What’s a comfort zone?

This past week I trained jiu-jitsu twice a day, every day, and spent a lot of time with the guys there. Friday after training, I spent some time with ‘the gringo crew,’ a group of four of us guys, each from different countries… Well, one is from California, but that might as well be a country of its own.

I took the night off in preparation for Saturday’s seminar, with the three founders of the Alliance Jiu-Jitsu Team. It was an event that had never happened before, and will likely never happen again. And it was worth every centavo. Although I’m still a white belt, I felt that the moves we learned will give me an advantage in matches.

Going to the seminar, particularly as a white belt, I felt so outclassed. I was one of two or three white belts there. At least 75% were highly accomplished purple, brown, and black belts. I was also amazed at the attention that Gigi and Jacaré paid the lower belts. While I felt undergunned in my superlatives, I also felt completely welcome at my skill level.

Jacaré even obliged me by stopping for a picture after the seminar.

Later Saturday night, I went to a party in one of the nicer neighborhoods in Rio. I’d been wondering why all the clubs were so lame here. Well, what I found out is that all of the cool people go to these parties. They’re independently planned and hosted by professionals, who rent a house for a day and throw these things.

My friend from school and I came to this, half expecting to be the only English speakers there. Well, we were pretty much correct. This might go without saying, but it’s a lot harder talking to girls in another language. I’m going out of my comfort zone in English, forget Portuguese. After doing a quick round at the party to get a feel for it, we were both a little apprehensive. I know neither of us feel particularly confident at this point, so I turn to my friend and say

– “Alright, we are totally out of our league right now.”

– “Yeah,” he responds – nothing more, we’re both on the same page.

– “So this is what we’re gonna do; We are going to walk this way,” I point, “and talk to every group of girls that isn’t already with a guy until we leave the party.”

– “Yeah, but do you wanna wait like 5 minutes?”

– “Nope, right now. Let’s go.”

We got shot down so hard at first. I was mumbling half-Portuguese, half-English, asking whatever stupid questions came to mind that I could actually translate. But after the first few groups, we got this cavalier attitude that only comes from having failed so many times. At that point, it was like “what’s the worst that could happen.” And at that point, it started to get fun. We just started saying the most ridiculous things, and it worked. We met a  bunch of people, probably some of whom we’ll see again, at different parties or to meet up. It was well worth stepping out of that small bubble of comfort we’d been in the beginning.

The proverbial bubble:

My only qualm was that  hardly anyone went into the pool. I unsuccessfully tried to start the trend. I also tried to get into the event pictures, but those were pretty much exclusively limited to attractive girls.

Can you find me in this one?


After the “pool party” ended, it moved to the backyard of the villa, where a couple DJs alternated between hiphop and deep house. We spent most of the time floating between groups of people we met there, and hanging out with my friend Filipe, who invited me, and his group of friends.

So that was Saturday. Sunday I went to church in the morning, surfed in the afternoon, and went to a hardcore punk concert with some of the jiu-jitsu guys, including the gringo crew. We had a sick time, moshing and pretending like we knew the lyrics, which – go figure – were also in Portuguese.

After that, we went out to Gávea, where many students go out for drinks on any given night. Around 1, we all headed home. It had been an exhausting, fun-filled and very rewarding weekend to say the least. And I needed the rest so I could do it all again next week.


How to make friends

Today marks two months. I’ve been busy lately. A lot of training, a bit of working. I’m looking at a couple of job prospects, and doing all I can to stay in Rio this summer. So I’m also looking for a place to stay from June until August.

It’s an in-between time. I feel like I’m transitioning from being an outsider to an insider. Up until now, I’ve been spending most of my time with other Americans, but this weekend, I got invited to a few events by my Brazilian friends. I don’t know if it was what’s called ‘culture shock’, but I definitely went through a period of alienation where I didn’t feel like I had a place here – either with other Americans, or the local Brazilians.

I’m glad to say it feels like that’s over now. It’s something I’ve gone through before, the struggle to find friends. I hate stigmas, and there’s a certain stigma in saying that people need others. But while culture (particularly American) tends to push the idea of the individual, everyone knows deep down that they crave connection and deep friendship. Maybe you’ve heard the saying: “every man is an island.” Well, the concept of ‘man-as-an-island’ actually originated from the title of a poem by one of my favorite authors, John Donne, who argued just the opposite. Man is a social creature. When we deny that, we lose a valuable part of our ‘humanness.’ In the past, and recently, introduced to a new environment, I’ve craved friendship, and pursued it for it’s own sake. But that’s not how friendship works.

Friends are those who have something in common with each other. And when I forgot that, I spent so much energy trying to force friendships that I wasn’t being fully myself, alive and pursuing what I enjoy. So, ironically, in addition to forgoing the activities I love most, I was missing the opportunities to forge solid friendships with those people I really do have something in common with.

Now that I’ve recognized it, it seems silly that I would have forgotten this lesson in the first place. But I’m grateful to have learned it again this time, hopefully for the last.

Carnival Post

I owe a blog post. It’s been a while (sorry!). The city’s finally calmed down after a hectic week of Carnival. So I’ll start there:

I had high expectations going into Carnival. I wasn’t really thinking about it before I got here, but everyone else was really excited. People kept talking it up. There are two parts to Carnival: the performances that everyone sees pictures of, and the blocos or block parties. The blocos were actually a really big disappointment. They are the reason the locals actually leave town for the week. After the hype I’d heard from many of my friends, I expected the blocos to be the wildest parties I’d ever seen, with great music and dancing all night long. In reality, it was thousands of tourists, with awful music, and .01% of the people dancing, while the other 99% watch.

The other part of Carnival is samba performances in the Sambodromo. Those were great. Groups of people in ‘schools’, sort of like dance academies spend all year preparing, practicing their routine and building massive floats in order to compete at Carnival. It takes days for all of the samba schools to do their routines, so my friends and I went to the Champions’ parade, which marks the end of Carnival, and where the top schools have an encore.

I’m not sure how to describe it. It was like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (which I’ve never cared for), but everyone was so much more passionate, even the crowd was drawn in by the music and creativity of the samba schools’ routines and costumes. The dancing was great, and the overall was entertaining as well. Each of the samba schools has a series of floats that pertain to a theme they choose. We saw themes like soccer/World Cup, the history of Brazil, and costumes to match. Tribal soccer players, pirates and slave traders were the norm. There were also giant shrimp, and bundles of wheat… not sure why you’d want to be that, but apparently it’s a big deal to be in one of these performances.

So the blocos… not so much, but Carnival’s main attraction lived up to its glory. I really appreciated seeing such a meaningful cultural production. Though, I don’t know that I would have gone for it if the crowd wasn’t so invested. The emotional and tangible investment that Rio makes in these performances is what held my attention and induced the awe that I felt in attending. It’s inspiring to see passionate people doing what they love.

That was my favorite part.



Tomorrow is the start of Carnaval. I’m exhausted from a long week of school, jiu-jitsu, and running errands around the city. It’s probably been about 4 miles of just walking every day. In that time, I’ve been able to really take in the city and the experience of travelling to a foreign country. And I’ve learned a few things so far, about Brazil, and life in general:

  1. Achieving a goal is not easy, and rarely comfortable.. Even when that goal is just finding your way around. Because of the language barrier and pace of living here, finding my costume materials for Carnaval took a combined 10 hours, where it might have taken 10 minutes in the US to order on Amazon.
  2. People want to help. They don’t always know what they’re talking about, but they are interested in being a part of the solution. It’s been challenging to constantly step outside my comfort zone and ask for directions. It wasn’t at first, but doing it repeatedly takes its toll. It’s becoming axiomatic that I just don’t know as much as I think I do, and I depend on others a lot more than I would like. Thankfully, I’ve found that people here are willing to be depended on – a lot more than I would expect.
  3. Your attitude largely determines the environment you find yourself in. When you smile, other people will smile. When you frown, other people will look away. It’s been weird seeing how much my outlook on life influences the actions of those around me. Things appear to fall into place more readily when I’ve been content than when I’ve been anxious. People have just seemed more, well, helpful. I think the help I’ve gotten when I’ve been happy is because when a person is happy, others want to take part in their happiness. They want to be a part of something greater than themselves, and they want to be a part of a story that they know ends well. When you are truly happy, other people can sense it. And they feed off that, because they want that attitude too.

It’s been really cool learning about the culture here as a different way of life, because at the same time, it’s been teaching me a lot about my own. That’s all as far as deep thoughts go for the next few days. Carnaval (officially) starts tomorrow.

Ilha Grande

Rio certainly doesn’t need vacation spots, but I can see why the people who live here visit where we went this weekend. Ilha Grande was by far the most beautiful place I have ever been. Its skyline is an endless array of overlapping islands, each one just as rich in color as the next. It looked like someone took all of the beach photos on Instagram and put them together.


The first day, we stayed on the beach and lounged until dark. Lots of swimming, and no sharks. Really nice plus about Rio – sharks are not a concern here. We spent time on the beach later at night, too. I wish I had a camera capable of long exposure because there were more stars in the sky there than I could take in. Because Ilha Grande is a protected area, electricity is only allowed at certain times. Past 11 o’clock, it was completely dark except for the moon and stars.


This was breakfast the second morning. The first day, we went snorkeling and saw some of the local wildlife. Different types of fish, coral reefs, and tropical birds were the most common. The second day, we went hiking to a large, sparsely populated beach. There we spent the morning and hiked back to go home. I’m constantly taken aback by the beauty here in Brazil. The same sentiments were held by many of us on the trip. There is almost too much beauty, certainly too much to take in, and it seems like a person should never get tired of such a beautiful place. We wondered, though if the locals did. For them, it may be the only place they know. I’d imagine if they went to the United States, they might ask the same thing: “How could anyone get tired of this?”


Just thinking from that perspective opened my mind a little bit to see that there is beauty, newness, and adventure everywhere if you’re looking for it. When I get home, I want to do a little more ‘travelling’, if only into Philadelphia, or to neighboring counties. Because what I learned in Ilha Grande is that there’s so much to see, even when it’s all so familiar.

Surfing this week + vacation

Quick post (nothing special here). This week was my second week of intensive Portuguese classes. Next week, real classes start. I’ve been attending class a good amount, but I’ve spent about as much time surfing this week. Every day has been overhead – double overhead waves. This picture isn’t mine, but most of the time, it looked like this (except bigger):


And occasionally this:


Initially I thought surfing here would be a hassle. I expected less consistent waves, and more aggressive people, but it’s been great this week, and I haven’t had any problems with the locals, It’s been nice as I’ve started to pick up the surf slang and converse with others in the water.

This weekend, all the students in my program are going on a vacation. We’ll be going to Ilha Grande, and won’t have internet. Photos to come.

Football (actually)

Yesterday, a few friends invited a couple of us guys to a local soccer (it’s football – you play it with your feet) game. There are four major teams in Rio:

  • Fluminense
  • Botafogo
  • Flamengo
  • Vasco da Gama

We went to see Flamengo and Vasco da Gama play yesterday. The game was held in Maracanã Stadium, the site of this year’s World Cup finals in July. It was hectic. Flamengo and Vasco are huge rivals. They actually separated the entrances and seating for fans of each team. The game started off slow, but it was entertaining nonetheless, because we were right next to the fan club seating section, Flamengo side. Chants all game. I heard that Flamengo has the rowdiest fan section of any team in the league. My favorite chant was one belittling the other team. It was something like “Ao ao ao, segunda divisão!” which means second division, because Vasco got bumped down last year.

Here’s a picture of the stadium:


Courtesy of Mohamed.

The game started to pick up right before the half when Vasco scored a goal. I felt the morale drop on our side. But that goal was quickly followed up on with a goal by Flamengo in the second half. Honestly, it was a questionable one. So then the game got interesting. Vasco actually had this, which the referee’s didn’t count. The other side was going crazy. Tension high, the score stayed 1-1 until 4 minutes left when Flamengo’s injury sub, Gabriel scored a beautiful goal.

Here‘s a recap of the game, in Portuguese of course.

So we left, Flamengo won, and all the people we were with sang their way to the metro. Great start to my experience of soccer in Brazil. We had an awesome time, and the team I was rooting for won. I just hope the refs are okay – they had to be escorted off the field by a dozen armed policemen… the Vasco fans were reeeallly upset.


Mohamed and I.