reader report

Kiwi never alone in Brazil

21:21, Mar 27 2014
PIONEERING SPIRIT: Curitiba, in Brazil.

When I first arrived in Brazil in 1992, it was never my intention to stay.

I had been short-listed for a job as a fishing inspector on foreign trawlers working out of New Zealand, but just missed the cut due to the fact I did not have a cross-cultural living experience. I was told that if I applied the following year and had such experience, then almost certainly I would be contracted.

I ended up in Brazil as my brother was living there and was able arrange for me to live with a Brazilian family.

My first months in Brazil were extremely difficult. Everything was different. Probably the thing that shocked me the most was the poverty, I lived in a rich neighbourhood surround by favelas.

The owner of the house where I lived instructed me shortly after I arrived that when someone clapped their hands outside the fence to get attention and then asked for food, I was to ignore them. The first day I was alone I broke the rule. Who was I to deny a hungry person a cup of water and a slice of bread?

On the second day, more people arrived asking for food. By the third day, lines had begun to form outside our gate. That night my host took me aside and wanted me to explain why I had disobeyed his instructions. The maid had informed him that there was a rumour circulating round the favela that a foreigner was living in his house giving away free food.


Twenty years ago the communications system in Brazil was extremely bad. When a telegram arrived from New Zealand informing me that applications for the fishing inspectors position I was seeking had opened, it was already past the date of inscription. I was very irritated, but things soon changed when I met a girl. After five years of commuting between Brazil and New Zealand we married.

When you marry a Brazilian, you do not just marry your spouse you marry the whole extended family. In some respects, this can be cool because you become a part of a large group, but at times it can be a little frustrating. You just need to sneeze and you can be sure that within a few hours some third cousin of my wife's will be on the phone asking me if it is true that I am dying of pneumonia.

It is extremely difficult to be alone here. The moment you stop, someone begins talking to you.

Once at the beach I decided to get up early and watch the sunrise. I was sitting alone on the sand contemplating the last fading stars when all of a sudden someone tapped me on the shoulder.

"Are you alright?" the person asked.

"Yes I am just waiting for the sun to rise," I responded.

The man told me that he and his wife were walking on the footpath when they spotted me sitting on the sand alone and had just wanted to make sure I was OK.

I had just managed to get back into my reflective mood and the sun was about to appear over the horizon, when there was another tap on my shoulder.

A couple was standing beside me wanting to know if I was all right. When I explained that I was just waiting for the sun to rise, they said "what a great idea," and without an invitation, sat down beside me.

They began to tell me the story of their lives. The sun was well over the horizon by the time they had finished and wandered off, leaving me to contemplate the opportunity of aloneness I had just missed.

As in most parts of Brazil, security is a major concern. In the southern city of Curitiba where I live, it is no different.

Everywhere you go you see armed guards and police officers. When my brother visited us a couple of years ago he was amazed at the firepower he saw in the streets. I must admit I no longer bat an eyelid when some security guard passes carrying a machine or shotgun.

Brazil is a country of modern and well-written laws, which no one obeys. A good example of this is the way people behave on the roads. For most, traffic lights and signs are indications of what you could do, rather than what you should do.

Running red lights is normal and speed limits are ignored. One particular oddity are judder bars on the open highway. They can usually be found at the entrance to some small hamlet the road passes through, however, they can also be found in the middle of nowhere. These are the worst as sometimes someone has stolen the sign indicating their existence.

After a difficult start, today we are doing OK here. I teach English to company executives and work as a translator, while my wife works for the city council (she is a psychologist).

In New Zealand, we would be classed as your average middle class couple raising two children. In the 20 years I have lived in Brazil, I have witnessed huge changes. The economy has been remade, millions of poor have become middle class, and now the population has begun to question the cost of the endemic corruption the country suffers from.

I enjoy living here. Even though the Portuguese colonised the place 500 years ago, you have a real sense that this is still a pioneering country. There are still so many things for me to do and so many opportunities to explore.

I never try to imagine what would have happened to me if I had stayed in New Zealand; the only thing I can say is that my life would have been different. Will I return there to live one day? I have no idea. Here is my home for the present.

I do miss some things. Being able to camp without having to worry about snakes and dangerous animals, being able to drive on roads where large trucks do not outnumber cars, being able sit somewhere alone without someone interrupting your thoughts, being warm in winter (our houses have no insulation or heating) - but the thing I miss most of all is fish and chips.