Updated: Sep 7, 2022
I lied: I’m making one last post about things that happened in Brazil, but I’m posting it from the U.S., which I said I wouldn’t do. But hey, it’s my blog. I make the rules. I can change them, right? I feel the necessity of one final post that brings closure to the adventure of living in Brazil and to this blog.
We’re home now. We’ve been home for six days. I want to talk about what it’s been like to be back home and what my impressions were as we stepped onto U.S. soil for the first time in almost half a year. But first, final moments in Brazil.
I published the previous post on Sunday afternoon, but we left on Monday evening, so there was still one day left in Brazil. That final day was a mixed bag. As usual, I got up in the morning to run in our neighborhood, thinking to myself that it was the last time I ran up the street to our Petra Lúcia Residence, last climb of the stairs to apartment 403, and so on. I tried to make an effort to notice the “lasts” throughout the day, but there was a lot to do— trips to the mall to buy travel supplies, a pit stop at UFU to drop off my keys, etc.— so some lasts got lost in the shuffle.
This was my last view of Bloco 3M at UFU before heading to the airport. I spent many wonderful hours teaching and performing in this building.
We rushed around to pack bags and close out our Airbnb with our landlord, Fernando, and his wife, who helped us transport our 13 bags to the airport. We hadn’t seen Fernando and his wife since our first week. As I greeted them, Fernando’s wife said, “Wow, you lost some weight.” It’s true. I did. We all did, actually, but I thought to myself that while we looked different on the outside, the more profound change had happened on the inside. When the last bag was packed, I took a final walk through our apartment. It had been such a wonderful space, comfortable and beautifully decorated with a fantastic view of the city. More than that, it had been our refuge for five months. I was sad to say goodbye to it.
On our last morning in Brazil, I captured a bit of my morning routine. I will miss this.
On our way to the airport, I watched the buildings, parks, restaurants, streets, and everything in Uberlândia pass by as if it were any number of the many times I had passed them. I felt like I needed to say a more formal goodbye somehow, but there was no ceremony about it. I just drove by like it was any other day… except it wasn’t. It was our last day in Brazil.
At the airport, we navigated some forms that we were apparently supposed to have filled out beforehand online, said a quick goodbye to Fernando and his wife before going through security, and jumped on the plane to Campinas. When we got to Campinas, we collected a few bags that we needed to recheck, headed to the gate, and checked in. There was no time to think, “This is the last time I’ll see so and so thing.” We just had to keep moving. At the gate, there was an American man speaking in English with some Brazilians. It sounded so strange to hear English spoken in Brazil, a premonition of sorts.
The flight from Campinas to Ft. Lauderdale was on a Brazilian airline, and the plane was full of Brazilians, so I was still under Brazil’s spell. We flew overnight, and I woke up in the morning to have a conversation in Portuguese with a Brazilian woman sitting next to me. It was still like every other day in the past five months. Then we landed in Ft. Lauderdale, and just like that, it all ended. Five months of living in Brazil, and in an instant, it was over.
Somewhere in the Florida keys, first view of U.S. soil in almost half a year
As I walked through the airport, my instinct was to address people in Portuguese. I talked with the lady at customs in Portuguese then corrected myself in English. I kept hoping to hear Portuguese in return, but of course it was all English. I noticed some people from our flight waiting for the tram to catch our connecting flight, and I jumped at the chance to say something to them in Portuguese. Then I hopped on WhatsApp and left some voice messages for my friends back in Brazil. The habits I developed over the past five months had become ingrained. I wasn’t ready to let go of them yet.
Our friend Gary picked us up at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago and drove us back to our city, Decatur. It was the last leg of our journey home. Watching the midwestern American landscape pass us on the highway was anticlimactic— flat and full of corn. There were no wiry eucalyptus trees in the distance or bright red clay along the roadside. We got home about 7:30pm. We had been traveling for 25 hours. We came home to find the front yard decorated with a beautiful yellow ribbon around the oak tree, little yellow ribbons on the bushes, and handmade welcome home signs on our front door. What a nice way to come home. We felt loved.
The scene when we arrived home.
Over the next several hours, we began the slow process of re-entry. Actions like turning on lights or opening drawers were automatic, but they felt foreign, ironically. The spaces in our home were familiar but they felt strange to inhabit. If I’m being honest, and I’ve tried to be honest in this blog, I didn’t like it. The things I complained about not having in Brazil for so many months seemed petty now.
What you walk into after five months away
We took my car to Subway to grab dinner. I own a Toyota Prius. I missed it while in Brazil. I got it in November 2021, and we left for Brazil in April 2022. That means I had the car for 5 months before we left, and then we were gone for 5 months, so I was gone for as long as I had had the car. I had become so accustomed to driving our Jeep Renegade in Brazil that I basically had to re-learn to drive the Prius. It was also odd to drive around our tranquil neighborhood lined with oak trees and neatly trimmed lawns. There was no roar of motorcycles, no energy of people moving through the streets, no irregular architecture, no vivid neighborhoods. No excitement.
Reunited and it feels so good. I didn't miss very much about the U.S. while in Brazil,
but I did miss my Toyota Prius.
When we got home, we took the plastic off our kitchen table and sat down to eat. No one said anything for a while. I think we were all missing our beautiful round cherry table with its lazy Susan which we had grown to love in our apartment in Uberlândia (see video above). It was a bit of a rough meal. It’s true that we were all tired from an entire day of traveling, but we were also feeling the effects of reverse culture shock in one form or another. For five months, we lived in Brazil. That became our reality. That became our lives. Then all of a sudden we were whisked back to our old lives.
I officially returned to work two days after we arrived home. It was strange to be there, That first day back started, ironically, in Portuguese. Millikin has an international student family sponsorship program, and I found out there’s one Brazilian student, Rodrigo, who we're going to sponsor. Rodrigo dropped by my office before my classes, and we had a nice chat. Later in the day, my friend André added me to the WhatsApp group “Brazil in Decatur,” 34 members strong. Whoa! That’s a lot of Brazilians around here! I received lots of nice welcomes in the group. It was like a tender mercy to start my first day back at work in Portuguese and then find a community of Brazilians right in my city. By the end of the week, I began the process of Brazilian-izing my office. Items I brought back to the U.S. from Brazil are finding a home. It’s comforting to have them nearby. On the teaching side, I had a hard time focusing. I hoped my students didn’t notice. It was still somewhat disorienting to be back in the U.S. My mind was there, but my heart was elsewhere.
Some of the physical memories from Brazil that have found their way into my office
As I suspected, I found myself daydreaming about Brazil. I was far away. Throughout the week, people welcomed me back warmly and asked what Brazil was like. They were naturally curious. I appreciated their interest. How can you summarize what I experienced? How can you describe the unequaled opportunity of being immersed in such an incredible place for five months? I've come to the conclusion that you can't, so to quote the old standard, my response is that it's "Too Marvelous For Words."
On the other end of the spectrum, Brazilians have asked me what it is I like about their country. They see all the problems and can’t understand why someone from the U.S.— where they dream of going— would have a desire to go to Brazil. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, I can’t say why. It started with the music, then progressed to the language, and then eventually everything else, but I just knew at a young age that I had to go to Brazil. Notwithstanding those who fall prey to stereotypes or misinformation— like everyone speaks Spanish in Brazil, or that it’s one giant beach, or that natives in loincloths with spears run wild through an endless jungle— I think many Americans have a positive and realistic image of Brazil and recognize its strengths and beauty, particularly among musicians. That may surprise a lot of Brazilians, but it’s true.
And now I’ve been to Brazil, and since we’ve been back home, the sentience of living there is slowly starting to fade. Each day I can feel less of what it was like to live in our apartment on Rua Manoel Camargo da Cruz, to walk through the Jardim Finotti neighborhood, and to drive through the streets of Uberlândia. It’s starting to become a memory. In fact, as I look back on it now, it all just seems a dream. Did we really live in Brazil for five months? Did we really see all those incredible places? Did we really do all those amazing things? Did we really leave behind all those wonderful people? It seems so far away now, a world away.
I’ve noticed how the tenor of these posts has changed over the past five months: from the wonder of discovery about the new world we found ourselves in, to the assimilation of the culture, to a progressively more sentimental tone as the end of our journey neared. As I sit here in our home in the U.S., life back in Uberlândia marches on. I try to imagine it in my mind. What’s the city like? What’s happening? What are my friends doing? I wondered throughout this week how long this wondering might go on. How long will reintegration to life in the U.S. take? It’s surreal to think that during this same week, I lived both in Brazil and in the U.S. The intensity of missing Brazil is hard to articulate. It can be physically incapacitating— sometimes I just wanted to lay down and cry this week. Sometimes the feeling was of missing places or routines, and sometimes the feeling was of missing specific people. It has a powerful hold. It’s hard, but I'm slowly adjusting.
Many people have asked if I plan to return to Brazil (some people thought I wasn’t coming back... in many ways, I didn’t want to), and the answer is a resounding “yes!” I’m planning to take a group of Millikin students to Brazil in the spring. Beyond that, I’d like to go back as part of a sabbatical, and then regularly return for visits. How could I not? Of course in the meantime, I'll stay in touch with the many special people we became friends with in Brazil. The digital age makes it easy. It's not the same as being there, but it's better than what it would have been when I first dreamed of going to Brazil 30 years ago-- letters.
This blog is called An American In Brazil, and for five of some of the greatest months of my life, that’s exactly what I was. Now I’m back in the U.S, and while you can take the American out of Brazil, you can’t take Brazil out of the American. It will always be in me.