Two worlds

It’s funny being fluent in a second language. I’ve hit the point where Bahians sometimes hesitate because they’re not sure whether to ask me what part of Brazil or what country I’m from. Some have asked if I’m from São Paulo or Rio Grande do Sul, and others have thought I’m a second-generation Brazilian raised in the U.S.

Fluency in Portuguese, for me, feels like looking at the scenery through the car window. Although the glass is transparent and doesn’t hinder your view in the least, you’re still conscious of the fact that there’s something between you and the landscape. And once in a while you get reminded of it when the window fogs up slightly (i.e. someone uses a colloquialism you’re not familiar with).

In some of my previous entries, I expressed my frustration with feeling like I had a different personality when I was speaking Portuguese as opposed to English; however, these days I can be outgoing, talk on the phone with no problem, joke around, use subtlety and sarcasm, and express myself in the way I’d like to in Portuguese. I feel like I’m finally “myself” again. Though one thing I wonder is how much that “myself” has changed; how has this year in Brazil has changed me?

I mean besides the obvious things that I’m already aware of, like switching to capoeira angola, moving away from chemistry, becoming fluent in Portuguese and familiar with Brazilian culture in general, and turning into a coffee drinker. I’m wondering about the aspects that would have changed so slowly and subtly that I didn’t notice, elements in my jeito (way, manner) itself: the way I go about things, the way I express myself, the way I interact with other people, the way I pursue a goal, the way I handle a problem… the way I comport myself in the world, I guess. It’s something I can’t really analyze because I can’t get outside myself, but it’ll be interesting to see if my family and friends notice any difference.

Despite the six days and approximately one billion things on my to-do list standing between me and my return flight, it’s all I can think about. The moment when I step foot in my home country, the moment I embrace my family, the moment I lay down in my own bed… in those moments, it won’t matter how much I paid to ship my stuff or how long I had to wait in Brazil’s screwed-up airports, because I’ll finally be home.

I feel as though I live in two completely separate and distinct worlds with little or no overlap between them, and I frequently find myself wishing I could take people from one to the other. I’d love to introduce my family to the beauty, the rich culture, the unique food – and yes, the many idiosyncrasies – of Brazil. I’d love for my parents to meet my mestres and for my grandma to dance in a samba roda. I’d love for my American camaradas to hear Mestre Valmir’s opening Iêêêêêêêê!, to be amazed by the insanities Dija performs in the roda and Aloan performs on the viola, and to experience a solid – but stylish – beatdown from Mestre Moraes. On the flip side, I’d love to introduce my Bahian friends to the United States that I know and love, not the pale and distorted image transmitted by the media. I’d take them to baseball games and ice skating and invite them over for Thanksgiving and Passover.

…but these intersections between my two worlds remain solely in my imagination; for now, I’m the only one who crosses over.