Where do I belong?

Copa sunsetI’ve been living in Rio de Janeiro for around fifteen years, with a couple of side trips back to my native country, the USA. Anyone who has read my blog knows that I love Rio…you could even say I’m “in love” with Rio.

But Rio has been changing over the past few years, in a way that may soon make it impossible for me to stay here. I’m not sure if the World Cup was entirely at fault, but prices have skyrocketed, and my rent has been raised twice in the last year or so, so it’s now more than double what it was five years ago. Food prices are out of sight now, along with just about everything else. When I first moved here, things were cheap—really cheap. Compare the $60 a month I paid for an apartment in the same building I’m living now, to the $1000+ I’m paying now for a very similar one—it’s just a little bigger, but no better. In fact, it’s old, rundown, has lousy plumbing that needs ongoing repairs, windows whose rotten wooden frames swell so you can’t open or close them, and…well, I’ll stop there. Suffice it to say, it’s not a nice apartment, even though it’s close to the beach.

So I made a decision: I would move back to the USA. Even though I’m a New Yorker at heart, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand those long, freezing winters, so I picked Florida as a good spot. St. Petersburg, to be exact, because it has reasonably priced rentals, seems like a pleasant place, has a warm climate, and I have a few friends there and some family not too far away. I felt fine with my decision—at first. I admit I was a little sad over leaving Rio, but I quickly got over it and moved on, or so I thought.

I started making plans, throwing stuff away (my goal was to reduce several years of stuff to squeeze into one large suitcase), and checking out St. Pete rental websites. This isn’t the first time I’ve scaled down to make an international move, but this time it seemed a bit overwhelming, so I decided to take my time.

Then one night a while later, as I was watching some Brazilian music videos on YouTube (one of them featured the trumpeter who played in my band and recorded on my CD), I burst into tears and couldn’t stop sobbing. I surprised myself, because I hadn’t realized how deeply I was feeling about this move.

After I calmed down to a sniffle, I decided to assess the situation. When you live in a foreign country for a long time, especially when you speak the language of that country most of the time and are deeply involved in its culture, it’s not so easy just to uproot yourself and go “home.” What is “home?” That’s the question I asked myself. And I realized that the answer had more to do with a state of mind than with a physical place. I knew that going back to the USA would be a culture shock—I had spent a year there in 2007 and had had a very difficult time. But then again, living here in Rio, there are things about the states that I miss, too. I knew I wasn’t a Brazilian, but I didn’t feel like an American either. I felt like a cultural schizophrenic.

I still feel that it’s probably right for me to go, but now I understand why I wanted to take my time. It’s not so much because of the sorting, selling, packing, and so on—it’s weaning myself away from a place I love and will always love. I figure the only solution is just to tuck it away in my heart and soul and take it with me.



Filed under expats, Rio de Janeiro

31 responses to “Where do I belong?

  1. Rhonda

    This is so “moving.” Seriously, you’re so good at sharing from the “gut.” I know that sounds funny but it’s deeper than the “heart” at times. Thanks for packing your readers/fans up and taking us along with you as you filter through. Love how this is unfolding for you, Amy.

  2. Thanks, Rhonda…yes, it’s the “gut,” for sure! Definitely taking you with me, wherever I end up!

    • Rhonda

      Awesome! Can’t wait till you get on this side of the world. Then surely we will be able to reach out and touch. So many adventures await you.

  3. I’m really looking forward to that!

  4. Merrilee

    You don’t have to change countries to feel that way. I’ve thought many times about moving from the San Francisco Bay Area to some place where my money would go further. And then…the same thing…I see a commercial on TV with the Golden Gate Bridge…and I think…how would I feel in Kansas or Missouri looking at that commercial? And that settles it, I would shrivel up and die.

    Is there some place outside of Rio proper that you could move, some place still near the water, but a smaller town nearby where you might live more cheaply? You feel so Brazilian to me. It’s difficult imagining you living in Florida.

    • Well, I can certainly understand your not wanting to live in Kansas or Missouri! Where’s the ocean?? 😀
      It’s a nice idea, the thought of living outside of Rio, but unfortunately not practical for a number of reasons, the first being that I’d have to get a drivers’ license and a car, which is not going to happen, and the probably not so great internet connections, which I depend on for my livelihood. At least FL has lots of water, and it’s not all that far from here, so I could visit. BUT, that being said, who knows what’s going to happen? I’m just hanging loose…

  5. And dear Amy,I must say I am at the same place as you are. I was born in Brazil, moved away for a long time, came back a few times and I have been living here ( in Brazil ) for 22 years now. I still feel uncomfortable. During this time my son was born, I had to take care of some family business but I still don’t feel I belong, as a matter of fact, I don’t know where I belong. I just keep on going, Meanwhile I found Buenos Aires a couple years ago…love at first sight. Let’s see what unfolds next.

    • It’s so interesting, isn’t it? I think about other places, too, like Scotland (land of my ancestors) and Japan, which I love madly (except for the earthquakes)!

      • ivpix

        I am coming to the point that’s not the place itself, but a state of mind…about what I want as place to live. Thought of Patagonia, few people, good food, harsh weather…fantastic nature and possibly very interesting to have a house. Also could be a small town in southernmost state of Brazil, but since I didn’t make mind yet, I must keep on staying where I am. And after all, life is full of surprises. I am sure when time comes I will know what to do, where to go, and so do you, I’m sure.

  6. Funny, I was just thinking along the same lines. As my friend Merrilee suggested above, it really would be sweet to stay in Brazil and live in some little town, but as I said to her, driving is a major problem. But I agree that life is definitely full of surprises, and it’s good not to try to outline too much.

  7. There will be new places to love 🙂

  8. You’ve got the beacon in you that will light the way. And the joy to understand and follow.

  9. Sarah Hyde

    Wow, Amy, can I ever relate to what you wrote. We moved back to the U.S. one year ago, due to all the reasons you cite in your post. It was a gut-wrenching process indeed, I was and still feel very conflicted about our decision. However, like you mention above, the prices make it just about impossible to live and raise a family in Rio. A true pity, since it is pretty darn close to paradise! Thanks for sharing this thoughtful text. 🙂

    • Sarah! I had a feeling you’d understand. 🙂
      To be honest, I was surprised when you guys left, but now I understand! I suppose people like us will always be missing one place or the other.

  10. Amy, you really should check out Ecuador, i could not imagine having to go back and live in the states! Un abrazo amiga 🙂

  11. Lizzie Bravo

    Dear Amy, what a lovely account – I really enjoyed it! I sort of feel the same way: as you know I lived in New York for ten years. I have been back for 20 (this month!) but there’s still a part of my heart in New York… I often wonder if I should move back, or if I should move back to London, where I lived as a teenager and have been going back to for visits and loved it. But at 63, with family and friends all around me, I really don’t know how I would feel. I totally agree that life in Rio has become unbearable pricewise. I have cut down on expenses as much as I can, and it’s still hard. On the other hand, I have a couple of friends that have moved to beach towns nearby and are doing fine. I could get info for you if you like. Saquarema, Arraial do Cabo, Cabo Frio. I can’t remember exactly but could get in touch with them and get details for you. I don’t think you would need to drive there… and they all depend on the internet too. Plus there’s frequent bus service to Rio. Just a thought. Let me know. Beijos e boa sorte! P.S. I live at the top of the hill in Jardim Botanico. The light, the air, the birds, the view of the Christ statue around here are so magnificent it would be hard to leave… But I do love Florida too!

  12. Merrilee is right. You don’t have to change countries to feel as you are feeling. My move to D. C. was love and home at first sight and very hard to leave. But I had tied my heart to someone and a long distance marriage wasn’t gonna cut it. It took me 5 years to feel like San Diego was home. Five years later we felt we had to leave for much the same reasons you are feeling about Rio. The cost of living was out of sight, traffic was horrendous. My 1 mile walk to the beach every day was suddenly more car exhaust and noise than commune with the birds and trees. There is a high hill in SD overlooking the ocean and to the north hillsides. Houses being built on the hillside was a warning. The day I saw smog rolling in I knew LA was encroaching even from 120 miles away and it was time to leave. So we made a conscious decision to move to the “third coast” and see how that suited us. We never intended to stay 24 years but here we are. Do I love it so much I could never leave? No. In fact we’ve looked around, but we have roots here and in that sense I understand fully what you are feeling. It will pass. Where you belong is where you are at the moment, Rio, St. Pete, Japan, Kansas :). Home is in your thought, not your physicality or geography.

  13. I know that wherever you go you will BRING something to that place. So, I think we often wonder what a place will give us (and there’s nothing wrong with that! We certainly want to feel right and embraced and comfortable and energized). But sometimes it’s good to think about what WE can bring, if God seems to be guiding us forward. He makes a place for us not only to be settled and happy, but to bring our goodness, fresh perspective, and open heart to a new place that will benefit by our being there! I know MY town would benefit by having you here, Amy! 🙂

  14. Good point, Laura…I’m definitely thinking about that!

  15. Libby

    I moved every 2 months when I was on the racetrack–but to the same places. I have been here (in NJ) for close to 20 years–home for me is The Finger Lakes of NY!! That is where my spirit is! (Mom and Dad too in Seneca Lake). I want to go there but I have many wonderful friends here as well. It is a struggle–inside me…I shall pray for you!

  16. Thanks, Libby! I know how you feel about the Finger Lakes, so I’m not surprised that you “get it!”

  17. Pingback: Blessed relief | finallygettingdowntobrasstacks

  18. Naseem Eman

    Dear Amy, I have been following you on facebook,great! But reading you are into this big moving delima 😉 l laughed and giggled : I have read all these letters! You are a great writer. Next: I am walking around with a plan to move where it’s cheaper to live! I feel strong because I am a CS student and I am strong in my head.what I have to do is learn the language of that country, that is all 😅 work a little more toooo urne some € ‘s, then go !!!
    Funny : I should find this! Moving site of yours ! I will pray for us! Naseem.
    We are Gods children, isn’t it ?

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