Things About Cultural Experiences

He says the tap water is fine to drink. He says, “never mind the silt when it rains like this. It should be fine. It IS fine.” His self correction was so quick that I almost believe him. And after all, since Halle and I didn’t bring enough cash to pay for our two nights at his hostel where we had only booked ONE bed, who can question the integrity of the owner? Especially when he is a Brit named David, or George, or James, or one of those really super British names, and gives one the sneaking suspicion that his frequent emergent rendezvous in the dark and rainy alleyway have more to do with a booming drug business than a hostel with silty tap water. But who am I to question? It's all about the “cultural experience”. (Turns out that George, the hostel owner, actually owned the Pousada (hotel) across the street as well and was running back and forth in the torrential rain storm to deal with guests over there. So no drugs. I think [almost disappointing].)

it will hold me, right?
According to my 20 year old daughter, it was this rich cultural experience that I deprived her from when I insisted on paying for a hotel room after 5 nights in a hostel in Rio De Janiero: possibly the biggest, hottest, dirtiest city I have ever visited. It must have been the cultural deprivation that drove her to a 45 minute shower in the hotel room, uninterrupted by visitors of all sorts and unenhanced by the multicultural diarrhea nearby in a toilet that wouldn't flush. (#hostellifeforever!) I do feel like Halle should save passing her judgements on me for when she is thirty nine and a half and has given birth without medical aid in a dirt floor structure of questionable design and no flushing toilet. I will take “luxury”, with or without culture, whenever I can afford it. But luxury comes in many forms.

Like for instance, tonight, in my warm shower (all of the water here is solar heated, along with EVERYthing else), I was joined by a lightning bug. Now there is luxury you can't even buy. And the lighting storm on Ilha Grande last night, like a giant rave in the sky, thunder and rain screaming for attention like an emo support group - the kind of awesome drama that Hollywood can never recreate.

Feijoada FTW. I love this stuff. Just don't tell me what's in it. 
I like Brazil. Things that I like about Brazil include: The music. The food (at least the stuff I can identify). The very nice people who tolerate idiot Americans who don't bother to learn Portuguese before they visit (thank God Halle learned muito pequeno [I made those words up completely]). The fact that I have lost weight. The fact that losing weight precludes me from falling through the REALLY springy and far too flexible one by whatever wood slats on any of a hundred little bridges spanning murky water that looks like hot chocolate and smells like diarrhea. I like the turquoise water of the ocean, and the miles and miles of foamy beach, these rainbow people in all shades and colors and from every background. I like imagining a life on this side of the equator as normal, and not the foreign, sticky, sweaty, amazingly weird world it is to me.

I can honestly say that my comfort zone hasn't been breached to this level since I visited Uganda. Except that one time I had to go to church on Easter Sunday. But it's good. And I still keep pinching myself to make sure I am really experiencing it. Or maybe that was the biting ants that swarmed my feet at the waterfall. Who knows?
so much adventure.

Things About Dating, and disaster, and hope

By now I should be well aware of the consequences. What good can possibly come from it? Why, after so many failures, would I even consider trying again? But this pestilence called hope eats at me like a parasite, whispering lies in my ear about possibility, fueled by a million songs, a thousand books, a hundred memories... I can't stop believing. It's out there, I know it. My patchwork heart can't pretend that it's not real anymore than it can deny the existence of a Power greater than the tides of self that try to rule my life.

So I go. Once more into the fray. Once more unto the breech. Believing, hoping, singing, clinging desperately to an idea that Happily Ever After is, after all, a thing.

But of all the bad dating ideas, a blind date? Friends setting up friends for failure and awkward apologetic conversations about misconceptions and disappointed expectations. What could be more archaic and terrible - other than an arranged marriage, which I have come pretty close to already. Why not try the next worse thing? Bravely go...

And what if by some miracle the reality was better than expectation and the misconceptions really weren't? What if the yellow brick road of trust and trying One More Time led you back to the Kansas that you knew was out there the whole time? Or maybe Kansas doesn't look anything like you remember, or maybe Oz becomes your new Kansas, or maybe you decide that clicking your heels won't get you anywhere but a dirty pig pen and it's worth a chance to ride the Horse of A Different Color and give Oz a shot. Or maybe I am stretching this analogy out waaaayyy too far.

Either way, in spite of the distinct possibility of broken dreams and shattered hearts all over again, and the most certain trail of disasters that will threaten any hint of smooth sailing and Anything Good, because, after all, this is still MY life. And because of course it would. The minute something starts to look up, a disaster of ridiculous proportions has too swoop in to save me from eternal happiness.

If I get a couple hundred dollars in savings, some unheard of part on my car will break,  or an appliance will die an agonizing death, or some other unprotected and super expensive event will take place. If I meet a kind man who treats me with respect and that I actually like, some horrific thing must inevitably happen to ensure that I will never, ever be happily ever after. I mean, if he isn't hopelessly flawed, then fate will see to it that he is undeniably convinced of my lack of worth. Or maybe not. Maybe He'll be better than all of the Scary Things that are my life.

In spite of it all, I can't help but feel like it's so worth it. Because of the perpetual smile. Because of the butterflies. Because of feeling like a million bucks even when you're just a very muddy penny. And maybe I'll put all my wrong feet forward and do everything backwards and maybe, just maybe, if something is meant to be it won't matter anyway.

Things About Brazil

I decided to go to Brazil with my 20 year old daughter. I have no idea why. The opportunity presented itself, and, since South America is one of the very few remaining continents I have to visit (just antarctica and Australia left now!), it seemed foolish to say no. I was also moderately uncomfortable with my oldest daughter doing this new-fangled thing called couch-surfing (back when I was a kid we called it being a hobo) all over Brazil by herself, staying with random strangers that were probably human traffickers posing as nice South American families with comfortable couches. So, by going to Brazil myself, I could obviously prevent All the Worst Things from happening to Halle, being the formidable and intimidating character that I am.

I didn't go to Brazil because it has been a lifelong dream of mine to go there, even though it is a country in the world and I plan to see them all before I die. I didn't go to Brazil because I had some opportunity to serve the global community and make the world a better place by throwing around my white privilege and lack of cultural understanding. I certainly didn't go to Brazil because I could afford it, or because I deserved it, or because taking the time off of work and ditching my other kids and pets and responsibilities just made sense. I guess I went because I could, and because I was curious. And also because it was negative a thousand degrees in Stevens County this month and I never had time to get a tan last summer.

It seemed like a good idea at first, which is often how ideas start out. And then it started to seem like a questionable idea, but I had committed to Halle. And then it seemed like a terrible, scary and irresponsible idea and I am much too old and broke and nervous to be traipsing around South America like a 20 year old with no bills or dependent creatures, but I had already bought the ticket. So Brazil was happening, and I pretended to put my worries aside to go enjoy the burning hot equatorial sunshine and 97% RH.

I spent two weeks in the 5th largest country in the world. Brazil occupies almost half of the continent of South America. It is the largest Portuguese speaking nation in the world, and the only one in South America, having been claimed as a Portuguese territory in 1500. The fascinating thing about world travel is that no part remains untouched by the cultures of other places. Before I went to Brazil I spent a few days in Washington DC with my family for Christmas, and was able to visit the recently opened National Museum of African American History. Wandering through those halls, and then revisiting the replicated history of enslaved people in South America (Brazil was one of the last large countries to abolish slavery), made me wonder what our worlds would look like if the slave ships had never reached our shores. Everything would be different. But that's a tar baby I won't tackle here. Brazil is rich with the combined culture of the native Amerindian, enslaved African transplants and European occupational influence.

But most importantly, in January, Brazil is hot. SO HOT. Hot as Hades in the Devil's summertime. The average daily temperatures while we were in Rio were in the high nineties, with relative humidities to match. It took me two weeks to acclimatize, so I was just about comfortable in time to come home to -18 degree mornings at home. One thing for sure, this trip wasn't about being comfortable.

The thing about traveling with your 20 year old daughter is that she's 20, and you're not. And she's your daughter, and you're the mom. So there is a little bit of a weirdness there. Mostly it worked out great because if I was up for partying (see exhibit A: New Years Eve on Copacabana [maybe in the next post]), I could party her into the ground, and if I wasn't, then I would just go to bed and worry about her getting partied into the ground by someone else's mom, or more accurately, getting mugged at a street party in Rio without me there to protect her.

We packed our two week schedule tight, and even so we only scratched the surface of Brazil's southeastern coastal area, with the exception of a two day excursion to Iguacu Falls, the largest waterfall system in the world, wherein I made friends with a pack of very naughty Coatis and accidentally didn't book a hotel room for our first night. Luckily things worked out somehow, in spite of our total inability to communicate with the poor hotel clerk who was working at 2 AM when we showed up, sans reservations.

But Iguacu Falls, or Iguazu Falls, as it's called on the Argentinian side where we also visited (passport stamps, yo!), was my first taste of the wild and dramatic summer storms of South America. It was amazing and beautiful. Before we even got to Rio Halle introduced me to what would become a survival staple, Pao de Quiejo, which I still have great difficulty pronouncing and just decided to call Bow-chicka-Bow-wows. Bow Chickas are like little cheese-bread balls made of manioc flour and parmesan. What's not to love?

There is no way to encapsulate the entire trip in one blog post, so I will be back with more, after I sleep off some jet lag.

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