The alarm went off at precisely 5 am and I rolled over in my hammock and groaned, not only because of my lack of sleep… because that had been a consistent deficiently since the day I left for the Amazon, but also because today was the day I would have to say goodbye to all the friends I had made in the small town of Gurupá. As Cindy and I stumbled around in the dark, trying to roll our hammocks up and get our luggage together, our home stay dad told us everyone was already at the dock waiting for the boat. We set off on the cobble stone road towards the dock with our huge suitcases clogging and rolling behind us. When we finally made it to the dock the sun was just barely rising, and I noticed every other Brazilian carried a suitcase about the size of my backpack with them while our group’s luggage covered a third of the dock alone. Once again, in what seemed a theme of this trip, I felt very out of place.
It is funny, however, that in this small town where I felt so much like an outsider during the duration of my stay; my home stay family and friends still accepted me as one of them. As we said our goodbyes they handed me a DVD of the Indian Dance music videos to practice back in Knoxville… but little did they know that they gave me so much more than any Indian break down session could offer. Not only did they make me feel accepted in the time I desperately needed most, but they allowed me into their lives and let me experience living in a way so extremely different than what I was use to. They allowed me to learn something about each of them, and in turn learn a lot about myself. Now when I go back to Tennessee I not only always have the memories of my time with these people here, but I can also know that on the other side of the equator someone, somewhere remembers me.
Our home stay family in Gurupa
We boarded the boat and began on our journey, this time riding the entire way without a cabin and only our hammocks to comfort us. As much as I dreaded getting back on the boat, the actual experience was nothing compared to what we had arrived here on. I did not know if this was because we were riding a better boat back or simply because I had gotten use to living in a 3rd World setting by learning to look for the good in things that my once one-track mind had only seen the negative in. The bathrooms were still somewhat disgusting, the ants and roaches were still curiously crawling around random cracks in the wall, and the heat of the sun never loosened its intensity. However, as I sat in my hammock for hours upon hours and let the breeze from the river lull me into relaxation, I didn’t let the fact that my peripheral vision was blocked by two large objects, my parent’s rear ends in their hammocks, make me feel crowded or the sounds of babies crying and old ladies chatting loudly make me feel agitated. I realized this was all apart of life, and by letting go of my once somewhat high expectations of comfort… I opened up a whole new world of opportunities of happiness. I was able to smell the refreshing smell of the rainforest, watch the Amazon River fly past us, and take a break from life… deadlines, stresses, busy schedules… and just sway in my hammock and think.
I thought about going back home. I wondered what I would say when people would ask me, “How was your trip?” This simple question seems like it should have a simple answer, yet I cannot think of one word that can describe my 3 months here in Brazil.
“Great, Awesome, Amazing” none of these words even begin to describe my experience, for one reason because my trip was not always “Great” or “Awesome”. I had many moments of distress and frustration. I was constantly mentally stressed from trying to understand another language, I always felt like I was doing things wrong in trying to learn a different culture, and I struggled with living in poverty… something I thought I would never have to experience. But living with people who have less than I do made me not only appreciate what I have at home, but MUCH more than that made me appreciate what I had been missing at home… something I never would have realized if I hadn’t taken this trip. It took leaving my comfort zone to make me more welcoming to people of all different kinds. I got close to people who didn’t even speak the same language as I do, and realized friendship is more defined by actions than words. It took leaving my friends to make me appreciate the seemingly uneventful and stupid moments I have with them. It took having nothing to make me see that the most important things in life come from “nothing”. It took living strangely to make me see that no one is ever strange. They may live differently but their way of living makes sense. It took living with another family to make me see how important family really is. It took becoming my dad’s student to understand the meaning of teaching. He affects his students lives by opening their eyes to the world with every study abroad program he leads, and adding to that he opens the eyes of the people of Gurupá to another culture they would have never gotten the chance to experience. It took living a different life to understand the world. And it took becoming another person to understand myself.
So there is not one word that can describe this experience. Especially when added to that all the amazing sights I have seen and things I have gotten to do. I have checked off so many things on my life’s “To Do” list, and even added a few check marks I would have never even considered in my lifetime… such as riding in a canoe in the rainforest during a tropical storm or mastering surfing down a sand dune on a piece of wood.
“Great, Awesome, Rewarding, Exotic”… Since not one of these words can fully describe these last 3 months, I guess the only correct answer that can sufficiently and wholly describe living a life completely unlike my own and explain the question “How was your trip?’ would be…
It is something you have to experience yourself. And I hope everyone gets the chance to.