Her Juggling Feet

everybody's a nobody. and nobody's perfect.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Celebration

Am 25 years and some days old, and growing older by the minute. I celebrated my 25th birthday on the 25th of April, though we really started the night before. I like how these Brasilians celebrate: Jessica, the other American, made a banana cake layered with chocolate and nuts, and Lucas, this beautiful Chilean six-year-old boy, led me into the kitchen, whispering about a ´surprise´. All was very sweet and warm and it was a lovely way to start my Earth Day, as a certain father of mine likes to call it. The morning of the 25th, I treated everyone to persimmons for breakfast. The persimmons are at the height of season right now and are so inexpensive, too--about 50 cents for 5 of them. I bought 20.

I am also pleased to announce that the Caravan is complete. The other half arrived last week in two vividly painted buses, a solar kitchen trailer named Caricola and a Kombi van, kind of like a VW. We are a sight on the road and have the tendency to stop traffic. Which we did several times on our way to the other end of Sao Paulo, where our next community center was waiting. The roads here are not built to accomodate vehicles such as ours, so some of the Caravaners were out on the road directing traffic so we could pass, make U-turns, and the like.

So, we are now at our next Cultura Viva point, a samba school and training center in another favela in Sao Paulo. We are finally able to camp outside, so, yes, Grandma, I get to use my tent! Though I didn´t pack a sleeping mat of any kind--I thought that I would tough it out. Tough schmuff--no one wants to sleep on cold concrete, including me, so I have been sleeping on top of all my clothes, jackets, and my towel every night for cushion. I feel like I´m in the Princess and the Pea story, because I can still feel all the bumps beneath me, in spite of my layering attempts.


I´m now officially a part of the kitchen team and have been spending lots of time in the Caricola, squeezing in between the other cooks for spices or cooking oils. It´s solar powered, so our lights and music (a small boombox) are not contributing to global warming, though our gas stove is, though not as much. We have a haybox as well, which is an insulated box that continues to cook grains, beans, and what have you, without using any additional energy. It´s wonderful, I love it, and I recommend that all homes experiment with one. All you have to do is find a cooler and line it with blankets.

Last night there was a capoeira circle at the center. Capoeira, from what I understand, is a combination of dance, martial arts, and music that was created by Africans during their enslavement in Brasil, as a clandestine way to build defense strategies for escaping. A group from a capoeira school came--composed of almost all children. Everyone sat around a circle drawn with white chalk, hands clapping, while the two people in the the center of the circle sparred. There is no physical contact between the two, so it didn´t have a feel of violence. I sat enraptured by the song, the agility and grace, the dance of it all.

Okay, lest you think this whole experience is all roses, it´s not! I am learning so much, though, and am having to face a great deal of my fears. One of the biggest ones, I´ve realized, is my fear of doing the wrong thing, of looking silly or inept. So every day I am working on consciously not taking myself seriously. Because everyday I end up looking silly or inept anyway.

Tomorrow we have a circus workshop that I will participate in, mostly to assist in the juggling part. I have been juggling some, though my equipment is enroute to the United States, after much searching and frustration. There is a gathering of jugglers and vendors happening in the city come Monday, so I will be able to buy a set of clubs there.

As far as feeling connected to the community, it´s coming along. I have befriended Beate, a German-born woman who has lived in Brasil for the past three years. We have bonded over worm composting and organic farming conversations. A blessing, as she speaks English as well. The others, I am gaining trust as well, and especially with the people in the kitchen and the malabaristas. Some days I feel like my Portuguese and Spanish is improving, and other days, it´s all I can do to ask if someone bought more toilet paper.

I have so appreciated and valued everyone´s letters! I am thinking of you all. I feel homesick often, of all my different homes, of everything that has been safe and familiar for me. Sometimes I can´t wait to get back to the US, and other times, I consider extending my visa. Time will tell. I make no commitments yet!

Until next time. Love and blessings and lots of under-the-leg juggling tricks...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A week in Santos

Bom dia to you all as I write this in early morning. I´ve been craving a keyboard for the past week--it´s been a crazy, tiring, and growthful adventure thus far.

I have been travelling and working with La Caravana for seven days now. They called me last Tuesday and asked if I was ready to leave that very same day, in a matter of hours. So, I hung up the phone and flittered around, packing up all my things, running out to get cash, finalizing things with the school, and figuring out how to get to the rodaviaria--a bus depot of sorts--with all of my stuff (taxi and the subway).

So. I arrived. La Caravana (fifteen for now, with the other half on their way) was waiting for me with their packs, musical instruments, unicycles, and all. It was a whirlwind greeting, in Spanish, Portuguese, and English, and I was left spinning (and am still, though not as much). We had plans to leave for Santos, a coastal city about 40 kilometers from Sao Paulo, and instead of taking a regular bus, some folks were negotiating with a driver of a small van. We literally packed that van to the ceiling with our things, and crushed our hips together as we sat four to a seat, backpacks on our laps to boot. When we arrived in Santos, we were like one of those tiny clown cars in the circus, where more and more people tumble out, more than you think is humanly possible.

We stayed in a community center in the heart of a favela, the rough equivalent of a city slum or ghetto. We slept on the concrete floor with thin black mats for slight back relief, though we didn´t have much protection from the mosquitos or the humidity. That first night, I must have slept about 3 hours, the rest spent scratching, sweating, and spooling in my sleeping bag.

Our week was full (and my head was too, aching, really, with so much information to absorb, culture to learn, languages to translate...). I participated in a nutrition and cooking workshop, where we made bananas verdes--a green banana dish--and gazpacho, passing around samples in small mason jars. Other workshops included circus arts, theatre, building a solar oven with scrap material, massage, and recycling.

We operated on Brasilian time, which means you show up when you show up, and that´s when everything starts. Workshops scheduled for 9am start around 11am, and last until whenever. I have been challenged by this type of schedule though I am learning to flow. There´s a fair amount of rush-rush-rush and then...wait...wait....wait.

The people of this favela: we were welcomed with open arms. I was overwhelmed by the simple generosity and cheerful spirit of the community organizers, families, and children. Brasilians are an affectionate bunch--they kiss, whether you´re a stranger or a family member, and they touch, whether it´s holding a hand or pinching a cheek.

The work of La Caravana really invites play, conscienceness, and education in such a simple, yet powerful way. We spent one of our first evenings performing through the favela, led by a few community organizers. Dressed in bright, every-color-of-the-rainbow costumes and hands full with juggling clubs, rings, drums, pois, we danced and sang and performed through the narrow streets. I thought we looked a little like a gay pride parade, sans the leather. I loved this experience--felt like I came alive for the first time with La Caravana because I didn´t have to communicate with words, just with performance and play. Children joined us, adults watched in their doorways.

Our presence was a stark contrast to the reality of favela life. We were marching parallel to a lime-green creek filled with waste, and most of the buildings were squat and in disrepair. But honestly, no matter. I don´t want to romanticize any of this. My sense was that the people did not match their surroundings. Everyone that I met, and the kids especially, had a light, cheerful, and real quality to them. These folks dance and they sing and they know each other.

As for my own well-being. I am spent, and in spite of all the activity, have felt a little lost. Language continues to be my largest barrier to connecting with the community of la Caravana and with Brasilians. So much of my energy is spent translating both Spanish and Portuguese in my head and then trying to convey and communicate how I am, and who I am, in a mix of both languages. Plus, La Caravana consists of people from all over Central and South America: Uruguay, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Spain, Mexico, and they all have their own accents and speed in which they talk. So...arghhh. The first few days were the hardest--really felt like I was thrown in the ocean without a life preserver--though each day is improving. I´ve been participating in lots of inner-community theatre and movement improv, and that has been a good opportunity for me to connect with others.

We left Santos yesterday. The community prepared a meal for us on our final night, and we ate, danced, and then the other Caravaners performed a theatre piece. So now, we are back in Sao Paulo at another Viva Cultura point, staying in a community center in an urban favela. This center is quite beautiful, with a library, dance room, technology center, industrial kitchen, and auditorium. Such a different place than Santos where there was one computer, one office, and one large concrete space for events. The other half of La Caravana is supposed to join us in the next few days, and in the meantime, we will be giving morning classes and workshops for the week, buying provisions for the weeks ahead, and who knows what else.

The ´who knows what else´part is my department.

So for now, I am sending lots of love and warm thoughts your way. And please write! I would love to hear from you.

Until next time...

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Tangerines in the park

Brasil. I´ve been here for two and a half weeks and it´s been full. I dabble in many emotions and feelings: tired, excited, peaceful, a little freaked out, a little stressed out, proud, overwhelmed. I just completed my language courses this last Friday--I could have used at least two more weeks, but at least I have the basics down. I don´t feel completely incapacitated when I need to purchase a papaya. And I´ve been watching The Wonder Years reruns dubbed in Portuguese, which helps both my language skills and my desire for good, old-fashioned sitcoms with a young Fred Savage.

I´ve been staying with a sweet older woman named Juraci who patters around the apartment and calls me pretty girl. She makes me large jantars, always with rice and beans of some sort, with other more exotic textures, like manioc root, or patata doce, which is a sweet potato that looks like a thick white parsnip.

But over anything else, my taste buds have been celebrating the flavors of the fruit here. I get lost in the produce sections, smelling, touching, and wrinkling my brow at some of the fruit that´s grown in this region. I´ve fallen in love with fruta de congee, which is the Brazilian equivalent of a sweetsop, I think. Both the inside and the outside (green and bulbous) look a little odd, but the taste is lovely. Kind of like a pear, but more delicate and sweet.

My exciting news: I met up with La Caravana for the first time yesterday. They just arrived in Sao Paulo for an arts and cultural festival, which was pulsing with Brasilian hip-hop and samba, native art, and performances, films, and workshops celebrating the cultural diversity of the country. It was loud, crowded, and hot, but I managed to find La Caravana´s booth and tent. I immediately felt at home, like this is exactly where I need to be next. I only met half of the group, most only briefly as they were in performances or wandering about, but my immediate response was one of community, awareness, creativity, and juggling! I don´t think I´ve ever been so ready to juggle and practice and perform. People juggling balls, clubs, rings, and machetes in the grass, while others were spinning plates and doing the diablo. I may be the only female juggler, I´m not sure. The other half of La Caravana is coming from Brasilia, the country capital, after fixing some broken bus parts, so they are supposed to arrive in the next few days. I am staying with Juraci until La Caravana settles their plans in Sao Paulo. They´re a bit frazzled and disorganized, with a very central, consensus-based organizational structure, so it sounds like things tend to come together last-minute. But I was positively beaming as I left the festival.

The only thing that still hanging in the air for me is my juggling equipment. I mailed everything separately, and it has yet to arrive. I´ve been so antsy to practice that I ended up buying four tangerines this morning and practiced my ball routines in a nearby park. But I dropped one, one too many times (blast those back crosses!), and it cracked open, so I decided to take a fruit snack break.

I want to write so much more, but I think I´ll wait for another post. Overally, I am feeling overwhelmingly content, grateful, and blessed at the opportunity before me. Much love and blessings to all of you in the States and abroad...