After my longest stay in Brazil yet, I left for the United States at the beginning of March. By January, it’s safe to say I was pretty much standing at our door waiting for the days to go by, luggage in hand. One more delayed package, one extra “surprise” tax, one more person acting like my accent makes my Portuguese utterly unintelligible, one more night of traçantes and I would’ve just started swimming across the Atlantic.
Sorry, Brazil. You’re cool and you don’t get nearly as much recognition you deserve, but it’s a lot to handle.
Sometimes I feel crazy because even being in our apartment – just the two of us speaking English – can still feel like I’m thousands of miles from home. The food in the fridge is different. The weather is way hotter than expected. The murmurs I hear on the street require me to focus to translate. Even watching Netflix involves expanding my Portuguese vocabulary while I read movie and TV show descriptions.
It’s hard to describe to those who haven’t been in the position before. They can see how there’s some cultural differences here and there and, yes, speaking a foreign language all the time must feel difficult, but surely you’re comfortable in the respite of your own home. For me, being in Brazil is never, ever relaxing. I mostly feel alone, angry, rejected, and hungry. (Yes, that’s right – hungry. Brazil is not for vegetarians.)
I always tell Gustavo that I feel invisible when I’m there. It’s not the same as feeling like people think I’m weird because I’m foreign, which at least would give me something to contend with. Instead, people tend to ignore me because I’m foreign. The best metaphor I can come up with is when a child is confronted with a new and unfamiliar situation. Instead of diving right in, they may watch from afar and turn to their mother for advice, whispering amongst themselves to figure out what to do. Except in this case, there’s no mother pushing anyone forward – it’s just a lot of quiet staring. #awkward
Now that I’m back home, I feel like I can breathe deeply again. I feel much more confident, in myself, my work, and my desires. I’m revisiting decisions I made previously with more clarity. I’m having real, full conversations with people who don’t hesitate to ask me questions about, well, me. I feel lighter.
There’s a darkness that surrounds feeling invisible. To be clear, I’m speaking about invisibility and solitude on a personal level – I’m not arguing for American expat rights in Brazil considering I’m the one coming from a more privileged country. It’s the social, mental, and emotional aspect of feeling completely isolated from others and not having anywhere to turn to when seeking some sort of validation.
I’m very grateful for WhatsApp and a few close friends who welcomed my desperate “Can we do a video hangout please?!” in the past few months. When you feel untethered, it’s hard to draw boundaries or point to anything tangible that is either the problem or the solution. Instead it feels like a general gray blob of “meh.” It’s not the most poetic description, but if you know it, you know it.
Gustavo is coming to visit this week and we’re talking about our plans for coming to the United States. We’re not quite sure of how everything will turn out, where we want to go, or what we want to see over the course of the next year, but I’m excited. Sure, I’m already anxious about heading back to Brazil in two months while we take care of things there, but I know that, at this point, better things are coming.