“Never be so focused on what you’re looking for that you overlook the thing you actually find.”
This is from the book State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett, which I read voraciously during my week in Maceió. It was a week of giving up. I could say letting go, as that sounds more optimistic, but I’m a pessimist so I’ll go with the former.
Before coming to Brazil and during my first semester here, I had so many goals. I wanted to make a best Brazilian friend, learn Portuguese quickly and expertly, make myself at home in my city. I wanted a sexy moreno Brazilian boyfriend to teach me the words for parts of the body and show me Brazil through the eyes of a native, where life comes so much more easily.
None of these things had happened by July, and all that unhappiness followed by all that meditation and reading led me to one conclusion: I was bringing it upon myself by having unrealistic goals and standards for how people should be. This isn’t my home. People aren’t on time or even very reliable. Men lie shamelessly here. People make promises they never intend to keep. People are louder and step on your feet and stand in front of you without apologizing or moving. So I can fight it and be annoyed the rest of my year here, or just give up and accept it as an unideal reality.
Alongside this new revelation, I felt myself slipping into bohemian life while in Maceió, a lifestyle I always found alluring and very, very far from anything I would ever be. The beach was a daily destination, my skin growing dark and my hair light, dreading from lack of conditioner and caring. I didn’t know what day it was. The skin under my bracelets suddenly looked ghostly. I washed my underwear in the shower and wore dirty clothes for days and didn’t care. I thought after a month of travel I’d be exhausted by week four, but it only showed me that I was made for the beach. I made a mental pact to live on a beach in the future, no matter what it takes, but wondered if it would then lose its appeal. Maybe everything great in this world is only great because of its rarity, and therefore un-attainability.
On a tip from a Maceió-residing friend, my American friend and I watched the tide tables and headed out to the natural pools. These are clear, shallow pools formed by a sandbar two kilometers from shore. A man took us out there on a raft, the green ocean water lapping at our feet. We docked in a line of identical rafts and waded out to the sandbar. Children were playing, vendors were selling seafood, men were getting drunk. I bought a beer, then another, and my empty stomach plus the sun was a recipe for the lovely haze that came over me. We were told to avoid the ocean side of the sandbar, so we watched the waves crash against the coral, enticed by the danger. We did cartwheels and drank rum out of pineapples until, suddenly, our feet were underwater. I looked up and couldn’t see land, only waves crashing in what could’ve been 5 or 500 feet of water. I imagined what would happen if I got stranded out here, left behind by a negligent raft captain. I thought about sharks and jellyfish. I wondered if my atrophied arms could carry me back 2 kilometers against the current. I waited for the panic to set in, but it didn’t. I just headed calmly back to the raft we came in on, reveling in the warm pools as long as I could.
My last night in Maceió I found myself surrounded by Brazilian teenagers in our hostel lobby. Personal space was not a thing. My arms were touching them on either side, girlfriends were sitting on boyfriends, the temperature in the room was rising and all of them were laughing raucously at what seemed to be the funniest thing ever to happen in the history of the modern world, but was really just The Simpsons. I breathed in their soap-scented innocence and waited for the irritation that never came.