Almost 6 months on the road and I was getting used to meeting strangers. My little Peruvian bike piled high with gear and my very apparent solitude caught the attention of people on the road, at stop lights, gas stations, restaurants and pretty much everywhere else I went. I got asked to take pictures with hostel guests and workers, truck drivers and even border patrol. In this particular instance, I was at a gas station in the middle of Brazil. The guy on the right was from the area, but also happened to be traveling by motorcycle. We got to talking when he noticed my Peruvian license plate as I was packing up to leave. It’s always nice to chat with other motorcycle aficionados! Just then, the guy on the left pulled up right next to us. It was apparent that he had been traveling a long time. He had stickers and patches on him from Alaska to Argentina and everywhere in between. As he got off his bike, he exclaimed, “Is this the girl from Chicago?” I quickly looked over my clothes and my bike to see what I had on me that could have given away where I was from. When I realized that I didn’t actually have anything on me that said Chicago, I asked him how he knew where I was from. “Everyone has been talking about you on the roads!” he said. “You’re the girl from the U.S who is riding a Peruvian motorcycle around South America! You‘re so brave for doing this!” I stood there feeling a mix of emotions; surprised and confused, then honored. I couldn’t believe that I had come across someone in the middle of nowhere, Brazil who had somehow found out about me and my story. Also, he had clearly been riding for a lot longer and further than I had, yet he considered ME brave! Now that I am back in the states, I always think back on this as one of my proudest moments and I continue to travel (vicariously) by following his motorcycle adventure pictures and videos on social media! 🙌🏍
I never imagined myself going on a two day trip to the Brazilian Pantanal with 30 10-year-olds, but when the opportunity came up, I said, “Sure! Why not?” The trip was no doubt exhausting, but well worth it! I got to get up close and personal with some beautiful and rare animals, I visited a traditional Brazilian fazenda(farm) and shared some great moments with the students. By far the best quote from the trip was by one of the teachers/chaperones who exclaimed during the middle of a bonfire one night, “Quem jogou o dente da companheira no fogo?!” (“Who threw their classmate’s tooth in the fire?!”) 😂 There was really never a dull moment during the trip!
Since arriving to Brazil, I have thoroughly been enjoying the rich motorcycle culture here. My experience as a motorcyclist in this country has been quite different from my experiences in other parts of South America. For one, whenever I tell people here that I am traveling on a 250cc Honda Tornado, their reaction is usually, “That’s so small!” Whereas, when I was in, say, Peru, the reaction I usually got to that was, “That’s huge!” I worry less about my motorcycle getting stolen here because it is usually the smallest/dirtiest/most run down bike on the road/in the parking lot.
Another significant difference is that I don’t feel like I am the only(or even one of few) female motorcyclists on the road. The only other place where I saw this many female riders was in the very south of Peru near Lake Titicaca. There, it wasn’t uncommon to see local women dressed in their traditional, indigenous clothing riding down the highway on a small, rusty Chinese motorbike with a child/friend/mother on the back. I could be wrong on this, but I imagine that in most cases, the use of a motorcycle was mostly due to necessity/practicality and not necessarily because of a particular infatuation with motorcycles.
I have also noticed that motorcycling is a very social activity here in Brasil. It seems like every time I go out, I drive past at least 1 group of 5-15 motorcyclists who are riding together. Although this is pretty common in the U.S., it is not something that I saw very often in other countries in South America. Here, they even have public meet ups for motorcyclists to attend and meet other riders. I had the opportunity to go to a few Harley Davidson events here in Brazil, where I was very warmly welcomed and gifted Harley Davidson brigadeiro!
I am looking forward to getting involved in the motorcyclist community once I get back to the U.S. I think it will be hard for me to transition back to a regular schedule where I am not on the road 6-10 hours a day and it would probably help to meet other riders and be able to share my experiences with them.
I think it’s fair to say that I hit it off with the Casa da Arvore staff right from the get-go. Although it usually takes me a while to warm up to people, I felt very comfortable with them almost right away, even despite the language barriers. It was easy to joke around with them and also to have deep philosophical discussions when we were in the mood. At one point during my time at the school, I had the opportunity to attending an open house, where I got to listen to the staff talk about their experiences in education and at the school. During the Q&A section of the event, a prospective parent in the crowd asked the staff why they choose to work there despite the (very) limited financial compensation and one responded simply with, “Because I believe in it.” She explained that when she first started learning about the Sudbury model, it made a lot of sense to her and the longer she is involved in it, the more passionate she becomes about the model and the school. She said that participating in and helping run the Casa da Árvore community has added value to her life in so many ways and for that reason she would never trade it for another job simply for the benefit of better pay. I left the event feeling inspired by the things I had heard as well as energized and excited to get back to work in my own Sudbury community in Chicago! (Here are some pictures from an alternative conference that I went to with 2 out of the 3 Casa da Árvore staff members(missing Nadia!! 😢)!
Back when I was finalizing my Brazil plans, I got a lot of strange looks from people when I would say that I was going to A Casa da Árvore(the tree house) in Uberlândia(a generally weird name for a city). Based on my simple description, it sounded like I was going to some kind of place where Peter Pan might be found hanging out. Now, my time in Uberlândia has come to an end, and although I can’t say that the city has any physical resemblance to Neverland, I do believe that it had a similar effect on me that a trip to Neverland might have. And by that I mean that this was the place where I found my “clan”, my “Lost Boys”, the tiny(and quite possibly the only) hub of Sudbury education advocates on this huge continent. Throughout my time on the road, I have met lots of people and have had the opportunity to pursue many of my interests. But no matter where I went, I always felt like there was always something missing in my life. Now, after having spent a month at A Casa da Árvore, I believe that that something was a connection to a Sudbury community.
As so many people have struggled to describe in the past, one experiences a very particular feeling when walking into a Sudbury school. It is a feeling of mutual respect, understanding and acceptance of the diversity among people. It is one of the only places I have been where children are treated as full human beings who have just as much to contribute to the world as adults. From the moment I walked into A Casa da Árvore, I could feel these sentiments surround me. Even though I had never been there before, it felt like I was coming home after a long, tiring trip. It was great to be back in a place with people who see no difference between school and life, living and learning. And although I was technically in a school, I wasn’t asked to teach any English classes while I was there. There was, however, one word that I was asked to translate quite often and that word was “brincar”; to play. “How do you say, ‘Do you want to play with me?’ in English?”, a group of younger girls asked me on my first day there. Later that day I got asked the same question, but this time from a group of teenagers. And I was happy to teach them that VERY important phrase! ☺️
Although I participated in the Judicial Committee and School Meeting, was able to help out with some cleaning, and had some great conversations with the staff about running a Sudbury school, I wasn’t able to do a lot of the normal staffing duties. As a result, I had more time to just hang out with or observe the students. Although A Casa da Árvore has significantly less students than Tallgrass, it had the same feeling of busyness, everyone working on or doing something very intensely. There was a group of younger girls who reminded me a lot of a group of students at Tallgrass. They liked to spend their time planning elaborate gymnastic/dance shows, painting each other’s nails, giving eachother fake tattoos, and swinging on the rope swings on the patio. Sometimes they would get into arguments or disagreements, but they were also very good at working them out without having to write a complaint or get a staff member involved.
A ten year old boy at the school pretty much divided his time evenly between reading and studying video games. When he was doing either of those activities, he would do them so intensely that he wouldn’t even stop to talk or eat or do his chores(if necessary he would do them while reading or playing video games). One time I even witnessed him wash a bowl with one hand while holding and reading a book in the other. And when he wasn’t reading, he was studying video games. I say “studying” because that is truly the best word I could use to describe what he was doing. He would study 2 or 3 games at a time, watch tutorials about them, memorize all the moves of each player, look up any English words he needed to know(which was a lot) and play until he had mastered each game, character and level. I played with him a few times on my first day, but quickly stopped because I kept losing and didn’t have the patience to keep trying. This particular student also attends a computer programming class on the weekends at a local “geek school”, where he quickly passed up his peers in computer skills and now takes classes with mostly teenage students, which he has has no problem with because, well, he goes to a Sudbury school where students between the ages of 4 and 19 are mixed all day, every day!
The teenage students spent a lot of time talking to each other and the staff with intermittent playful interactions with the younger students. They helped significantly in keeping the school running smoothly by participating in J.C. and School Meeting and by reminding the younger students of the rules. A few of the teens spoke very passionately about the school at an open house one night. They said that they have learned more from being at A Casa da Árvore than they have at any other school they have been to and the things that they learn here(initiative, creativity, social skills, problem solving skills), they actually use in their daily lives outside of school.
I feel very honored to have spent a month at A Casa da Árvore and to have met so many wonderful people there! I hope to see some of them at future Sudbury model conferences!