Wednesday, January 25, 2017

On Kindness

I am reading a book called, "Congratulations, By The Way," by George Saunders. It's one of these reflection books, written by someone old and wise with the intention of passing on lessons to we, the young and green. In it, he writes, "What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering and I responded ... sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly." Which made me think back to a time where I not only failed to be kind, but was really an outright bitch. Now I've been called a bitch many times in my life - more often than not by my brothers, who in my defense, were always ganging up on me anyway. Now in my thirties, I don't even mind being called a bitch. Because as a famous comedienne quipped and my co-workers and I often quote, "Bitches get shit done." I'm not trying to defend every act of bitchiness with the pretense that I was misunderstood. My brothers will happily tell you that many times the title was well earned. But this incident has been something I will always remember with shame. 

In Basic Training for the Air Force, I was consistently paired with a girl who seemed to lag in all areas. I think we were paired because we were both entering the Air National Guard instead of Active Duty like most of our companions. This girl got on my every last damn nerve. Because if you don't know, in Basic Training, as a part of the mind fuckery, everyone pays for one person's mistake(s). And this girl was always making mistakes. And as the closest person in proximity, I lived in dread of this girl being noticed. 

As it happened, we were in our final days of Basic Training when the Training Instructors ease off from the role of Devil's Henchmen to the roll of Devil's Distant Cousin. And yet, this girl had to make life difficult. We left our dorms and were marching off somewhere when she realized she needed a tampon asap. Lo and behold, I was sent to accompany her back to the dorms. This meant we would have to leave the safety of our group and intersect the paths of unknown Training Instructors (who were always far worse than your own) and then try to regroup with our own flight. I was fuming. I was so fucking over my life being made difficult by this woman. 

I don't remember the specifics up to this moment, but while we were in the dorm, she turned to me with tears in her eyes and said, "Why do you always have to be such a bitch?" I was floored. I instantly hated myself. I was so focused on getting in and out of Basic Training, so stressed out from the mind games and lack of sleep, so aching to be out of there, that I never considered that she was going through the same thing. And that while I was constantly annoyed by her making my life difficult, I was in turn making her life more difficult. And to add insult to injury, none of her actions were intentional. If I'm being honest with myself, a lot of it was just normal Training Instructor "whatever you do is wrong" Catch-22 bullshit. While I, on the other hand, was really just a bitch. 

It's been 12 years since I went through Basic Training, and I still feel ashamed with my behavior. I feel ashamed that in a stressful situation, I was self-centered. I try so very hard to care for others and be empathetic and be an uplifting force. During that period, I was anything but that. I don't have this woman's contact information, but if she ever happens to come across this blog, I'd like her to know that I am so incredibly, incredibly sorry for the way I treated her. I can't say that I caught on to how awful I was as soon as I was home and the stress was over. I can't even say that I caught on in the next few years. But eventually, recently, I did get it. And now when I'm stressed out and feel myself wanting to lash out at the people who are making everything more difficult than it needs to be, confounding and complicating the things I'm trying to do, I try to think of how she looked in the moment that she called me out.

So, no, I'm not some zen master or the queen of cool, but I'm trying. As the book reminded me that when the dust settles, we are responsible to ourselves for failures of kindness, I hope someone out there reads this confession of weakness and uses it to rectify or prevent a failure of kindness on their own part. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Alcobaça - Part II

Where we stayed

Morning coffee with the Cubans

A quick car cleaning in preparation for the ride home

We're returning to our electronics - hurray!

Sandals, sandals everywhere

There were six boys in the house, so Nerf battles were a constant

Sleep where you can!

My SIL is too gorgeous

Coffee and bread - give me life!

Grabbing some supplies before heading out

 A giant whale to greet you hello and farewell!

Here's a classic picture of the endless passing on what constitutes a highway here. It's super dangerous and super scary.

These rock mountains are so massive, I don't think the pictures do them justice

Those are trees way at the top, for height reference

Where we stayed + some of the drive home. So sorry about the "through the window" car shots; it was a seven hour drive so we tried not to stop too much.

Just in case you guys were jealous about the luxurious life I'm living over here in Brazil, here's some "back to reality" photos about our trip. We vacation the typical Brazilian way - a thousand people sleeping on the floor of a friend of a friend's home. We were actually at a pseudo-cousin's house. My husband has a "Tia," Georgina, who is actually just a very, very close friend of his mother's. We stayed at Georgina's daughter's house. (Poliana from this post). They called each other cousins while growing up, although not actually related by blood or marriage. This is really common in my husband's family, maybe it's a Latin thing? There's always some mention of a cousin related by blood, marriage, or intimacy. I never know and I've stopped asking how people are related. Anyway, we spent almost the entire day, every day, at the ocean, staying at the house only to sleep and fuel up on coffee and bread in the morning. Our digs weren't fancy, but they were free. Just in line with our budget! Everyone chipped in for coffee, milk, and bread for breakfast and for rice, beans, and meat for our lunch/dinner barbecues on the beach. Most of the cost of our trip was for gas, but for everything else, we didn't end up spending much more than we normally would for a week.

For the drive to the beach, we left at night to avoid the tractor trailers and busses, so we missed all the cool views. (Driving on the highways in Brazil is notoriously dangerous, but that's for another post). When we drove home, I had no idea we had previously passed all these massive mountains. There is some pretty good information about how these mountains are formed here via Exploring the Earth and some scientific journal info here via SciELO. It was way too dangerous to pull over and get some shots of them, so I just took some photos out the window as we whipped along the highway. They're so huge and sometimes they are in groups, but often you'll see just a random singular mountain in the middle of a field. I really need to do some research on Brazil's geography, because it's absolutely fascinating. Farley wants to take a trip back to Alcobaça for Carnaval, but I might let him turn that into a guys' trip while the kids and I stay home. I need some time for the memory of the terrifying drive to fade.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Alcobaça - Part I

Baby bear is always in the sand

Uh-oh, daddy caught her!

Our crew

My beautiful niece, Julia

Our hosts guarding the sacred flip flip pile

Trampolines are a staple of Brazilian events

Maicon begged to walk on this tight rope, but I gave him a firm "hell no."

My sister-in-law, Maiara, and my niece.

"Mom, does this look creepy?"

One of our wonderful hosts, Poliana

As much as I really wanted to photograph everything - the thousand coconut waters, the grilled shrimp, roasted cheese, the drive-by concerts on massive busses surrounded by massive crowds, all the found sand dollars, the picturesque creperia, the bustling culture-filled nightlife in the city center, I wanted more to enjoy this trip without worrying about capturing everything on film. So I only took the camera out for an hour or two on a single afternoon. (And then again as we left, but you'll see that next week). I didn't get a ton of photos, but I did get enough for us to remember the great holiday we had.

Alcobaça is a small beach town that has a big tourism culture. It's picturesque and knows its crowd. While lounging on the beach, venders will approach you with various things to sell. They're pretty good about discerning whether they should approach you or not. If they do approach and you're not interested, a simply head shake is all it takes for them to move on to the next group. We ended up buying necklaces for both the kids from the venders, as well as a ton of food. We brought rice and beans with us and barbecued chicken, steak, and sausage on a portable grill. We stayed so long every day that the kids took their naps under a picnic table on some extra towels. The water was warm and the breeze was cool. It was the perfect place to ring in both Alessandra's second birthday and the new year.