A couple of hours ago, I just heaved a great sigh of relief (and exhaustion) as I finished the last chapter of my latest book for Moon, Moon Living Abroad in Brazil. Last year, upon completing the third edition of Moon Brazil, I followed in the blogsteps of my colleague Laura Martone and posted a piece called The Making of Moon Brazil 3rd edition, in which I talked a bit about the process of revising a travel guide. Viewed that Moon Living Abroad in Brazil is still very fresh in (what’s left of) my brain, I thought I’d talk a bit about the experience of writing the first edition of this new guide to living in Brazil.
Interestingly, it was a comment to a post I wrote on this blog that first got the ball rolling. A woman using the name “flyingturtle” asked me about living in Brazil and quality of life in Brazil and inquired if there were any plans to write a book on the topic. I replied “no” on the second count, but her initial question inspired me to follow-up with a two-part post in which I explored some relevant aspects of life in Brazil from a foreigner’s perspective.Finally, having lived in Brazil for 14 years, I sort of felt that I had to write this book; in a sense, it was my story.
A few months later, Avalon contacted me and asked if I was interesting in writing a book about Brazil for their Moon Living Abroad series. Truthfully, although I was initially excited at the prospect, I also harbored some ambivalence about undertaking such an endeavor.
On one hand, I thought the premise of the book (not to mention the timing) was fantastic; not only are an unprecedented number of foreigners moving to Brazil now (with Americans being at the top of the list), but, to date, there is no other published guide book that focuses exclusively on this topic. I also thought writing about living in Brazil would be an interesting change from – as well as a useful accompaniment to – writing about traveling to Brazil as a tourist. Finally, having lived in Brazil for 14 years, I sort of felt that I had to write this book; in a sense, it was my story.
However, at the same time, having lived in Brazil for 14 years had made me acutely conscious of how many different ways there are to live in Brazil and of the fact that my story was not everyone’s story. I was only too aware of the wild and complex extremes, contradictions, and variations that exist within the world’s fifth largest country in terms of territory and population. How would I ever cram them all into one compact 300-page book and do all the Brazils – and ways of living in Brazil – justice?
Knowing what I already knew about living in Brazil was enough to make me realize that the amount I didn’t know about living in Brazil was daunting. And I’m not just talking about the ins and outs of all the various types of visas one can apply for, the state of Curitiba’s real estate market, or how to buy and register a car (confession: I don’t drive). The truth is I was very aware that my life as an expat in Brazil is in some senses very atypical from that of the average (if there such a thing) expat.
For example, although I live in Brazil, I don’t work in Brazil – as a freelance writer, almost all of my work is from U.S. and Canadian sources. I get paid in U.S. dollars and deal mostly with American editors. Moreover, although I’ve met plenty of expats through work (mostly owners of pousadas and restaurants as well as other travelers), I really have very little contact with other foreigners in Brazil; all of my relationships have always been with Brazilians. So, paradoxically, although I know a lot about the way Brazilians experience life in Brazil, the only expat experience I really know very well is my own.
As I mentioned before, immigration to Brazil – particularly in terms of skilled professionals from Europe and North America – has only really started to become a phenomenon since the economic crisis of 2008, which Brazil not only weathered better than most, but bounced back from with a vengeance. The newness of this trend explains why there’s not a lot of literature on the topic aside from recent reports in Brazilian and international press. Meanwhile, the blogosphere proved to be an extremely useful source about foreigners moving to and living in Brazil, particularly the mushrooming number of blogs authored by a growing number of expats. However, many of these blogs focus more on the private lives of the bloggers than on practicalities of life in Brazil as an expat; how and where to rent an apartment in Recife, where to send American kids to school in São Paulo, where to meet other expats in Florianópolis, etc.
But the expat blogs did provide me with an idea that would prove to be the essential key to cracking the conundrum of writing Moon Living Abroad in Brazil; I would let the expats do the talking. Lots and lot of expats. Americans and Canadians. Of all ages. Single and married. Straight, gay, and lesbian. With and without kids. Expats who had been living in Brazil anywhere from one year to 30 years. Expats from North to South, from the chaotic concrete jungle of São Paulo to the secluded island beaches of Boipeba. Expats who were studying and playing in bands, retired and running their own businesses, unemployed and working for multinationals. Expats who were fluent or still struggling with basic Portuguese. Expats who were determined to stay forever or counting down the days before they could leave.
I spent hours talking to these expats – all of them open, articulate, and gracious – on the phone and via Skype. I listened to their experiences, heard about their lives, and was rewarded with invaluable tips, opinions, and information – most of which will be included in Moon Living Abroad in Brazil and which I think will not only add to this book’s usefulness, but bring it to life.
For me, the chance to compare and contrast my own expat experience with those of so many others was both unprecedented and revelatory. For readers of Moon Living Abroad in Brazil, I hope this multiplicity of voices will get close to translating the many different Brazils that simultaneously co-exist and the many possible ways there are to live in them.