Kyoto 1.22.17

My Dearest Friend,

My first semester here at Ritsumeikan has finally ended. The last of my tests have been taken and papers turned in. I now have two months to relax and explore Japan before my second semester begins.

This semester was difficult and full of new experiences for me. It has been my first time living abroad, my first time living for a significant period of time without access to a car, and my first long-term experience with a language barrier. I’ve met people from all over the world who speak every language I can imagine. They come from so many backgrounds and are working toward a myriad of futures. Honestly, it makes me feel small. I’ve seen and done so little compared to most of these people. I’m trying to learn Japanese as my second language, I’ve only been to three countries in the world, and I’m already in my twenties. I have friends here who worked abroad in high school. It makes me wonder how much I missed on account of being born in America.

Don’t get me wrong, I love America. I grew up there, and it’s my home. However, it’s not perfect. The rest of the world seems so far away and insignificant as a child in the US, but it’s not. The world is a vast and marvelous place and has much to teach us, both as individuals and as a country. Many of the issues that are tearing apart America have found various resolutions in other countries. Instead of fighting about what ifs, why don’t we look at the outcomes? As Americans, we like to look at the rest of the world as if it was still in the 18th century. We talk about freedom and our unique place in the world. Yes, we are still a great country wielding a lot of power. But where the rest of the world has seen great progress in the last 200 years, we keep looking back at “the glory days.” I love the foundation of our country and the ideals of our nation. But the world is not the same place as it was when we were founded, and it’s naïve to act like nothing has changed.

When I left America to come to Japan, I didn’t know much about the rest of the world. I thought I did, but I was wrong. I still know very little, but I know some things. And the biggest thing I’ve learned is that while the US has an incredibly strong military, we are not the only important players in the world. We don’t know everything, and in a lot of areas, we’re falling behind our peers. So instead of arguing about the precise meaning of a centuries old document, can we agree to open our eyes and start doing something? I’ve met so many people here who would not go to America if you paid them, not with the way our country functions right now. And I can’t really blame them. But it is my country, and I won’t abandon it, not if I can help it.

My friend, please try to learn something from my experiences here. I know it’s hard to see clearly from inside, but try. We have to do something, and we can’t all get up and spend a year abroad. All we can do is try to bring that global awareness back with us in our suitcases and share it. I miss you dearly. Hopefully I’ll see you soon.

Sincerely,

Kestrel

Capoeira & Me

January 12th, 2017

That Rochina Capoeira lesson was really, really cool to me. In the beginning I was really embarrassed and nervous. The first warm-up was running for Pete’s sake—that’s one of the only things I have never been able to do, especially without my lift! But as we went on through the lesson and even afterwards after the five of us relished in our secret fun that everyone missed out on, I was wildly impressed with not just Capoeira and its history, but how it was being used in neglected communities like Rochina. The thing that stood out the most to me was how quickly one of the Capoeira leaders stepped in to help me after I managed to communicate that my leg was janky. I cannot remember his name, but a guy came over and individually stretched me. We stretched our arms, wiggled our hips, and worked on balance—all in compensation for me not being able to do the first usual warm-up routine.

That means something. Those Capoeira instructors are accustomed to helping people at all different skill-sets and levels of ability be able to learn Capoeira in a way they are able to by adapting to their own body’s individual abilities. Take me, for example. I couldn’t run, I have never been able to. I was so bad at kicking and whatnot because I have poor balance. I couldn’t even do a cartwheel #1 Because I was really scared and #2 Because I haven’t done one in probably over a decade. And that’s saying something because I’m only eighteen! They didn’t care at all. In fact, regardless of how horribly I executed a move or completely missed one of the parts of the routine, they would still high-five me and cheer me on. And so would Emily! I’m going to go ahead and include Emily in this bit because she taught gymnastics since she was twelve. She knows what it is like to handle kids, let alone people in general, who are trying to learn and develop new skills. It is incredible how encouraging they are. They were dealing with a touristy white girl who looks as able-bodied as possible. Instead of trying to get me to perform at their expectations, which many sports do, they instead met me where I am. Even when we would break into the big circle where everyone got to highlight what they were good at, they made sure the skills I was going to show off were what I could do. I moved my little energy ball around like a champ, squatting like a master and keeping hyper-focus on the tiny orb sandwiched between my palms. Instead of asking me to do cartwheels like Emily and mega-kicks like John, they took me for what I am.

It was obvious that they didn’t just do that with me, though. There was a little boy, he couldn’t have been older than two, whose name was Phillip. Phillip looked like he had, in a blunt way to put it, something wrong with him. His eyes were too far apart to be normal and his face was a little distorted in other aspects. They treated him like they treated me, with a little extra attention and care. The instructors would take any opportunity to let me and Phillip highlight the fact that although we are different, we are still capable of doing anything, maybe just in a little bit of a different way. Four fierce five all discussed after the fact how we immediately felt as if we were welcomed into the Capoeira community with open arms. It is incredible what that Capoeira class is doing, even if on a small level. They are not only providing an alternative for kids to direct energy into a healthy, wholesome medium (instead of joining the trafficking community), but they are doing it in a way that is all-inclusive and non-competitive. Capoeira is also uber-cool because there is no age or even skill division. That is something I talked about in detail with my father. In our relatively large Capoeira class there was the Maestro, probably in his fifties or older who has mastered the dance/fighting activity, to people like me, a total novice in the field who I just having the time of her life slinging her body around and sweating her eyeballs out.Capoeira was way-cool for so many reasons. That is definitely one of the most memorable experiences from the trip.

Home & Reflection

January 11th, 2017

It’s officially the end. I’m at home coughing by brains out, praying I would herniate another disk because of it, heating the bejeebies out of my wildly congested ear, typing away with a TV on and a MacBook Pro on my lap, a sweater on my body, heat on in my big-ass house, with a peeling chest making me reminisce to the morning I dove under the waves all day long. Looking back on my time in Rio, it felt like one of the most real times in my life, but now feels like such a haze. I am so thankful that I took the crap ton of pictures that I did. With them, I am able to stitch together my experience to remind myself that what I now feel was an incredible dream was actually a piece of my reality. Of course the conversations have already dulled, but that’s the beauty of photography. It sparks feelings, and even more surprisingly revitalizes memories. Take my photos of Sugar Loaf for example. There is a huge difference between going to Sugar Loaf versus remembering the interactions you had there. My pictures help me remember the hour long conversation our group had about Greek life on OU’s campus and the jokes Daryl and I were already having about being soooo sunburned. I have pictures of the up-and-coming photographer, Alex, letting me photograph him for a change. I have one shot of him taking a suuuuper up-close shot of some tree in the Botanical Gardens on one of the first days of our trip. That jogs my memory into recalling all the times he came up to me with a mediocre shot of a boat or a plant he was thrilled to show everyone about—I definitely remember those days. I told him about the Rule of Thirds and looking beyond the thing or idea that caught your eye to add a little bit more context, using your environment to frame your own idea to guide the view through your thoughts. But I don’t think he was catching on. Haha!

I’m also starting to notice, soooo late in the game, that my journal entries are not particularly reflective on what actually happened during my time in Rio, but what those experiences made me think about and feel. Like the Selaron steps? Those tiles made me feel so freaking tired. I loved realizing how much I appreciated the art of Rio. All of that graffiti ALL OVER THE CITY was absolutely incredible. It was also pretty shocking. In a city so full of disrespect, I still cannot believe how none of the graffiti was graffitied over each other. There weren’t even gang tags over the graffiti. It was art that was so surprisingly respected! And it was GORGEOUS! I never even took photos of any of it, there was absolutely no way to capture not only the art but all of the ironic respect that the graffiti represented. How is it that in a society where a huge fraction of the people are so horrifically ignored that an art form, which degrades other art structures (architecture), is so abundant and accepted by not only the public, but other artists?! That baffles me!!

One of my other favorite things about Rio was definitely the Capoeira that we not only watched in Rochina, but took part in with a lesson in one of Rochina’s big community complexes. It was the day of the African history walking tour with Syd (where the information was great but Syd was scary). That was our second to last day in Rio, and when you combine a week of non-stop go-go-going, a woman who scared the bejeebies out of you, and constant 100 degree temperatures with a scorching sun, only four of us went with Caren back into Rochina. It was me, John, Emily, and Alex. Emily used to be a gymnast so she kicked serious butt, John is John and dominated with all of his martial arts study, and then Alex was….well Alex with his hyper-fast metabolism and skinny body that could do whatever it wanted. Then there was me. Ha! The struggle started with my shoes having to come off because of the matts we were practicing on—then the first warm up was running, without my lift in. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to do anything! But immediately a guy came over and worked with me individually, substituting moves for me when I couldn’t run or jump like the rest of them.

Looking’ Back

January 10th, 2017

I’m back at home in Ardmore, Oklahoma. I’m huddling inside not because of the blistering sun and sweltering heat I had become so accustomed to, but because I have come down with a gnarly cold. My left ear still hasn’t popped after a three plane flights, a Muscinex, and half a day of heating it—I can’t hear out of it at all any more. Haha! This cold all started the last day I was in Rio. It was one of my favorite, too.

It all started with me sprinting down out of my three-tiered bunk bed (after Kelsy got sick and we switched) because of the wicked diarrhea I was having for the first time on the trip. What irony! I stumbled into class seven minutes late for the first time in my life, accompanied with Emily and Kelsy who were either waiting for me before walking to class or just taking a long time eating, and noticed that not everybody was ready. People were just casually chatting, going to the bathroom, and filling up their water bottles and the like. I finally understood Brazilian time on the last day of class. Nobody really cared if something happened right on time. I was only seven minutes late that morning butI felt so disrespectful and like a total failure—and I was even having the worst stomach cramps since my childhood belly problems. I shamefully scuffled up to Erika and quietly apologized for my tardiness and explained my bowel problems. She was so understanding that she didn’t even focus on my lateness but just felt bad for my mischievous belly! Thank you for your kindness!!

We had a ying-yang class of emotion and seriousness that swirled around because the pressure of our last day all together. We may never, and probably will never, be together again. Even though Caren is coming to Norman in a few weeks, not everyone will be able to come, I am sure! We will all have to get back to real life. Our time in Rio was great—I’m already showing everyone I recapping my adventure to my new Capoeira moves and recounting my obliviousness about the open-air drug market I walked through without noticing a single baggie of weed or handgun strapped to the hip of a red eyed adolescent. I can only imagine what everyone else finding out to be the most memorable of their trip! In addition to the mounting sadness and the impending marathon traveling to another hemisphere, we had to finish off our last marathon class, too. That is something I really appreciated the entire trip, our class was almost never in class. I loved that. It made me realize how much learning there is outside of the normalized, traditional “classroom experience.” While I’m recapping to my friends and family the highlights of my adventure, I’m finding myself telling the stories of my time in Rio, not just what we learned in class. Even more interestingly, even when I’m talking about what exactly we discussed in class, I am explaining it through the fieldtrips we took.

For example, today I went to my hairdresser, it’s the day after I got back. He’s  a pretty cool dude who is relatively updated with some of the Brazilian happenings because of the Olympics. He is especially up to date because his kids were swimmers—he knew “all about” the favela that butted up against that particular section of the Olympic park. He told me about some swim fanatics he knew that got to go to watch Phelps rock the swimming world…and how they complained about how “staying in the slums to watch the Olympics was so expensive.” What? #1 He talked about the favela like it should never have been there and #2 When did outsiders get to stay in the favelas like they were hotels?! I definitely didn’t set him straight because I’m not a favela expert or anything, but I did go through and talk about how negatively the Olympics impacted not only the favelas but all of the country. Sure I could recount what I read in books like The Spectacular Favela, Encountering Poverty, or Dancing with the Devil in the City of God, but I’m already figuring out how much more impactful my experiences were than I thought they were going to be. It’s like someone knew how incredibly amazing this trip was going to be!

 

Journeying Home

January 9th, 2017

Still sitting across from John in the airport in Rio. He’s on two phones right now and that is a little confusing. Maybe the little one without a case is the one he used while he was staying down here (in Brazil) by himself? I haven’t seen him whip out the blue phone before now, and he definitely looks a little confused by it. I love this deductive reasoning. He’s also rolling his ankles in a funny way that does not look comfortable in the slightest. We should be boarding soon, I’ll ask him about the double phoneage then.

I’ll miss this place and its people. It is so damn fun to look up and see so many different patterns and colors on so many people who rock the bejesus out of them.

UPDATE: John didn’t clarify whether or not the iPhone 4 was the one we used when he stayed here by himself, but he did say that it is a phone he would be willing to hand over to somebody who wanted to nab it from him on the streets of Rio.

Back to the colorful life of Cariocas. Throughout my short stay I ever failed to be impressed by the lives of the people of Rio. Maybe impressed isn’t the right word. I think I was always surprised. Especially after reading Barbassa’s book, Dancing with the Devil in the City of God, I guess I was expecting everyone who lived in Rio to be moping around about how horrible everything is in their city. And Barbassa’s depiction was even before the Olympics, most of its destructive construction, and that aftermath.

UPDATE: I have officially made it back to Dallas, Texas, USA! However, now I am camping out in front of the bag service counter waiting for the Aeromexico agent to arrive—my bad did not make it back to ‘Merica like I did. Additionally, I developed one nasty cold on the way back up north and have lost about half of my hearing to what is lovingly called airplane ears. Whoohoo. I was waiting for my ear drums to rupture and anticipating what that was going to feel like. On the way from Sao Paulo to Mexico City my right ear never popped at all. That wasn’t too bad, just really unsettling because, you know, all that pressure has to go somewhere. But the worst was the three hour flight from Mexico City to Dallas. My ears didn’t pop at all. That wasn’t even the scariest thing. Once I woke up from a nap I was able to feel the burning pain stretching from the bottom of my ear all the way to the joint of my mandible. Guess what? THAT STILL HASN’T GONE AWAY. I stopped freaking out once I got into the airport, though. At least there isn’t any more altitude to provide an immediate danger to my ears. And I am hearing some teeny weeny baby pops!! Whoohoo!

972-973-4122

That’s the number of the agent who has been “coming soon” since about thirty minutes ago. Two different guys who worked in the baggage claim area called her a total of about six or seven times…with no answer! They both suggested for me to go through customs without my baggage to talk to the Aeromexico desk on the other side of customs. That’s a hella smart idea to design the baggage claim area with the people on the other side—haha! I was strutting out of the baggage claim to go sassily chat with some folks about finding my bag when the two men starting pointing at a lady walking in and shouting That’s her! That’s her! The women was moseying in at a snail’s pace with a cup of coffee in her hand. A women, who had also become involved in the hunt for my bag and the Aeromexico agent, walked me over to her and told the agent that I needed her help. The agent’s response was hilarious. She made a little disgusted look and said with a Mexican accent, “For what?” She was flabbergasted that someone would need her help! That whole encounter ended with me finding out that my luggage was somewhere in Brazil or Mexico and that I would get it back eventually. Good thing it’s all summer clothes!

More Photo Thoughts & Headin’ Home

January 8th, 2017

How is documentary photography any different from other careers that do indeed capitalize on other aspects of life? If capitalizing on other people’s varying degrees of life is wrong, why is it okay to write anthropological books? Both documentary photographers and anthropological writers critically document the world around them. And as far as I can tell there is no restriction to the anthropological world on what is “okay” and “not okay” to study. Syd, the person who showed us around the port area this morning (my writing is getting all jumbled up now) “doesn’t take credit” for her (I am assuming Syd is a female and will refer to her as a her for ease of writing—I recognize I am not sure of his or her gender identity) impact on uncovering and telling the world how abhorrent slavery was in Rio and the long-term effects that are still evident in all facets of life in the city. Her whole life has been devoted to studying and exposing that injustice—and she was going to write a book about to make money. She isn’t just taking a snapshot of horrific wrongdoings in a sliver of time, in or out of context, but instead detailing every nuance she can find and then interjecting her thoughts and opinions (although highly educated) with all of her work she has produced. Take her tour today for example—it was riddled so intensely with her specific personal ideas and opinions that Erika could not have her own opinion without being wrong. For arguments sake, now think about the photos that were featured in the New Blacks museum. They are images that were printed out after staging and photographing a scene of Legos. I do admit and recognize that the artist behind the camera had a specific intent when producing his or her work, but the photos themselves would have no definitive meaning without the context the artist chooses (or chooses not) to provide alongside the image and, most importantly, the interpretation of the viewer. Why is one form of art, don’t forget writing or even public speaking is an art, more exploitative than others? Writing and speaking are so pointed that there is little room for wavering around ideas. With them, everything has to be so explicit to successfully convey ideas with their intended meanings. But I see that the beauty of the visual arts, including photography, is that option to be vague that so many disciplines lack.

I’ll get off my soap box.

By now it’s January 12th—you know what that means. Leaving day. I’m in the airport sitting in a food court with Emily, Alex, Tom, and John (who is somewhere). He just got back. He has a gnarly looking sandwich in hand. He’s plowed through it in only seconds. Some of the other gang is arriving, too. We just saw Kelsy, Parker, and Daryl wander in. It took us a few seconds to flag them down. John and I are traveling together tonight. I lucked out big time. Thankfully, as I concluded earlier in this journal, I scream to the heavens that I am American so I haven’t encountered too many problems with a language barrier. My Spanish helped me a lot more than I thought it would, which was admittedly very low expectations to begin with, but I could read menus a little bit and I was beginning to be able to decipher what John and Caren were saying to some people—I still couldn’t pick up on Erika’s Portuguese most of the time! Haha!

The biggest struggle I have had in Brazil has by far been with the airports. After shuffling around for twenty minutes in the B terminal of whatever airport this is in (in Rio), I was told and read myself three different gates for one flight. I had the same thing happen to me in Sao Paulo! It is terrifying! I spotted John walking by and howdy-doed him to get his attention. He was definitely equally distressed as me about the game of hopscotch our gate is playing. I just remembered something, too! When I was trying to fly into Rio from the Sao Paulo airport (which I have now complained about three times, the gate did the same thing. The flight was a hodgepodge of different airlines the first time around, and it is now, too! I shared this idea with John yet. He’s a little intimidating to travel with—#2 because I can’t always remember what I’m supposed to do when I check in and that is very shameful to admit in front of a seasoned travel vet #2 he seems very edgy when he travels. Whateves. We have a long time of traveling together to think that through.