Thais has been on her way from Brazil for a few days. By a strange accident she has missed three flights, had to overnight in Paris and after all that lost her luggage. But now, as it seems, she is finally in Prague and on her way to meet us.
I am pleased to see her safe. She smiles when talking about her lost luggage and the staff she needs for her dancing performance at Prague Quadriennale. It is her first trip to Europe and first by couchsurfing. We’re sitting down in a cosy café, Thais orders a soup. Her host Lenka walks out to call the airport and chase after lost luggage and we start to talk. I have to admit I am curious.
What are your performances about?
We are going to work with make up materials pretending a picnic and interacting with people on the street. First performance is about a political moment we had in the seventies in Brazil. Now we live in democracy but can you really be what you wan to be? There are still other forces that say how you should behave, how you should dress, how you should speak. It is gentler, it is not legitimated by state, but it is still there. I see the body as a political statement. The way you use it stands for your worldview.
Can you give me an example?
For example those popular movements when people go to streets. People use masks or they paint in bright colours. This is the way how they use their body as a political statement. Also when you think of a gender, the gender questions. When you change your appearance you are showing to the society that you have the power to find who you are, how you are. But society does not really accept that. So there is a conflict. And standing in that position in that way of being is the political act.
It means basically doing what you want to do. What you believe is real, not doing something because fashion says so or the other people are doing it. But I think it requires a lot of courage, because you awake conservative instincts in people around you. So you have to be prepared to receive some strange looks, maybe some offences.
What is it like in Brazil?
It depends on where you go and people you live with. There are very conservative circles and there are liberal circles too. I try to be in the middle and not to judge either side. But it happens that if you are in a group of people who wear different clothes, different hair, maybe just wear earing it gets unacceptable for some group of people. It is more like tribes.
Is the dance a way to express your statement?
Yes, my dance is specific. I work on a project, which is exactly about that. It is about woman in a machos’ society, male society. It is about male privilege and how it feels to be a woman. How this culture of male privilege affects my body and my relationships with my body. I investigate that through a dance, by feeling, by having consciousness of feelings and connecting to the emotional and discovering meaning of this connection. I turn it into movement. It is working progress. I don’t know what is going to be at the end.
Have you noticed any changes yet?
I am kind of noticing a lot material memory from my personal life. I want to make correspondence with other people to see if there is something that happen to other people in their life as well. For example, women shrink themselves. Why is that? What in their life made them respond to space like that? They should occupy the space. They are not meant to be a thing and just sit in the corner.
I teach people to connect to body, and to perceive their feelings and connection. The next step is to develop technique where person can connect to memory. It is like finding a reason why are you shrinking for example. The first thing is to get consciousness of your body and than we can look for reasons. The third step is to take it out and dance with it. It is a big adventure.
And couchsurfing is deeply connected to it. As a woman I have a fear to travel on my own and to be in place where I do not know anybody, to be in a house of a man I do not know. As a woman I naturally feel unsafe. In Brazil it is really bad. The statistics say that Brazil is one of the worst countries for women to travel alone. So it is OK for me because any other place will be better for me. Couchsurfing is about breaking bounders of my fear. It makes me to discover ways of behaving myself and controlling my body.
Because I believe that from controlling your body, you can control your emotions. Than you can make the right decisions, do the right things. And it is very important when you are travelling in the places you do not know and that you do not speak language of. You have to use your instincts. And it is all in your body. When it is in the shade of your body, you cannot be aware of it. You need to control your mind, which is saying, “No, it is too dangerous. It’s not going to work. This way you end up missing the control.”
When did you choose couchsurfing?
I have known couchsurfing for many years now. My friend told me about it and I got registered but have never used it. I used it for this journey because I needed to make a cheap travel. Actually, it was the only way to do it. I chose people by their profiles, I read and looked for anything similar, interest, and common thoughts.
How do you know that the person is interesting?
From the statement that the person makes and I read the reference. But the reference are not everything. I have zero references and I am a cool person. Of course, there is not 100% insurance that the person is the right person. But I think it works in that way, that people who are in this social network are people with similar view of the world. And they attract the people who have the same energy, and the same vibration.
These people seem to be different. I wonder in what way?
Being available to receive a stranger in your home means that you are open minded and open hearted person, that you put yourself available to be with a person who will bring a different routine to your day. Like with Lenka. I have sent her plenty of messages and it did not work. So she had to rearrange her plans. You have to be open-minded to put yourself in this kind of situations. To trust that everything is going to be OK and that the things will work out at the end.
What makes people to trust?
Well actually I was mostly concerned about that. In the first moment I got concerned worries if the person I am going to stay is going to be nice or leave me in the middle of the city. But it is about energy. It might sound weird. I looked at the picture of Lenka and it made connection and I felt that it would be OK.
After I have arrange everything I got very happy, because I think it is much better way of travelling to know the places for real no the main stream touristic spots, which I do not really enjoy. I like stuff like this, coming to cafes where locals come. And it is much better that being in hotel. You have a person who can explain how to get around the places, metro and so. But you have to be available to get into situation you do not have to feel comfortable in. I mean physical comfort. You have to be open for that.
What do you expect to see in Prague?
At first I came to work and the two only things I have arranged in Prague are my two performances. I am going to spend a weekend in the city. Than I am going to spend two days in Dresden. I want to do nice things – drink coffee, walk in the city, talk to people.
I meet Thais for the second time after a week of her travelling. She greets me with a happy smile. Her luggage has been found and she can finally enjoy her own clothes, at least for the weekend. She flies back home to Brazil on Sunday and is sure that this time she won’t miss any of her flights.
How was the trip?
It was a big mess. I have missed three flights and it made me do things I usually do not do in a trip. Such as buying clothes and getting documents and finding my luggage. It was annoying to worry about that when you want to go out and do nice things.
But otherwise I can say it was perfect. All hosts were great and could not be better. The first girl I stayed with borrowed me her clothes. She helped me a lot and was looking for information. Than I went to a house of a boy who was very cheered up and he took me to clubs. I could have some fun and tried to forget about the stressing things.
I also spent two days in Dresden and I just arrived in a middle of a festival that happens once a year. It was like they were expecting me. I was staying in an alternative neighbourhood and the guy was alternative. Thanks to that I discovered places I would have never found if I had not gone there. I went to Berlin and I did a trip by bus and was just looking at the city from a window. It was nice. Now I am in a comfortable place with a calm guy. The guy left me with the keys and I can go home, take a shower and rest. Now when it is the end of the trip I am more tired than usual. I do not have to worry about finding places, carrying luggage.
I realise that couchsurfing is the best way of travelling for me. Because the most important thing for me is to get to know people and this is the way. It is not superficial when you are in a hostel. You see people, you talk but than you all go your own ways and do your things. You end up splitting. With couch surfing you are with people and you learn more about customs of the place, the routine of the city. You get information that is not easy to get.
Have you come across any limits of couchsurfing?
It depends. Each has its own limits – the limits of sharing, limits of space. I mean there are the objects of the house, food and material, staff. Some offer you everything; the others will not share tea. It`s important to notice that and adapt, change and make it work. I can’t get in conflict with my hosts. Otherwise the travelling is ruined for both.
I am very flexible. My own life made me very flexible. I lived in situations which most people would not like to live in. And I had to be OK because I had other priorities. I couldn’t freak out. I came here with the idea of being flexible. First requirement for being couchsurfer is to be flexible, because things might change. You have to be able to change with the things and it is important not get into conflict.
What is the life history that made you flexible?
I moved 6 six times in one year, 11 times in 8 years. First when I left my parents house when I was 17 to live in another city where I didn`t know anybody. I was a student so I went to a dormitory. But before I went there I stayed 2 or 3 months in my parents’ friend house. He was making me a favour, I did not have to pay anything.
But it was not a good experience because we got into a conflict. He put me out and I had to find another place. I found a pension but a crazy lady of the pension had a dog that pooed on the carpet. She wanted us to wash it so we got into a conflict again.
And then I went to live in the dormitory but to live there I had to prove I was poor. At first I couldn`t prove that. I don`t know why they thought my family had money. Then I went to another similar place and I said to myself “F… it!” I had to find a place. So I found it and there were apartments with 4 beds. There was just one boy and I asked him. “Hey, can I stay with you?”
I lived there for 2,5 years. At first it was just this boy and me. But soon two more boys joined us. So it was me and three boys. The oldest boy, who was ruling it all, started to send me messages as “you look like an angel when you sleep”. So I knew I had to get out of there. I was getting scared of being raped at night.
Two other places and then I finally went to live with another girl and it was really nice. We had conflicts but it didn`t ruin our relationship. I left after some time and went to live alone. Then my father came to live with me and …
You got into a conflict?
Yes, I discovered that my father had a personality that I did not know about. But we got along and then I moved in with my boyfriend. It was a really bad relationship. So in resume I have a lot of experience living with all different people.
Do you have a place where you feel you are at home?
I had the feeling when I lived with my parents in my room. But ever since then I did not get this feeling. When I was married I tried to make the house my home. I could feel it was my home when I was home alone. It is hard for me to see that there is no place I can call my home. And then I started to think that what I really need to do is to be at home anywhere I can. That is why I try to do couchsurfing.
I am a dancer and the dancer has its shell. Maybe that is the way to grow. It is that discovery how to make home inside of myself. Maybe that is the reason I am working with my body. This is the only home I have. I am sure that I will have it everywhere I go.
I do not want to move in my life never again. You know, things happen as a coincidence. That is the way in which the staff works. We attract people and situation that are in the same vibration. It is all floating in the Universe.