I know, I know. It's still Saturday. But I have to work this weekend and I'm inspired to write NOW, so Saturday it will be for my Sunday Scribblings entry.
The books I would write would be about my life. I think my life is adventurous, unconventional, exciting, terribly lonely at times, and above all very real. I believe that all I've seen and felt and done would make for some pretty incredible reading, and I would start by writing novels about 3 definitive times in my life - my exchange year, my quarter-life crisis, and my time now in Africa. The second one I am not quite ready to share with the world. The last one I am in the process of living out and don't know exactly where the story would start or end. So I think the first one would be the logical place to start...
Novel #1 would be about my time as an exchange student in Maringá, a small city in Paraná state in Southern Brazil.
I would write about what it was like to live for a year with a Japanese-Brazilian family, how it was harder for me to adjust to having siblings than it was for me to get over the culture shock.
I would write about learning to play capoeira and about the fact that I never used the bicycle my host dad gave me because I was (and still am) afraid to ride a bike.
I would write about the amazing trip I took to the Amazon, where I spent 5 days on a riverboat watching the milky waters of the Rio Solimões marble together with the dark waters of the Rio Negro, and the month-long bus trip I took with 138 other international exchange students all across the interior of Brazil and down the northeastern coast.
I would write about my friend Hugo who was killed in a car accident, the first person I knew to pass away. I would write about his funeral and how I still think of him to this day.
I would write about how I met my boyfriend at the time, a guy named Fernando who loved alternative music, took me camping in a beautiful undiscovered canyon, and smoked way too much pot.
I would write about my decision not to go back to my high school in the US and apply directly to college, and how hard it was for me to make that decision because I felt my dad didn't approve. I would write about what it was like to be a finalist for my university's most prestigious scholarship and almost lose my chance at qualifying because I couldn't appear in person for an interview. I would write about how my mom lobbied on my behalf and got me a phone interview, an essential step to me being accepted to college at age 16 with a full ride for the next 4 years.
I would write about how self-conscious I was about my bad case of acne and the fact that I gained weight during the first months of my time abroad. I would write about how good I became at masking my hurt when my friends and host family would candidly comment, in good brazilian fasion, "You've really put on weight, Ali. You should stop eating so much bread." Or, "Wow, your skin has gotten quite bad lately. What have you done for so many pimples to appear?"
I would write about the first time I shoved my finger down my throat after a meal so that I would throw up all those shameful calories I'd just ingested. I would write about how I became a master of illusions, able to eat only 3 or 4 spoonfulls of rice and vegetables and leave the rest of the meal on my plate without anybody noticing. I would write about how I stopped drinking at bars and started smoking pot in the car before going out because it allowed me to forget my pain without the excess calories (somehow my will to be thin was stronger than the munchies that came afterwards!). I would write about how good the compliments felt when I was finally "thin" again, never mind the fact that I didn't get my period anymore and that my hair was brittle and falling out. I would write about how alone anorexia and bulimia made me feel, despite the happy face I always felt compelled to put on.
I would write about how I learned perfect Portuguese with no trace of an accent, and how I started to feel more Brazilian than I did American. I would write about how my shifting identitiy made me feel illegitimate, as if I were an imposter staking claim to a cultural heritage richer than my own. I would write about the increasing shame I felt for being an American, how I would go out of my way to not speak English in public, how I would dress just like all the other preppy Brazilian girls so I wouldn't stand out as a foreigner, and how much I hated when my friends would playfull call me by the nickname gringa.
I would write about how my mom came to visit me, despite the strict rules of the exchange program against visits from biological family members. I would write about how much fun we had together in Rio de Janeiro, the time we spent with my host family in Maringá, and the car trip we took together with Fernando to Iguaçu Falls. I would write about how much I missed the safe, healing feeling of being close to my mom, and how her visit came at the perfect time, when I was most in need of an injection of self-esteem and unconditional love.
I would write about how at Christmas time the main cathedral of Maringá (that looks like a rocket or a big cone with spikes at the bottom) is decorated to look like a tree with ornaments, and how all the palm trees that line the streets are covered in white lights.
I would write about how I discovered journaling as the best way for me to express my feelings, about the most exciting adventures as well as the darkest days of my loneliness and secrets. I would use excerpts of the journals I kept while on exchange to write this novel. I was a very dilligent writer back then and I wrote every single day that year, starting the day I left Albuquerque and ending the day I arrived back in the US in the Miami airport.
I would write about how much I enjoyed my host dad. He was a philosopher at heart, and many times we'd drive around aimlessly in his pickup truck and have these great debates about different cultures, and how hard it was to be a teenager, and what was missing for this world to heal itself. I got the feeling that my host dad only had these kinds of conversations with me, and every time we'd have a philosophy session in the truck I'd immediately feel less homesick and less troubled.
I would write about how cold it gets in southern Brazil, how my toes would go numb when I played capoeira barefoot, how I would go to school wearing a wool hat and gloves and 2 pairs of stockings under my jeans to stay warm in our open-air classroom, and how I learned to flip the circuit-breaker next to the bathroom at least 10 times before taking a shower to jump-start the electric shower head and get lukewarm water at best. None of the houses or buildings have central heating because it's just not worth it, no matter how cold it may get. The weather in southern Brazil is schizophrenic. One day there is frost on the grass and all you want to do is drink hot chocolate. The next day the sun is out and it's so warm you can wear shorts and go to the pool in the afternoon.
I would write about my good friends - Kelly from Australia who was also an exchange student and was like a mentor to me, Apache from my capoeira group who is a descendent of Guarani indians and gives the best hugs imaginable, my group of girlfriends from my high school class, and so many other amazing people that crossed my path during that year.
I would write about all the wonderful meat I ate that year (my host dad was the accountant at the local slaughterhouse and would bring home picanha for free) and all the new tropical fruits I tried - jackfruit, 5 different kinds of mangoes, cherimoya, acerola, paw-paw, açai, cupuaçu and so many others.
I would write about how I feel in love with a country and a language and a culture.
I would write about how my year in Maringá forever changed my life. Sometimes I think about what I would be like and where I would be living today if I'd been accepted to my 2nd or 3rd choice countries (Venezuela and Hong Kong respectively) for exchange instead of Brazil. I think it's safe to say I wouldn't have returned to study in Rio de Janeiro when I was in business school, wouldn't have met my current business partners, wouldn't be living in Mozambique, and wouldn't be together with Ricardo.