Why Move to Brazil?
I came to Brazil for the first time alone in 2014. I love to learn languages and live in foreign countries. I had made several attempts at Spanish that never furnished the skills I had hoped for. So, I filled a backpack and headed to South America for a six month trip. I had a rough idea of where I wanted to go, but the overall idea was to be alone so that I could be immersed in Spanish and return home with the capability of being charming at a dinner party in Mexico City (if that occasion every arose). At the last minute, I added Brazil to my route because I felt I should check that box. I thought, let’s get it over with, I mean I am down there anyways. A week to São Paulo to visit an old friend I knew during the London years, turn into a month that included Bahia, Florianopolis and Rio de Janeiro. I often compare Rio to India. They are nothing alike and have everything in common. What I am referring to here, is the feeling you get when you step off that plane. You get hit in the face by a thick hot air, that does not smell very good and there is a lot of noise and people everywhere. You head to customs, where the agents are more interested in talking to you about what you will be doing tonight then where you are going or what you are running from. You proceed through the airport- an important government structure of any major city and there are loose live wires, holes in the walls, florescent lighting, happy music playing, paint done by someone who does not stay in the lines and a lot, I mean a lot of tacky marble. And for some reason, you have never felt so happy in your life. You experience a joy so pure and so simple, it is as if you stepped off that airplane and an energy entered your toes. You know you are not home, but you feel like you live here and you want to stay.
I was apprehensive to travel Brazil alone. I thought that my basic Spanish skills would get me further than they did. But they did not….at all. But the lack of a common language ended up being the best gift of all. It was on a two hour boat trip from Salvador, the capital of Bahia, to Morro de São Paulo that I let Brazil in. I was sitting alone on the small commuter boat, listening to music, drinking a Brahma. A smiley woman approached me and began to speak. I responded in Spanish and she looked perplexed, but she did not stop speaking to me. In fact she started talking faster. She spoke to me as if I understood all that she was saying. I felt her good energy and was enjoying our interaction despite the lack of comprehension. Somehow I figured out she wanted me to have a drink with her and her friends later that night. I nodded ‘sure’ and figured we would never run into each other. Obviously on a car-less island, we did and ended up spending the next three days straight together. There was no Google Translate, there was no dictionary, there was nothing but laughter! We had such a beautiful time together that when it came time for me to leave the island, everyone had misty eyes. On the commuter boat back to the shores of Salvador that afternoon, I knew something had changed. I went on to travel to the Galapagos islands, Machu Picchu, even the Amazon….but nothing was Brazil. I returned to San Francisco, where I was living at the time, and gave myself six months. If I still felt so strongly at the end of my given timescale, then I would just return with the intentions to build a new life. If I only knew then what I know now…wink wink! But three years on and I am still living on Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro.
Living in Rio de Janeiro
When I speak of Brazil, I am speaking mostly form my experience living in Rio de Janeiro. The country is so large and so diverse it might as well be many different countries and not just a single place. Every neighborhood, city, and state has its own culture, slang ‘giria’, even different fruits. But this article will generalize about common threads of Brazilian culture. And it needs to be added, that there are 2 sides to every coin and the picture I am about to paint also has many other sub stories. But the focus is the answer to… Why Brazil?
Brazil has an enormous army, but has never been to battle (ok very rarely). It has nearly no enemies, except for the Argentinians in futebol, but that is all in jest. So why prepare for warfare? The government does not support nor protect the common folk. So when you have nothing to count on, you look to those around you for support. The typical Brazilian family rallies together to the end. I have met families that even physically fought each other and then scrubbed the kitchen floor side by side that same afternoon. Because of this the Brazilian family is tight and strong. The live together forever. If you are not getting a pension to take care of you when you are older, or health services when you have Dengue Fever, or a good local school to send your kindergartner to, you turn to those who can provide instant hep and support. My best friend earns about 500Reais a month, which at the time I wrote this is a bit less than $200USDollars. She is the sole bread winner for a family of six, cleans the house all on her own and still goes out dancing til dawn. She is not bitter, nor expects any help or pity. I once asked her why, and she replied simply, because it is my family.
There is a common dialogue in Brazil about ‘positive thinking’. The idea is that if you put out positive energy, you will then attract it. Of course, things will not always go the way you want, but when that happens ‘acceptance hurts less’. This is the vernacular wheel that propels Brazilians to smile every time you see them and constantly give thanks out loud for what good they do have. This could be one of the most sad countries on the planet. They have enough natural resources to be a first world nation, few natural disasters and wonderful weather, yet their poverty and crime rate is unbelievable high. Everyone I know has at least one tragic death in the family and no one I know earns more than a few hundred USDollars/week. But you live in happiness in Brazil. There is little time wasted, because every day is a reason to celebrate. Life is good, even when it is not.
What the majority of the ‘developed world’ strives for through yoga classes, plans for retirement, and conclusions we make on holiday is what Brazilians have been doing for generations. In fact it is so engrained, that they do not even realize they are doing it. Their definition of what brings them happiness is the enjoyment of life’s little pleasures. It is the importance of a unexpected moment with an old friend or a beer with a new friend, the importance of empathy, celebration of your family, dinners with your cousins, cleaning your aunt’s home, being late to work because you were making love to your wife, helping your neighbor until midnight because they are good people, staying up extra late because the music you have heard a thousand times is still ever so beautiful or enjoying an extra helping of your mother’s pipping hot, garlicky beans that you have eaten everyday for 40 years and will eat every day for 40 more if you could. None of this is defined as embracing life’s greatest pleasures, in Brazil, this is just how they live. I had a client tell me recently that he went to a samba and had so much fun he stayed out tim dawn. I smiled to myself on the inside and thought, here this is just called ‘I met a few friends on Saturday’. Brazilians are limitless.
Choose to Be Happy
Brazilians can not understand why I would trade my life in the states for a life in Brazil. Nothing works here. Everything is disorganized. There is so much corruption. It is so expensive here. You can not make any money. But when asked how they feel about Brazil, without thinking they smile large and begin an hour rant about how gorgeous it is to live here. It is a country of contradictions. Everything they say, both positive and negative is accurate. But at the end of the day, I prefer my daily interactions to be with those who operate from their heart strings. I prefer those who choose to love life and not pity themselves. I prefer those who value the dance more than the dollar. I love a bbq, a cold beer and a bright yellow dress even if it is in the setting of a concrete backyard.
If you are looking for a very simple and extremely complicated life, then this is for you. Brazil is not always pretty. It definitely is not the postcard the world paints of it. But you will make real friends. You will feel very supported and love. You will slow down. You will be forever changed. And you might just very well be the happiest you have ever been.