Saudades (an intense homesick feeling), the Portuguese word which I finally
understood as I embarked on the plane in Salvador tearing me away from home,
returning me to the United States. I turned slightly at the door, inhaling one
last breath of my beloved Brazil. One more glance etched in my memory. Silently
I sat beside my dearest friend, Shelley, as we both allowed the tears to freely
flow, feeling the full impact of saudades.
Just two years earlier, I completed the paperwork to serve as a missionary. Then, I endured numerous grueling weeks until I received a reply. As the envelope was placed in my hands, I ripped at it anxiously, unable to maintain any patience.
I skipped through the first two paragraphs of the letter. I could read those later. I had to know. Where? I had to reread the country several times. Brazil? Wasn’t that somewhere in South America? Portuguese speaking?
There had to be some error. Portuguese? I had seven years of German. I had already planned on returning to the land of my ancestors. I was going to see first hand the places where they left their mark before immigrating to the United States.
Unable to remain erect, I sat on the floor. Rereading. Brazil. Disappointment gripped me. Sadly, I glanced through the remaining papers. Immunization forms. Visa forms. Passport forms. Lists of what I needed to take with me. Nothing penetrated. The knowledge sat on the surface of my mind like oil on water.
A few months later, I stood in the shower in my apartment in Salvador Bahia, Brazil. The other missionaries I lived with found me to be the cleanest person they had ever met. A façade. The cascading water permitted me to hide my tears, indicative of a near fatal case of homesickness.
I was just a 22 year old small town girl from the state of Indiana in the United States. I wasn’t meant to be somewhere exotic like Brazil. I longed to return home. The pangs of homesickness devastated my ability to function.
With great agony, I entered the office of the president of our mission. “Please send me home,” I begged the dear, Brazilian man. “I can’t even find peanut butter here.” Gently, he walked around his desk, sat beside me encircling his arms around me, allowing me to cry.
As I finished, he simply stated, “Now, forget yourself, forget your peanut butter,” he added with a chuckle, “and go to work. Experience Brazil. You will find many things here that you will love. And one day, you will miss Brazil as much as you miss Indiana now. One day, you will tell stories about your days in Brazil and laugh. Start laughing now.”
I left his office disheartened. How I had hoped to be going home. Maybe even the next day. For several more days, I continued my routine. Three, four showers a day. Longing for home.
A few days later, I descended from the bus to go to work. A drunk man sat on the ground nearby. For weeks he had taunted me. Following me through the streets. Yelling after me, “You German. You German. Go back to Germany.” Each day I would pathetically respond. “American. I’m American.” My blonde hair and blue eyes betrayed my ancestry, though.
This day was different. The man continued the monotonous routine, nearly driving me insane. ‘How could I enjoy this?’ I wondered as I remembered the advice from my president. My most aggravated companion pulled me back to the present, as she turned and yelled back, “She’s not German. She’s African.”
He stopped taunting, returning to his regular spot. The next morning as we disembarked the bus, our dear friend started yelling, “African. You African. Go back to Africa.” With great peals of laughter, we walked down the street, thoroughly enjoying ourselves. I laughed for the first time in weeks.
Soon, I laughed frequently. I found humor in about every situation. As I stood trying to order bread and a Brazilian friend gave me the incorrect word in Portuguese, I had to laugh when the cashier, who spoke English, explained what I had asked for. Three kisses instead of bread.
I found the most wonderful bakery. Every day I slipped in and bought one small loaf which I ate in the street as I walked. I discovered jaca, a native fruit of Brazil. It soon became my favorite. Oh, and the acarajé. I couldn’t pass up a street vendor selling this delight. I hadn’t forgotten my peanut butter, but my desire for it faded as I replaced it with new desires.
I found favorite places which brought me great serenity. Each Monday found me sitting on a bench drinking coconut milk near the beach in Salvador. I slowly sipped the delectable beverage while listening to the sounds of the Atlantic Ocean.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Brazilian people. Little errors which had irritated me to near lunacy previously became endearing. For instance, many times when I said I was from the state of Indiana, the response would be ‘like Indiana Jones?’.
Or even with my name Tracy which was often mistaken for the word treze (thirteen). Soon my American friends were calling me, ‘thirteen’ instead of Tracy. I enjoyed the new nickname using it for years as I continued corresponding with them.
I possessed such a great love for my new country that I set the ultimate goal of all. To be mistaken for a Brazilian before I returned to Indiana. My goal was realized a short month before leaving. I ascended the steps of the bus, greeting the driver and paying my fare.
Behind me I heard my Brazilian friend with whom I was traveling begin to get quite irate. “I am Brazilian,” she retorted loudly. As I approached them, the driver turned toward me, “Please, will you translate for your friend? I can’t understand her.” I smiled. Goal achieved.
My president’s words of advice stood in the forefront of my mind as I sadly left my new home, Brazil. I returned to Indiana filled with saudades for a country I greatly loved. I was conflicted between two great desires. To build a life in Brazil. To be near my family in Indiana.
A few years later, I had the best of both worlds. I married a Brazilian man I had met while living in Aracaju, Sergipe. We still laugh about things we both experienced. Yet, the saudades are still strong. I miss the street vendors, the sounds, the smells. My heart longs to return home to my Brazil.
Tracy Reichdan is a freelance writer who lives in Denver, Colorado, USA with her husband and five children. She is still fluent in Portuguese. Comments welcome at email@example.com.