It’s been a month since I moved to Brasília. My apartment’s set up (except for Internet) and I’ve already got a cleaning lady to spruce it up once a week. I’ve had my house-warming party, hung out at pool halls and nightclubs, done my first embassy event, developed a nascent group of friends, started Portuguese lessons. The job’s going as jobs go—filled with meetings and paperwork and the counting of days until the next payday or holiday. And thirty days from the start, I look back on the journey thus far and ask myself if this is what I wanted.
After having lived in Latin America for four years already, I’m certainly not a novice to the concept of international relocation. But that doesn’t make me immune to the fear and frustration that go hand-in-hand with sometimes unrealistic expectations. I mean, according to popular opinion, breathing the very air of Brazil is supposed to render all of life’s woes trivial and moot, the closest thing to paradise on Earth, The Dream. But interminable bank lines don’t factor into that paradisial opinion, or innumerable phone calls to get Internet hooked up at home, or having your name misspelled on important documents, or Subway charging twice as much for as sandwich as in the States and still running out of tuna. None of the frustrating aspects of establishing a life abroad factor into the romantic notion of moving abroad, of moving to Brazil. I’m even guilty of believing the hype a little bit, myself.
And along with that frustration comes the fear that I might not be making wise decisions, that I have less than a decade of “youth” left to make mistakes and figure things out, that pre-existing friendships and relationships with people in other places are in jeopardy due to my physical absence, that anything I’ve worked for up to this point in terms of building a life could disappear in an instant, or that everything I’ve worked for up to this point in terms of building a life doesn’t amount to a real life at all. The fear of having nothing to give and everything to lose. The fear of insecurity and misunderstanding; that if I fuck this up—this grand, elusive, esoteric exercise—things are bound to consistently and irrevocably remain fucked up. There’s nothing like the isolation of living in a foreign country by yourself, no matter how friendly the people or how open the society, to bring out neurotic introspection. It’s an inextricable part of the process. Because moving to another country isn’t just a corporal endeavor.
So for those random Tuesday nights when the weather sucks, friends are occupied, foolishness is on television, and frustration and fear begin to work on my mental and emotional well-being, I have this bit of literary inspiration that I copied down ages ago in Washington to pull it all back together:
When nothing in the world matters, when you’ve lost everything, there is perhaps a moment when the only thing that can count, the only thing you have left is choosing your own direction; looking your demons in the eye and proving to yourself that you are more than they. If only for a second, an hour, a day. That you are a man, that you have will, that there is something in you that they can not destroy, something that remains even if it is buried so deep you’ll never see it again. That you can save something, even if it isn’t yourself. And knowing, for the rest of your life, even as what you have is not a life, even as they reclaim you and send you back into their hell—knowing that, perhaps only for that one shining instant, you were free.