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.
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
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.
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.
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.