Her Juggling Feet

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

Friday, June 30, 2006

How I Learned to Climb a Rock

Nossa. Where to start.

We have been travelling through the Mata Atlantica, a series of critical ecosystem habitat that hugs much of outer Brasil. I can´t express in words the things I have seen.










Much of this comes from my experience in a town called Apiai, placed in the thick of the Mata Atlantica, in a part known for its channel of caverns and caves.

We spent 3 days in a national forest reserve outside of Apiai with the intention of facilitating inner-community dialogue and personal growth. La Caravana, it seems, never stops moving, never takes the space to just be because we always have to be somewhere, doing something. So this was an opportunity for us to all take a breath, individually and together. I worked with Beate and Alejandra, a lovely Argentinian women, to coordinate activities and dynamics over the course of the weekend, and it went phenomenally well. The location was perfect--three caves were within hiking distance, with creeks and open space and tree-studded hills surrounding us. We started the weekend with a hike into one of the larger caves, with the assistance of a Brasilian guide. We followed him into this thin crevice of a hole, and then the space just opened up wide, lit only by the flame of our guide´s kerosene head lamp. Stalactites, stalagmites, drops of water seeping into our clothes...the walls, over time, carved in the shapes of faces and animal forms. Remarkable. We stopped in the belly of the cave and our guide turned off the light, and we all breathed in the damp silence, the denseness, the darkness of it all. I felt like we were in an ancient, ancient womb.

The rest of the day was spent in quiet reflection. Amazing the sorts of insights you can get when you´re in nature and paying attention. The following day, we circled and everyone had space to share something. Ankle-deep in creek water, I found myself facing some 15-some Caravaners, with a bromelia leaf as a talking stick, in tears. I didn´t think I was going to cry, but I did, and I am glad that I allowed myself the space to do so. There was nothing sad about the moment--I just felt this immense sense of gratitude well up within me, for this experience, these people, this environment.

We finished with activities in the evening, first doing rapid rounds of questioning of what-are-you-passionate-about and what-brings-you-joy, and then another exercise called the Gifting Circle. This is something that I learned at Lost Valley--it´s an opportunity to share feedback and information on a more intimate, one-one level. It operates on the notion that feedback of any kind is a gift. It starts with one person approaching someone who is sitting and has an object in front of them--a signal that the person is open and available for receiving feedback. The Giver sits in front of them, hands them the object, and then shares responses to the following questions:

1. Something I appreciate about you is...
2. Something I know about myself is...
3. Something that has been a challenge for me with you has been..
4. Thank you for listening.

It´s super powerful--we must have gone on for about 3 hours until only a few candles were burning (we didn´t have electricity). I think everyone felt enlightened afterward. I have discovered that when living in community, everyone acts as mirrors for everyone else. If I am having a conflict or a difficulty with someone, it is usually because it is a problem I am having in myself--the other person just magnifies the issue and reflects it back to me.

Anyway. We left in high community spirits, back to Apiai, to continue our workshops. We worked with the state´s Secretary of Tourism, Chico, who was our main guide and a gift to us all. He arranged for us to stay at the national reserve, coordinated our workshops, took Beate and me on a 30 kilometer road trip to buy raw sugar and molasses from a local producer, everything. His generosity knew no limits! I was so impressed, and touched.

In between workshops, Chico also took us on a day-long trek into the Mata Atlantica to explore another cavern. We spent 3 hours just getting to the cavern, climbing up and sliding down and wading through the trail. I long ago let go of the idea of keeping my clothes clean. We arrived at the mouth, a long low tunnel, really, with crystal clear creek water running beneath that reached almost to our waists. Frigid.

And to be frank, I was just about spent with caves. I think they are impressive and mysterious and beautiful in their own way. But I prefer sunlight and green space and soil and birds and wind. After an hour spent inside the cavern, exploring its depths, I was happy to leave. For about 2 seconds. Because we started this crazy ascent up the back side of the cavern, and I realized that I carry a very debilitating fear of heights. I was one of the last people to go, and I had no idea that this was the way we were choosing to return. In short terms, I had a panic attack. I mean, I am clinging to rocks, my toes pressed into loose soil, looking up up up as our group weaves across this incline of about 60 degrees. And then there are shouts from above that rocks are falling, and sure enough, one gets me right on the ankle, and then 5 seconds later, my other foot gets nicked. It was one of the slowest, most painful hours of my life. At certain moments, I just froze. I couldn´t put one foot in front of the other, couldn´t look down, couldn´t do anything. I have never felt so debilitated by fear. Chico managed to come up next to me, and Beate and Alejandra stayed in front and behind me, so I had this mini-caravan of support. When I made it to the top, wow, all the energy and emotions that I had stuffed to just make it up, spilled out. I was angry, I was tired, I was everything. I needed to yell into the space, so I did. We all did. We all roared and our voices sank down, echoing into the ground that we could just barely make out below.

I thought, okay, now is the easy part. But on our hike back to our buses, night fell, so we were trekking in almost pitch darkness, with a few lanterns for light. The air was damp and full with the scent of puma, a type of leopard that Chico told us about on our way in. I think, great. If I don´t fall to my death, I am going to be eaten by a great big cat.

Nothing of such occurred. We all arrived back to our base camp in one disheveled, but intact piece. And I went to bed and didn´t wake up until the sun was quite high in the sky the next morning.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

How I Learned to Flow

To the border and back again, though this time, I return to Londrina with a tidy bar code on my passport that gives me 3 more months in Brasil.

I breathe a big, deep sigh of relief.

It all started innocently enough. My friend and fellow Caravanero, Heriberto, and I were instructed to go to the Brasilian consulate in Argentina, fill out a renewal application, pay a fee, and get our three month extension. Heriberto had just three more days to get his extension, otherwise he had to leave the country. I, on the other hand, had two weeks, so the situation wasn´t as dire. So on Monday evening, we left for Foz do Iguacu on an overnight bus.

We both wake up the following morning to the bus driver leaning into our sleeping faces, booming in Portuguese that we´ve arrived in Foz, and that we´re the last people on the bus.

We wake up. Breakfast is papaya and pineapple in the depot, and then we take our first of two buses into Argentina. We then take our second breakfast at a tea shop, where we befriend a young boy, and invite him to eat with us. He has no parents, no siblings, just an aunt. I put on my clown nose and do a short three-ball routine for him.

From there, to the consulate. We wait, we wait, we wait--and our number is called! We explain our situation, our passports are taken for review, and Heriberto and I sit back and wait some more. And then, the silly plot thickens. I am called back, and from what I can understand from the Brasilian official and what he is pointing at on my passport, the Chicago consulate (where I applied for my original visa) wrote one word in Portuguese that says that my visa is unrenewable. Meaning that in two weeks, I am on a plane back to the US.

I want to cry. Or punch something.

Not only that, but we are instructed that this consulate doesn´t do extensions, and that we really need to go back to Brasil to a federal police center. And maybe, maybe, I could talk my way into getting an extension there, but the consulate official wouldn´t promise anything.

Before we headed back to Brasil, we found ourselves in a tiny shop that sells indigenous goods--not the kind that is sold at every tourist trap, but really beautiful, one-of-a-kind things. We strike up a conversation with the Argentinian man that runs the store, and it´s refreshing to talk with him. I notice that he is reading the Spanish version of the Alquemist and take it as a good sign.

The rest of the afternoon is spent on buses, at the border, and then back in Brasil, trying to locate the federal police station. We arrive, hot, sweaty, laden with our backpacks, at 4pm, thinking that there is still an hour until they closed (what the Argentinian consulate said). Never trust anyone with time! The station closed at 3pm.

We couldn´t really do anything more for the day in regards to our visas, so we focused our energy on finding the Casa Do Teatro, where we performed at the first time the Caravan was in Foz. We didn´t have an address or a phone number. We just got on a bus that took us to the city center, asked around, and managed to stumble upon it. Though it was closed too. However, we ran into one of the workers who said it would be okay to sleep on the balcony for the night.

We ate at a churrascaria, which is sort of a buffet-type Brasilian restaurant that serves lots and lots of meat. The buffet had a lovely array of salad items, so I ate well. Just before we left, a group of 20-something men come in, not saying a word, just gesturing prominently. I didn´t think anything of it until one man caught my eye--he is pantomining his heart thumping, then pats his face and bats his eyelashes. I realized that he was deaf. I also realized that he was flirting with me.

There was something about it that felt very innocent and sweet, so I chose to play along, though probably with very red cheeks. Heriberto handed me one of our clown noses, so I put it on, turned around, and winked at him. He grinned, and pantomined taking the nose off and touching his cheek. Well, shoot, what the heck! Heri and I were ready to leave anyway, so on our way out, I went over and gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. We were both laughing. He kissed his hand and put it on his heart. I pretended to flutter and faint. And that was all.

I am sharing this because I continue to realize that I can connect with people on so many different levels. What happens when you don´t have words--anything and everything!

The next day we returned to the police center. I was a bit of a bag of nerves, as I chose to cross my fingers in the hopes that they wouldn´t discover the blasted Word on my passport limiting my ability to extend my stay. So far, so good. They gave us both a list of items we needed to gather and present to the police, including a return ticket out of the country, the reference of a Brasilian individual, and photocopies of about ten different things. We had none of this, thus commencing a wild goose chase to track down all said items. As I have yet to resolve my flight back to the US, I ended up purchasing a bus pass to Asuncion, Paraguay, the cheapest ticket I could find. I don´t really have any intentions of going there at the moment, but come September 6th, I have options. One, anyway.

Gathering everything took the rest of the afternoon and evening, so we had to return the next day to present everything. We were the only ones in the waiting room, yet the process seemed to take forever. I was almost completely convinced that I would be sent back to the US--the wording was so blaringly obvious, now that I knew what it said. How could they not notice.

Through this process, I discovered how deep my desire is to stay with the Caravan. Yet I made peace with whatever decision that was going to be made.

Yet...yet...YET!!! For some miracle I can´t explain, only trust, the police center didn´t see the restriction, and instead gave me the maximum extension. Heri and I shouted and danced as soon as we left earshot of the building.

So. I stay for 3 more months.

I feel rejuvenated, clear, grateful.