Friday, August 19, 2016

Coming Home.

Coming home was supposed to be the easy part. Or at least that’s what most people think. I think people expected me to just slip back into my old life. Startup teaching, buy a car, take on a rent, and maybe even go as far as to finish my research. That’s what most people expect, but not at all what I had in mind.

The only reason I came home was because of two weddings. Nicole and Torryn who were house managers at Connection Rio got married in Michigan last week, and Nicole Hess, from MiKiDo my gym and second family in VA, is getting married in September. I would have missed ONE wedding but seeing as both of them were getting married, I decided to come home.

On July 21st I left Rio and flew into Orlando, Florida to fight in a kickboxing tournament. My mom, her good friend Cindy, and my Coach Rob O’heran flew down to meet me in Florida. I lost my first fight to the tournament champion but it was the perfect was to start the repatriation process. I think they may be 3 of the only people in the world that actually understand the crazy shit I do as opposed to the people that just smile and nod and patiently wait for me to come home and do something “normal”.

Repatriations a B*tch

Training with Mestre De La Riva 
for an article I wrote for Digitsu

In the weeks before leaving Rio I didn’t really have time to dwell on the fact that I was leaving the Favela where I lived and the social project where I worked. I had a lot of weight to cut, packing to do, and an apartment to take care of so I didn't have time to think about goodbyes or enjoy an acai on the beach.

I’ve been through a lot of crazy shit in my 3 years in Brazil, bouncing back between zona sul and barra, Rio and Curitiba, but I always had Cantagalo (and Connection Rio) as my foundation. I trained Jiu Jitsu with Fernando Terere at the base of the favela, Boxing with Mestre Claudio at the top of the Favela, Muay Thai with Jorginho in Pavao, and everyone knew me in Galo. As consistent as the dealers were on corners, and the cops on patrol, I was always walking up or down the hill with a kimono or boxing gloves strapped across my back.  If I didn’t have money my boxing coach would feed me, if I was sad Terere would cheer me up, if I need a fade with no money I’d go chill with Pato, when I needed a place to stay Barba held me down, if I was bored I’d post up at the Rock. Training was a sure thing, 3 times a day and on holidays I could always slide by Connection Rio. I had a million little hustles to bring in money when I needed it, most of them capitalizing on my fluid ability to switch between various languages and my knowledge of the city.

Translating private lessons for Terere was a sweet job, highly educational. I taught English, mainly to fighters but also while sipping corporate coffee at Petrobras. I took Ron Weasley on a favela tour where he caught a glimpse of a ghost with an Uzi and sat on a legend’s coach. I’ve sat on street corners at 3 A.M waiting for Dominicans from the Bronx and at post 9 on Ipanema beach for some bearded Argentines. I learned to edit videos from a guy from Wales while sipping on Starbucks coffee a few blocks from the beach and conducted my first interviews with some of the most popular black belts in Rio.

Admittedly, it was anything but easy, but I apparently I flourish at the brink of chaos and confusion.
I’m so used to leaving, it’s become second nature, but coming back has been an awkward and uncomfortable process.


1.    Meeting my best friend’s baby, my niecey, for the first time.
I’ve missed weddings, funerals, and births since I’ve been gone. Its crazy to see how my crazy ass friends have turned into parents!

2.    Seeing my family and friends (and their fridge).  
I’ve spent more time than ever with my family in the last 3 weeks. I was never really close to them when I lived in the country so it's nice to catch up.

3.     Food
You can get better food here but its hard to find natural food

4.    Traveling. 

Nicole's Bacherlorette party in Traverse City Michigan. I met 
Nicole at Connection Rio when I first moved to Brazil! 

Despite the fact that I have like 0 dollars. I have managed to get around since I’ve been back. I flew into Florida, went to a wedding in Michigan, I’m with my family in South Carolina, and I stopped by D.C. to visit some students before flying here. I have a fight next month so once I get back to Philly tomorrow I’ll have to rush straight down to Virginia for my fight camp. Then I still have obligations in New York and North Carolina.

 As my best friend says, I’m one of the luckiest homeless people alive.

5. Renzo Gracie PA
If it wasn't for the free training from Renzo Gracie PA the only BJJ close to my parents house in the middle of nowhere suburbs of Philly, I think I would have gone crazy. I only got in a few training sessions before picking back up and traveling again but without that safety net my transition back to the U.S.A would have been monumentally more difficult. Jiu Jitsu is very therapeutic.

The Bad

1.    My training routine. 

Training was guaranteed 3-4 times a day of the style that I wanted. Here there are not nearly enough training hours because everyone has real jobs. Plus… I have no car or no money to pay... Once you reach Carioca status, you don't pay to train in Brazil.

2.    My bank account
I never made much money in the first place but when you multiply Broke AF by 3.8 (that’s the exchange rate) you suddenly have a lot more money in your possession! It’s a lot easier to make dollars and spend them in Reals. I also have no hustle game in this country. In Rio, I always had a jeitinho or a little way to make some money.

3.    My Community

English class at the project. A constant struggle!

I miss my house and my favela. Its nicer to be broke but part of a community than it is to be broke surrounded by people with real jobs, car notes, rent, and 5-year plans that would never include working with poor kids in the favelas of Rio.

4.    The Bills
I want a car, but don’t want a car note or to pay insurance. I want a place to live but would rather spend my money traveling than paying rent. These are some seriously conflicting things that mess with my head on a daily basis. It’s hard to live in America without incurring massive amounts of debt.

Me and my brother at the Project with Juliana
who just received a kimono donated from a good
friend from New York!

Training with Alliance's Tayane Porfirio in Recreio

cutting weight with my coach on one of my last 
days in Rio!