Saudade: Untranslatable Yet Universal

Nicholas Chieng - Brazil


November 24, 2014

Originally written on October 28th, 2014

Dear Mom, Dad, and Chris,

I’ve never been to so many beaches before, and don’t worry; I remember to put on sunscreen every time I go. I’ve already been to more beaches in the span of two months than my entire eighteen years of life. I wish you could see it. I wish you were here; I wish I could bring you here so that you too can fall in love with Garopaba. When I went to Praia de Garopaba, all I did was peer out into the ocean. I could see the island of Florianópolis, which was where we were during our In Country Orientation.

Every time I stand on one a beautiful beach in Garopaba, the waves seem to whisper to me: Não se preocupe, não tenha pressa. Tá bem. Do not worry, do not hurry. You are well.

The ocean makes me feel calm; it humbles me and it’s almost if I’ve been baptized. It’s crazy to think that in a way, this water in front of me was what separated me and all those I befriended in Florianopolis. That this ocean separates you and me. There’s nothing more beautiful than the way the waves refuse to stop kissing the shoreline, even when they know they’ll be sent back into the vast ocean. It reminds me of the hugs, kisses, and waves goodbye at the airport the day I flew out to California, the day that this year began. That day you caught my kisses and hugs goodbye, and I was sent into the vast ocean of Global Citizen Year.

The world is huge, and I’ve only spent three months in Brasil, but even in the entire span of this year, I know I won’t see everything I want. I look at a map and see what a tiny portion of the world I cover and will cover in these eight months. There is so much more to see and not enough time to see it all. There are countless people that I won’t meet; perhaps that’s why I talk to strangers on the bus. You’d be so amazed by how times I’ve unexpectedly cross paths with my colleagues, extended host family members, capoeira comrades, and students. Although we all live in our own lives in our own houses in our own towns, we are all connected. We all live here in this amazing world together and whether we realize it or not, we all affect each other with the decisions we make every day.

Eu estou com saudades de voce.  I miss you

I’ve always had a fascination with certain words that have no direct equivalents in other languages. It parallels how peoples’ stories and lives are so varied yet it engenders words as distinctive as each individual grain of arroz that my host family loves to eat.

Saudade could roughly translate in Mandarin to 我很想你, in Cantonese, 我好掛住你, in Korean, 보고 싶어, and in English, I miss you.

But to me, saudade means family. Saudade means my cello. Saudade means my friends. Saudade means crunchy peanut butter. Saudade means the sand in between my toes.Saudade is a universal feeling, even if you don’t know the meaning, you know the feeling.Saudade is the memory of you and me, how happy we’ve been, how angry you’ve left me sometimes. It’s the things that we’ve cultivated and destroyed together and how many times we’ve pulled each other up. It’s all that we’ve shared — the happiest, saddest, most awkward, weirdest, funniest times. That time you showed me around your hometown, that time we shared a bowl of soup and that time I got mad at you for getting mad at me. I have no word to express myself to you, unless you know the meaning of “saudade”.

Nicholas Chieng