It seems like so long ago, because it was half a lifetime ago. At sixteen, I got on a plane and left my friends, family and country, even my language behind. Wearing a red, Canadian exchange student blazer, and holding back tears, I said goodbye to everything – sad, not because I was going, but because I was leaving things I loved behind.
A year seemed like it would be forever, but by the time the first weeks had passed, it seemed like I’d never have enough time to do all the things I wanted to do before our time was up.
In a year I saw more of Brazil than I could imagine and made so many memories. I traveled to the Pantanal region, went to see the Iguacu Falls, Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay (for a handball competition). I traveled to the southern tip of the country, to visit friends I’d met, and all across the Northeast of the country on a whirlwind trip that became one of the most important experiences of my life.
If human history, in some areas of the world, is measured in B.C. and A.D., I measure my life in these terms: Before Brazil. After Brazil. It was formative, transformational and completely changed who I am.
A few days ago, a sad event brought a flood of memories and people, from the past, from the far reaches of the world, together; our old friend, Erin, was killed in a drunk driving accident. In my mind she is still sixteen, just as I remember her. She was a bright light, and seemed to have changed very little from the fun-loving, warm person we all knew when we were sixteen years old.
The happy side-effect of this tragedy is that we’ve all been reminiscing, reconnecting and revisiting those wonderful memories – where Green Day’s “Time of Your Life” was our song.
Here are some of those moments, from before digital cameras existed. When 90 exchange students from over 20 countries spent 30 days together travelling across the Nordeste region of Brazil.
Beijos and muito carinho to o povo do Rotary1999.
Brazil 1999 – We saw the stadium where Ronaldo played and we toured Rio De Janeiro.
We met friends from Denmark, France, USA… and went on a cross country bus trip… taking our pale skin to varying shades of golden.
We took two boats out to Angra Dos Reis, a remote, unspoiled area off the coast, drinking coconut water, dancing to music and jumping off the side of the ship into crystal water.
We visited Lencois, Maceio, O Linda and other small towns, growing close to one another and breaking down barriers of language, gender and culture. I never felt close to my friends in high school the way I ended up feeling on this trip.
Being away from your family and friends, and all the expectations about who you should be, who you were and who you are, really let us explore who we wanted to be. And in all that hilarity and freedom we found incredible things. We were open to new knowledge and experiences.
There was a lot of posing. A lot of art. Culture. Silliness.
A lot of silliness. This is Anthony. He is from the middle-of-nowhere, USA.
And we had the moments every high school movie promises; there were the cool girls, the shy ones, the wild ones. And we all co-existed.
We explored cities and ruins, museums and forests. Not caring about trivial things like fashion, or Instagram, or Facebook. Because we didn’t have those things. We did have a whole lot of matching t-shirts.
And Muscle Poses.
We bonded over our home countries. Over music and dancing. Over our love of the beach, or reading, or sunscreen. Or over who saw the nurse most often (chicken pox, mono, bronchitis, Dengue Fever, heat stroke). But our alliances and flags were only superficial.
We beared it all. Making ourselves vulnerable. Having the best time.
We sang with guitars in courtyards in the moonlight. Danced at live drumming concerts and took the band back to our hotel. We partied in the treetops (literally) at clubs suspended in the trees. We sweat our butts off at outdoor beach concerts. We put sunscreen on each other’s backs, laughed at how much weight we all gained, signed yearbooks of memories and promises to each other.
We pulled pranks.
And we were better people because of each other.
I miss you, Brazil. I miss the life we had there. I miss that closeness. And I am forever grateful for the time we shared.