Vulnerability.

Vulnerability is a feeling that we all  have experienced at some time or another. No one likes to be vulnerable because it shows the world one of your weaknesses. Simply acknowledging the fact that we all can experience this feeling is an act that I think is courageous. We all know that each and every one of us has our faults and the old adage that nobody is perfect holds true. Especially for me.

Coming to Brazil, I had no choice but to open myself to vulnerability. Every time someone asks me what did I expect of Brazil and what did I do to prepare myself for this time here I always reply that I had (and I continue to have) no expectations. I came here with as much of an open mind as I could. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable you’re unconsciously opening yourself for the world to catch a glimpse into the person you are. Both the beautiful and ugly parts…what makes you, you.  It’s scary shit. There are things that people think they understand or know about us solely based on what we allow them to see whether it is through social media, in our professional lives and what we may even reveal to them in everyday conversation. But there are also things that we keep bottled up because we’re scared. And that’s the thing with vulnerability. It’s scary stuff. I remember when I first arrived in Natal, I was terrified of the simplest things I take for granted back home. I was terrified to ask for items at the supermarket because I did not know formulate the sentence and I had no vocabulary. I was terrified of establishing an impactful and important presence at my university because I didn’t want my excitement and ideas to come off as imposing or worthless to my coworkers. I was terrified of living alone in a new city, new country, new everything. I still am. But with every day comes progress.. Vulnerability is scary when you have to deal with it when you’re in a new environment or new work setting. I think it is especially difficult when you allow yourself to be vulnerable with someone else.

It all happened so quickly. When Jazz was here we spent an afternoon in Beco do Batman,  a cool place in São Paulo that is known for murals, amazing artwork from talented and respected artists throughout the city. We were there for hours admiring the work and just living. Re: my last post. That night was special for me because we met artists who produce some of the most beautiful work I have ever seen in my life. These guys that we met are Talented. With a capital T. Through their art, I was able to see their life stories, their daily struggles, their hopes, their protests, their dreams, their inspiration, their realities, and their art. Living in Brazil, you cannot escape art. It is everywhere. It is ingrained in the country’s history. It is felt, seen, smelled, experienced. Weaved into the mundane aspects of a city but also in some of the most beautiful and stunning things my eyes have laid on in my life.  When Jazz and I met the local artists I initially thought nothing of it and appreciated the time we spent with them that night. Sensing their pride when they showed us around the cool Vila Madalena neighborhood was a special experience I think both Jazz and I will cherish. They allowed themselves to be vulnerable with us. São Paulo is a city just dripping with amazing murals, tags, and striking visual scenes, both in traditional and peculiar ways. We said goodbye to the artists and went on our ways…or so I thought.

 

 

 

 One muralist in particular was interested in spending more time with us, specifically me and at first I was doubtful. Hesitant even. I remember the constant whatsapp messages he sent me the next day. “Come to my neighborhood!” “You girls need to experience the REAL São Paulo.” “Come!” I did not want to go. It was far, I was not familiar with the area and I just remember having a list of excuses. Jazz talked some sense into me and we went. Upon arrival he greeted us with beers in hand and we immediately knew we were in for a great time. And a great time we had. His neighborhood was throwing a block party and we met so many people with interesting stories. Women who lived with their great grandmothers, grandmothers, and mothers while taking care of their own children! Men who were just hustling and did whatever they needed to do in order to get by. We enjoyed some tasty Brazilian drinks like warm wine…(very tasty, highly recommend it) We talked with women who laughed but appreciated our attempts at speaking Portuguese, we listened to local artists who rapped about the struggles and harsh reality of growing up in the favelas and we lived. Here we were in a community filled with artists, struggling families, young kids, who allowed themselves to be vulnerable to two strange American girls who liked to drink and loved a good funky beat. He was right, that night we were able to get a real a taste of the real São Paulo.  We said our goodbyes once again and the next day Jazz left for the United States. Being that I was staying in Sao Paulo for one more week because of my mid-year seminar I was ready to enjoy the time with my fellow ETA’s and talk about our unique experiences in our host cities.

The universe is crazy y’all.

 

He messaged me and insisted on taking me out to dinner and spending more time with me. I was doubtful, I had already given up on the dating thing here and I was not really about it. But I complied, I’m always down for new conversation and I thought only good could come out of it.  We enjoyed a nice Japanese dinner in the centro of São Paulo and afterwards listened to live samba. Nothing can compare to live samba. I don’t think I have enough vocabulary to express this type of music. But I’ll try. The live samba bands that I have been to usually consist of at least 4-5 men playing and singing instruments and it is electrifying. The drum is their main instrument but it would be a shame to not appreciate the instrument of their voices and hands as well. The steady tap tap of the drums, the sweet sounds of the guitarist strumming notes that are tinged with history and nostalgia, the beautiful wails of the singer. Live Samba is amazing and beautiful. (This is a link to typical live samba sessions that I am familiar with.) I thought that we would not have much in common or that we wouldn’t have much to talk about but boy was I wrong. At this point in time, I allowed myself to be vulnerable with a person I barely knew but was willing to get to know a bit more. This was around the time of the Alston Sterling and Philando Castile murders and I was so upset because I felt helpless. I was frustrated and upset with everything and I was angry. I explained this to him in, not expecting that he would not understand or relate to any of it but he did. He did on so many levels. My presumptions of him were terrible and I thought that this man who is definitely Brazilian but looks white cannot possibly relate to the micro aggressions and experiences that I as a black woman face daily. I thought that he would not be able to contribute to any of the conversation or have anything enlightening to say. I judged. I thought we were so different. He listened intently to my gripes about the U.S, the police, racial injustice and privilege. He told me that he had 20 friends die at the hands of policemen. Not people he knew, but friends. Brazil is a country filled with racial, wealth and social disparities and one thing I’ve come to understand that people are struggling here. Not only suffering extreme levels of racism but, but between classes as well. I listened to him speak. His words were real, lived and hard to understand at some points. But he was vulnerable with me.

 

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Feijoada Saturdays!

 

Cris and I continued to talk even after I left Sao Paulo and I was surprised by how easy and simple it was to talk to him despite my lack of Portuguese. (It’s actually has improved a lot, and I need to stop being so hard on myself about it. ) We talked about personal things, our goals, our doubts, everything. We were seriously getting to know one another and I was digging it. Eventually we decided to see each other again and he came to visit me in Natal. I was nervous because at that point I knew it was turning into something serious. I told my friends from home about him and they were all so encouraging and happy for me. I expressed my doubts, my insecurities but I always got a resounding just go with the flow and enjoy it. For someone who constantly believes that everything that is meant to happen will happen and someone who constantly recommends to others “to go with the flow” I certainly could not practice what I preached. Immediately my self-doubt and insecurities got in the way and I wondered how could a talented man be interested in me? This was the first time in my life that I felt all of these new and different emotions and something that hit me hard; vulnerability. I allowed myself to become vulnerable with a man without even realizing it and when I did realize it, I immediately slammed on the brakes.

I am currently still struggling with this vulnerability and it I think it something that does not take a day, a week or a month to get over. I don’t know if it is something that has a time frame on it. Writing this post is hard. It’s hard because yes, I share my adventures, struggles, joys and frustrations about my time here in Brazil but sometimes I feel like I am only scratching the surface. I created this blog with the intention of not only sharing my time here in Brazil with my friends, family and on a social platform but also for me. I created it so I could finally allow myself to open a bit more, not keep things bottled in and confront feelings that I didn’t realize were buried so deep inside. The past 6 months here has taught me so much about myself,  people whom I don’t even know, and my purpose in this crazy ass world. But most importantly I think living here has allowed me to slowly lift the band aid that I did not even know I had. It has allowed me to acknowledge the inner battles and demons I fight off so vehemently that I did not really understand the level I was battling them until I allowed myself to be raw. I said I came to Brazil with no expectations and one thing for certain was I did not expect to fall as hard as I have. Thank you Cris for allowing me to vulnerable.

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The proud Artist and his work

 

Living.

Since the end of June I have been traveling throughout Brazil. (Hence the crickets on this blog.) Traveling is great however when you are traveling, it is hard maintaining a routine, keeping in touch with your family and committing to your daily grind. Despite all of the things I was not doing, one thing I certainly was doing was LIVING. Having 2 of my friends visit me was nothing short of amazing. Prior to their visit, I was dealing with a family tragedy and it was tough. What made it even tougher was the fact that I was grieving here in Brazil while all of my family was together in NY or Haiti. Senseless acts of violence are tough, but dealing with it alone was really hard. A few days later after this terrible death occurred in my family, my friends came to Brazil and it’s like the universe knew exactly what I needed. My friend Denise came to Brazil for about a week and my friend Jazz stayed for 20 days. We started in Rio and lived. We lived the first night when we felt the pulsating samba weaving throughout our veins and danced all night. I had yet to have a full night of dancing here in Brazil, and boy was it needed. Having my friends here definitely reminded me of what I am capable of and the Turn up Queen emerged from a long slumber. Our first night in Rio was epic. The sounds of a bar down the street from where we staying lured us in and we danced till we dropped. What was great about Rio, specifically the neighborhood we were staying in (Lapa) was that everything that we needed and enjoyed was close. The music was down the street from our place. The sounds were there and real. We joked that once all 3 of us came into the bar, that’s when the party started. I can’t count on my hands how many times I heard throughout our trip this phrase “those American girls know how to party!” or “those American girls can drink!” LOL. I don’t want to toot our own horn but we were a good time. Rio was awesome. Between the partying, the culture, the sights and food, it was an enlightening experience for me, specifically since it was my second time going and I was with my friends. These are just a few pictures from our trip in Rio.

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Because they don’t know how to act.

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We were always meeting people on the streets!

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This guy was smoking a cigarette while drinking a beer. His shirt is self explanatory.

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Sunset in Niteroí.
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Rio’s views continue to amaze me.

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Some of the best Samba I’ve heard thus far in Brazil. Every Monday and Friday there is an event called Pedra do Sal where in one of the oldest black neighborhoods in Rio where they have amazing samba.

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After saying goodbye to Denise, Jazz and I flew to the capital of Bahia, Salvador. I felt like Salvador was waiting for me. I felt like I was right at home. Everything just felt right. Before coming to Brazil, I honestly did not know much about the country. I knew that there was a huge Afro-Brazilian population and that was about it. I eventually did more research and read about the country through books, podcasts, listening to music and watching YouTube videos. One book in particularly that I enjoyed reading and I recommend to anyone wanting to learn more about this amazing country and its complex history is A Death in Brazil by Peter Robb. This book is a fascinating account of Brazil’s history written in narrative form and the author explores all of what makes Brazil, Brazil. It’s delectable cuisine, intriguing and morbid history, mysterious religions and political chaos. I read this book before I arrived in Brazil and then once again when I visited Recife, Pernambuco. Reading this book a second time just only emphasized the concept of Living. Reading about a place and LIVING in a place are two completely different matters. Experiencing the city was something special. This was the first time since I have been in Brazil where I was among so many black and brown bodies. Everywhere you looked, I saw Bahianos with kinky curly hair, wide set noses, skin the color of chocolate, contrasting with a sister or mother who had skin the color of your favorite toffee candy. It was amazing. Jazz and I were again consistently mistaken for Brazilians but once we started talking the jig was up. We were able to blend in seamlessly and it was welcoming.. Our first day there we met this man who graciously brought us to the bus station after we explained to him that we were trying to buy a ticket to go to the country side. He not only directed us and showed us to the correct window to buy a ticket he served as our impromptu tour guide throughout Salvador and he showed us all over the historic center and brought us to the best Churrasco (Brazilian Meat Restaurant) I’ve had thus far in Brazil. He was funny, weird, friendly, and kind of sketchy at times but the best random tour guide I’ve ever had. Jazz and I had so many chance encounters throughout our trip I could not even possibly begin to write them all down. Salvador was awesome. I attended my first live concert in Brazil, (Check them out! Your soul with vibrate with this musical goodness) we were able to check out more of the diverse landscapes of this country when we visited a small town called Andaraí in Chapada Diamantina which is a beautiful national park and an eco-tourist’s dream.

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Our main man, Santana!
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Salvador.
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Historic Pelurinho
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Many slaves arrived in this port in Salvador.

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Some of the best churrasco I have had here
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Our lovely tour guide Santana!

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My lovely travel buddy 🙂
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Some orishas in the Afro Brazilian Museum in Salvador.
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Going deep into the caves in Andaraí
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“those American girls love to drink!”
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Yummy Aracaje.

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We got to meet up with some other Fulbrighters and we had such a fun time in Andaraí

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Celebrating 4th of July with other Americans and of course beer.

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The sun hits the water for only a few hours every day and we were lucky enough to see it right before the clouds came.
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Other Fulbrighters!

Last but not least on the trip was São Paulo. What a difference 4 months makes. I remember when I flew into São Paulo in February I was nervous, excited, worried and ready for my time here in Brazil. We had a mandatory orientation with the Fulbright Program in São Paulo with all 80 ETA’s and program directors. I remember not wanting to leave the neighborhood because I was terrified of my lack of Portuguese skills. Because our days were so packed anyway with orientation activities if you wanted to explore the city you could’ve but so many of us were tired that we didn’t. I left São Paulo for Natal thinking that I would be back and next time I was back in this city I made a promise to enjoy this city and see what it had to offer. When talking about Rio and São Paulo Brazilians often compare the energies and pulses of each city to Los Angeles and New York City respectively. After visiting Rio and Salvador I kept saying, “I love this city! I could totally live here!” but after traveling to all 3 cities and spending time in each distinct place I will say that if I had to live permanently in Brazil, living in São Paulo would be the best option for me. I immediately felt at home with the bustling city. The tall overbearing skyscrapers comforted me. The deliberate shuffle of footsteps in the metro, the tight sidewalks filled with commuters, families, tourists and the like and the options! The assortment of restaurants, cultural activities, parks, neighborhoods, energies, museums, ethnic groups was all just so calming to me. It felt like home. São Paulo has been my favorite city thus far in Brazil and I would be remiss if I did not enjoy the city before I go back home. In São Paulo I was able to live.

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So much amazing street art.

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This Peruvian food was amaaaaaazing.
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Can’t take ME nowhere.

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Sunset in Ibirapuera Park. São Paulo’s version of Central Park

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