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Monthly Archives: January 2010

If I said that working in a language immersion summer camp had influenced my life, it would be an extreme understatement. From the very first summer, it was as much a part of me as I am of them.

So it may come as no surprise that as soon as I heard about the same camp opening an English immersion camp for youth here in Brazil, I knew I had to participate. For the time being, that is what I’m doing. For more interesting details, click here.

Tschauzinho for now.

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Dia 1 of our ano novo, I was at the beach in Salvador, swimming in the Baia de Todos os Santos, taking in new friends, salty sea water, and engaging conversation, as the beach near the lighthouse pulsed with energy and music. As the sun set on this new day, the entire beach erupted in cheering. I, too, gave a loud whistle and applauded the por do sol.

I loved it. Adorei.

After a goofy day of frantic but somehow successful travel I made it to Salvador da Bahia, to begin Vol. II of my Brazilian adventures. Traveling alone I never expect to find people I know…in fact I have learned to expect to not be able to expect anything. And yet….I ran into Mario* on the street in Salvador. Literally, turned the corner, looking for someone else, and I find myself without words but instead a goofy expression I can’t wipe off. I didn’t even know he was in the same city, but even then, the odds of running into someone in a full city are slim at that. I’ve known for so long that my life is full of beautiful coincidences. If it weren’t, I wouldn’t be here. Or, I’d just have very little to talk about.

Without much dramatic storytelling, I’ll write this one off as one off as one of the best New Year’s I’ve ever had, a mix of caipirinha, alegria, and gente boa. May 2010 be full of joy, good people and positive differences for us all. Feliz ano novo!

*For those who may not remember, I met Mario in Manaus, traveled with him to Salvador, partied in Rio, and then camped in Ilha Grande. New Year’s is always better with good friends.

On the plan to Sao Paulo, I sat behind three University of Iowa college students. They could have been three young people from Anywheresville, USA, but the growing line of Corona cans in front of them and the plastic gnome with a Hawkeye hat on one of their tray-tables were dead giveaways. It was funny to me because I looked at it maybe three times before it sunk in that this situation was beautifully novel. I have just left Texas, on a plane to Brazil, with my heart wandering all over the world at the moment wondering where “home” is, and I have the luck to watch my “kin” try to feed the gnome a beer. Ah, Iowa.

Coincidentally, I revert back to my book, which is about nearly the same situation. Almost.

I’m reading Bill Bryson’s Lost Continent, probably to the chagrin of my co-travelers, as I keep snickering to myself. It’s about his travels in small-town America, which he starts with a reminiscent lap through a childhood in Iowa. Really hilarious, keen, endearing depictions of Iowa make me think of my relatives, even myself. But after the disappointment of discovering the immense changes of his grandparents’ town that he remembers with fondness, he writes, “As I always used to tell Thomas Wolfe, there are three things you just can’t do in life. You can’t beat the phone company, you can’t make a waiter see you until he’s ready to see you, and you can’t go home again.

What I think that means is that you will never be going back to the same place of your memories. I love Iowa, but after leaving, it is not my home anymore. My parents are there, my darling grandparents too, but my heart is off wandering.

Iowa is in the middle of the biggest plain this side of Jupiter. Climb onto a rooftop almost anywhere in the state and you are confronted with a featureless sweep of corn for as far as the eye can see. It is a thousand miles from the sea in any direction, four hundred miles from the nearest mountain, three hundred miles from skyscrapers and muggers and things of interest, two hundred miles from people who do not habitually stick a finger in their ear and swivel it around as a preliminary to answering any question addressed to them by a stranger. To reach anywhere of even passing interest from Des Moines by car requires a journey that in other countries would be considered epic. It means days and days of unrelenting tedium, in a baking steel capsule on a ribbon of highway.

Though I don’t feel completely at home there, I do feel affection toward my homestate. I think I have to. It just wouldn’t be right if I didn’t. At the same time, though, I’m not from anywhere right now. My friends are in Minnesota, my stuff is in Iowa and Texas, and my Driver’s License is from California, while I am flying back to my temporary home in Brazil.

We explore, we learn, we observe, we challenge ourselves, and—hopefully—in the process we grow wiser. I think in that sense I don’t have to define “home,” but rather know that maybe if I know who I am, keep close those who are important, and remember where I came from, I will always be at home. Wherever that may be.

Where am I? Perpetual limbo is probably the closest answer to that question. I sat waiting to board the flight back to Brazil, wondering really where I was. I was just in the company of my long-lost friends, my dear family, my beloved country, for an intense two weeks, and now am wondering why I’m not more excited than I am to be going back. Sure, I want to go (uh, hello—Carnaval. ‘Nuf said) but maybe not now, maybe. I’m kinda in limbo, as I forever am, in between jobs, states, or life stages. Or maybe it’s more difficult than we can say to go home.

In fact, I don’t really know what to call home anymore—truly, for the first time. I left Iowa long ago, and though I have quite a few boxes with my name on it stored in a certain basement, it is not my home. Since Kate left St. Paul, I don’t have a fall-back address in the cities either. That’s what actually breaks my heart.

I told Crystal, while eating jambalaya at her house in St. Paul and becoming tipsy on the intense, energized friendship we have, that I have to stop this hot-cold relationship with the Twin Cities. I love being there so much, that I miss them when I am away (to the point of pining at times), so that when I return there I surround myself with beautiful, inspirational people that indirectly remind me that I still have even more exploring to do. So I bid farewell, and start the cycle again. I’m on the plane to the Brazilian St. Paul, heading to a place where most of my friends would go instantly if they could, and I’m thinking of how much I want to be in Minnesota. What is my deal? A conflicted heart is not easily satisfied.

If visiting your grandparents’ house was not good enough already, add in the few requested meals you’d love to have before you return to Brazil again, and you (or, better said, I ) almost don’t want to leave again. It’d been so long since fajitas, guacamole, and now waffles had sat in front of me. I could not have been happier. Thanks Grandpa and Gramma.

and the company was great, too. I’ll be back for more.

To Grandma’s house we go!

How good it is to eat Grandma’s cooking after a long time away!! Both Kate and I could hear green bean casserole calling out our names….I swear it was either that or the Oreo caramel ice cream cake. Or maybe I was the one calling to it…

A long-overdue reunion brought together much-changed people, and I think that I’ve entered a different relationship with my grandparents and my cousins. Playing games, chatting and just being together, it was a blessed Christmas. I am so thankful for my family, and truly, truly blessed.

I never thought I would attend a classmate’s funeral so soon, much less the funeral of an old friend.

In disbelief, my family and I went to the wake service early in the second week back from Brazil. It was like a high school reunion,my old classmates filled the church like we used to fill the bleachers at basketball games, but as cheerful as I might have been to see them, I was stunned. Why, Brett? Why Brett?

During the funeral service, when the congregation was invited to share stories of Brett Anderson’s life, I racked my brain for a charming story to share. I wanted to say something. I wanted to talk about you, Brett. I thought back to middle school TAG in Mrs. Schmitt’s room, squirreling away the sugar cubes we were supposed to be building the Parthenon with, but were going to eat during recess. I remembered cross country, as you’d chide me to run faster; I couldn’t be bothered to do that, though—there was too much gossip to catch up on at the back of the pack. Your hair flapped when you ran. Then there was band—the thing that personally saved me in high school—and you are there. Not in one, two, or four good stories, a few good moments. No, you’re there in all of my good memories of that time in our lives. Brett, you were a grand and good piece of my younger life, something that I can’t take out and replace with another. You were so good. I’m sorry I couldn’t say all that at your funeral. Brett, we all love you. We miss you.

I went to Brasil, Kate went to Ghana to spend her last semester abroad, and no one on my end believed that my mother could let her daughters do that. So when I was making post-Fulbright plans, feeling both saudades for home and a pull to stay in Brazil until Carnaval, Kate and I started conspiring. We thought ourselves brilliant to keep my return a secret, but as it all worked out, my mom “had a hunch.” Moms just know. It really all goes to say that we wanted to surprise the fam because we enjoy them so much. I also think conspiring makes me feel closer to my sister. Go figure. But man it was a good way to come back, full of intensity, even just for a little while.

Some of my former students hide behind their classroom Christmas tree, an ingenious invention by their teacher. I especially loved the ornaments. Merry Christmas.