Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Tale of Two Cities, From the South Zone to the South Side

 Cantagalo, Pavao, Pavaozinho from Terere's House

They say home is where the heart is, but my heart has been broken up and scattered across so many cities in so many countries that it feels like I’ll never find my way back home. I’m moving again tomorrow… to the 4th place in 3 months. I’m hoping this place will be a little more permanent than the previous places I’ve stayed (Note: I stay places, I do not live in them), but in all actuality, I may very well pick up and head down south “sometime in the beginning of the year”. 

2 boxes, 2 bags, 2 suitcases (one small, one carry one), 2 laundry baskets, 1 TV, and 2 hours. That’s all I need to pack up all my belongings. I should be going out to watch the fights tonight with my team, but I’m too tired to say goodbye, too tired to work through the complicated explanations of the unknown rhythm and reason of my chaotic life (I’m also .too sick to stay out to 2 A.M.)

The other day, y dad sent me a text message asking for the names and numbers of the people I would be staying with… maybe I can use living with this time.  It was early in the morning and I was either ubering or on the long expensive metro trip into the city for work. I was livid. 24 hours ago I didn’t know if I would have a place to live come Monday. I guess it was mentioned that I would have to leave in November, but since it was never brought up again and since my life is a constant series of unfortunate events that generally require my immediate attention, I let other problems become more of a priority. My life is permeated with the constant tension of uncertainty.

Would I find a place to live, would I have money for the rent, could I find money to pay for the metro to get to work, could I get work, would I have to sign a lease, would I have to break the lease in a month and move down South, how much would I have to pay to break the lease, who would move my stuff, might I have to accept failure and move back in with my dad in Pennsylvania for the first time in over 10 years? 

I could be sleeping under the same roof as rapists and murders, frankly, I didn't care as long as I had a place to stay and a way to make money. What did I care about names and numbers? A simple are you ok? How are you doing? Or, have you had a nervous breakdown yet? All seemed like more appropriate, less infuriating questions at the time. I was walking. Into the cold and through the industrial park across the street from my suburban safe haven where I often worried about getting attacked in the dark of night. After all, there were plenty of big trucks and empty spaces to be dragged into. It was a 30-minute trek to the metro station. Then I’m sprawled out with my book on a metro train, two trains to get to my new “home”.  I sat reading and nervously checking the deposit tucked away in my pocket. I was supposed to be in Philly with my dad already, but I had pushed back my trip home to visit my family in the pursuit of money, I couldn’t afford to miss work. I could no longer afford the persuit of happiness that had dominated my time in Rio. This is America. Time is money. Money is power. Everything else is irrelevant. 

“Can you even pay the rent?” Jesus Christ. He must have been running down a list of all the wrong things to say, one by one picking out and accentuating all my insecurities.

Once again uncertainty jarred my senses, leaving me paralyzed in an indecisive purgatory. Trapped between the two cities that I love. My steps fell heavy with hesitation. I eyed the remnants of the old city that clung desperately to its place in the world amid the influx of overpriced, hipster coffee shops inhabited by plaid shirt wearing lumberjacks whose pants are too short and whose glasses appeared to be the spoils of a retirement home theft. Since when had the entirety of D.C. converted into an Abercrombie and Fitch ad?

Chess at Dupont circle in between where I lift weights
and where I go to BJJ open mats in the city

Cotton dollars convert to steel anchors that weighed down my pockets, threatening to tear through the material and root me in debt to a city that I love, that I’ve missed, that I just don’t know if I can commit to. 

I could use the money to run. I could wake up in two days, running on the beach with the summer sun of Rio beating down on my back. Running towards the immaculate form of the dois Irmaos Mountains that border the beaches of Ipanema and Leblon. I could run up the 27 flights of stairs that lead to the favela, through the dark, narrow, labyrinth of the community. I could run home, where I had a home, but no address, where no one could find me. Hidden behind layers of secret passages guarded by armed dealers whose eyes searched hungrily for abusive police that threaten their lives, for evasive opportunities that could lead to a better life, for noxious drugs to numb their pain. 

 Police patrolling the strip in the favela with M16s

But when I look up I’m confronted by the friendly faces of the U.S. marines that carry small handguns, instead of the menacing threats of the Rio’s military police that wreak havoc on innocent people. It’s my country, but I’m still not sure if it's my home. 

Redskins hat in the Favela??
My new room is the size of a jail cell, but its 9 minutes away from the metro, which makes it convenient. 5 minutes away from the marine barracks, which makes it safe. Without a lease, which makes it a non-threatening (semi) commitment. The only nice neighborhood in S.E., D.C., which gives me the opportunity to cling to my ghetto pass. 

My new roommates do things like sip wine, discuss new recipes, explore the vast reaches of the world on grant money, close business deals in Geneva, qualify for security clearances, have BBQs on the back patio, and host movie nights on the weekend… you know, typical D.C. shit. I used to frequent that world on a daily basis. I used to rock climb, kayak, and plan curriculum that addressed multiple intelligences, but I gave all that up when I went to Brazil. 

Now I’m haunted by the images of kids that sit anxiously with empty eyes, clutching empty stomachs.  They bear their teeth in defiance, barefooted and gaunt chested thriving on pride instead of protein. There is little difference between poverty in the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and D.C. In all 3 cities, kids struggle. They lay aside the innocence of childhood and claim rights to adulthood at too young an age. Their dreams are just as malnourished as their bodies and survival is the only aspiration in their life. 

Meridian Hill Park, my favorite place in D.C.
Two blocks from the academy

There are 3 main things that have helped me in making this transition. That have grounded me without anchoring me. That have guided me without judging me. That have helped me in ways that I doubt they even realize. 
They would be: 

My coach, Rob, that has understood and advised me through the whole process.  My multiple families that, although they may not understand me, have supported me, feed me, and given me a place to lay my head. Lastly, the Academy, that has opened their doors and given me a way to preserve a little piece of Rio in my life and balance out the tension of uncertainty that rules my life. 

My coach Fabricio Silva after winning BJJ Pro
Thanks to sponsorship sent to Terere Kids Project

Doing an academy visit at Milton Vieira's gym in Rio

To be continued… 

No comments:

Post a Comment