So here’s your quick update: it’s week 3 now, Portuguese level is at a solid 3 out of 10, tan lines are setting in with intensity, I’ve now learned I can pass for an Argentinean, yes I’ve seen the big Jesus statue, and I have a family of small monkeys that live outside my window.
That should cover the majority of people’s questions.
Now I promised you all that I wouldn’t bother you with boring posts all the time about silly abroad things but I’ve noticed something that I think is very valuable that I’ve thought quite a lot about since I’ve been here.
I’ve been to foreign countries before. I’ve done community service there. I’ve seen a lot and it still never fails to shock me to my core at how some people of the world live. On the contrary, I know the kind of life I live in the states. I realize the house I grew up in, the schools I attended, the university I go to. I know where I fall on the spectrum of things. And of course, I am forever grateful for the opportunities I have had based on some of these attributes. I know that I wouldn’t be here without them.
Last week, our group got to take a trip to visit the Santa Marta Favela in the Botafogo region of Rio. For those of you that don’t know, a favela is defined as “a Brazilian shack or shanty town; a slum.” Long story short, these are not necessarily the places where you should spend a lot of time. Although most commonly known as being the location of Michael Jackson’s music video for “They Don’t Care About Us”, this favela offers so much more.
Our group got the experience of traveling up to the top of this favela on a mountain to have a percussion lesson from a group of people that lived there and had a music program for the community. They let us choose an instrument or drum and we were split up into groups and were taught how to play them by groups of locals. Unsure of what instrument I was going to select, I turned around to a tug on my shorts by a little girl in a pink shirt and a huge smile offering me a symbol shaker. I smiled, nodded, took the instrument, and was immediately led by her hand to a group of girls that were going to teach me how to play.
This group of 4 or 5 girls ranging in age from 6-15 smiled while one eagerly asked me (in Portuguese, yes I knew enough to understand what she was saying) if I spoke Portuguese at all. I reluctantly had to tell her only a little. Nonetheless, she continued on teaching me how to play to get me ready for the big group to all play together. The language barrier was obviously evident but for the first time, I didn’t seem to care as much and it didn’t really seem to matter. These girls were all excited about teaching me how to play, coming up with new patterns, and just genuinely having fun with one another. They had more joy and happiness in their little fingers than most people have in there entire body.
Once the big group was playing together, things were going pretty well until slowly and then all at once, we were being drenched in rain drops. Thinking surely we would go inside or stop playing, the local kids and the director all sort of looked at each other, then smiled and agreed to keep going. So there we were, a group of 30 or so people playing drums together in the pouring rain. (So that whole dancing in the rain thing I talked about before? It ACTUALLY happened! Life is crazy.)
The simply joy for life and music that those people had was truly inspiring. They live in some of the worst conditions in the entirety of Rio. Yet they all seem to love their life and their blessings, regardless. Leaving that place really made me think about where my head was.
Sure, maybe when I got to Rio I wasn’t thrilled about the lack of hot water, AC, or the occasional bugs in the kitchen. However, I didn’t choose to come to Brazil to continue living the same, cushy lifestyle that I do in the US. And without a doubt, that is not the experience I am having.
Visiting Santa Marta made me realize that I know this experience over the next 6 months will be so much more to me as a person then a week long mission trip could ever do. I am grateful for my cold shower because at least I get to feel clean. I love my hot room because at least I get a safe space to sleep and call my own. I handle the bugs in the kitchen because at least I have enough money to fill it with food.
What I think a lot of people tend to forget is that we all do not have the ability to choose many of the things that caused us, especially at a young age, to be where we are. We are simply born into the family we were and our lives happened just as they were intended. Now we have a responsibility to use our blessings for the benefit of others.
So there you have a little dose of some of the random train of thoughts that stir around in my head when I’m supposed to be paying attention in class. …but actually I swear I’m getting better at Portuguese. For now, you’ll find me stumbling around the city eagerly awaiting to see where this journey takes me next.
Until next time!