While traveling for 2 years in Latin America, I remember being asked what is our goal. I could make something up, say, visit all the countries on the continent. But the truth is, there was no goal. You travel because there is something out there that is worth seeing yourself. Because there are people whose life you can’t imagine, unless you meet them. You travel because you are curious. But there is no purpose, there is no inherent meaning attached to it.
We met Iabi in Salvador de Bahia, in the Northeast of Brazil. She has taken us to around the city, infusing her warmth and enthusiasm with insights about local politics and movies. Her mother Odomaria accompanied us – a graceful woman with sad eyes, she talked about her family, her city of Juazeiro, her college years living under the military dictatorship. We shared feijoada, visited the Bonfim church where Catholicism and Candomble, the African religious tradition, coexist.
Before parting, Iabi gave me a book.
Photographs of grimy children caught in a game, young men jumping in water one after the other in an act of camaraderie. Moments of time long-lost, of life withered. And yet, as I browse through this collection of black-and-white photos of Juazeiro of early 80’s, I’m struck by how alive these people are. As if I just saw this woman hanging laundry around the corner, her hair fluttering in the wind.
Photographer’s name is Euvaldo Macedo Filho. His life was cut short a few years after taking these photos. Iabi was 4 then. She has fond memories of her father. Odomaria doesn’t speak, her eyes do. You can tell, almost 40 years later, she still misses her young husband.
Young Brazilian photographer who passed away a year after I was born on the other side of the world. I swear, I could have lived 100 lives and still not encounter Euvaldo’s photographs. if not for a thousand of variables aligning just right. If not for that chance meeting, turned friendship.
In pursuing a career or founding a company, your actions are thoughtful, your gaze is focused, your goal is well-defined. In traveling, your eyes are wide-open, your discoveries are accidental. There is no goalpost, there are no achievements. The meaning emerges itself in the process.
This sudden connection of kindred souls. This bridge to other time and place. I didn’t plan it, didn’t create it. I didn’t travel to Salvador to meet Iabi and get to know Euvaldo’s work. The universe took care of arranging that. It was a gift, not a struggle.
In traveling, the meaning is generated by you responding to the world around you. It’s the same with children. No one knows why we are having them. Some cave it to society’s pressure, some get a fuzzy feeling inside. Whatever it is, there is no defined purpose, no a priori meaning attached to it. Endless money spent, opportunities lost, years of self-sacrifice… for what? No one knows exactly. But we sense there is something there that is worth discovering. There is someone worth meeting.
After they are born, you soon discover you don’t need to teach them a whole lot. They quickly emerge equipped with ability, personality and charisma. On a good day, when you have a small reserve of attention left, you take a closer look at this miraculous creature. He tells you he wants to learn Portuguese. Then he tells you a joke: “you are a monkey, so why are you on a plane?”. Then he tells you he is a zombie and you have to run for your life.
Your eyes are wide open. Your discoveries accidental. New meaning is created every day. It’s not a struggle, it’s a gift.