many gather underneath the stop’s small roof. Standing outside the protected area soaking wet and smiling, I realized precisely where I was. I was in Brazil doing exactly what I came to do. It was the best “Brazil moment” that I have yet had and every time I am in a similar situation I am baffled at my sheer luck.