I expected a different brazil, a country i saw through the eyes of its famous inhabitants, like my favorite author Paulo Coelho. Perhaps a grandiose mixture of all my false impressions, Brazilian lounge music, the fabled wisdom of Paolo Coelho’s stories and the beauty and poise of the famous models the country has produced. It’s not that any of these understandings were false, but only that they merely scratched the style and culture of Brazil. The truth, as they say, lies somewhere in the middle.
The truth as I had seen it thus far was that Brazil was a gorgeous country with the nature you’d expect South America to have. Mountain terrains covered in lush jungle, quite a different look than any mountain I’d seen in the states or Europe, and beaches that pour discretely out of them. The people are as warm and friendly as the beams of sun and cheesy, sticky dishes. Their language comes out like a sultry, poetic version of Spanish, everything they say sounds beautiful. For me, this is always the biggest treat coming from Miami, a city where no one really cares too much about each other.
In between the beauty is where the raw edges of truth begin to reveal themselves. The infrastructure resembles Europe in its tininess; compact cars, petite tables, buildings hugging each other. The structures themselves are very old and most are not updated. It either smells like trash or food depending on what corner you stand by (a hallmark of any metropolitan area). The stores appear American in style and they are either very cheap (and the items reflect this) or way too expensive for the average Brazilian. Luckily, I am in Balneario Camboriu which is much safer than the horror stories I was warned about in bigger cities like Sao Paolo and Rio De Janeiro. There, you cannot walk on the streets alone at night or wear jewelry that even shines a hint of value. Our first trip to the grocery store cost 78 reais (Brazilian currency), the conversion leaves that at around $25. This is real Brazil.
We spend most of our time in the front patio of Jaime’s God Father's home. I couldn’t have invented a more lovely or hospital family. The couple, Jaime’s God Father and his wife, are the most jovial and intrinsically happy people I’ve ever seen. Take it in stride springs forth new meaning observing them. Their daughter, a future famous person I can tell, is equally as enchanting. She is drop dead gorgeous (and she’s not even a teenager yet), models, competes in figure skating and has a Youtube channel. When we are all together we speak a mix of Spanish, English and Portuguese. Each one helping the other make up for the words and howling in laughter when we discover the ones that are basically the same. Simple communication has never felt more exciting.
I am reminded of Liz Gilbert and of Paulo Coelho's stories of traveling and observing the people they meet along the way. This experience will be woven into my life forever stored as a lesson and happy memory. I will call on it later once I’ve processed it. In this way, these experiences feel sacred.
The little girl takes out her English book and practices with Jaime. It’s clear to me how difficult and nonsensical English is. There are silent letters and all kinds of pronunciation rules that are not consistent, making this lesson a tough one to explain to a little girl who speaks languages as straightforward as Spanish and Portuguese (spoken exactly as spelled). He helps her pronounce the words which only makes the language more ugly to me. Her soft native tongue sounds so delicate until she tries to say, “EAR.” In the back of my whole heart I want her to conquer English, move to America and do whatever she wants. Seriously, the American dream. I know there is a lot wrong with America, but its freedoms and opportunities have become increasingly more obvious to me as I have had the privilege to travel and be invited into people’s homes. I can’t speak for the opportunities that exist for her in Brazil, so forgive any ignorance on my part, but I can already tell they aren’t as plentiful as ours. An extremely strict tourist VISA process revealed this already. We were basically made to jump through hoops and pay triple the price as Brazil’s way of punishing Americans for the US's similarly strict rules imposed on its citizens (who are fleeing the country to stay in America).
We are so lucky and I’m not even sure half of us are aware of it. This is my worldview and I’ve gone to countries that are not wartorn or riddled with senseless terrorism, they are normal countries where people do live happy, fulfilling lives. And yet, after experiencing the promise of more, I can only see their beauty with a heaviness in my heart. Perhaps, we come to their country and they see the same. Most of us Americans are in love with the lifestyle of being busy and do not stop to enjoy those opportunities. We work ourselves to the bone (yes, luckily at whatever jobs we want to, or closely related) but do we take a pause beyond the stress to appreciate that? In this sense, foreigners win every time. I’m not sure if it’s some universal tradeoff. If we have too much we will lack in other areas? I am, of course, speaking generally as there are plenty of self aware Americans who realize the gravity of our luck and cherish it wholly.
This is my first Thanksgiving away from home, one of our country’s favorite holidays. It has been a big deal since I was a little girl. I would dress up as a pilgrim at school (half of my classmates as Native Americans) and then eat a feast prepared by my mom and dad (mostly mom). Last year, I had two feasts. One with my related family and the other with my human one, a Friendsgiving if you will. This year, we will be in Brazil preparing some dishes around a table of people with roots and traditions spread across different continents. This may also be the year I give the most heartfelt thanks for all the blessings I have.
Sometimes, I feel those blessings with a veil guilt. My grandmother, a Spanish immigrant to the US, was robbed of a light hearted childhood and the promise of being whatever she wanted. Unable to complete highschool and forced to move out of two countries because of political instability threatening her life and freedom, she came to America knowing no one and no English. Here, she hoped her daughter (my mother) would find a way to cultivate all the things she’d never be able to back home. “Home” itself becomes a foreign concept (pun intended) in and of itself. Your home becomes your own self for people like my grandmother and mother, who carry with them the mixed traditions of several countries and cultures, layered into their hearts and minds. The only way I even know how to honor them is to take advantage of the things they choose to sacrifice so much for. Anything else would fall short. So this year, as every year, I take part in a timeless tradition (born from a country’s lineage and experience that is not mine technically speaking) and raise a glass to my family and the family I'm sitting with so far from America.
To my grandmother: Thank you for all you've done and haven't done. I will never know the true weight of your experiences. I can only try my best to relish in mine as homage to yours.