by Joy Monger

A Brazilian man taught me how to make stove top popcorn.

When I was twenty my best friend died suddenly and tragically.

I quit school and looked for a place to hide.  At the time I was reading a John Grisham book that took place in the Pantanal of Brazil and it sounded like as good a place as any. So I bought a ticket to Rio (but didn’t bother to buy a dictionary or a map) and eventually found my way to a little town called Buzios, about a hundred miles up the coast.

Up until that point I had only been out of the country once, on my high school senior trip to Mexico.  I didn’t speak Portuguese, I didn’t have any money, I was sad and broken, and didn’t know what I didn’t know.  My poor mother.

But somehow the universe interceded and I spent the time napping and swimming in the ocean and watching lizards and eating mangoes and going on walks on dirt paths with stray dogs that only answered to Portuguese commands. I was given time to heal away from the watchful eye of my worried friends and family.  And I met people who took care of me and showed me secret beaches and brought me homemade tea and took me samba dancing and shared their dictionaries.

One night my new friend Alexandre stopped by with a soup pot and lots of hand gestures that looked like spirit fingers and kept yelling “Pipoca! Pop! Pop! Pop!” (he didn’t speak English) and I thought maybe he was going to teach some cool new dance routine and then make me some chilli.  But instead he taught me how to make stove top popcorn (pipoca) and we sat on the balcony watching the waves hit the cliffs and were just quiet.  It was perfect.

Nowadays I make popcorn every week, often times for dinner, including tonight.  It makes me feel peaceful and indulgent and thankful.  And it reminds me of the time in my life when I learned to love travel and trust people and just. be. in. the. moment.