Tão Tá (And So it Is)

Roger Burtonpatel - Brazil


October 8, 2019

Easy on the mouth and easier as a definitive conclusion to any dangling end of a conversation, this pan-Brazilian utterance is as common as the 1950’s-American-Housewife’s “Well, that’s that!” in a buttered voice on a commercial or sitcom, and carries the same connotations. Idea closed? Tão Tá. Song over? Tão Tá. Acceptance of all that is? Yet again, Tão Tá. A less-abbreviated, more-direct translation would be “And thus, it is,” which adds to the colloquialism a veiled layer of unexpected profondeur. It’s also quite difficult to say for a native English speaker; the nasal “ã” is utterly foreign to our mouths. Getting it to flow naturally, as a Brazilian does, is a feat. And while using it is second nature to any native, so is not over-using it, which is a much finer art to master. As useful as it is, using it to wrap up every idea of the day is seen as fleeting and shallow. And so there is disparity- common, yet deep, easy, yet impossibly hard, used with grace, but also with wise reservation. The presence of it in my life here is similarly pulled by contrasting forces- desire for simplicity and search of meaning, embracing skill and retaining humility, accepting challenge and combating real, harsh difficulty. 


Life is what it is. I am in Brazil, but I’m still alive as I’ve always been- I need to eat and sleep, I’d like to enjoy each day, and this, too, will pass. Tão Tá. But this mindset which I’ve guarded as long as I can remember- one that has brought with it the great strength of stoicism- is inhibitive of living in the present. I feel myself yearning for the ability to enjoy each day, not because I know intrinsically as we all do that it is a day like any other, but because I really can’t, and don’t. I want to be free to introspect as I am now in writing, and yet the fear of edginess- expressing depth when it is unearned- does and may always hold me back. There are brief moments of clarity: in the cold shower, looking out on the lagoon, sharing a cigarette with an Argentine at one in the morning. For an instant, I realize that I really am here, living, but also being, and it brings both the most wonderful excitement and the most terrible fear. There is only one life, and this is where I am spending it now. Simple, but also incredibly complicated. Tão Tá. 


There is then the language. I mentioned the trouble of the nasal nature of Portuguese; for most, feeling like one is swallowing one’s own words is discouraging enough that learning the language is slow and difficult. But there is something- some secret blessing, or a chemical imbalance in the Wernicke’s area- that has gifted me with an unprecedented fluidity in speaking the language. Learning was slow at first, and I stumbled and fumbled over my own tongue as we all did. One day, like any other, though- something folded into place. The studies I’d been doing, my enthusiasm to communicate without difficulty, and that last special thing, whatever it is, slid and clicked into the pins of a lock that is now open, leaving me miraculously free in my thoughts and speech. I don’t know why this is- but of course I’m okay with that: It’s the result that counts, no? Tão Tá. And yet again there is opposition. Using Portuguese has become both more fluid and more fun for me, but using it around my peers is inversely comfortable. Simple enjoyment is clouded by flex culture, and I’m constantly apologizing for my ease with the language to affirm to them that I’m not speaking to boast or to hold myself over them. It’s an eternal problem, and not mine to solve forever… I only hope I’ll be able to solve it for me. Tão Tá. 


And last, there is the Stretch Zone. Divisive by nature, it is growth through difficulty, which I fully relish in, or at least try to. But what is the Panic Zone? When does Hard become Bad? I’ve been asking myself this after I close the door to my room, something I’d never do in my own home, to mute the shouts and crashes coming from upstairs. As some kind of Libra-esque karmic equilibrium (thanks, astrology), my outstandingly fun and remarkably quiet apprenticeship has been balanced by a host family rife with tension, strictness, and bitter conflict. Now, laying down and crying isn’t my style- but then, what is? How do I serve myself beans and rice when my host mother is shouting at her child over the pot? I have embraced proactivity with Global Citizen Year as a solution- but only after many hours of fear that I’m not stepping up to the challenge enough, that I am weak and afraid of growth. Only with the encouragement of others did I come forward, which was a relief at last… but would I have done it myself? It still feels cowardly to me. And because no solution has presented itself as yet (as there are no other available host families), the cloud of fear is still there, turning each morning’s attempted smile into more of a joyless half-laugh. Plainly, I am becoming depressed. But I’m in Brazil- what’s to complain about? Isn’t this just normal culture shock? So many questions. Will I be able to answer them myself, or ask others for help? Or: Will I answer them at all, or simply move on as I do, stoically drifting like an iron vessel through the next seven months? Have I even earned the right to think these thoughts of bravery and steadfastness, or am I still really just a child who's scared of looking at the world like it really is? Who’s to say. But this is one problem where "Tão Tá" isn’t as satisfying as it usually is- because there is still an answer to be found for me, and I might need it more than I know. Besides, like a true gringo, I’ve gone and overused it in this essay. So now, having essentially exhausted my supply– maybe it’s time to think a little differently. Hopefully this, at least, will bring something… unexpected. Exciting. Real. I don't know; it isn't resolved– but, for once, I'm okay with that. Tão Tá.

Roger Burtonpatel