I remember getting ready to go on this bridge year, preparing myself mentally and emotionally for it. I tried to get a glimpse of what exactly I would be experiencing in the next following few months through extensive Googling. I tried to prepare myself for the places I might see, the food I might eat, the situations I might encounter. But never did I think I’d end up struggling with my way way of thinking about the idea I’ve constructed over the years of what it means to be a woman–or who I am as a woman.
When packing to come on this eight-month adventure I followed Global Citizen Year guidelines and brought as much casual and comfortable wear as I could. This included t-shirts I usually wore inside the house, a few shorts, and a few outfits for events where I would have to look presentable. With my luck, I ended up at first getting placed in a hub where what one wears is one of the most essential things. I remember my first weekend in Feira de Santana. It was Election Weekend. In the United States, from what I have experienced, on Election Day one goes about one’s day, making a quick stop to vote, and then carries on. That was not the case in my new town. My host mom told me to get ready–that we would be going to the local high school so she could vote. I casually threw on some jeans, a t-shirt, and my sneakers. I walked out into the hallway of our house and my mom had on a short black dress and heels; her makeup was done and she had thrown on all of her accessories. I paused, looked at myself, and then looked at her and asked, “Where are we going again?” But as it turned out, once we were out of the house, I noticed as we drove around that she was not the only one. Everyone was dressed up in their best.
I would continue to notice this as the time passed. My host mom would ask me to go buy bread and I would be in normal house clothes. Since I was only walking a block up the street, I thought this was okay. However, she would stop me before I went out and ask, “Are you really wearing that out?” Comments would always be made on what I had decided to wear when I would go out…
I remember doing chores around the house and my host mom saying things like, “You need to know how to clean and cook–someday you will have a husband,” or “You made some good juice and you are ready to get married!” I remember at first being taken aback by these comments. Growing up I had always wanted to learn to cook and clean for myself because I knew one day I would be on my own and would need to take care of myself. I never though I would need to be good at these things to one day take care of someone else.
To be honest for a while these comments began to get to me. I would always double-check what I was wearing and ask my host mom, “Is this okay?” However, this began to bother me. I had worked so hard to not be that person and not care what people thought or said. I came into this program knowing that from the color of my hair, to the way I dressed, to the way I speak, I was different. Thus, I came to a realization: I may be living in Brazil, but I do not need to conform to a Brazilian way of thinking about how women should present themselves. I can still be myself, dress the way I like, and be a woman. Because at the end of the day, there is only one me.