(previously published on The Wayward Path, www.thewaywardpath.com)
The windows are open and the sounds of the evangelical church down the road come flooding through: raucous singing, tambourines, a preacher on a microphone, rapturous fits. Last night, it was the club nearby that disturbed the peace– bass, bass, bass. That’s how it is around here, church and club battling for dominance. The nights reverberate.
Dusk is heavy with sound, and the days hold the weight of the heat. It has been an oppressive 90, 91, 92 degrees Fahrenheit every day. If a beach were close by, the brilliant sunshine and pouncing heat would be wonderful, but the only blue for miles is the unbroken sky and the painted doors of farmhouses. This is country.
I’ve started in the middle; let’s go back to the beginning.
After graduating from college, I decided to move to Brazil and train as an ESL teacher, because working 9-5 in an office seemed as unappealing as a weekend of root canal procedures. A few months earlier, I’d worked from 12-5 as a receptionist at an ungodly investment firm on the Upper East Side of NYC, and the thought of re-entering such an environment curdled my stomach. I mulled over various post-graduation locales and the answer was Brazil.
Brazil represented all that was beautiful, laidback, and tropical: coastlines for miles, gorgeous, tanned bodies in skimpy clothing, music peppered with drums and “ahs,” and a language that was soft, sexy and slow. While all of this may be true of different areas in Brazil, it wasn’t true of the Brazil of my relocation. My school and shared apartment, were not beachside in Rio, Florianoplis, Recife or Natal, the seaside wonders the media had raved about; my eyes weren’t assaulted with beauty at every turn; in fact, Sao Paulo City, where the program placed me, was much like NYC, the city I was leaving: crowded, noisy, grubby, dominated by steel and concrete. There were museums, immense parks, bubbling nightlife, and a diverse community, but it felt too familiar, not the “new” experience wished for.
My apartment, across the street from a shopping center, and fifteen minutes on foot from a slum, wasn’t the Brazil advertised on television and in magazines. The disappointment was immediate, but the Paulistanos (Sao Paulo’s natives) saved the day. The people, of all ages and economic brackets—students, colleagues, professionals—enveloped me in their warmth and gregariousness. Soon, new friends went out of their way to introduce me to their families, their neighborhoods, their cuisine, their parks, and their hometowns. Nothing was too much for them, and I quickly began to appreciate the city and its people.
However, I didn’t leave NYC to live in a city that could be its fraternal, less flexible twin, so I asked the school’s director to move me to another of her schools in the countryside. In a very warm January, I started teaching 90 minutes away in a suburban/rural municipality of Sao Paulo that was not at all touched by the paintbrush of modernity. There were no high-rises, 24-hour convenience stores, or even other foreigners. As far as the eye could see were stretches of empty land, small children playing with kites on roads lined with red dirt, and cows and horses grazing in verdant fields. I loved it– except for the non-stop crowing of roosters– I loved it.
Last month, I returned to my home in the countryside of Brazil, and it has taken exactly one month to process it. It seems this town and I are both moving away from center rather than towards it. The countryside is as lush, colorful and breathtaking as it was before, but the town’s center has lost its sparkle over time. Buildings have largely been left to the elements, and the cars on the street reflect several decades past. The economic crisis hitting Brazil can’t be denied or ignored.
Yet, the people, radiate positivity exactly as they did before. The Brazilian family that I was placed with so many years ago greeted me upon arrival with warmth, affection and genuine happiness. If home was where love is, then this would be home. However, I know that we– this town and I– don’t fit, so in a few days, I’ll be moving on to the much larger, and more vibrant city of Sao Jose dos Campos. Leaving this town isn’t the end of my time in Brazil, but it’s the end of the clash of the church, the club and the night.