Thursday, January 30, 2014

Expat Back to Her Hometown


My old prejudice against small towns is slowly fading away. Having returned to my hometown (and my home country) almost thirty years after I vowed to myself never to be back to this mediocre place, it's quite an adventure of its own. I had first to swallow my own pride and recognize that my town (and my country) never missed me or needed me, but now, I was in a position where it was adamant that I returned home: I was tired, hurt, impoverished, disheartened, famished, with a beaten up soul and a sick body, and nowhere else to run. I consider myself a "prodigal child," the ungrateful daughter of a wealthy father (the land I was born in).
As many of you know, I am an ex-expat, living the adventures of returning to my birth country, and making discoveries for the first time about the wonderful place I was raised in. It's been over six years now. And every day, I unveil little secrets never revealed to me before with the eyes of a local.
Today, crossing the street of my little town with a friend who is also an ex-expat, he said "Look at this sun! Only in Brazil we have 360 days of sunny weather. Somewhere else has only 36 days like this." We truly appreciate sweltering days like it was today - no matter how much sweat or mosquitoes at night.
My region is not scenic, touristy or even of any historical interest. It is plain boring, town with square blocks with square houses , and the flat land countryside alternating coffee farms, sugar cane plantation, and pasture. There is nothing we can call it "locally made", "authentic," or "typical". No local culture, arts or crafts, music, cuisine, fauna or flora. It seems like there is nothing left worthy of appreciation.
But, when the town is ugly and the countryside is unattractive, two things of the utmost importance are left to soothe our souls: The sensory experience of nature and the ordinary every day life with our friends, family and neighbors.
I get inspired by early morning fragrance of jasmine from my garden, pumped up by home roasted freshly brewed cup of coffee, recharged by shiny hot sun at 11 o'clock, refreshed by a gust of wind in my hair at 4, not to mention, the starry starry nights just above my head.
While I lived abroad, my life had been chopped up. I had long years as young and single, regardless of my age and marital condition. It felt to me that my life had been segmented and only allowed to live as such. Returning to my community, I get to participate of all types of social events, such as births, birthdays, weddings, funerals. I have the privilege of meeting the whole extended family not only of mine but somebody else's. My neighbors are the most precious friends, who is always there of cheer me up or to help me, to watch for my safety and well being. And I do the same for them, in an endless circle of courteous exchange. Life is much more holistic in its breadth.
Small towns have limited number of people, and therefore, the number possible friends is also small. Yet, we get to deepen our friendships by spending a lot of time with them. With no traffic to fight, short distances, few working hours, long weekends, and nothing else to do, but to spend time with people we love at every day basis.
That I call it a real life, where people are more important than place. In my old days, it used to be the opposite. Place meant everything to me. Living in San Francisco Bay Area, surely, I felt lucky, but never truly happy.
As an ex-expat, I can only say that it was my eyes as such that allowed me to see how much roots mean to me today. Without those roots, I would still be wandering in search for something that was always here.