The only good part of my whole trip was check-in. The line was a full 3 hours long thanks to the US’s own screening procedures at check in, but Jenni had arrived early and held a spot for us (we’ve been in Brazil too long). When I got to the front of the line, the woman at the desk told me to put my bags on the scale, and when each went a few kilos over, she smiled and said “I’ll pretend like those were under the limit.”
Then, she pulled up my itinerary, and her eyes just about popped out of her head.
“Who did this to you?!” she demanded, “São Paulo—Miami, Miami—Los Angeles, Los Angeles—Seattle, Seattle—Vancouver?! Are they trying to kill me?” She found me a new itinerary: São Paulo, Miami, Dallas, Vancouver – a full 7 hours less travel.
“It said your ticket couldn’t be changed,” she whispered, “but I made up an excuse.”
She also put me on a nearly empty plane for the São Paulo—Miami leg. The flight from the night before had been cancelled, so two planes were making the journey tonight, and I somehow got on the overflow one.
It made me think about how – even when someone does know you’re hurting, or doesn’t know why – they can do small things that keep your head just above water.
Leaving Leo in São Paulo was easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done. After goodbyes to Jenni, Mallory, and Henrique, Leo stayed by me in the line for the security checkpoint. The line had escaped its belted maze and snaked toward the food court, but it moved at a breakneck pace, so every time Leo would scoop me up for a hug, the line would rocket forward and we’d scamper to catch up. It was like running a 10K while trying to exchange goodbye kisses. I was crying and Leo was trying not to, telling me “don’t cry! I don’t want to remember you sad! I’ll feel guilty—” he corrected himself, “I’ll feel sad. There, there. That’s the face I want to remember.”
The plane ride to Miami was hellish. I basically cried myself to sleep. The worst moment was takeoff because the potential ramifications of what I was doing came crashing in on me; this could be the worst mistake of my life. Our funds are dwindling – something that didn’t worry us when we were banking on two years of me getting a handsome financial award and Leo earning Canadian dollars; now we’re down to a fraction of what we started with. One or two months of sustaining two households and me spending in developed country dollars (rent of $1000, for instance, which would be fine if Leo and I could split it) is going to wipe out our savings. If Leo’s visa is denied, and there’s a good chance of that happening, I’ll apply for permanent residency in Brazil and head back there with literally nothing in the bank and neither of us with any income. Only now am I also realizing that this will present very major problems in terms of proving that Leo has the means to sponsor me.
I don’t want to say that a flat-out denial would have been better, but it would have let us cut our losses and commit to Brazil. I don’t even want to think about what an idiot I was to assume we’d get an easy approval…
I am starting to understand the way things are: there’s always a ceiling, and if it has a crack, it’s only for me to squeeze through. Leo should “know his place,” and if I insist on being us together, I had better learn mine, too. I wanted so much to share my world with him, but it’s forbidden even though his world opens its arms wide to embrace me. I thought I could make this happen for us, but I’ve only gotten us into a more precarious situation and have reinforced his caste in his own mind.
And we were so focused on Canada that when offered the least secure option, we took it. I figured that if I didn’t go, it would be the end of our dreams right then and there. At least if I flew up here before Leo did, there still might be a possibility of him coming along later… I’m finding out that even though I’m a worst case scenario thinker, I’m also somehow stubbornly optimistic. Apparently, I haven’t learned my lesson after all of this and am just going to keep reaching until it all comes crashing down. Call me Icarus.
I remember my interaction with the Federal Police when I arrived in Brazil: “come back and we’ll extend your visa. You should probably also move here and stay forever.” I hear Brazilians say that someday they’ll have to close their doors like everyone else. I hope they never do; their unfailing hospitality is one of their greatest assets.
As I was going through customs to leave Brazil, there was a young Turkish kid – probably 20 – who was caught up in a marvelous row with one of the officers. I didn’t know what was going on, but when he left, I was assisted by the same woman. She’d only just taken my passport when the kid came storming back and demanded to know what the problem was:
“You wrote 37! 37 days,” he yelled, “I was here for 23. 23!” He wriggled his fingers in her face to show her “37” and “23.”
The officer sighed and took his passport again. It was evident that he spoke no Portuguese and that she spoke no English.
“Why can’t I leave?! Why won’t you let me on my flight?!” he hollered, even though she’d allowed him to do exactly that only moments before.
The officer went to another computer to check to record again and then came back to explain. In Portuguese, she told him that he had 37 days in which he could re-enter the country on this visa. If he was gone longer, the visa would expire, and he would need to apply for a new one.
He screwed up his face again to argue, but I jumped in and translated: if he wanted to come back to Brazil, he had 37 days in which to do so without needing to obtain a new visa.
“Yeah, I already knew that,” he huffed, “and I’m not coming back for like, uh, a few years!”
I translated for the officer and added that she must have a lot of patience to do this job. She nodded earnestly. The kid sauntered off, and I thought good lord, kid! She was trying to save you the effort of getting another visa! Imagine if he’d made that scene in the US! He would certainly not be allowed to leave.
The point is that Brazilians pride themselves on being welcoming and to be rude to guests is the ultimate cultural faux-pas. Sure, they drive like maniacs, will do anything to cut you in line, and have little understanding of personal space, but dammit! They know how to treat a visitor!
Between Miami and my flight to Vancouver, I managed to keep it together, but as we flew into Vancouver and I saw the water and the mountains, I started to get weepy again. It was so beautiful and I so wanted Leo to see it with me! When we disembarked, I had a really hard time not breaking down in the airport. I don’t know if it was re-done for the Olympics, but even the airport is incredible! I had a continual commentary running through my head of the things I’d be pointing out or saying to Leo were he there with me.
I’ve wandered through these first few days in my superlative surroundings simultaneously marveling and choking up. I keep thinking “this is unbelievable! I have to show Leo x.” There’s a noodle place 1 block over and a cheap little sushi joint next to that; Leo would be gleeful! I also live next to two yoga studios, which would prompt him to say “full exhale!” In the first two days, I couldn’t even bring myself to go to the beach (a couple blocks away) because I know how much he’d love it.
Last night over the phone, he asked that I take pictures of everything, which breaks my heart – if he doesn’t get a visa, he’ll always have photos of the Pacific haven to which he was denied entrance. If he does get the visa, however, we will be in paradise. Since there’s a very real possibility that he won’t, I tried very hard not to like any of this, but it took all of 10 minutes before Vancouver had wiggled its way into my heart. I love it here. Paradise for me is measured in organic and gourmet food, Subarus, and evergreens and mountains (I’ve been sticking my nose in every pine tree I can find; I missed that smell so much!). I guess paradise for me is like Boulder, CO was about 10-15 years ago. And this little corner of Vancouver is like “Old Boulder” threw up in the Pacific Northwest (I know it’s not the Northwest in Canadian terms, but “Southwest” has such a different connotation for me).
Within a few blocks there are: several grocery stores, including an organic produce store, a butcher, and a Whole Foods (called “Capers,” which is adorable); two yoga studios; several incredible looking restaurants; an abundance of cafés, all of which advertize organic coffee (ah, but is it fair trade?); and a smattering of hip little shops. Even Mohammed’s convenience store sells veggies and high-end mineral water (which, as a water nerd, I do think is evil, but I’ve certainly never seen any in convenience stores before)!
Without Leo, all of this is bittersweet… but kind of like bittersweet chocolate: a little bitter, a little sweet, but still fucking chocolate; there’s no way not to eat it all up. With Leo here, I would be divinely – sinfully – happy; I would be with the man I love, in a place I love, and doing the work I love. Maybe mere mortals aren’t allowed to be that lucky. Maybe, like Aristophanes said, such completeness and perfection is an affront to the Gods. But if it’s possible to achieve that bliss while still in this world, I’ve found it, but it’s missing the keystone – my dear, loving husband, Leo.
After some exploration around my new digs, I have two thoughts about the inhabitants:
1. Canadians are Nice People. Yes, I know that this is one of those insidious stereotypes, but hear me out. “Canadians are just normal people,” say the Canadians I know. How’s that for a tautology? If you’re Canadian, you will probably think that your fellow Canadians behave normally. For example, if I were from a planet populated by sentient begonias, I wouldn’t think twice about self-aware shrubbery. You see, I’m not Canadian, so the Nice People I have encountered are exciting and remarkable – not at all Normal.
I have run into a few (what I would consider) Normal People here, but almost everyone I’ve met – from my Sikh cab driver, to Mohammed and his fellow clerk at the corner store where I found phone cards, to the man who fixed my computer, to the checker at Whole Foods – has been a Nice Person.
My cabbie waited for me for a full 15 minutes while I ran from apartment building to apartment building trying to figure out where I was supposed to be staying (that information was on my busted computer, which was not as Nice as my cabbie), then he let me use his cell phone to call my landlady in the States when I couldn’t find the key, and finally he carried my enormous bags up to my apartment – all while telling me “don’t worry! Be happy!”
Mohammed, from the convenience store, was delighted that I’d arrived only that day and wanted to know all about why I was calling Brazil. His fellow clerk was eager to discuss the emerging economies of the BRIC nations and assured me that Brazil is currently a very good investment. If I didn’t have to run and call Leo with the phone card I’d just bought, I’m quite sure they would have talked my ear off for the next hour or so.
The Whole Foods clerk, meanwhile, couldn’t believe it when I told her that I’d only just arrived (and hence, was starving) and also had a hundred questions about Brazil (the only one she didn’t ask was whether she could climb into my suitcase on my next trip; if I’d offered, she might have taken me up on it). We had a good laugh over the insane price of food at the store, as well (Whole Foods is Whole Foods everywhere, but I missed gruyere and couldn’t control myself when faced with gluten-free pasta and cookies for the first time in ages).
The man who fixed my computer – Tom – was my favorite so far. Not only did he come by after hours and right before his wife’s prenatal appointment, but he also gave me a great deal (taking pity on me for being a student) and took the time to explain everything that was wrong, how it could be fixed, and suggesting that I try this or that malware blocker, browser, and the like. He also told me that his brother and sister each endured a lengthy process to bring their Latin American partners to Canada because both had already lived in the US and were therefore facing the same scrutiny as Leo. “I married an American,” he told me, “much easier.” They’re expecting their first child in 3 months; her name will be Summer.
It’s been a struggle to pay him. “Don’t worry about it,” he told me yesterday afternoon when I asked about cash or plastic, “I trust you!” I still tried to run to an ATM before he returned my computer, but it wouldn’t take my card; I’m not sure if it’s because my bank thought it suspicious that one day I was buying lunch in Brazil and the next I was scampering around Canada or if the ATM just isn’t linked to my bank (I do know an RBC ATM at the airport worked, but I’m not sure which others do).
“I told you it’s no big deal,” he said, “I’ll swing by sometime tomorrow. Maybe 11-ish? And if you get an external hard drive, call me and I’ll come by and set up an automatic back-up for you. No charge.”
Meanwhile, I’ve also been waived across the street more times than I can count, and I’ve even had two people back out of the crosswalk so that I didn’t have to walk around them. Everyone here makes eye contact and smiles. One Nice Person assaulted me with a chipper, platonic “Good Morning!” in the street. Even the immigration folks were all chuckles and rainbows! We students arrived en masse and, together with new immigrants, had to wait a little longer to be processed, so they handed out water and granola bars and then promptly recycled the boxes. Apparently, I arrived on what they said was the busiest day of the year for them, but the smiles never wavered. Another officer came around collecting names of people who had someone waiting for them outside to notify those waiting that we would be a few extra hours. There was none of the badass attitude or the cattle car/huddled-masses-at-Ellis-Island business that you see at US customs.
2. Vancouverites are either waterproof or hiding gills. When I arrived on Monday, it was a stunningly clear day, but when I woke up on Tuesday morning, it was grey and something between a shower and a drizzle. I laughed out loud. I have never been to the infamously rainy OR, WA, BC area on anything but warm, sunny days. Now that I’d been lured in, of course, Vancouver decided to show its true face in all of its soggy, grey glory. When I went outside, I noticed a surprising number of people wandering around without any protection from the rain, dripping wet! About ½ had umbrellas or raincoats, but the rest seemed perfectly happy to run around waterlogged. It’s not like they were caught in a freak storm, either; it had been raining for a good long while by that point – at least since 8 am, when I woke up. I’m sure that the Brazilians would marvel at how the good folks of Vancouver were tempting pneumonia with such brazenly death-defying behavior.