Written by Leah Mush
The evening was as hot and sticky as the caramel pipoca (popcorn) that I cheerfully shovelled into my mouth, mirroring the young children around me. I’d passed by this same kindergarten on a daily basis and been mesmerised by the sweet and salty smell of the popcorn machine, however a loud inner voice had always stepped in and said – “Don’t buy food off the street, you’ll get sick!” As I strolled home on my own, down the streets that were now familiar to me, I thought back to my first day in Rio… the difference made me laugh out loud.
*Insert wavy dream transition here*
I figured I had two options – drink the tears that were periodically running down my face due to my lack of sleep and total emotional breakdown, or risk consuming whatever microbes were populating the water supply here and just drink out of the damn bathroom tap. I had never been so thirsty, 27 hours of travelling has a way of drying you out. Going outside and purchasing a bottle of water wasn’t an option. I couldn’t leave my hostel, it wasn’t safe. I didn’t have a friend or person to protect me. How could I ask the guy behind reception for water when all the Portuguese I had learnt was left back in Brisbane, probably next to my swim suit, which I’d also forgotten? I didn’t have any money as I hadn’t been to a bank yet, or knew where one was, or even knew how to ask where one was! The way I saw it, my only chance of survival was finding some way to contact the other _SocialStarters people and see if they could come and pick me up from my hostel and take me out to get money and water. Pick me up… like a kid from kindergarten.
Jiselle and Andrea arrived at the gate of my hostel, and despite never having met them before, I embraced them both like sisters. They had responded to my somewhat pathetic group Facebook S.O.S message and had come to take me out for lunch (something which confused me, is it safe to just go out to lunch? Don’t we need a private car or something?) I was genuinely surprised at they way the confidently navigated round Botafogo, talking and chatting as we walked. In that moment, something in me clicked – it’s ok to go outside. Why had I believed otherwise?
I encountered the same response almost every time I told a friend or family member that I was heading to Rio – “But, isn’t it really dangerous? What if you get mugged? Be really careful, I had a friend who…” ect. I’d acted braved and nonchalant, unaware that their words were penetrating my mind on a very deep level. These words came flooding back to me as I shuffled into a taxi outside the Rio De Janeiro airport. It was 10pm at night, and although I had survived turbulence so severe that the food trolly had literally hit the roof, I was now 100% certain that I was going to be kidnapped by infamous roadside bandits on the highway. My heart was speeding as fast as my taxi driver, who had adopted a driving method that I can only describe as 10% road-watching, 90% soccer-on-mini-car-television-watching. Every time a car pulled up next to us, I panicked. I had literally everything for my 7 week trip with me, to be robbed right now would leave me with nothing.
Flash forward 4 weeks, and I’m sitting in a nail salon tucked away in a back street in Flamengo, my feet resting on the lap of a curvaceous Brazillian woman. I’d discovered it during a four hour city exploration date I had decided to take myself on. The premise – walk around and see what I find. Even though I didn’t understand the conversations going on around me, I could guess what they were about. Gossip, food and sex – the important stuff. Four weeks ago I would never have had the confidence to walk into a nail salon and ask for a mani-pedi, I had no idea how much communication could be achieved through exaggerated miming and goofy facial expressions.
As I sat there I couldn’t help but feel proud – I was a changed woman, with fabulous nails.
My time is Brazil has taught me a lot about fear and how it can hold you back from some of the greatest things in life. It’s only by pushing against your own fears, your pre-conceptions and your assumptions that some of the best surprises can be uncovered. It’s sad to think about how many things I already have missed out on because I was too afraid, and how many people look at places like Brazil and think the same things I thought before I got here.
I encourage you to take a moment to ask yourself the same questions, and maybe the next time you finding yourself facing some resistance – buy the damn popcorn and enjoy it.
Previously Published on: https://leahmusch.wordpress.com/2015/07/17/using-popcorn-to-measure-personal-growth/
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