Monday, May 30, 2005

First Day on the Job

Not much time to write at the moment, but I'm creating a good little narrative on my laptop that I'll pass to the blog as soon as possible.

I made it to Chimoio. Ricardo was in the airport waiting for me. My luggage arrived. I am safe, healthy, and happy.

More later.


Thursday, May 26, 2005

Ali is in Maputo!!!

Ali called me just now from her colleague Ricardo's cell phone. She made it to Maputo without any problem and sounds great. I am updating this at her request. More later when Ali gets to the Internet.

Love from Ali to you all.

Katherine - Ali's very happy Mom

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

I Made It to Africa!!!

Current location: 2nd floor of the international departures terminal at the Johannesburg airport. Happily, someone alerted the powers that be of my blog and e-mail addiction and made it possible for me to get a sweet WiFi connection at 8:30am, not even an hour after setting foot on the African continent. A blessing, too, considering the 6.5 hour layover I have before catching the flight to Maputo.

Yesterday I woke up in the most foul mood imaginable. I've been battling yet another bout of strep throat and a cold, and stayed up until 3am the night before packing my suitcases. When my alarm went off at 7am, my throat hurt, my eyes were blurry, and I was frighteningly grumpy. I lay in bed for a while listening to the storm outside. The shutters and doors groaned against the wind and I could hear big, fat raindrops splashing on the verandah. But there was another aqueous sound, too close and clearly audible to be anything good. Drip. Drip. Plip. Drip. I knew all too well what it was: water coming through the skylight and landing on the wooden stairs. I finally hauled myself out of bed and, to my dismay, found two new leaks in the roof. Not insignificant ones, either, having already formed small puddles on the landing and at the base of one of the steps. Merda. We've payed so much already to have the stupid roof fixed and it only seems to be getting worse. I gathered towels and pots to contain the situation and felt the stress creeping into my shoulders. We're probably going to have to completely redo the skylight. I've asked Beth to contact the neighbors and see who their workman is. They have the exact same setup on their half of the house and no leaks whatsoever. I fear Luis' time is up, which by me is fine. Maybe the new workman will refrain from calling me fat!

On the heels of having discovered the new leaks, the exterminator arrived to check for termites and treat the existing broca infestations in the kitchen table and in my bathroom shelves. I had him do an inspection of the entire house and we found several other spots being eaten - behind picture frames, in a closet drawer, and in the cabinets in Beth's house. The exterminator had a look at the electric meter board and confirmed that it will need to be replaced and then treated.

Speaking of the electric meter board, that whole situation is proving to be the headache I'd anticipated. I finally found a certified electrician to switch out the board, got all the paperwork in order, and scheduled the job for Saturday morning. The guy called around noon to kindly let me know he couldn't make it, and rescheduled for Monday. With the cold front that moved in, it was no surprise when Monday rolled around and the electrician was a no-show once again. The rainy weather just guaranteed the inherent flakiness of the Brazilian workman.

So poor Beth was left with a veritable laundry list of things to try and accomplish in my absence. I feel somewhat guilty for not having been able to get more done in the three weeks I spent in Rio, but I'm trying not to beat myself up about it. With a bureaucratic, informal network for getting repairs made, you need at least 2 solid months to put a dent in the old To Do list. I tried, I honestly did. Unfortunately I didn't get much of anything resolved and only ended up stressing myself out in the process. Managing a house from a distance is definitely one of the more challenging tasks I've ever taken on. But now I have to let go. I'm on to a new chapter, and can't afford to have gratuitous stress hindering my adventures. Let go, Ali. Just let go.

I took a taxi to the international airport and had two close calls on the way. First, the cab driver almost t-boned another car on the way down the cobblestone hill to the freeway. The rain made the roads super slick, and he slammed on the brakes and spun out for a bit before regaining control, nearly missing the side of a silver Fiat. Second, I almost got on the wrong flight!! The plane for Sao Paulo was set to leave from gate 37 at 2:10pm. Around 1:40, they started boarding at the gate and I handed my ticket to the agent. She tore my ticket stub, wished me a nice flight, and I was already walking down the jetway when she called out, "Moca, voce esta no voo errado!!" I had mistakenly boarded a flight for Buenos Aires and she had barely caught the mistake in time. Imagine, snoozing off only to wake up in Argentina instead of Africa!

I finally made it onto the correct flight, now leaving out of gate 35, and received the first good omen for my trip. It was no coincidence that I sat next to Marco, the owner of the Mercatto clothing stores and a devout follower of logosofia. We spent the entire flight talking about the principles of logosofia, a life philosophy developed by an Argentine thinker in the 1920's. Basically, logosofia encourages the individual to seek dynamic perfection of the self. By continually being the best person possible and seeking to fully understand one's self, the stage is set for a social revolution one individual at a time. We talked about consciousness and the power of negative and positive thoughts, engaging in an easy conversation as if we'd known each other for years. At one point, Marco asked me the following question: "What is your objective in life?" I found it strangely difficult to answer. I feel like my intuition guides me down paths that I trust will eventually bring me closer to my goals in life, but I've yet to define concrete objectives. Perhaps an objective will become clearer as this journey unfolds.

After saying goodbye to Marco, I switched planes in Sao Paulo and got on South African Airways flight 206 for Johannesburg. While waiting in line to get a new boarding pass, I found myself in the midst of some 25 men all wearing identical blue tracksuits with "Botswana" embroidered on the back of the jackets. They were all carrying Fifa bags and had on beanies from various Sao Paulo soccer teams. I asked the man behind me wearing a coach jersey what they were doing in Brazil. He explained in beautiful, melodic English that they were the Botswanan national soccer team and had been in the country training with Brazilian teams in preparation for World Cup 2006. I told him I was on my way to live in Mozambique and he started speaking in broken Portuguese. I asked how he'd learned and he replied that he'd lived in Chimoio from 1992-1993 serving as a peacekeeper after the end of the civil war. That's right. The coach of the Botswanan national soccer team lived in little Chimoio, my soon-to-be home. He kept telling me that life there would be muito bom, muito bom.

For all the difficulties I had with SAA during the ticketing process, they sure made up for it in cabin service. I haven't been on such a nice flight since my mom and I used to take the 747's to Europe a good 10 years go. The plane was super modern with plenty of leg room and huge individual tv monitors showing South African, American, and Indian films. The flight attendants passed out wet-naps, toiletry kits, magazines, and free headsets. The plane was filled with the most diverse group of travelers I've ever seen: Africans wearing headwraps and colorful tunics, Indian women with saris, Brazilians, Argentines, and entire sets of people I couldn't begin to guess where they were from. I sat next to a lovely nun from the Democratic Republic of Congo who had been serving the Church in Buenos Aires for the last 4 years. It would have been a thoroughly enjoyable flight but for the three totally out-of-control Argentine kids sitting behind us. Their mother, in typical Latin American style, had no interest whatsoever in disciplining her children. Instead, the little beasts kicked and screamed and bumped up against our seats so much that at one point the nun turned around and hissed at them, "Estan pateando y molestandonos tanto que no puedo dormir!" Needlesss to say that comment went straight to the vestige of Catholic guilt most people in Latin America harbor and the kids piped down.

After a good breakfast of mango juice and cold cuts, we started the descent into Johannesburg. The sun was just rising over the horizon, a brilliant red disc glowing through the windows. I could make out the houses and hills below, and as we got closer I could distinctly see the rush hour traffic in the streets, all transiting on the left-hand side of the highway. "This is it," I thought. I'm in Africa!

Well, my plane to Maputo leaves in about 2 hours and I'm ready to hightail it out of this internet cafe. Some guy from Pakistan wearing a tunic and turban just approached me and communicated in broken English that I look just like his wife who he's been away from for 7 months. He gestured that he'd like to kiss me and repeated, "You nice. Very nice. Just like wife. Kiss, yes?" Um, no. Time to get the hell out. Let's all hope that Ricardo is in the Maputo airport waiting for me. If so, this trip will have gone off flawlessly!

Much love!!!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I spoke too soon in my previous post. The stupid roof still leaks. Luis will be coming by tomorrow morning to have yet another look. The electrician should come tomorrow afternoon, and the pest control guy will come on Thursday to spray for termites and brocas.

I leave for Africa tomorrow. Oh. My. God. I'm in the process of packing my suitcases (again) and it still hasn't dawned on me that I'm not going back to Austin. I'm going somewhere completely different, a new continent, new culture. Everything is going to be different.

I leave Rio de Janeiro at 2:10pm local time on a short flight to Sao Paulo. After a basic layover, I'm getting on an 8 hour flight to Johannesburg (can you believe it's only 8 hours??). I'll arrive in South Africa around 7am local time, then I have to wait all morning in the airport until my flight to Maputo leaves at 2pm. In Maputo, my friend and future colleague Ricardo should be waiting for me and we'll go to a hotel together for the night. Either Friday or Saturday morning, depending on how Ricardo's business meetings in the capital go, we'll catch the prop plane to Chimoio.

Wish me good luck, and I'll hopefully have internet access soon after arriving in Africa to update you all on my new home.

Saudades e beijos.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Monday Night Festa

"Home is where I want to be..."

Home (part 2): Santa Festa

For a Monday night, Santa Teresa is really rocking. The music started about 7pm with a loudspeaker in the back of someone’s car across the street blasting Brazilian pop out of the trunk. I was in the kitchen and could clearly hear the beat to Latino’s “Hoje é festa lá no meu apê”, the Portuguese remix of this song they used to play all the time on La Nueva Digital 101.7, the Spanish radio station I used to listen to in Austin. Only the version they played on the radio was in some language that, for the life of me, I couldn’t identify. Latin? Arabic? Who knows. Who cares, really, with a catchy dance beat that gets mercilessly stuck in your head. A random group of teenage guys hung out around the car with the loudspeaker for a while, catcalling and drinking beer and generally being idiots as only adolescent boys know how. Diógenes, the owner of the Bar do Mineiro across the street, finally made the guys move the car around 8pm so that he could have ample sidewalk parking for the private party set to happen later in the evening.

I’m not quite sure what the occasion is, but something big is being celebrated at the bar right now. They have a sound system set up blaring Chico Buarque and Lenine and old samba songs, and people are spilling out of the bar onto the street dancing and drinking out of plastic cups. Even with all the shutters closed because of the cold I can clearly hear the surdo drum beats and already inebriated voices belting out verses, oblivious to the fact that it’s a Monday for God’s sake! Ooh, they’re playing Fernanda Abreu right now, “Rio 40 Graus” with special participation by Chico Science. This song is the epitome of Rio – a solid funk beat mixed with samba percussion, talking about the dualities in this city and the steamy hot weather.

“Rio 40 graus, cidade maravilha purgatório da beleza e do caos.”
“Rio 104 degrees, marvelous city purgatory of beauty and chaos.”

There is a sweet party going on right outside my door, they are playing all of my favorite music, people are dancing in the street, it’s my second-to-last night in Brazil, and I’m sitting by myself on the sofa wearing slipper socks and a scarf. What’s wrong with this picture?

For as much as I yearn for it to be, Santa Teresa is not yet home. I’m caught in a strange purgatory of my own – I’ve chosen this neighborhood as a place where I want to set down roots and create a life for myself, but I’m still an outsider. I haven’t spent enough time here. People have no idea who I am. I have no function in this community. But somehow I know this is my place. I identify with every crumbling villa, every bright splash of graffiti, every breath of the neo-bohemian spirit that flourishes here. I spend five weeks per year in a pink palace in the heart of Santa Teresa and watch as life passes by on the street below. I have been observing for four years, longing to slip in and become part of what I see from the verandah. I know who the kids are that watch over the parked cars. I know that Diógenes owns the Bar do Mineiro and that his sister-in-law Ângela makes a fabulous feijoada for lunch. I recognize the old, toothless drunk man who always sits at the bus stop and asks for change. I know what time the kids at the school across the street break for recess. It’s all so familiar, so close. But I’m just an observer, not yet a participant.

I just went out to the verandah to check out the party. People are improvising percussion on tables and chairs, singing, kissing. The music is absolutely amazing – everything from Rolling Stones to Olodum. There is a strong sense of community. Everybody is happy.

Tears are rolling down my face. Why don’t I just walk down there? I could put on a skirt, maybe a little bit of lip gloss, go meet some new friends. I’m extroverted. I have an interesting story to tell. I know I could be a part of the best party I’ve ever seen in Santa Teresa. But I can’t bring myself to do it. I hate the idea of walking up to the crowd alone, nobody to hold my hand, nobody to sit and share a drink or a dance with. I hate the feeling of recognizing and not being recognized. I hate admitting to myself that I don’t yet belong here. And most of all I hate that, by letting my fear get the best of me, I’m just guaranteeing my continued position as an outsider.

Of course I’ve come up with some excuses to justify not checking out the party. My throat is killing me and I feel another cold coming on. Being in the damp air, drinking ice-cold beer, staying up late – that would just guarantee feeling miserable on the flight to Africa. I’d better sit inside where it’s warmer and have some tea. Also, feeling lonely fuels my creativity and I’ve been doing some super satisfying writing this evening. I’ve been meaning to write about the concept of home for the last several days and haven’t had the time or the inspiration. I’d be a fool to waste this moodiness on a party when I can feel the words forming effortlessly. I should take advantage and write a good blog entry, use the Internet, keep in touch with the people I love. Hide in my words. Get some rest. Don’t go to the party.

My host family from Maringa: Helena, me, Ailton, and Akemi.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Rain, Rain Go Away

It's finally acting like winter here in Rio. Yesterday a strong wind blew all day, slamming the doors and shutters against their frames, the first signs of an approaching cold front. Then, about 5am, the rain finally arrived. First a proper downpour, then a light drizzle that has lasted all day.

The good news? The roof doesn't appear to be leaking. This is the first rain since Luis came to fix the shingles a couple of weeks ago. The bad news? Rain is one of the more inconvenient things here in Rio. Traffic clogs up, the cobblestone pavers that lead down the hill become as slippery as soap, and the clothes that I need to wash today will take at least 2 days to dry. Dryers are a rare commodity in Brazil, as are dishwashers for that matter. According to the forecast, it looks like my last days here will be chilly and wet. So much for my plans to sun on the beach again before getting on the plane.

I leave for Mozambique in 3 days. It hardly seems possible. Nearly a month has passed since I left Austin, yet in my head it seems like it was just last week. I'm really excited to be leaving, but wish I could stay longer here in Rio. The casa rosa already feels like home in many respects, but there is still so much missing. I feel like I'm taking off just as my role in Santa Teresa is being defined - neighbors are starting to recognize me, I know the hours of all the shops, the bus and trolley lines are no longer a mystery, and I've developed a simple routine that guides me through each day. Wake up, do some stretching and meditation, shower, run errands and take care of things in the house, have lunch, meet up with friends, go out dancing and drinking. Repeat.

I'm going to sign off now - I'm cooking fish with passion fruit and palmito for lunch today and need to start my prep work.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Funk, Funk, Funk

Oh, last night was a good one. Tati, Louce and I hit the baile funk at the Scala and had a hilarious night of ass-shaking and people watching. For those of you not familiar with Brazilian funk, let me give you a little introduction...

Basically, funk started in the favelas of Rio and is a genre based on lots of booty, synth beats, and off-key rapping about the southern hemisphere's take on the ghetto-fab life. There's a lot of Miami bass and late-'80s MTV influence in funk, and every song has a choreography in the great Brazilian tradition of making even the most uncoordinated fool feel like he's in step. Not too long ago, funk was confined to the bailes of the favelas, big hillside parties that would attract the entire community for a night of debauchery and beats. But now funk has turned mainstream, with a couple of songs sneaking into the DJ's mix even in the preppiest socialite clubs.

So last night we hit a baile that featured two of the top figures in the funk scene: DJ Marlboro and Tati Quebra Barraco. DJ Marlboro is *the* name in funk, a party promoter, radio host, and arguably the hottest DJ in Rio for any style of music. If Marlboro is the king, then MC Tati Quebra Barraco (a nickname that alludes to her scandalous, home-wrecking nature) is definitely the loud-mouthed, juicily delinquent queen. She grew up in Cidade de Deus (City of God) and worked as a cook before turning to funk. MC Tati is thick, both in body and style, spitting off-key verses ripe with suggestiveness. Her tag line is "Sou feia, mas tô na moda!", basically meaning I'm ugly but I'm in fashion. She's hot shit and she knows it.

[Check out more about funk in an interview with DJ Marlboro, including a socio-cultural interpretation of the genre and a lot of cool info about the production here:]

Louce, Tati, and I danced like we were 80's Miami bass divas - hips grinding, bunda bumping, yelling out the funk lyrics and following each song's choreography. The boys went nuts but we just laughed them off, ignoring their pathetic, drooly attempts to steal kisses. Nothing like a good girl's night out. Except for the fact that I imbibed a not-so-smooth mix of alcohol...

List of things I drank last night:

1 Watermelon Martini
1 Strawberry Caipivodka
1 shot of Jose Cuervo Gold (regarded by Brasilians as *the best* tequila ever invented. Eca!)
3 Beers (Skol, que nao desceu tao redondo aquela hora.)

I called it a night around 4am and took a taxi home. It was one of those nights where all I could manage to do was pee, take out my contacts, and fall into bed. Didn't brush my teeth, didn't wash my face, and left all my clothes in a pile on the floor. Woke up in the middle of the night feeling like my insides were the worms from yesterday and ran to the bathroom. Several unproductive dry heaves later I sulked back to bed and fell into a fitful sleep. Please, somebody remind me NOT TO DO THIS AGAIN!!

But alas, I have plans to go out tonight again. This time it's going to be Lapa, the bohemian neighborhood where old samba masters still play on corners, where a huge street party happens every weekend. Hopefully I'll meet up with Sacha and his girlfriend, and some Italians I met on the trolley today on the way downtown. Then the plan is to head to Baronetti, a very shishi club in Ipanema that my friends here love. The goal? Dance till I drop, avoid prowly boys, and stick to one kind of alcohol.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

First Termites, Now WORMS!!

Today is a beautiful day. I decided to sunbathe on the verandah and went to look for an old bikini I'd left in the chest of drawers in the guest room. This particular drawer serves as a catch-all for the random stuff I leave here in Rio - photos, clothes, wall hangings yet to be hung, shopping bags. I found the bikini at the back of the drawer and noticed some strange mahogany powder on the fabric. If any of you have lived in humid, warm climates you'll know that any kind of powdery sawdust is a *very bad sign*. Usually means termites, but there are several other pests that will leave similar trails. I shook out the bikini and went digging in the drawer to see what was going on.

I pulled out a large tapestry my mom and I bought at the Indian import store just down the hill and noticed that the fabric on the back was full of holes. Bringing the tapestry closer to my face for a more thorough examination, I realized that there were things moving about in the holes. Small, maggoty, white worms to be exact. And, occasionally, some miniscule brown beetles called brocas that have been doing a similar number on the wicker chairs in the kitchen. The whole tapestry was literally crawling with nasty, nasty nastiness!!!

I hauled the tapestry and then the remaining contents of the drawer out to the verandah. Direct sunlight, I figured, would definitely help the situation. Beth came up to see what was going on and freaked out when she saw the worms. We both got bad cases of the squirmy itch. You know, like when you see a bunch of ants and feel like they are crawling all over your legs, only worse because I felt like I had worms all over my scalp and brocas on my back and had to find a solution at the same time.

I never thought a suitcase full of 30% DEET repellent would come in so handy. I ran to my room and pulled out a family-size aerosol can, then went to town on the maggoty bastards. I soaked the entire tapestry in repellent, giving extra sprays anywhere my eye caught the slightest bit of motion. After a good coughing bout from the DEET, I stood back and admired my work. Little curled-up worm carcasses littered the tapestry and verandah floor. Ha! Don't mess with a woman armed with aerosol-propelled carcinogens! I grabbed the corners of the tapestry and gave it a good shake, causing more larvae to fall onto the tile.

Unfortunately, my sense of satisfaction was short-lived. I decided there was NO WAY IN HELL I was going to sunbathe amidst a sea of dead worms and chemical residue. Instead, I'm going to spend my afternoon finding mothballs (the maggoty things were likely moth larvae) and running other errands for the house.

There is a sense of never-ending frustration associated with this house that has the capacity to stress me out like no other. Even more than the ABF moving truck. Even more than my stupid cancelled reservation on South African Airways. The stress that comes with the casa rosa is the worst kind possible - low key, omnipresent, slowly eating away at your sanity until you throw your hands up in the air and yell at nothing and everything at once.

Sometimes I really hate being a homeowner.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Not So Cute After All

So my fears have been confirmed. You know those $99 black leather trekking sandals I bought in Fredericksburg, the ones that are super comfortable and can be dressed up or down? The ones that were so cute *and* functional I could justify the price? Well, they make my feet smell horribly sour, like the unidentifiable things that grow in the back of my dad's refrigerator. I just knew the soft suede sole would react poorly with my perma-sweaty feet, but I bought them anyway. And I'm going to continue using them, damnit. They are the perfect travel sandal. I just won't be able to take my shoes off within 200 yards of anybody I'm trying to impress!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Termites are Eating the Electric Meter!

Stupid, stupid bureaucracy. It's impossible to get even the simplest thing accomplished without waiting in a huge line, filling out at least 2 forms, and wanting to pull your hair out from the total lack of customer service in this country. For all the bitching I do about the US, damn do I miss being able to call a 1-800 number and resolve everything from the comfort of my own home.

The task at hand right now, admittedly, is not the easiest. The wooden board that holds the various dials of the electric meter for our house is full of termites. It's slowly being chewed to pieces and the meter reader has to check the dials each month with the precison of a surgeon as to not knock anything loose. We need to replace the board, a problem I've been working on for the last 2 months.

First of all, the electric company here, Light, is not taking any responsibility whatsoever for the situation. Okay, the didn't put the termites in there, but they sure as hell installed the original board, so in my head that means they should install a new one whenever necessary. But, no, that would just be too easy.

Instead, after 4 unsuccessful calls to the "customer service" hotline, I decided to go to the Light substation downtown and figure things out in person. The waiting room was one of the more disgusting things I've seen lately: teal fabric chairs linked at the arms, all soiled with massive, salty sweat stains, hardened nuggets of chewing gum, and other disturbingly unrecognizable brown smears. I perched on the edge of one of the chairs, willing the "this number now being served" counter in the corner to turn faster. At least it was air conditioned in there.

So after explaining the situation to an amused employee, the process I have to go through to get the stupid termite-ridden board switched out is the following:

1. Call an independent electrician and get an estimate. Fill out a form with the electrician's credentials and contact information. Turn in the form to Light to get an authorization stamp (i.e. wait in another nasty line).

2. Pending Light's authorization, schedule a visit for one of the technicians to remove the seal from the meter.

3. Purchase the appropriate pre-fabricated electric meter board from a construction shop.

4. Send a written request to Light to have the electricity temporarily disconnected on the day of the big switch. Call the electrician and schedule the service for the same day. Hopefully the lights will go out and the workman will show up as planned. Highly, highly doubtful, but whatever.

5. Once the board has been switched, call the 1-800 emergency number and ask to have the electricity turned back on. Should take less than 24 hours.

6. Schedule another visit with Light so that a technician can come reseal the meter, lest we mess with the dials and steal electricity.

7. Call someone to spray for termites.

8. Sigh. Repeat the above sequence at least once. Struggle to keep my vocabulary clean as I talk to a customer service representative for the 100th time. Contemplate life without electricity in the wouldn't be *that* bad, right???

Monday, May 16, 2005

Home (part 1): Inkosi-Inkosikazi

Home is a favorite passage from a favorite book, dog-eared and underlined from multiple readings. It is the familiarity of the text, images released by words, the story resonating with a particular part of your life.

I first came across "The Power of One" by chance about 10 years ago while on a layover in the Denver airport. I blindly picked it out of the shelf, figuring I several hours to kill and nothing to lose. It turned out to be an enormously significant book in my life, often the only book I'd take with me on my travels.

One of the images from "The Power of One" is of particular importance to me, serving as a focal point for meditation and a tool to overcome fear. The passage describes the night when Inkosi-Inkosikazi, the great African medicine man, visits Peekay, the book's 5-year old protagonist, to cure him of chronic bedwetting.

Inkosi-Inkosikazi's eyes, sharp pins of light in his incredibly wrinkled face, seemed to look right into me. "I visited you in your dreams, and we came to a place of three waterfalls and ten stones across the river. The shinbones of the great white ox say I must take you back so that you can jump the three waterfalls and cross the river, stepping from stone to stone without falling into the rushing torrent. If you can do this, then the unfortunate business of the night water will be over...Watch the tail of the horse." My eyes followed the switch as it moved to and fro. "It is time to close your eyes but not your ears. You must listen well, for the roaring of water is great."
A sudden roar of water filled my head and then I saw the three waterfalls. I was standing on an outcrop of rock directly above the highest one. Far below me the river rushed away, tumbling and boiling into a narrow gorge. Just before the water entered the gorge and churned white, I noted the ten stepping stones, like ten anthracite teeth strung across its mouth.
Inkosi-Inkosikazi spoke to me, his voice soft, almost gentle. "It is late. The bush doves, anticipating nightfall, are already silent. It is the time of day when the white waters roar most mightily, as water does when it is cast in shadow.
"You are standing on a rock above the highest waterfall, a young warrior who has killed his first lion and is worthy now to fight in the legion of Dingaan, the great impi that destroys all before it. Worthy even to fight the impi of Shaka, the greatest warrior king of all.
"You are wearing the skirt of lion tail as you face into the setting sun. Now the sun has passed beyond Zululand, even past the land of the Swazi, and now it leaves the Shangaan and the royal kraal of Modjadji, the rain queen, to be cooled in the great, dark water beyond. You can see the moon rising over Africa and you are at peace with the night..."
As I stood on the great rock waiting to jump into the water, I could see the new moon rising, bright as a new florin above the thundering falls.
"You must take a deep breath and say the number three to yourself as you leap. Then, when you surface, you must take another breath and say the number two as you are washed across the rim of the second waterfall, then again a deep breath as you rise and are carried over the third. Now you must swim to the first stone, counting backwards from ten to one. Then count each stone as you leap from it to the next to cross the rushing river...You must jump now, little warrior of the king."
I tok a deep breath and launched myself into the night. The cool air mixed with spray rushed past my face and then I hit the water below, sank briefly, rose to the surface, and expelled the deep breath I had taken. With scarcely enough time to take a second breath, I was swept over the second waterfall and then again I fell down the third roaring cascade to be plunged into a deep pool at the base of the third waterfall. I swam strongly and with great confidence to the first of the great stones glistening black and wet in the moonlight. Jumping from stone to stone I crossed the river, counting down from ten to one, then leaping to the pebbly beach on the far side..."
Inkosi-Inkosikazi brought me back from the dreamtime and I looked about me, a little surprised to see the familiar farmyard. "When you need me you may come to the night country and I will be waiting. I will always be there. You can find me if you go to the place of the three waterfalls and the ten stones across the river."

I have been to visit Inkosi-Inkosikazi many times at the waterfalls in the heart of Africa. The image of the waterfalls and the great stepping stones has gotten me through many a night of tears, long hikes where I thought my body would give out, and even a surgery.

This place of dreamtime is home.

A Day of Writing

I woke up at dawn today, something extraordinarily rare for me. I was on the bus coming back to Rio, a 16-hour ride across three states, and the sun's first rays flooded through the window right into my eyes. Despite being groggy and thirsty, I was actually glad to be awake. I have been itching to write uninterrupted for the last several days, and already my mind was spinning with words.

Jenna gave me this great little notebook before she left last week and I've been carrying it around everywhere inside my purse or pocket. It's strange writing on small, lined paper after so many years journaling on blank pages in larger books, but the immediacy of it is quite appealing. I pulled out the little notebook and started to write, struggling against the bumps and shakes of the ill-maintained Dutra highway.

It's now 11pm and I've been writing nearly nonstop since I woke up on the bus. The words just keep pouring out of me, and I have to switch between my laptop and handwritten pages so that my pseudo-Carpal Tunnel problems don't return. When I'm grantwriting and on the computer all day, my forearms start to ache and the tendons in my wrist feel tight, as if they were stale rubber bands ready to snap. I've found that by switching between the keyboard and a pen I can stave off the problems for several hours. I wrote e-mails before lunch, then updated my blog and moved onto some short essay-type compositions about the concept of "home".

I feel weird today, both physically and mentally. I got a killer cold when I first arrived in Rio that mostly affected my throat and lungs. Then it migrated to my head and turned into a snot-propelled ear infection. I had to get out the antibiotics I brought along in my medical kit, before I even made it to Africa. Right now the pain of the ear infection is gone and I can breath through my nose again, but my right ear still isn't normal. The air conditioning in the bus made it slightly worse, and I feel as if my head were inside a fishtank. In addition, the inside tendon in my left knee feels *very* abnormal. I feel like if I take a step too quickly it will, in fact, snap right in half and I'll collapse onto the ground. My knee hurts and feels tight. Probably from sitting all night on the bus, then continuing the stationary trend all day while writing. Maybe I'll take a walk tomorrow and see if it loosens up.

I feel lonely and unsettled and antisocial. I don't feel like hanging out with my friends at the bar they invited me to. All I want to do is read and write and listen to music. Maybe lean over the verandah and look at the street every so often, feeling the cool breeze that always blows on top of the hill.

I ate too many brigadeiros tonight and spoiled my dinner. Beth made them this afternoon, and they are probably the last thing I should have stocked up in the fridge right now. Brigadeiros are little balls of condensed milk boiled with chocolate, then coated in chocolate sprinkles. They taste just like caramel, and those of you who know my preferences in desserts know that is one of my weaknesses. I've never been much of a chocolate person (crazy, I know), but put some toffee or dulce de leche in front of me and it's all over. Feeling slightly depressed and having a tray full of sweets in the kitchen is NOT A GOOD COMBINATION.

Yeah, I'll just go for a walk tomorrow morning. That will fix everything: my tight knee, the extra brigadeiros, and my reclusive tendencies.

Impressions of Maringa

I just got back to Rio this morning after a long weekend in Maringá, the city where I did my exchange year in high school. The third-largest city in the southern state of Paraná, Maringá is a fascinating little slice of life in the interior of Brazil. On the one hand it is painfully provincial, a place that thrives on social column gossip and make out sessions in the gas station parking lot. On the other, Maringá it is cosmopolitan in its own right with significant Japanese, Lebanese, Italian, German, and Russian immigrant communities adding small but welcome doses of worldliness to the population of 400,000.

The region is totally dominated by agriculture – fields of sugarcane, coffee, corn, and soybeans create cross-hatched patterns in the landscape, interrupted occasionally by square expanses of the reddest dirt you can imagine, already tilled and waiting to be planted. Donkey carts and tractors creep along the highway while mini cars and pickups zoom past, weaving through imaginary lanes and making for a uniquely crazy kind of traffic.

Nicknamed the “Texas of Brazil”, Maringá certainly knows how to play the part. People wear ranch boots and Wranglers, dance 2-step, and go cow tipping when intoxicated. They also have the hick accent down pat, butchering an otherwise melodic, smooth language with the dreaded “American R”. That’s right, the gringo ‘r’ we English-speakers so notoriously put in the place of a rolled, romantic trill. You know the sound I’m talking about, the kind of ‘r’ that makes you sound like a slack-jawed idiot. Well it’s all over the place in Maringá and I have to monitor my speech to avoid contamination. The accent is easier to pick up than a Georgia drawl when you’re drunk.

So what happens if you are a young person in Maringá and, for some bizarre reason, aren’t a junior agronomist and don’t rock out to the Portuguese-language remake of Billy Ray Cyrus’ smash hit “Achy Breaky Heart”? Basically you smoke as much pot as humanly possible and adopt fragments of angsty, mid-90’s American alterna-culture as your own.

When I first moved to Maringá in 1997, I was blown away by how much my friends loved alternative rock. Everybody I knew listened to The Pixies, Superchunk, Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, Pavement, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and Neil Young. Somehow word got out to these bands because most have played concerts in Maringá, many times the only Brazilian city in a tour of South America. Kids in Maringá wear Converse, ride longboards, and drink copious amounts of beer at the SK8 Bar (pronounced skay-chee barrrrrrr), the outdoor haunt where even now, 8 years later, I drive by and recognize tons of familiar faces.

Did I mention that people smoke a *lot* of weed? Maringá puts New Mexico to shame when it comes to pot consumption. These rural Brazilians really know how to make getting stoned the primary activity of each and every day. Most of the marijuana comes from Paraguay and is packaged in neat little compressed bricks that you can buy in 5-gram increments from guys that live on the other side of the railroad tracks. It’s not quite as nasty as Mexican dirt weed, but definitely a far cry from the hydroponic, crystal-encrusted plants you come across in California. In Maringá everybody smokes joints rolled with Spanish papers, preferably while cruising around the city in a compact car packed with 5 or 6 close friends. Smoking and driving, referred to as a barca, was definitely the main form of weekend entertainment during my exchange year.

It's been nearly 8 years since I first went to Maringá, and over 4 since the last time I went back to visit. Now that I've gained a bit of perspective on my experiences there, three things struck me over the weekend:

1. I have gotten older and my frame of reference has changed. I felt like an adult going back to visit elementary school. Everything seemed *so* small, so provincial, so simple to manage. I used to think that Maringá was this huge city full of pedestrians and busy shops, and that it took forever to go from one side of town to the other. Now that Rio de Janeiro is my "home" in Brazil, I've gotten used to an entirely different rhythm of life. A 30-minute bus ride is short, a 40-minute walk is right next door, and anything less than gridlocked traffic is no problem.

2. Everyone else has gotten older, too. All of my alt-rock skater friends are now fatter, wrinklier, balder, married, and/or have kids. (Haven't cut back on the pot smoking, though!) People are slowly settling down, settling in for a good 50 years of small town life with small town aspirations. There is something about places like Maringá and Belen (NM), and even Albuquerque, that if you don't get out before you're 25 you basically get sucked in for the long haul.

3. Maringá, the place that once felt so much like home I had to be dragged away crying, is no longer home. The minute I stepped off the bus I was hit with a pang of homesickness, something I haven't felt yet since leaving Austin. I desperately wanted to turn around and come back to the casa rosa in Rio, or to my sunny apartment on Lamar Blvd. Home seems to be a recurring theme these days, and I've actually been writing quite a bit about what "home" is for me at this particular point in life.

Overall my trip back to Maringá was good. Difficult and exasperating at times, but definitely worth it to catch up with old friends and my host family. More details to follow in the next posts...

Love you all.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Green Stone

This time last year I was in Cuba, walking down the Malecón with salty wind tangling my hair and a mind full of questions. I had received a humanitarian aid license through an organization called The Cuba AIDS Project and spent 10 days traveling through the island with a group of public health professionals and well-intentioned tourists. While there we visited hospitals and local clinics, met with volunteers, and shared mojitos and salsa dances with new HIV+ Cuban friends.

It was a relief to connect with people that reminded me of the fire I’d come so close to letting flicker out. Back in Austin, my personal life was in crisis and I was decidedly uncomfortable with the roles I’d allowed myself to slip into along the way. I had given up so much of what is truly important to me in life, all in an attempt to save a relationship that had died long before. The short time I spent in Cuba marked a turning point for me; I was tired of living to make someone else happy and ready to reclaim my identity as a traveler and an adventurer.

Less than a month after my return to the US, the relationship in question finally ended. I cried for days on end, overwhelmed by dueling waves of loss and relief. Without that unhealthy situation monopolizing my energy, I threw myself headstrong into my work. At the time I was directing two HIV prevention programs targeting at-risk members of the African American community in Austin. I had a staff of 10, an endless stack of reports and grant applications taking over my desk, and all the added complications that come from working at a resource-hungry nonprofit. I would come home exhausted after 12-hour days in front of the computer and curl up on my great-grandfather’s old loveseat with my cat Azul, unable to do anything but just sit and think.

It was in the middle of this constant swirl of ideas and meetings that I became friends with Costa, the director of the Cuba AIDS Project. At first he was just the voice behind a New Jersey area code, calling me at work to discuss Cuba and the possibility of me doing some fundraising for the Project. But with time we got to know each other better and would have funny conversations speckled with Spanish and Portuguese, talking about his Greek heritage, the music scene in Austin, and our common professional aspirations.

Coincidentally, Costa shares my love for Brazil and we both had plans to be in Rio de Janeiro in the beginning of May. We finally met last Tuesday at a beachfront cafe in Copacabana, a block down from the apartment he and his friend Robert, an accountant, had rented for the week. I was strangely nervous about the encounter, intimidated by his extensive experiences in Cuba and slightly worried that we wouldn’t get along well despite our long run of interesting phone conversations. Turns out my concerns were unfounded. We all got along fabulously, and I could sense an immediate mentor-mentee connection with Costa. We shared travel stories over caipirinhas and French fries, then made plans for me to host a city tour the next day.

Costa and Robert came up to Santa Teresa in the late morning and I arranged for a cab to take us up the winding road to Corcovado, the Christ statue that watches over the bay from the highest peak in Rio. We drove with the windows down, letting the fresh smell of eucalyptus and wet leaves rush through the car. Corcovado is situated in the middle of the Tijuca National Park, a thick swath of Mata Atlântica that is the largest urban rainforest in the world. It’s easy to forget you are in a city of 11 million people as the road winds through the greenery, tall trees filtering out the sun and the sounds of the neighborhoods below. We stopped and took photos at the Mirante Dona Marta, a lookout point about halfway up the hill that is equipped with a helipad, then continued up to the base of the Christ statue. The air was clear, thunderclouds scared off by the unexpected winter sun, and we had an perfect 360 degree view of Rio de Janeiro and Niterói, the sister city across the water. We looked out over the skyscrapers and traffic, the pristine beaches of Zona Sul, the favelas sprawling down the granite and green hillsides, and the industrial stretch of Zona Norte in the distance. Rio is without a doubt the most beautiful place I have ever seen, more than deserving of its nickname: Cidade Maravilhosa, the marvelous city.

We headed back to Santa Teresa and had lunch at a seafood restaurant called Sobrenatural about a block down the trolley line from our house. The food was ridiculously good and we ate like tropical kings, polishing off a shrimp stew with coconut milk and vegetables, rice, manioc, and a grilled cherne fillet with caper sauce. Shots of ginger rum and tall glasses of beer finished off the meal, and we walked back to the house fighting the temptation to call off the city tour and spend the rest of the afternoon lounging in hammocks on the verandah.

The day was too beautiful to give up, though, and we took a taxi to Sugarloaf to ride the aerial tramway and get a different perspective of the city. The tram swayed and coughed its way to the top of the granite mountain and Costa joked about our faith in the Brazilian engineers who likely make less than US minimum wage. We arrived just in time to have a cafezinho (the ubiquitous gulp of espresso that fuels life down here) and watch the sunset. We sat in silence watching the sun disappear behind the clouds and sink below the hills, the sky still glowing orange as the first city lights flickered on along the beach.

Costa and Robert returned to Santa Teresa several times during the week to hang out with me, my friend Jenna from New Mexico, and Mattie, a new friend and kindred travel spirit. We celebrated Costa’s birthday together on Saturday over sugary drinks and the best present ever – a tacky fisherman’s hat screenprinted with a bright Brazilian flag that Jenna and I purchased on the beach for the special day. There was such a great dynamic between us, generations fusing together, effortless conversations, and laughter echoing late into each evening.

And then it was time for another goodbye. Sunday morning Jenna and I took the bus to Ipanema and met Costa and Robert at the Hippie Fair to hang out one last time. We were sitting at a small folding table in the corner of the plaza having a snack when Costa announced that he needed to speak to me in private for a few minutes. I gave him a puzzled look and followed him through the crowds of shoppers and vendors. He took my arm in his and started speaking in a hushed, intense voice.

“I had the most unbelievable thing happen to me last night on my way home.” We made our way to a patch of shade and he continued. “I was walking down the street and there was this old, hunched-over Brazilian woman standing alone on the sidewalk. She looked up, pointed her finger at me, and called out, ‘Costa!’ I walked up to her and asked her how she knew my name.

The old woman replied in Portuguese, ‘You don’t know me, but I know you, Costa. There are Givers and there are Takers in life, and you are a Giver.’ Then she leaned in and said softly, ‘I have something for you.’ She reached into her pocket and pulled out a polished green stone and placed it in my hand. ‘This is for you. It will bring you all the luck, protection, and love you could possibly desire in life.’

I looked at her, my mouth hanging open in amazement. I tried to take out some money to pay her but she refused, closing my hand around the stone and smiling, gently shaking her head. ‘No, this is for you. Take it.’ I thanked her over and over, practically crying in the middle of the street.”

“Oh my God, Costa. That’s incredible.” I was close to tears myself.

“I know,” he replied, “I’m still blown away by it all.” Costa reached into his pocket and pulled out the stone. It was beautiful, a smooth moss green agate with thin waves of turquoise and aqua on one side. He placed the stone in my right hand, sending chills down my back. Cupping his hands around mine, he continued. “When I got home, I stepped outside and started thinking. I’ve been so blessed with a life full of luck and love. I don’t think I could ask for anything more.”

He looked me in the eyes and said, “Ali, this stone is for you. I know you are a Giver, too, and we are few and far between. I want you to take this stone with you to Africa. It will protect you in your adventures, and I hope it brings you everything you could ever dream of in life.”

I felt dizzy with emotion, tears running down my cheeks. “Thank you.” It was all I could manage to say, completely overwhelmed by his gesture. Costa hugged me and we walked back to the table, arms linked, amazed by the inexplicable magic that swirls through our lives and brings us together.

A few minutes later we all said goodbye and Costa and Robert headed for the airport. Back to reality, back to New Jersey and accounting jobs and the challenges of nonprofit fundraising. Jenna and I spent the rest of the afternoon shopping at the Hippie Fair, then met up with Mattie on Ipanema beach.

As I looked at the waves, I thought of Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist.” One of my favorite parts of the book is the idea that sometimes, when you truly want something, all of the universe conspires for things to work out. And there I was, surrounded by friends, sitting in the sand in the most beautiful city on earth, about to embark on a life-changing adventure. A salty wind tangled my hair, my mind was full of questions, and a smooth green stone glowed in my palm.

Friday, May 06, 2005

view of sugarloaf and guanabara bay - cidade maravilhosa!!!

No Pobrema

We have had three gorgeous days in a row, a true miracle given the temperamental nature of Rio’s winter. The sky is an intense cloudless blue that almost rivals the sky in New Mexico and the sun is just strong enough to make it comfortable to wear shorts. Definitely a welcome break from the weather the first few days I was here. Tropical winters just frustrate me. It’s never really cold enough to merit an overcoat, although everyone here pulls out the wool outerwear as soon as the clouds roll in and the temperature drops below 70F, but somehow you feel cold and dreary nonetheless. Winter here is so bipolar – beautiful clear skies for 20 minutes, then fast-rolling clouds cover everything, then some drizzle, then sun again, followed by a walloping thunderstorm for an hour, then shameless sunshine to round it out. You never know how to dress…the ultimate frustration!

Luis the handyman just arrived to check out latest set of things needing to be fixed here in the Casa Rosa. Luis is from the northeastern state of Paraiba and is basically the Brazilian equivalent of the guys Erin and I met from Wallace, Louisiana. He has a thick, sing-songy accent and switches consonants all over the place, especially ‘l’s and ‘r’s, sometimes adding them where they don’t belong, sometimes dropping them altogether. Problema becomes pobrema, and vidro becomes vridro, all increasingly garbled by the fact that Luis slurs and stutters through the remaining letters. It took me a full year to finally understand what the hell Luis was saying without Beth interpreting for me.

It never ceases to amaze me how Brazilians (and Latin Americans in general, for that matter) offer their unsolicited opinions about the way you look. People casually say things like, “Have you been eating a lot of chocolate lately? Because your skin has gotten really bad. You didn’t used to have this many pimples.” Or “You know, I liked your hair much more before you cut it. Long hair made your face look less round.” These comments aren’t meant to be offensive, they are just observations, the good honest truth that we all *obviously* want and need to hear.

So Luis walks in this morning, asks how my mom is doing, comments about the weather – the regular line of socially appropriate small talk. And then he drops the bomb. “Você está mais fortinha, né?” Translated verbatim, he basically said that I’m “stronger” than the last time he saw me. Really just one of the many euphemisms people here use to say that you’ve gotten fatter. Another one of my favorites is fofinha, or fluffy. I used to get that one all the time when I lived in Maringá in high school. Beth, the woman who looks after our house, was standing outside with Luis and me and jumped in the conversation.

“Não, não. De jeito nenhum. Ela tá mais magra.” No way. Ali’s thinner than before.

Luis gave her a cockeyed look and then reevaluated my supposedly “stronger” silhouette. He furrowed his brow as if doing a really hard math equation, lips pursed, head nodding slightly. “Nao, ela tá gordinha.” Nope, she’s definitely chubby.

Beth and Luis went back and forth for about five minutes debating whether or not I’d gained or lost weight since the last time I was in Rio in January. I stood in the middle of it all sending Luis dagger eyes and thinking it’s no wonder I have body image issues. The handyman and the housekeeper are openly discussing my weight. Great.

After that little exchange, we hauled out the 18-foot ladder and maneuvered it up the curved staircase to the crawlspace hatch door. Luis is here to look at the roof for, like, the millionth time. There is this skylight made of glass shingles over the stairway that has given us problems since we bought the house nearly four years ago. Luis re-shingled it, put in a clear impermeable tarp, and sealed the edges but somehow water still drips down the walls every time it rains. Admittedly, there has been some improvement from when this process first started and we had literal waterfalls cascading onto the stairs. I think we ran through four sets of towels sopping up the leaks, and there was a perpetual array of mixing bowls and plastic buckets on the landing to collect the water. But the stupid roof still leaks. Luis thinks some of the shingles have shifted and there is now a space between the glass, but I fear the problem is a more complicated structural issue. I hope we don’t have to rip up the roof again.

So my plans for this beautiful day are wholly focused on Porcão, the best churrascaria restaurant in all of Rio. Porcão literally means “Big Pig” and it is the most fabulous dining experience possible. It’s an all-you-can-eat restaurant where waiters circle around with spits of various meats – filet mignon, picanha, sausages, chicken wings, spare ribs – and you pick what you want and they slice it right onto your plate for you. When you need a break from meat, you fill your plate at this amazing salad bar with heart of palm, crab soufflé, sushi, mussels, stroganoff, collard greens, and other delicious items. We’re going to hit the Big Pork about 3pm, eat for several hours, then come back home for a nap in the hammock on the verandah. Nothing like a day of gorging myself to forget about Luis’ comments earlier this morning. Ha!!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

stolen time

I think I~m one of exactly three people in this internet place actually surfing the web. The other two are my friend Jenna and her friend Jason. Everyone else is 1) male, 2) between the ages of 13 and 30, and 3) playing RPG and other assorted arcade and fantasy games. They make a LOT of noise. I~m trying to get in a creative writing mood but it~s not easy given the sirens, explosions, and screeches going on around me. Every few seconds someone yells out ´Porra´ or ´Caralho´ having just exterminated the guy sitting across the table in some dorky fight game.

As you can tell, I~m still struggling with the international keyboard. I can~t wait to get to Mozambique and have a high speed line to plug my laptop in. Also, some of the sites here are restricted, so those of you who follow my Fotolog will note a gap in my postings. For some reason I can~t sign in from any public to follow once I get to Africa.

---- ----- ----

I don~t think I could have imagined a more fantastic last day in Austin. I spent the morning packing the last remaining things into the truck - Grandpa Hugh~s red glittery accordeon, a box with stereo equipment, and some dishes. Melvin and Joseph, two of my ex-staff members, came by to help load everything and install the partition in the trailer. We struggled for a while with this large, unwieldy piece of plywood but finally screwed it in place. I used exactly 6 feet of the truck. Perfect planning. Leticia came over and hung out for a bit, then we had to say our goodbyes. Of all the friends I left beind in Austin, she is one I~m certain I~ll see again soon. She is from Rio, and I just know our paths will cross again in this chaotic city. Although I~ve only known Leticia for a few months, it was a surprisingly poignant goodbye. There is a connection between travelers that forms more quickly and sincerely than most ´normal´ friendships, and Le was no exception. We hugged tight, thanking each other and making plans to meet again soon. That~s when it really started to sink in. I had just said goodbye to all my best friends...

Instinct told me to double check my itinerary. I thought I was supposed to leave at 4pm, but when I pulled out my ticket it said 7pm. I had an extra 3 hours to take advantage of the perfect spring day before leaving for Rio! Keith and I started making plans. I felt like a little kid, literally jumping up and down in the middle of his living room when he suggested a motorcycle ride and swimming at Barton Springs.

My poor mom...I don~t mean to worry her unnecessarily, but she has this fear of motorcycles, and I always seem to ride on them when I^m far from her reach. I called to tell her about my new flight time and plans for the afternoon. ´Ali, it gives me quivers in my bones to know that you~re riding on a motorcycle on the day you~re supposed to leave.´

´Don~t worry,´I told her, ´I~m with someone that, together, I´m certain we´re shrouded in good karma.´

I clung to Keith~s back, looking at my reflection in the mirror. The sun was hot on our backs and my hair whipped around my face, too short to pull back. We stopped for smoothies, then headed for the springs. The water in Barton Springs in notoriously cold, so we hung out on the big rocks by the banks for a while, getting to know more about each other. It~s so strange how you can feel so comfortable with somebody and know relatively so little about each other. We told endless stories and baked in the sun, then Keith convinced me to get in the water. It wasn~t as bad as I~d anticipated, but the rocks were slimy and I had to test each step before shifting my weight so I wouldn~t lose my balance. We swam out to the middle of the creek where the current was swift. It was like being on a swimming treadmill, endless breast strokes without advancing forward. Keith grabbed my hands and drew me back upstream, and we made our way back to the shore.

And then it was time to go...

After an intense but tearless goodbye, I loaded my suitcases into the rental car and drove myself to the airport. I sang along to the radio, felt the wind on my face, and started sobbing. This was it.

I dropped off the car, strapped on my backpack, and barely managed to carry all my suitcases to the check-in desk. The Continental agent informed me that the flight to Houston was slightly delayed, but that I should still have time to make my connection to Sao Paulo. I waited at the gate, called my mom and dad, and said phone goodbyes to the remaining friends I hadn~t seen. Closure.

Then the agent announced that the flight was even further delayed. I wouldn~t have time to get the connection in Houston. I would have to stay another night in Austin!!!! I think I was the only happy person in the line of stressed-out travelers waiting at the podium. I called Keith and broke the news...I had another 24 hours in Austin. I took a cab back to his house (my house!), ate some cashews, and thought about my situation. Clandestine time in a city after saying goodbye to everyone I know. I toyed with calling everyone up and organizing one last big night out, but something inside me was against it. I sort of enjoyed the idea of being in a place I wasn~t supposed to be anymore. Only one person knew I was there. Stolen time.

Damn. My internet time is about to run out. More later. I am doing well, enjoying this crazy place, and sleeping more than I ever thought possible.

Love you all.

Monday, May 02, 2005

No internet and no US keyboard make Ali go CRÃZY

Rio de Janeiro, 5/1/05

I HATE THIS STUPID INTERNATIONAL KEYBOARD I~M USING!!! Not only are there all sorts of different keys, like the ç and à and other accents, everything is laid out differently. The shift key is one extra key over to the left, and other essentials like the asterisk and semicolon are nowhere to be found. To make it worse, some smartass kid came in here and physically switched up some of the keys, so you press what looks like a tilde accent and actually end up with a ]. It~s all exceedingly frustrating. And I can~t find the stupid apostrophe to save my life!

I actually wrote most of this post yesterday while sitting on an antique couch in the corner of my bedroom, computer propped up on my lap by pillows, trying to catch up on my writing...
All the windows are open, letting in the afternoon light and the sounds of samba and shared beers from the bar across the street. I’m listening to the CD Keith made me, the one with TV on the Radio and Black Heart Procession. I woke up this morning and did about an hour of improv Nia-style dancing and then some stretches on my new aqua colored yoga mat. After working out I went downstairs and had mangoes, fresh figs, and passion fruit mousse for breakfast.
The fruit here is unbelievable. In our small garden we have banana trees with the sweetest bunches of finger-sized fruits, an acerola tree that makes red berries packed with vitamin C, and a skinny pitanga tree from northeastern Brazil that has slightly sour, fleshy orange fruits shaped like little parachutes. On Fridays there is an outdoor farmer’s market down the block that I love going to. In addition to all the tropical fruits you could imagine, there are vendors selling okra, collard greens, and big bunches of herbs and spices to flavor food and treat common health problems. In the middle of everything is the fishmonger’s stand with glistening rows of fresh sardines, spear-headed squid, shrimp, and brightly-scaled fish. I can’t wait to go next week and bring home armfuls of good food.

Tonight I’m going to a screening of "The Motorcycle Diaries" at the gothic-style Episcopal Church across the street from our house. Until about a year ago, if you wanted to see a movie you would have to take a 10 minute trolley ride downtown and walk to a 4-screen theater notorious for showing dubbed Hollywood blockbusters and Xuxa films for kids. So about a year ago, the Santa Teresa neighborhood association decided it was high time to have movies available on top of the hill. Since there is no commercial zoning here and literally no open space available, the best option was to convert the old church into an impromptu theater on Sunday evenings. They show a funny selection of movies, ranging from Monty Python to artsy Brazilian short films, projected onto a white canvas set up in front of the altar. Everyone sits on the uncomfortable wooden pews and snacks on popcorn and guarana soda. It’s a great community event, and you can’t beat a dollar movie no matter how unconventional the setup!

I still feel very overwhelmed by everything that happened during my last few days in Austin. It hasn’t completely hit me that I don’t live there anymore, that I’m not going to hop on a plane next week and come back to my job and my friends and my sun-filled house.
When I first moved to Austin in the summer of 2003, I was in the middle of my quarter-life crisis. I~m sure as this blog develops I~ll write more about everything that happened, but for now I]ll just use it to illustrate where I was the day I moved to Austin. I had just driven a U-Haul for 900 miles on the most boring strech of flat highway possible, was about halfway through a 41-day crying spell, had no friends in the city, no job lined up, and a relationship in shambles. Each day was a challenge, and I honestly don~t know if I would have made it through were it not for Azul, the internet, and a cell phone.
I contrast that with the day I left Austin, surrounded by people that opened their hearts to me and offered simple, sincere friendship without any strings attached. I found a job that at once frustrated and fulfilled me, setting the stage for more personal growth than I could have imagined. And most importantly, I left Austin at peace with myself and genuinely HAPPY with life. It all sounds so trite, but it~s true. I remember the night Erin and I hung out with the Louisiana boys at the Continental Club, I had this epiphany. There I was, surrounded by my best friend and a bunch of rednecks and hippies, listening to bluegrass and drinking beer, and it occurred to me. If I could choose to be anybody in that club, I would choose to be me. I choose me! I choose my life! It was so simple, but a feeling of completeness rushed over me that I hadn~t felt in a really long time. I had made it through the shit life doled out in the past two years and come out a much stronger, better person. I wouldn~t trade the 41 days of tears and everything that followed for the world. I AM SO HAPPY BEING ME!!!
Wow. I~m being soooooo syrupy right now. Maybe it~s the sunny weather in the middle of Rio~s rainy winter that~s bringing out the sap in me. Maybe it~s a euphoric reaction to the HUGE bowl of açai I just ate with my friend Jenna. Who knows.
I feel so overwhelmed by everything that I want to write. Sometimes I feel like I~m going to burst at the seams, letters and phrases pouring out of me like those magnetic poetry kits people get for their refrigerators. There is just so much I want to capture, so many intense feelings rushing through my head and leaving me exhausted.
Well, my internet time is just about up (I~m at a cafe in copacabana because for some strange reason the dial-up connection at home refuses to work). I love and miss you all. Happy belated birthday to my mom. And write e-mails, damnit!!!! I miss you guys!!!!!