There is a reason they refer to Rio de Janeiro as “Cidade Maravilhosa” (Marvelous City). In fact its many reasons. Everything from the nature surrounding you, we say that the best architect in the world could not have designed the city and its landscape better than nature already had itself, the rich and vibrant Carioca culture, especially during Carnaval, to the way people live with with contentment and cheerfulness despite so many social ills, speaks to the absolutely marvelous nature of Rio and its people. Rio is the kind of place that never stops giving. There is always something to see, to learn, to experience, to do. It doesn’t always come at once, but if you are looking, if you are open to it, you won’t miss it.
I’ve been back in Nashville for nearly two weeks now and, much like other Lumos Travelers, I’m trying to wrap my head around the crazy, insane, beautiful, life changing six months that I’ve been away. Rio took me in, gave me a home, helped me to open up to new relationships with others, with myself, and with the world around me that had seemed so distant before. It showed me the stark, up close and personal realities of the social and economic turmoil that I studied in a classroom. It showed me a lifestyle and a culture that actively combats its own social flaws and its distorted world image. Perhaps most importantly, Rio invited me in to be a part of it all. It is in that experience that I made a home in Rio. I became a part of a family with my fellow volunteers. I became a sister and a friend to the children I worked with at Emarca and a colleague to the artist of Retalhos Cariocas. I became more of a companion and support to myself. Its hard to succinctly sum up all of my experiences in Rio, even after rereading all my journal entries and blogs, looking through pictures, and revising memories with my new and dear friends. But what I can tell you is that Rio became my home and my life, and upon heading to the airport to catch a plane (or many) back to Nashville, I wasn’t sure if I was leaving home or heading to it.
They aren’t lying when they say the adjustment period is hard. In many ways I think I’m struggling with returning to Nashville than I did with arriving in Rio. How exactly do you “catch everyone up” on the six months worth of crazy rollercoaster experiences you had in a different country? How do you describe what its like to work in a favela with kids that don’t speak the same language as you? How do you describe your comfort or your safety or your good and bad days? How do you describe what acai (a delicious frozen smoothie made from acai berries) tastes like or why you love it? How do you really get someone to feel and understand the Rio sun and the beautiful beaches and what hiking a mountain and and standing in awe of the view of your city looks like? Some of these questions may seem trivial but they are all memories and experiences I hold near and dear to me and want to share with others. I ask myself similar questions about being back in Nashville. What do I do next? Which path do I direct myself in? How do I transition from teaching art to and working with kids who live in extreme poverty, using whatever resources are available to working in a structured, resource-rich, institution? When will I get to speak Portuguese again? How do I get all the components of my life that I put on pause back together again? Again, some of these questions may seem petty and trivial, but they are questions that weigh on have weighed on my mind everyday since I have returned to Nashville.
Right now I don’t have all the answers, and most days I feel like I have none at all. I’m adjusting. I’m struggling. I’m happy to see my friends and family and my city, and I’m sad to leave those same things in Rio. I will tell you that, thanks to the Lumos Travel Award Program, Rio made a massive impact on my life and where I will take my life in the future.
For now I can tell you this: Rio does not and will not live in my past. It is something I take and will take with me everyday. Its so much more than just something I will remember for the rest of my life. My time in Rio lives on inside of me. My kids’ smiles, my friends’ laughter, and my heart’s love and excitement for the Cidade Maravilhosa will continue to grow, even if I’m not physically there.
Saude to Rio, Saude to Lumos, and Saude to all the future Lumos Travelers- may your trips be just as rewarding and fulfilling as mine was and may your hearts grow as mine did.