Individuals can be said to be in a state of leisure if they simply perceive that they have the freedom to choose activities and are motivated by an activity for its own sake – John Neulinger
I’m feeling a bit “not at leisure” lately.
Do I have lots of free time? Oh, yes. Lots and lots and lots of free time. Too much free time, if truth be told.
But that doesn’t mean I feel free.
I have a new bike, which I thought would give me a bit more freedom of movement around the city. While it does give me a new mode of transportation that can take me a bit farther from home than my feet, it doesn’t mean that I can just go wherever I want, whenever I want. This is definitely not a bike friendly city, and dodging the already aggressive and lawless drivers can be quite an adventure. I’ve also, repeatedly, been warned by friends and neighbors alike that I shouldn’t go riding alone. It’s dangerous. My shiny new bike and my female body makes me a target for robbery and the assault that will likely come with it unless I have a man with me.
Did you get that? I need to have a man with me. For protection. And for self defense.
This pisses me off.
I walk a lot, to and from the town center, the market, and around local neighborhoods. I walk alone, and I never, ever feel relaxed and free while I’m walking. I have both eyes and ears wide open. I’m on alert. I am constantly scanning my surroundings, both for dodgy characters and for escape routes.
I love to walk and to explore. I love finding new parks by accident. I love the feel of sunshine on my shoulders and the breeze in my hair as I familiarize myself with more of the world. I can’t tell you how many people here have responded with shock and dire warnings when they find out I walk alone. Even Brian doesn’t like it. When I mentioned that I had walked through a neighborhood a bit far from home as we were driving through on Sunday, he wasn’t happy. He worries. He hears the stories too, and knows the risk I’m taking by being there alone. He doesn’t like it, and I can’t blame him, but I go a bit crazy in the house by myself if I don’t go out there and walk anyway.
And it’s not like he doesn’t have reason to worry. The one time I went to Rio without him, a friend and I were robbed at knife point on the streets of Lapa. We were lucky to not be physically hurt, but the shock of it, the memory of it, never really goes away for any of us.
A very big part of the problem is that there is no safety net here. There are no police monitoring the area, they are way too overwhelmed with bigger problems. I can’t just call them if something goes wrong. when I was robbed before, we tried to report it to the police and they refused to take our information. They pretty much told us that it was our own fault, it’s just the way it is, and there is nothing they could do about it anyway so they wouldn’t wast their valuable time on the paperwork for us.
We’re on our own here.
So, what to do? As a solid introvert, my inclination is to stay home. It’s very easy for me to get comfortable in the apartment with my internet connection, my books, my episodes of Big Bang Theory and Downton Abbey on the DVR. I enjoy doing yoga on my balcony alone. I’m taking an online class to better my teaching skills.
But I’m in danger of becoming a hermit.
Oh, who am I kidding? I am a hermit.
I love, love, love spending time with our friends and we’ve really enjoyed our weekend getaways and nights out with them, but those outings are only a small fraction of our days.
I’m finding myself missing my Houston life. I miss my friends there, and of course I miss my kids like mad, but I’m also finding myself missing the ease of conversation to be had when we’re all speaking English. I miss being able to be out walking, jogging, riding my bike or enjoying the day with my camera without feeling like a baby water buffalo in a concrete jungle full of predators. (That sentence makes me realize that I always feel better in actual nature, surrounded by trees and water. I need more of that, clearly.). I miss my photography group. I miss seeing and photographing my son riding his dirt bike at the track. I miss my Jeep, and the freedom it gave me to run to the mall, or the library, or the next town over. I miss being able to find what I want for a price that isn’t extortionate in stores that are familiar.
Here it feels like my options are so very limited. I have a few friends (well, two), but there is still no easy conversation because of my lack of fluency. I can have conversations, but it’s still work for me. I’m sure it’s work for them too as they have to struggle with my accent and my creative vocabulary. One of my favorite things has always been to just head out the door with my camera, but I can’t really do that here. Instead I sneak photos with my cell phone while I’m out, and I still get a lot of unwanted attention doing that. Imagine with my big camera? So that’s out. The more I feel like my choices are restricted, the less motivated I am to push the boundaries, although I think I feel the pendulum swinging again back towards the “I’m going to do something” end of things.
So, really I think it comes down to the fact that I’ve been homesick for a couple of weeks.
So totally normal.
And I’ve been here before. It will pass. I am still lucky to have this life we live, to be here, to have the opportunity to get to know more of Brazil. I haven’t forgotten that.
But it doesn’t feel like home, and I miss that right now.