The Ayahuasca Revenge

When you see poverty, it’s sad. When you live it, it’s brutal. If you’re lucky enough in your life to make some money and change your situation — and that’s luck and luck alone — the memory of your poor days sticks with you. It builds your personality, adjusts your point of view — it becomes your foundation. It’s like you’re made out of struggle.

I’ve been poor a good chunk of my life. I started making money doing comedy. I started doing comedy in Brazil about eleven years ago, and I was lucky to make some money out of it. Comedy gave me a new life: besides money, comedy forces me to work on my self-esteem and to put myself out there with less and less fear. Picking up a microphone and going onstage demands confidence, something people who were raised poor don’t have. I don’t even remember knowing someone with self-esteem growing up.

If no one ever taught you to love yourself, you have to learn the basics of it on your own. When you don’t have self-esteem the only thing you know is that you’re less than others, that you don’t have what others do — and you won’t. You think you’re in that situation because you’re worse than others. It takes a while to understand that bad things can happen to good people. You tend to think that bad things happening to you is right, it’s your fault. Accepting the good things that happened to me has always been a challenge.

When I was twenty I was admitted in the best university in Brazil: University of São Paulo. But I didn’t feel I was good enough. Most students were rich, had studied abroad, spoke two or three languages. I had always been a good student in the countryside, but being in the biggest city of the country among the intellectual elite was grueling. It was so hard on my confidence that I started stuttering. I lost the confidence to speak.

Besides having to catch up with all those students who were ahead of me, I also had to deal with a self developed stuttering. Of course I had no money to go to a speech therapist: I had a shitty job that allowed me to pay only rent and one meal per day. Not even an actual meal: I had money for a hot dog a day. It was my dinner. For breakfast and lunch, I’d go to supermarkets and eat samples. I’d wake up 5am everyday to study for three hours before going to work, then I’d go to work, then I’d go to classes — and for a while I also had a stuttering to fix. I avoided speaking at all. It took me months to find strength to fight the stuttering. I started by rehearsing a phrase fifty times at home until I’d be able to say it in front of people without stuttering. I would stutter everything else I would say, but not that phrase. And little by little I gained force, the fact that I could say one phrase straight gave me more strength and I kept going. It took me almost a year to say most of the phrases without stuttering and about two years to not stutter at all.

After all this initial struggle, when I was able to speak again, I met a guy at University and I started dating him. He was not rich, but he was upper middle class and his parents were intellectuals. His parents were very supportive, his mom thought he was a genius. He was smart and dedicated, but I assure you he wasn’t a genius. He was nice, but too self confident. His environment and his achievements made him think too highly of himself. When men are too self-confident they do douchy things. I suffered from depression at the time — I was able to speak without stuttering again, but I was too depressed to want to — and one day, trying to help me with the depression, he told me that he thought I would NEVER be as confident as him because of my background. He believed that I would never be as confident as him because I came from poverty. I could see the difficulty in someone like me being as confident as him, but believing that I’d NEVER be so was a bit extreme. And not supportive at all. I’ve always been a fighter, and even struggling with depression, poverty, hunger and stuttering, deep down I knew one day I’d be confident, I’d feel like a whole person, not like pieces that I didn’t know how to glue together. I knew that. He wasn’t seeing me, but only his big ego. What he didn’t know is that when you grow up poor you learn very well how egos can be broken, because yours have been smashed your whole life. And I was excited to break his ego one day.

He used to brag about drinking ayahuasca and being spiritually strong and all that cool stuff. He believed he was cool, an intellectual, that his family was cultivated, and that he was spiritualized and wise. How not to have a big ego with all that belief, right? But he used to drink ayahuasca with friends, in a “we’re having fun and searching our spirits” kinda mood. But I had a friend from where I came from, close to the rainforest, who used to drink ayahuasca with indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest. My friend had told me that indigenous people don’t fear the dark side of our souls, so for those who aren’t used to it, drinking ayahuasca in their rituals can be harsh. So when I heard that a Peruvian Shaman from the rainforest was coming to São Paulo I convinced the guy I was dating to go to the Shaman’s session. I was dying to see him dealing with the Shaman. Even if for that I’d have to be in the ritual too.

We got there, it was outside the city, in some kind of farmhouse. We were about thirty people. The Shaman’s assistant told us to be quiet, we should wait in silence. We waited for about twenty minutes and the assistant invited us to enter the room. It was a big room with high ceilings, but the chairs were in circle and we were close to each other. We sat, the Shaman’s assistant gave each one of us a glass with ayahuasca and asked us to hold it and not drink yet. The smell of ayahuasca is something like anything in the world. I still have goose bumps just by remembering it. It’s like smelling a tree from the inside. About five minutes past, the Shaman arrived and went to the centre of the circle. The assistant gave him a big glass, like a pint of ayahuasca. We were drinking a glass, he would take a pint. The Shaman said “Vamos” and we all chugged. The taste of ayahuasca is something that doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. It’s like having a smoothie made out of a hundred of the greenest bananas blended with a tree trunk.

The assistant came and took our glasses. The shaman started praying in a language we didn’t know. It was not Spanish. In about half an hour, everybody was feeling the effect of the drink, and the shaman started singing in that language. After a while — I can’t tell how much time had passed — the air changed. It was heavy and blurry, as if we were in the middle of the rainforest with its 80% of humidity in the air. I looked at a woman in front of me and she was sweating. Not a normal sweat, but she was sweating like a woman who’s about to give birth. A guy stood up and the Shaman’s assistant said he couldn’t leave the circle. He said he wanted to throw up, the assistant brought him a bucket. I realized there was a bunch of buckets around us. A couple more people threw up too. I looked at the guy I was dating and he was wide eyed, astonished. I don’t know what that Shaman was doing, but he was taking us to a house of horrors and there was no way to not go there.

After a while, the guy I was dating puts his hands up and says:

-Hey, Shaman, I’m not having fun.

I hid my face. Is he really talking about FUN with a Peruvian Shaman? He was more naïve than I thought.

So the Shaman asked:

-Que estás vendo? — (What are you seeing?)

The guy said:

-I don’t know, I’m seeing blood and I’m seeing people in pieces and dead babies.

The Shaman looked right into his eyes and said:

-You’re seeing the Devil. Because the devil is inside you. The devil is YOU.

At that point at least 25 out of those 30 people grabbed a bucket to throw up in. I saw two people throwing up in the same bucket, because there weren’t enough buckets. I held myself together. I looked at my date and I saw him peeing his pants. He was so afraid that he literally peed his pants.

On the drive home he was quiet, pantless, humiliated. He asked me:

-Did you also see the Devil?

-I did. — I said.

-Why weren’t you as scared as me? — he asked.

So I told him:

-Well, you know…You’ll NEVER be as strong as me in face of the devil, because of your background.

I got my revenge — yes I did — but I also realized how my background is important for me: I can deal with my negative side. And because of that I’m able to grow as a person.