Brazil, De Novo

It’s never an easy trip, is it?

On Monday night, I flew back to Brazil via São Paulo. Overall, I may be a new convert to the Newark – São Paulo route, but what a journey. 

It started with a two hour delay on the flight because of a heating/cooling issue with our plane. Thankfully, the airline mechanics were able to fix it before we took off since I, for one, would not want to be tens of thousands of feet in the air without any heating.

After a relatively smooth flight in and of itself, I knew the hard part would come once I arrived in Brazil. Going through customs meant grabbing my bags from the carousel and running to my next flight – all the way over in the domestic terminal.

Sweating, I lugged my two gigantic suitcases, plus carry-on, all the way through an extremely inattentive customs process, the inevitable duty free store that seems to greet you immediately after arriving in every Brazilian airport, and over to the Azul desk. I had forty minutes to catch my flight.

The customer service representative gave me the mildly helpful instruction to “take the bus to Azul” which meant almost nothing to me. I was in a rush, so I ran to the front of the terminal assuming I’d see some sort of shuttle that said Azul on the side. However, it seems, no such thing exists.

I found a nice lady with a badge on and asked for help, but she only worked for the previously mentioned DuFry store. Instead, she walked me over to one of the porters while I tried to explain that I needed to get to gate 102 and ASAP. Instead of the bus, he said, why don’t you take a cab? It will take a few minutes, whereas the bus will take ten to fifteen.

Sounds good! I said.

Hopping in a cab, I again, explained the situation to the cab driver in a moderately coherent manner. He seemed enthusiastic about taking on the mission to get me to Terminal 1 as quickly as possible, even though I told him I had no cash and he didn’t accept cards. “Just give me what you can,” he said, which ended up being USD$3 and BRL$5.

I managed to make my connection and arrive in Rio, exactly as planned, but with quite a bit more suspense, sweat, and cortisol than originally intended. I actually felt reasonably proud for navigating the whole situation without freaking out. I’m beginning to accept that part of traveling to, and within, Brazil means expecting the unexpected.

That feeling came crashing down last night. We visited a different crossfit gym that I’m pretty excited about – it’s new and the trainings seem challenging. Halfway through our training, I had two experiences that triggered all of my “Oh my god, I hate being in Brazil, I don’t fit in here, and I don’t want to!” feelings.

  • One, while I was paired with two other women in the class, the coach spoke to me in English. As a result, they asked him (not me, of course, even though we’d been communicating for at least ten minutes at this point) if I understood Portuguese. He made the mistake of saying “more or less,” meaning, well, exactly that. For others, that’s often interpreted as “no.” So then there I was, once again, fighting to make people believe that I understand wtf they’re saying.
  • Two, the WOD was kind-of a partner/trio WOD, which is my nemesis. Crossfit, for me, is the one place I can go to challenge myself and compete against myself. Every day, I want to walk out of the gym proud of what I’m accomplished. Even in the US, I don’t like to do partner WODs, but if I have to, I will. Typically I avoid Saturdays at any crossfit gym since those classes are larger and coaches tend towards grouping people together to make it easier. In Brazil, because the boxes tend to be so crowded to begin with and it’s an extremely social culture, it feels like every workout is a group workout.
    For me, as a foreigner, I find it so unbelievably stressful. I don’t have many friends here because it’s not easy to go out of my way to meet people with Portuguese as a second (okay, technically, fourth) language. When paired with random people, then, I struggle to communicate efficiently, especially as I spend half the time convincing the people around me that I know what they’re saying. Yet, at the same time, the harder the workout gets and the louder the music gets, it is difficult for me to process Portuguese because there’s too much input. This, of course, leads me into an endless loop of trying to communicate with my teammates who are freaked out about the prospect of trying to talk to me because they think I don’t know what they’re saying.

Once I heard them say we were going to do the workout in pairs, the tears started flowing immediately. And not like a lone, solitary, cinematic tear. No. I started alternating between sobbing and visually stabbing Gustavo with my laser eyes, which is something I do pretty often basically because here’s there and he’s the only one who knows what’s going on and I don’t know where else to pour all of my emotion. Poor thing.

I’ve learned that in Brazilian culture, crying in front of people is a huge no-no. People never do it. You can yell. You can fight. You can get angry. You can punch something. Anything but crying. Crying shows weakness and it only happens when you are 100% too broken to hide your vulnerability.

Not me though! I am the champion of public crying.

In fact, I take it to another level, especially during crossfit. I am a professional when it comes to crying and working out. Make no mistake, I may be having a mild nervous breakdown, but an athlete doesn’t quit!

You can imagine how confused people are when they’re in a class with me here. I’ll be simultaneously wiping tears from my eyes while doing box jumps. Personally, I find it pretty impressive. Other people are just disturbed and perplexed.

So at the end of yesterday’s class, overwhelmed by all the things about Brazil that I don’t like rushing back into my line of sight, I sat on the floor crying, crying, crying. Gustavo was sitting next to me because he knows how difficult it’s been for me. When we were talking about it, he even said that he wouldn’t call it culture shock at this point – it’s just that placing me into Brazilian culture is like putting a round peg into a square hole. It just won’t go.

As I continued crying, the coach came over, worried I’d hurt myself while working out. I had to be like, “No, no. It’s not the training. I just hate my life right now.” Sadly, I remembered, self-deprecating humor is not a thing here.

So in two days, it’s already been quite a mixed bag. I’m working on prioritizing taking care of myself first, in all the ways I can think of. I’m going to need to be creative in terms of how I do the whole “energy in before energy out” thing. Because once my energy is tapped here, holy crap does it flow out faster than the shelves during a sale at Guanabara. I feel drained.

One day at a time though.

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