HLG Brazil Edition: Transitions!

by Kerry Nappi

High: Weekend travels

IMG_0442We are leaving Brazil soon and counting down the potential weekends for travel, so we decided suddenly one week that we better go to Rio de Janeiro before it was too late. After all, who lives in Brazil without visiting the famous Cobacabana Beach and Christ the Redeemer statue? It wasn’t without difficulty – credit cards that wouldn’t work to book the trip and a day-of-travel missing ID card that was the only way onto the plane – but we did get there and have just a perfect weekend!

First of all, the weather was ideal for both walking around and taking pictures. Take a look at the statue: Brilliant blue sky and not a cloud to be seen. I am not a photographer, but each picture was like a postcard. We were only there for a weekend. On Friday night, we wondered along the avenue beside Cobacabana Beach and ate dinner overlooking the ocean; on Saturday we did an 8-hour Jeep Tour (jeeptour.com.br) that included every highlight in the city, then more dinner along the beach; and Sunday, because it is Brazil, we were warned off our plan to wander downtown to Santa Teresa neighborhood because it was going to be dangerous. As it turned out, there was a huge impeach-Dilma (President Dilma Rousseff) protest almost everywhere. So we walked for hours along Ipanema Beach, then joined the throngs to see what was going on. Without a word of political commentary, it’s hard to resist a demonstration in which Batman is a key speaker.


Low: Lack of efficiency

We are still dealing with the lack of efficiency in this country. The most frustrating issue yet was spending the extra postage to “overnight” our tourist visa application to Rio’s Chinese consulate, and then having it take 7 days to get there. The visa coming back to Salvador was faster, but also not easy as the overnight service wouldn’t send to the company address and our own condominium is known to hold mail for weeks. We had to find a colleague to accept the package. Needless to say, we had to cancel the pretrip to Nanjing to find a house. No visa, no travel. And since the following week I was already scheduled to go back to the US to bring my son to university for the first time, the pretrip had to be delayed. Now we leave September 4th…three days after I return to Brazil from the States. This process is slow and frustrating under the best of circumstances, but this it is just ridiculous.


Glitter: “Can we meet in the city for dinner?”

Like so many of my peers, I had the first-child-to-college-drop-off this month. I had the pleasure of driving nine hours from Michigan to Washington D.C. to get my son to George Washington University, chatting and planning as we went. As luck would have it, one of my best friends lives 10 minutes from his dorm, so after a night’s stay at her house, we hopped over to the campus and began moving in and setting up his single dorm room.

Several hours later, we were done. Clothes were in drawers, toiletries stored below his sink, school supplies set up on the small wooden desk that will undoubtedly see many late nights. Then he had orientation activites to attend. So on the side of a busy street, we hugged briefly and I held back my tears so he could get away more easily. It’s scary enough to start in a new city with no one or nothing familiar, but it would be worse with a menopausal mom sobbing about how long it would be until we meet again at Christmas in our new home in China, where I could not yet even imagine myself. It was a pretty smooth getaway. I cried alone as I drove away.

But several hours later, he texted me. “I’m done and free this evening,” he said. “Can we meet in the city for dinner?” Yes, I had plans with two college friends, but yes, of course I wanted to meet again! After all, I’ll still take any moment I can to spend with my grown son, even if it means another goodbye on the streets of DC. Glittery and golden!

Kerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.

As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.

Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family of four has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, and are now beginning their newest assignment with Ford Motor in Bahia, Brazil. The kids, now 14 and 18, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a Trailing Spouse. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school.

The life of an expatriate cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. Volumes have been written about the experience. Perhaps a blog that allows her to focus on a High, a Low, and a Glitter each month is one way to steady that rollercoaster ride that is her current life.

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