Culture shock. Homesickness. Loneliness. Lingual incompetence. FOMO (fear of missing out). Just a few on the list of difficulties I should be prepared to face during my eight months in Brazil. It was no surprise when these topics were introduced in both orientation at Tufts and upon arrival in Curitiba for in-country orientation, as they were things I’d been worrying about and mentally-preparing myself for since March of last year. So, by mid-September when I left Curitiba and moved to my permanent host community in Imbituba, I felt prepared. I felt as though I’d been briefed on all the problems I could possibly face and I knew exactly how to deal with them, get back on track, and move on.
But where’s the challenge in that? I thought that because I’d paid attention in orientation, I had a manual on how to deal with every problem that could possibly be thrown at me. This would be true if life was in black and white. The problem is that about 99% of this world is grey area, every situation is different, and most problems cannot be anticipated.
Rain. I never thought it would present such a problem, primarily because when I thought of Brazil, an intense weather pattern spanning the entire country never crossed my mind. I came with the expectation of sun day in and day out, rather than constant rain. I never guessed that one of the first words I’d learn in Portuguese would be “chuva,” and that I’d see the sun only five times in my first two months in country.
In Imbituba, I lived in a three room house with three people, two dogs, and a cat. We lived in a community of about 1000 people, located 5 miles north of the actual town. There was a bus stop relatively close to my house, but buses rarely passed, and those that did were on no particular schedule. I worked at an organization called Projeto Baleia Franca which monitors that activity of the Southern Right Whale in this area of Brazil. Unfortunately, monitoring was canceled more often that not due to rain and/or wind, so I ended up staying home most days. The days I did work were spent monitoring the boats and waves, as the whales migrated north early this year due to the unusual weather conditions. My host family was quite inactive due to unrelenting downpours, so my days became extremely repetitive, filled with an extraordinary amount of time lying on my bed, listening to my host brother play video games and my host mom watch TV. Coming from an action-packed life in central London, this was quite difficult for me to digest, and frankly I went a bit insane.
The problem with the rain was that it instigated the types of problems on which I was briefed at orientation. The types of problems I was expecting to have in the first place. The amount of time I spent doing nothing allowed more time to think about my family, friends, and old life I left behind in London and the United States. It prevented me from coming in contact with anyone but those with whom I was living, which made it difficult to practice Portuguese and become more competent with the language. It made me look at the lives my friends were living at college or back in London. It made me feel like I was missing out on other situations and on my old life that I missed so badly. The rain made me pity myself. It gave me a negative mindset, into which I fell deeper and deeper with each passing day.
About three weeks ago, I moved north from Imbituba to the island of Florianopolis. Here, I work as a volunteer an organization called R3 Animal which rescues, rehabilitates, and releases all types of animals brought in as a result of injury, sickness, illegal trafficking, or absence of parental care. I leave my house at 6:25 each morning, run three miles to the center of the town in which I live, catch another bus to work, work from 8am until 5pm, and then make my way home again. It’s an incredibly busy day that requires a concrete schedule. It’s tiring, but being on the go makes me happy.
Yes, it’s still raining. No, I don’t harbor such resentment towards the rain anymore. It’s not because I actually like it. Like anyone, I’d much rather be lying on the beach than having to constantly peel wet clothes from my body and hang them to dry. But I thank the rain for teaching me so much about myself. The two months in Imbituba were challenging and uncomfortable, but I look back on those two months and can’t believe how much I learned about myself. I learned that I need structure in my life, and that I don’t do well with a blank schedule. I learned that I do better in an environment in which I have more independence and am able to change settings when necessary. And maybe one of the most difficult things; I learned to accept something that I could do absolutely nothing to change: Mother Nature.
“An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. When life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming.” This year is all about difficulties. And if I leave Brazil in April having had more challenges than comforts, I’ll feel successful. Right now is about focusing and refocusing, aiming and re-aiming. I’m not sure when I’ll be launched but when I am, I know I’ll hit something great. Something I wouldn’t have dreamed of hitting before this year.