It has been a little over a week since I arrived in Sao Francisco do Conde, my home for the next four months. I am living in the neighborhood of Sao Bento and in the mornings from my window, I can watch cows slowly lumbering past my house to reach the campo, and men on motortaxis heading towards Santo Amaro, and strong footed women in havaianas carrying buckets of water on their heads. I can see the relics of an ancient agriculture school in the distance, stone arches being eaten by green. Sao Bento is more lovely than I could have asked for. The transition, however, from living almost a month and a half in a hostel with two other fellows who spoke english with me; in Santo Antonio, a postcard abound with tourists wearing teva sandals and tennis shoes so that they dont slip on the cobblestone roads; to living in a rural community where I am the first gringa to set foot, has not been very simple for me. The complication is about feeling both overwhelmingly happy and frustrated about the same things.
I am surrounded by my brazillian family all the time. Almost all the children I have met that live on my street are cousins: nieces and nephews of Gina, my host mom. They pull me along from house to house yelling at everyone who stares at the strange white girl: Tira seus olhos! Take your eyes off. Then my aunts and uncles offer me panetone, refrigerante, geladinho. We sit around the television and I try to listen over the drone to everyones rapid portuguese, tempted to close my eyes and wince in intense concentration so I can make sense of what they are saying. This is true: my portuguese is still very rudimentary.
As I desperately seek to fit in here and find a respected place as normal, it is no help that I cannot coherently express myself all the time, or understand what people say to me. I feel debilitated and even when I’m surrounded, (I’m always surrounded) I can feel lonely. My anxiety to shed my identity here as estranha, sensivel, barbie boneca – weak fragile white girl – as soon as possible is now clear to everyone. My second day here I asked Tyeli, my 6 year old cousin to me-faz uma brasileira (make me a brasileira). When I am asked if I miss home, or told that Im going to become vermelho because of the sun, I repeat over and over again: eu gosto daqui muito, eu quero que ficar mais morena, e voltar la mais brasileira.
Several days ago, I had lunch with my grandmother, Isabel. Isabel is one of my favorite people here. Barely five feet tall and skin to the bone, she wears a tea leaf behind her right ear all the time, though I dont yet know why, and rolls her own cigarettes with raw tabacco. Her voice is gritty and strong and when she speaks every part of her body seems to move with sincerity and conviction. We sat across from each other and I imitated the brusque hungry way she mixed her rice and beans and farinha, watched her rip gruffly at her carne do sol, relieved that I didnt have to use a fork and a knife to tear at the dura meat. Then my uncle, Batata, came in. We talked slowly about how I like the sun here, and that it is rainy in Seattle right now, and about how welcome I feel here, because bahians tem bastante de alegria no coracao. I want to know portuguese better though, I explained, I need to learn portuguese! Calma Laura, he said. Fique Tranquilo.
The verb ficar means not only to stay, but to become, and to be. It took me awhile to realize, but my restlessness and anxiety to strip off my identity, and leave all that has made me who I am behind; my eagerness to get rid of it all and become like the people around me as fast as possible is very American. As I struggle to figure out what I think is valid and true about me here, to adapt but maintain what is good, meanwhile there is a lot of sitting. Sitting, staying, becoming, being. And so I learn to fique tranquilo. Tudo bem.