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Flipping Over the Stone

Yesterday, I was walking back from the grocery store when the porteiro called me over —  a package had arrived. When I walked into his office to sign for it, there was another woman there, chit-chatting and watching the world go by. He mentioned to her that I wasn’t from Rio which, of course, led into a short conversation about where I was from and, the question I hate most, “Está gostando do Brasil?”

Are you liking Brazil?

There’s an interesting video from The Brazilian Gringo about one word not to use when speaking Brazilian Portuguese. Which word is that? “No.”

Because Brazil is such a conversational and social culture, people prefer to speak around the conclusion. For example, at the gym, someone may ask, “Hey, are you using this bench?” To which I very naturally respond, “Nope!” This is usually followed by a strange look and a second “You’re not using it?” Until, more emphatically, I say, “No, no.”

The expected response? “Go ahead!”

When someone asks me if I’m liking Brazil, instead of “How’s it been so far?” or “Do you miss home?” I often freeze. Because the honest answer is, “No, I’m not liking it.” And, goodness, what a difficult conversation that would be. Because conversations are more collaborative here, it’d be at least an hour of “Why not? What about this thing? Don’t you like this? And don’t you think this other thing is better?” and so on and so forth.

On the flip side, when I talk to friends at home about my experiences here, they tend to respond with, “Then why not just come back sooner if you don’t like it?”

Both responses perfectly sum up one of the major differences between the cultures. In Brazil, because life isn’t as streamlined and easy, people are more willing to stick things out and look for the good in a situation, especially if it’s not one they can easily change. In the United States, we generally have the luxury of easily changing a situation that we don’t like. If there’s something better, we grab it because why waste time in your one life on something you don’t like?

Both ways of doing things are useful, in their own time.

As my days are hybrid Brazilian-American days, I find myself taking a hybrid approach. Currently, I split my time here with Gustavo because it was easier for me to get a visa here than vice versa. Of course I would love for him to spend more time in the United States — and completely avoid any long-distance periods in our relationship — but due to politics and policy and immigration, that’s not possible. So what are we left with? A hybrid solution: I spend part of my time here in Brazil with him, and the other part in the United States, without him, until we can resolve things permanently.

Sometimes there are situations with fixes that are outside of our grasp. We can reach towards them, keep our eyes on them, have them be the end goal, but at the end of the day, day-to-day life is based on realism, a.k.a. “What can we do right now in this moment to the best of our abilities?” So, yes, I cry more, complain more, feel sadder, struggle, yell, rage, and explore the darkest depths of solitude while I’m in Brazil. Yet this dark side of me also has value, and this is the only place I’ve ever been able to explore it to such depths.

I was cooking dinner the other night and thought about how so much of our lives are insulated. We only see the news our friends share on Facebook. We have the same discussions with like-minded people. We wear the clothes we know make us feel comfortable. We eat the food we already know we like. We sing the same songs in the same language for decades because it’s familiar and comforting. It’s so easy to stay within that comfort zone forever.

Living somewhere — anywhere — that doesn’t jive with your soul is an interesting experiment in excavating the core of who you are. You’re forced to deal with sides of yourself that you wouldn’t otherwise because you can’t simply hide within your usual coping mechanisms. Instead, you have to develop new ones, and fast. Or, better yet — the place where I finally am — you have to completely give up expectations and welcome the good when it comes. Who knows what will replace your previous passions, or what passions you can add to your repertoire, or what new skills you’ll pick up along the way when it comes to dealing with the unexpected chaos of life?

Of course, everyone has the right to live somewhere they feel happy, fulfilled, accepted. Nevertheless, leaving your comfort bubble — as dark and frustrating as it may be sometimes — is a little bit like turning over a stone. Sure, there’s bugs and mud and weird mossy green patches, but after a little time illuminated by the sun, it transforms.

I’ll take the temporary discomfort for a long-term transformation. Even if it hurts, even if it’s annoying, even if it’s frustrating, it’s not permanent. The lessons and insights I pick up along the way, however, certainly will be.

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