The Arrival in Brasil

It is 30 degrees here in Sao paulo. I arrive and go straight to the hospital after more than 30 hours travelling. Emergency room. There is something comic about it. The man who calls out the patients does not manage to get anyone to come in. After calling out 5 people n a roll who seemed to have disappeared he exclaims

” i guess i should go call the patients in Deola”.

I stop to wonder for a second what is Deola and then I remember it is the bakery next door. i am amused. ” That is Brasil”, I think , “even the patients don’t take their sickness that seriously.”

All is so wonderfully informal. The way the fellow Brazilian/Lebanese who also needed a wheel chair in the airport starts to chat with me while we wait for our luggage. As soon as I mentioned I had been to Israel and Palestine he exhales with admiration.” Have you been to Nablus? What a nice place.” He then teaches me how to be able to go from Israel to Jordan into Lebanon by ” losing” my passport there.” Easier this way. ” Then he gets my email so that I can get tips on where to buy Humus, and Tahina, and Zaatar and anything Middle Eastern I might need here in Sao Paulo.

I had been enchanted by the cordiality of Udom, my Thai wheel chair carrier, then surprised by the intense energy of my Dohan porter, and had been relived to be welcomed home by Paulo the Brazilian one. He wanted to know what had happened to me, where was I, told me stories and then when he had cut all paths to make my way shorter, because my flight had landed earlier he told me not to worry he would stay with me till my parents would arrive.

It was not necessary as I could see my parents smiling and carrying me a flower as soon as I went out. When my father asked Paulo, the porter, whether he could take me all the way outside so that he could drive to pick me up, he offered to take me all the way to the parking lot so that I would not have to wait any longer. ” she has already travelled too much”.

It is a culture of exceptions, or “circumtiality” that creates many problems but also this feeling of easiness, of particularity, and happiness.

I am happy but slightly off place, mixing words in English, wanting to “way” people.

I had been travelling more than 30 hours but I somehow don’t mind at all going straight to hospital. The doctor looks at the X-ray I brought with me. He sees no reason for needing an operation.

” if you foot is as it is here you should be fine just with imobilisation. “

I feel a sudden rush of adrenaline inside my stomach. i remember every fall I had since I casted my foot. Every walk, and climbing stairs, and attempts to dance, and step, and hop, and climb. Could it possibly be that I managed to dislocate a simple fracture because of my inability to stay still?

I have to do a new X-ray. It is Brazil which means everybody asks you what happen to you and they all tell you what had happened to them. I want to kill the man who keeps telling me about operating my foot. He speaks with the confidence of a surgeon. He is just a patient thank god.

When I am brought back to the doctor have he exclaims ” the good news is that this is a simple injury and whoever told you have to operate is crazy.” I am relieved and terrified at the same time.

“What are the bed news?”

” There are no bad news.”

I am relieved beyond belief. I want o hug him and the whole world.

” In two months you should be ok do do whatever you want”.

I go back to my grandmothers home and I meet Claudia the new lady who works there. I had spoken to her many times before. I walk towards her to introduce myself. Before I even finish the sentence she walks towards me, flings her arms around me and gives me a hug.

I am slightly surprised. I am surprised that I am surprised? The truth is that I realise so many things seem strange to me. I am so affectionate by most standards in the world, I am so informal. But that what made me feel a little bit Brazilian abroad now seem like diluted here. And what is odd is all the rest that I picked up living abroad.

I am not very sure what will I do in Brasil. It has only been one day. It might even be that it is odder than going to Burma. Surely more strange than going back to India. Maybe that is it. Maybe there is truly never going back anywhere. Those are figures of our imagination. We are usually simply just going. Going “home” might just mean you go to a place where the social rules apply to you more, where the people expect you to know them. And some you do, but some have been trashed so long ago that they are just as odd as the ones that belong to the foreign villages.

There is just “going” I guess. I try to remember the beginning of India. one step at the time. Now this is a literal and figuratively thing. I tried to remember that it takes a while for the soul to arrive. I guess mine still is watching the sunset in the Mekong. Getting ready to float in the Gaia. One step at the time and I know it will also arrive here.

Departure

I write this from inside the plane. I am almost in Doha. Two of my 3 flights are almost done. I slept the entire time in both of them. They are usually narcotic to me. Buses, trains, planes any means of transport. This time it was not so much the effect of the plane but probably the accumulated emotion caused not only by my leg, the fever but especially by saying goodbye to my little place in front of the Mekong. I surely will miss the jack trees, the palm trees, the communal tables, the Mekong, the tropical Muesli, the Pad Thai and the sunsets. But what overwhelms me is not and probably will never be a place, for me it is always about the people.

As I hopped around in my crutches being followed by the whole of Mut Mee staff and some guests who became friends a cascade of tears streamed down my face. I feel so much love for this people. I have so much to be thankful for.

Ian who had spent 11 hours with me in Hospital and had come every day since to see me brought me a set of gifts. A package for the trip, three amulets and bracelets for me to give people.

” You are a giver my dear.”

What better gift could be given to me? They are beautiful simple bracelets I could put in the arms of those I love. The generosity of such a gift is indescribable. And so it was that a day before my departure I put a bracelet around the arm of every single friend I made. Every time I did I explained the origin of the gift and I “wayed” in the Buddhist Thai style.

Doing it to my friends from the Kitchen was the most moving as every single way was followed by a clumsy hug where I tried to not fall nor drop my crutches. every single one was followed by kisses and tears.

And then this morning the ladies who work in the Kitchen presented me with a T-shirt of Nong Khai. These wonderful women who work in the Kitchen Tia, Joy, Noy, Wii, Pook, kung, Man, Yong and Gaew do not make much money, they do not have spare money and yet they tipped in to get me a gift. The t-shirt was covered in messages in a foreign language to them so that I could understand. The amount of thought that went into this moved me beyond belief. While I was left in my room reading the shirt I sobbed. On the top it read “Memories are a treasure of the mind”. As I read this message I knew that that had been written by the always smiling Yong (who had once offered to rescue me from the rapist). I have never seen Yong not dressed in white, I had never seen her without a smile and not spreading joy around. Yong seems to be quite spiritual and very connected to Buddhism. Yong’s message was the most philosophical the others were pure emotion.

Then I got from Pook a handmade bag. A bag made of Mut Mee (which is a type of fabric). These bags are meticulously made selling one would be the equivalent of approximately one quarter of Pook’s monthly salary. She gave me one as a gift. A bag made by someone who worked with me at Mut Mee made of Mut Mee!!! More tears.

Wii as I was about to go showed up with a bag full of Guava which she knew was my favourite fruit.

My very dear friend Michal hearing about my accident hoped on a bus for 18 hours to come and meet me. I love Michal for her eternal willingness to question her own knowledge and assumptions. i love her for being the kind of person who pays attentions to the details. We had met in India in Mc Leod, we drove together in that bus that had an accident where a man died. We have had a million Palestinian Israeli talks. We travelled together after that accident until I left ( against her advice) India. She has taught me more Hebrew and about Israeli music then all of all my other friends together. We have laughed about every surreal situation to the point of exhaustion. Now on hearing about my accident she hoped on several buses for several hours to be able to see me… To be able to help me pack, shower, laugh and of course find whose fault it was that I broke my foot 🙂 I still think it is hers since if she had been more persuading I would just never have left India 🙂

As I was about to go I suddenly lost it. i started to sob uncontrollably. San, toothless homeless, also showed up to say goodbye. Julian filmed the whole parade. A handicapped hoping about being followed by all this loving people. i hugged and hugged and kissed people. As we made our way out and I saw all of my friends there, I saw Tia ( who is always so reserved) waiting in front of the Pavilion for me. Behind her was the Mekong. Next to me Nick carried my bags. As I enter the van I see my last last glimpse of the sunsets I have gotten used to admire everyday. It somehow seems so insignificant that my eyes go back to all these people who are there.

People who have not travelled for a while don’t imagine how profound can be the links you developed on the road. As I stood there I felt enormous love and gratitude. I felt part of it. Part of that little village where even the ex homeless guy bakes me a gift and shows up to say goodbye.

That place is mine not because I was born there, not because I married someone who had to be there. that place was mine because it is where people know me for what I am. They know me with all of my tears, insecurities, flaws. That place became mine because I connected to the people.

Nick takes me to the airport and flies with me to Bangkok. I don’t know how I would have done without him. Once I reach Qatar Airways, he waits for me to be checked in and for a wheel chair to take me to yet another flight. He hugs me and when I thank him he tells me to not be silly he would not have offered to come if he did not mean it. ” It was a nice road trip! if I had not come many other people would have. Tomorrow I ll be back to Mut Mee.”

In my last email I wrote I was certain I would meet other strangers who would help. I was right. As I am introduced to Udom, the man who is in charge of driving my Wheel chair he smiles and says:

” Do not worry Madam I will take care of you until you are inside of the airplane.”

I put my hands in a sincere “way” and say a fragile, exhausted ” Kopum ka” (Thank you).

He does as promised, he cruises the messiness and rush hour of the airport making sure nothing and no one inadvertently hits my foot. He wonders if I need to go to the bathroom, or drink, or have a coffee. And when he finally puts me on the plane he wishes me a good trip, a speedy recovery and a fast return to Thailand.

I have by now managed to get myself together. And I put my hands confidently in front of my chess and in that Kopum ka I thank the whole of Thailand. I thank every person I have met in Asia.

I have been living my life in the illusion of being open. I used to feel covered but always open to letting people go in. Yet I was always afraid of being hurt. Always afraid of being abandoned. So when they would penetrate me within I would freak out.

Leaving a PhD, a marriage, a life and crossing borders aimlessly crushed me so many times in so many ways. Weirdly enough when all broke down I found out that it is just better to be fragile all the time. In Portuguese we say ” a flor da pele” which literally means in the flower of skin. But I visualise it as being in a sense without skin, being raw without protections. It is a softer way of being. It is a scary way of being. You undress yourself of all the clothes, all the fears, and vulnerabilities you have accumulated through life. And then you stand there naked with all of the wounds, and marks, and broken parts. Then you just are. It is just so good to just be.

As I put my hands in way and thank Udom he is for me the embodiment of all of this transformation that has started to take place on me.

Udom is for me Asia and I thank it.

Kopum KA 🙂

Thank You

There were a few amazing things that have happened from me getting this accident. One I have talked about before. The enormous (and I cant actually put into words how enormous) help I have gotten here. I feel like the most spoiled of people. If I move people tell me not to. Whatever it is that it is their specialty I am offered.

The second thing is that I got emails from all over the world. My Brazilian friends and family welcoming home, my friends from abroad wishing me to go home enjoy my family and friends and hoping to meet somewhere in the future.

The third thing that happened which touched me deeply is that most of my friends wrote to tell me not to stop writing “Around the World”. Some told me they were addicted to reading the stories of the people I encountered. One of the things that made me really sad to stop traveling was not to be allowed to share stories. But I wont stop. I will keep writing wherever it is that I am.

I wish I could write about all replies that I received. You would not imagine how much they touch me.

When I read Carley’s words ( yes I could hear them), telling me she was going to be a granny to me because all the pain she had felt through her journey in Kashmir could not be wasted in vain. I felt blessed. When Mirte who was here for few days told me she never writes because she feels insecure about it but read all of my emails and was touched by it I was grateful beyond belief. When Sam who is in Palestine wrote me saying

“If I learned anything in my 40 years of life, I learned that no matter how hard life is, how painful it is, how unfair it is… It always comes with unplanned, unexpected joy… All our bad experiences, crappy feelings, we end up learning, feeling better and have the benefit of our worst experiences”

I felt the greatness of pain is that it allows for you to be compassionate even of some small problem. Sam lives under an occupation has been illegally held in prison for 11 months and yet he finds the time and compassion to sympathise with a “broken foot”.

When Carol who I have not seen in almost 7 years wrote to me to give me support and advice I felt thankful.

When Natasha who I met in India 4 years ago ( when I was then sick with my brain) wrote me inviting to come to her mothers temple in Brasil I was surprised she read my emails. Her reply was

“that she always prayed for me.”

I met Natasha in my first journey to Tibetan lands. When she was studying Tibetan Buddhism with high lamas. At the time she gave me an amulet that had been given to her by a lama. It was to protect her but she passed it on to me. I was speechless. I carried it with me for years till I felt my brain was healed and that I could pass it on to someone who needed. Just like it was once done to me.

Kica my friend in London wrote me several lovely emails to tell me things that come from within. Joana who I met here offered to come back from Laos to take me down to Bangkok and carry my bags. My dear dear dear friend Paula who I know since I am child wrote to say she was worried about me. A short message. To the point…enough for me to know she is there. My cousin Olivia wrote to wish me to be welcomed. Ricardo who I met when I was a child and have not seen in almost 20 years wrote me too. And so did many other people I cannot do justice here now.

This email is just to say thank you. To let you know I will keep writing. And that yesterday’s pain is already brighter.

I fly to Brasil on Sunday. My Israeli friend changed her plans to come and visit me here before I go. I will be taken to Bangkok by Nick ( an angel who is just going to take me and come back the day after here). I am a 100% sure that once he leaves me I will encounter other nice strangers who will help me along the way. At some point I will be able to help other strangers too. Some will pass through my life briefly. Some I will never see again. Some will stay forever even if we are not in the same place.

This e-mail is to say Thank You. It is to say that I am not a brave person as many people feel that I am. Once you put your bag on your back and cross borders you will realise it is way easier than it appears. It is to say that even though there are painful parts. That you do get hurt emotionally and physically. You do fall and break yourself sometimes. That you have to re-evaluate who you trust who you don’t. If you are open enough you will always encounter help along the way.

I am going home. I am now happy to go. But today I realise that I could just as well have stayed here. It is one more mark in my body, one more scar in my soul. I am learning to uncover it. I am learning to reveal it and attempt not to run away. It is difficult. It is painful. Some people look at you and they see it. When we encounter them we recognise our pain. We accept our fragility. When it happens you feel you will die but little by little that despair becomes familiar. And you know sometimes it takes simply time. And of course the support of those around you.

To those who wrote me telling me of their pain that they keep secret. It is true that it is us who must heal our own wounds. However, our fragility is what makes us human. Do not hide your pain. Open up in face of it all. Open it up. I guarantee that whatever reason it is you feel pain you will find out that we all feel it. And when you do you will like me find help all over. In spite of language, of culture, of social class. When you do others do it as well.

It is not a matter of being brave. It is just accepting our own fragility. Mine has taken me a long way. It has brought me to a world of gratitude.

This e-mail is just to say really thank you.

One More Trip to The Hospital

They say it comes in threes. I really hope that is it. I cannot take anything anymore. I wish I could write a positive e-mail but as I seat here to write my last e-mail of around the world I feel pain and sadness. There are of course, the positive things, the ladies in the kitchen who seeing my tears stream down my face tell me they are sorry. They want me to go home and come back in three months. There is of course the general help that I got since I stupidly fell on the floor for no particular reason leading me to be unable to walk properly. I first thought it was just not walk properly for a day, a week, never that I would have to actually cancel my stay here, and Burma and India. Never that I would hear from the doctor that I might just have problems walking in the future.

I entered the hospital in a good mood. I had been there 2 other times before. I had always been well treated. I only went because Mark, who I met at the LSE during my PhD, and who came here to visited me insisted I should. I only went because Ian, the Scottish 60 year old expat who I became close friends with during this 3 months stay in Thailand would not stop bugging me about it. I was certain it could not be anything too serious.

I felt a bit stupid to be dropped in emergency room and be put in a wheel chair. I could walk. Not perfectly but I could limp and hop about. And then I felt it was absurd that I should be given attention when around me laid lots of people with obviously more serious problems.

It went little by little. The first ride along the hospital in a wheel chair I was in happy mood. I observed the corridors. Particularly the one that had wood boards on the floor. It looked to me somehow like Latin America. I was in great mood and when Ian said that in worse case scenario I would have to put a cast and not go to Burma I was shocked.

Then I was brought back to the ward with all ladies and men lying around in beds. I like observing the nurses. They looked so friendly. I was certain I was there just wasting their time. But then I got to see a doctor and in broken Thai he told me I had fractured some bones. I had to be admitted to the Hospital.

I still did not know what on earth that meant so even though my eyes filled with tears I was still ok. Then came a lady to ask me to sign some paper in Thai.

“What is this for?”

I can’t understand anything. Not even what the letters look like let alone the meaning. Now I start to get nervous. I call Mut Mee and get someone who speaks Thai and English to talk to the Nurse.

“They want to do an X-Ray of your lungs?”

“Why”

“Because you might have to have an operation.”

Ok now I am shocked. Terrified. I am absolutely terrified of doctors. Of operations in general and especially of operations in public hospitals of countries I do not speak the language of.

The following 10 hours in hospital were nothing short of nightmarish to me. Not that anyone mistreated me. But it was this continuous guessing of what the heck is going on. People would show up with IVs, and syringes, hospital clothes. I who at first was terrified of needing a cast now was praying for one.

I could not contact anyone. I had barely any credit on my phone. Enough to send a message to the people I trusted the most: my parents, my brother and Haiko. They needed to call me. If they thought I should operate it I would swallow my despair and do it. But none of them called. My parents were not in Sao Paulo, Haiko just never replied to any of my messages, and my brother could not figure out what my Thai number was.

Life got significantly better when Ohn Ian s girlfriend an angel fallen from heaven arrived to translate what was happening. This lady worked the whole day and spent about 6 hours with me after work there. Being me I wanted to go. I felt bad to hold them there so long. She silently held my hand and said she would stay with me till the end. And that the most important thing was to find out what was happening.

Life got significantly better when my brother called me and told me to come home. He told me calmly to just fly home as soon as I could. Having an operation in a public hospital in a country you do not speak the language of was for him completely out the question. That calmed me down. As elitist as it was I felt safe by the fact he also though it was legitimate to want to be somewhere you actually can read the consent for you are signing. Still took several hours till I was now driven around in a bed seeing the different colours of the ceiling. Seeing the families of patients camping under mosquitoes nets around corridors. Still took a while till I could understand from the doctor that I should operate, and that I would be in a cast for the following months and any plans to go to India and Burma should be canceled.

I asked him whether I should operate that night. He said it would be better but he would understand if I wanted to do somewhere else. They were not specialists and being home would be easier for me. I tried to gently say to Ians girlfriend and the doctor that it was not that I was not trusting of the Thai hospital. I was actually incredibly impressed by the conditions of a public hospital in Thailand. It was simply that I was terrified I needed to talk to my parents first. They understood. It took several other hours. I fell asleep while Ian, his girlfriend and Buck my friend stayed around. Mark had to go away he had a flight to catch. I was taken home put in bed given numbers.

I was and still am being helped by every single person here. As I sat to write this earlier on, Tia, the head chef, hugged me. She is usually very reserved. She just said “ I am really sorry Julieta. I like you very much. You go home and get better then come back to Mut Mee.” My eyes fill with tears. Tears that do not stop. Joy comes to hug me too. Then Wii blows magic spell. So does Yong. Then Kung and Pook. “Keep your window open and shout we do everything for you.” I cry some more. Then Om says she will pack all my things for me and take to the post office since I cannot carry anything in this flight. Then Nick offers to come with me to Bangkok to put me on the plane with my luggage. “It is too much Nick” “I would not offer if I did not want to do it.” So my eyes have more and more tears. Yesterday when I thought it was nothing and kept working I had already gotten help from the whole of guesthouse. Guests and staff.

So I have pain and sadness but everything might also be an opportunity to grow. When my parents finally manage to reach me my mom says “ I am sad you are hurt but I am very happy you are coming home.” Sam, my Palestinian friend has been telling me to go home for ages now. “I have a feeling you have to be home now.” He always says. Maybe he is right. Maybe it is time for me to be home. It has been almost 11 years I left. Although I am about to leave Thailand with a broken foot. Although I am sad I will have to postpone it all I feel enormous gratitude for those I encountered on the way. So many of you are on this list. I thank you all. Thanks for reading. Thanks for writing. Thanks for having made one way or another my life richer. Thanks for augmenting my eternal faith in humanity. In the kindness of strangers. In the ability we all have to change for better someone else’s day. In special today I must thank Ian for making me go to Hospital and staying more than 11 hours there cheering me up. Ohn for translating my fears and calming me down in hospital. And Mark for the silent words. Thank you