reentry

My last days in Brazil crawled by in a characteristically Brazilian way. I worked, I sweated, I counted the days.

I got a massage that would, in my mind, help work out some of the year-old knots that had accumulated along my shoulder blades as a sort of you-made-it prize. Instead, I was told to take my clothes off in a fluorescently-lit room in front of two women. I did, and lay face-up on a glorified hospital gurney while a woman lightly rubbed lotion on 95% of my body, including my stomach and ass. My boobs were spared, thank God. She played relaxing music through her iPhone, which kept on beeping because she was receiving text messages, which she would then take a brief interlude to check. It was physically tiring keeping myself from laughing. I’d say it was still worth the 18 dollars.

What kept me going at the end was the English conversation group I held weekly. It was through these internally-motivated, bookish nerds that I felt true kinship with Brazilians for the first time since I had arrived in February. We’d all stay hours after the official conversation hour had ended, talking about plots and lyrics and thinking critically about Brazilian culture and its future. One of their grandmothers made a delicious brigadeiro cake for my surprise farewell party. I’m truly grateful for these people, and will have to remind myself when I move to Rio to seek their kind out, and not to get discouraged if I don’t find them right away. They don’t like to be the center of attention, but they become the center of my attention once I find them.

During the last meeting we had, I put a pile of books in the middle of the table. I told them they could take any they wanted, because they were too heavy to take back with me. They looked at me incredulously, swiped at them, voraciously read their backs, traded for others. They were ecstatic to receive them, because books are so expensive in Brazil. They told me of a man who had been sitting out in the main hallway of the university selling his own book collection for cheap because he was dying. They had bought them all up. I regretted not having more to give them.

And so I left. The weeks of counting down finally turned into days, which have all already passed. Every day I count down the days like that I am ignoring the present and counting down towards death. I think I hate that most about myself. My life is a series of counting down towards other, more promising things that eventually become the less promising present, replaced by some other sparkling future.

There is not one thing I miss about Brazil, and so my reentry couldn’t be easier. Everything right now is perfect: my family, my new nephew, all my favorite food, Thanksgiving, Target. It takes going away to appreciate what you had without trying, what you’ve always had. My hometown looks like District 12 and camouflage made a love child, but right now, I’m ok with that. I just hope that I’ll be ready to go back to Brazil in two months. It almost seems foolish, like I’m trying food for the second time that I’ve already tried and know I don’t like that much. But Brazil is a big place, and I’m willing to be swayed.

 

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7 things Brazil does better than the U.S.

After living here for more than nine months, I’ve had my fair share of frustrations. But, as in all things, there have been pleasant surprises along the way. Here are a few things Brazil does better than the U.S., adding to my list of things I’ll miss when I leave.

1. Starting light, Tums. Yeah, those tablets you chew when you have heartburn or indigestion. It’s as if you’ve picked up a piece of chalk from your grade school blackboard and chomped on it. Just thinking about the sensation between my teeth makes me cringe. Here they have Eno, a powder you dissolve into water and drink. Think Alkaseltzer, only it tastes like pineapples or guarana. And it’s so much more effective; you’re back to new in just a few minutes, whereas with Tums, a 50% improvement is a good thing. Free advertisement, Eno. You’re welcome.

2. Sweets. Brigadeiro, goiabada, passoca, pamonha, pe de moleke, fresh, sweet juices. Just to name a few. I didn’t even have a sweet tooth, but I’ve grown one here.

3. Today I saw the new Hunger Games movie, Catching Fire, a week before it comes out in the U.S. But that’s not even the best part. I saw it in the VIP movie theater. These are a staple in malls all over Brazil. There’s a regular theater, but that’s merely plebeian for those of high society who are willing to pay a couple dollars more for the same movie. In exchange for those two dollars, they get to sit in leather reclining chairs (ok, let’s get real, probably pleather) and not wait in a long line for popcorn or beer, as they have their own food counter. The most important part of all this is that they don’t have to deal with the loud, cheap shitheads who normally flock to the theater on a Friday night. As their unavoidable chatter and mid-movie phone calls are a particular pet peeve of mine, I will never go to a regular theater again. Thank you, Brazilian classism.

4. I had health insurance before leaving the U.S. to work in Brazil, but even so, it didn’t cover all the vaccinations my company recommended. I chose not to get the yellow fever or hepatitis B vaccines because of their high price tags. I went to a public health center here and got them for free, no questions asked about my insurance or country or origin, no forms to fill out.

5. Brazilians are better at not doing anything. I get that American work itch; I go on vacation, enjoy the first day or two, then I get the urge to be productive, do something of worth, and going to the beach and not thinking about anything are not cutting it. Then I mentally flog myself for that illogical thought after looking forward to this vacation for months. I hate myself for never just living in the moment. Brazilians know how to do that, and it’s a trait I hope to pick up.

6. Speaking of the beach, Brazilians know how to love their bodies more. Or if their sentiments don’t quite reach love, at least they’re proud to wear whatever they decide to the beach. Which is usually a thong for women and something slightly larger than a speedo for men, regardless of age, body type, or weight. There are 80-year-old whales of women wearing thongs on the beach, and I love it. It makes me want to stop sucking my stomach in, go order another caipirinha, and people watch.

7. Finally, Brazilians know how to have more realistic professional relationships. I work at a university with professors, and students call them all by their first names. They get drinks with them. They friend them on Facebook. Some may call it unprofessional, but I like having an atmosphere where I can be myself and students respect me for who I am, not for the cold, professional front I put up because it’s expected by my superiors. It’s a cessation of a mental and emotional stomach-sucking-in, and it makes my life a little bit more comfortable.

winding down

This week I found out that I will be placed in Rio de Janeiro next year to do some more teaching, along with some supervisory stuff. I’m already picturing myself on the beach, acai in one hand and a pineapple caipirinha in the other.

In waiting the three weeks that turned into seven to find that out, I’ve been thinking back on my year in Rio Preto. I only have 20 days left, and yes, I am counting down, but I’m not dreading making it through the rest of my time here. It’s only a tactic to measure the time. I was asked recently why I’ve chosen to stay another year after what has seemed like a less than stellar year in Brazil already. And it’s true. First semester was a bust. I traveled at every opportunity and subsequently ran myself ragged to escape a life I didn’t like. I felt lonely and disconnected. I felt let down by a lot of people and things. I still feel that way sometimes.

But second semester has been a reprieve in a lot of ways. I’ve filled into the shape of the life carved out for me here. I’m used to the silence and long stretches of free time. I’ve filled it with Portuguese study and paper writing. I’ve had time to read books; so many books. I’ve had the time to put good effort into what I do, and not do things half-assed. I’ve come to cherish the interminable sunshine and my office hours spent with a cafe com leite and a brigadeiro. I look forward to chatting with my students during our conversation hours about American Horror Story and boyfriends and parties and the hum of daily life.  I’ve grasped onto the few Brazilians I’ve found to be genuinely interesting, insightful, and intelligent. They, along with a few good American friends here, are my lifeline.

On more negative days I look back on how I’ve chosen to live these past nine months, and I regret certain things. On other days I see it could have been no other way.

I spent this past weekend in Sao Paulo and was reminded that brief moments of happiness are in the transient, if only one looks. I watched a red convertible ride down Avenida Paulista with Santa in the front seat, waving at pedestrians. A woman drinking coffee next to me cleaned up her area, then politely smiled and excused herself before leaving. A tiny, glasses-wearing girl friend moshed with all the sweating men in black at a club decorated like a carnival. I ate a Mexican dinner with a mishmash of acquaintances and it was all a beautiful thing.

So yes, I’ve gained all of the normal, important skills. Greater self-reliance and awareness of my surroundings, how to communicate in Portuguese, how to get my way in another country, how to ignore the bullshit. But the small things are the ones I will hold closest.