The slow death of the Brazilian honeymoon

This conversation happens a lot in my capoeira academy:

Me: “So, where are you from?”

Visitor: “I’m from [country that is not Brazil], and I’m visiting Bahia for 3 weeks. What about you?”

Me: “I’m originally from the U.S., but I’m married and living here, working as an English teacher.”

Visitor: “OMG, you live here!!! You are soooooo lucky…”

Even if they don’t say it out loud, I can see it in their eyes. I know it because that used to be me.

Key words: used to. My attitude towards Brazil has changed so much over the years…

2004: First Taste

I studied abroad for a semester in Fortaleza and Salvador. Hated the program, but loved Brazil – and was determined to spend more time here. The best thing about this trip was the intensive Portuguese course that gave me a solid base in the language.

2005: Vacation

I organized a 10-day trip to Salvador for my capoeira club during our spring break. Still in love with Brazil, particularly Salvador, which I saw as a “capoeira paradise.” This is when I met my future business partner.

2005-2006: The Long Stretch

Lookin’ all scientific in the lab!

After graduation, I spent a year in Sao Carlos – SP doing chemistry research on a Fulbright grant. Then three months in Salvador, where I joined my business partner in selling capoeira gear online. I remember this as the period when live in Brazil became “normal” – neither exhilarating nor crappy, just normal, albeit different. By the end, I felt like my Portuguese had finally gotten proficient.

2008: Vacation II

While employed in NYC, I saved up all my time off to take a 2-week trip to Salvador (primarily to train capoeira). This is when I met and exchanged e-mail addresses with my future husband. On the last day, I remember telling my capoeira mestre, “I have to leave,” and his response: “No, you’re leaving because you want to, not because you have to.” At that moment, I knew with complete certainty that sooner or later I’d be back.

2009: The “Last” Trip

When I told my boss in NYC I was quitting and going to Brazil for 6 months, he proposed that I go but continue working long-distance. Great! I resigned myself to the fact that this would probably be my last six-month stint in Brazil before settling down in the U.S. But by the end of the year, I’d ended a stateside relationship and had begun dating my husband, thus making my future into a giant question mark yet again.

2010: Uncertainty

On the beach in Imbassaí

I came back to Brazil to pursue the relationship and launched my English teaching career. This was a tough time, as I wasn’t sure if we’d end up getting married, but of course we didn’t want to rush things based on my visa limitations. Also, my parents hadn’t yet met Christian, and he was in between jobs. Because of these personal issues, I wasn’t enjoying Brazil at all; I was just frustrated at the distance from my family and the language barrier between my boyfriend and my parents. We ended the year engaged but without a set wedding date.

2011: Battle

This year has been my hardest in Brazil to date. Thankfully, Christian is employed and in school, and my teaching/translating career has grown. But the outrageous bureaucracy surrounding the marriage and visa documents, the wedding planning, and the stress of having to work my tail off to keep everything going – these things have taken their toll.

I haven’t enjoyed Brazil because I haven’t had time to do anything I enjoy – I even took a month off from capoeira because I was so overwhelmed. I’m tempted to resent this country because of its crappy infrastructure, danger, and general inefficiency.

For the better part of the year, I’ve been trying to fight off bitterness, anxiety, and frustration. When someone says I’m “so lucky” to be living in Brazil, I bite my tongue so as not to pour out all the ways that life here sucks.

But there is hope…

…because 2011 is drawing to a close, and I’m already working on some exciting new projects which I hope will stabilize our finances and help me to enjoy Brazil again. These days, I’m more at peace than not.

Also, I’m hopeful that the death of my former love of Brazil will eventually come full circle, as C.S. Lewis writes:

In this department of life, as in every other, thrills come at the beginning and do not last (…) The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go to live there. Does this mean it would be better not to (…) live in the beautiful place? By no means.

(…) if you go through with it, the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest.

This is, I think, one little part of what Christ meant by saying that a thing will not really live unless it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go — let it die away — go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow — and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time.

  • I agree with you, CS Lewis, and JC. I died in the hospital, and was brought back to life, as a little girl. I do feel i’ve had certain advantages because of that experience.

    Thanks for blogging!

  • I hear you. Loud and clear.

  • Debbie

    Happy that you are still able to voice your feelings with such detail that we understand exactly how you are feeling and understand your triumphs but also see all the victories you have achieved. Life is full of its ups and downs….If we didn’t have the downs what would we have to look forward to? The most important is that you and Christian are healthy and happy together. You are supporting each other endeavors with the high hopes of enjoying the most of what life has to offer you both.

  • It will get better! If you think about it, even if you’d stayed in the US, you’d still be having ups and downs, good times and hard times. Even so, this move is a huge transition, and it’s not only a new country — it’s a new marriage, a new career, a new language (even if you’d spoken it well before)… that’s a lot on your plate! I hope things can stabilize for you soon. xo

  • You do have a lot on your plate. I hope this new year can be a fresh start for the two of you and the crazy battles you are facing fade into the backgroud. Thank you for that quote… how beautiful on all levels.

    • Shayna

      Thanks, Tiffany! I just saw this comment; for some reason it went to the spam folder :-/

  • skarrlette

    I love when people say even in the US you would have ups and downs, really? Sorry don’t see the comparison. One’s first world with great infrastructure and hardly any red tape and other is well a mess, sorry Brazil its true but your still great in your own way it takes time!. Girl it takes patience I’m sure. It’s hard I’m sure. I have to say that you are amazing for all that you do. Carrying it all in a city like Salvador my husband is Brazilian and he told me all about Salvador its gritty and colorful BUT you should get a medal. As a girl from Massachusetts I couldn’t do Salvador. I’m not even going to pretend. Your obviously extremely bright and I think this stint in Brazil whether permanent or not is going to help forward your career so that someday you can buy a house in the country where its quiet :).

    p.s. can your husband get a visa? mine doesn’t have one, which makes my life so much more difficult when dealing with an international relationship. i never realized how hard it was going to be when i was falling in love, although i wouldn’t change it sometimes i do feel like i wish i had thought it through more but the heart does what the heart wants.

    do you have an email address?

  • Jessica Moura

    I find so interesting hearing from the other side of the coin. I am Brazilian and living in US, love reading experiences of americans who live in Brazil, specially when it comes with a relationship since I’ve got a boyfriend here too.
    Everything sometimes looks like will fall through and you just want the security of being home, in your own country, where you know how to play the game, but everything has a purpose and none of them are going to be easy all the way through. Keep your thoughts on what led you to there and on what keeps you there. Is it worth it? If you could have a choice right now, would you just change everything? If so, chase what makes you feel truly happy, no matter what. Wish you the best of luck in your life! Keep your blog going, I’m enjoying a lot to read your posts!!

    • Shayna

      Hi Jessica, thanks so much for commenting! So much has changed since I wrote this post. At the time, my poor working conditions were contributing to my stress so much that it was hard for me to enjoy life. But I have chased what made me happy, as you said, and I’m now succeeding in incredible ways… and I am thankful and content 🙂