Brasilia comes full circle

It’s July 2006. I’m in Brasilia, capital of Brazil (NOT Rio, but I expect everyone to know that by now), leading a workshop with my mate Marion on how to use drama techniques as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language. The workshop was part of the Braz-TESOL (Brazilian Association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) annual convention, which we were extremely proud to be a part of as recent graduates. This, however, was supposed to be my last activity as an ESOL teacher, for, as overly dramatically announced by Marion at the start of the workshop, I would be leaving him and moving to Scotland in a couple of months. My mixed feelings of sadness and excitement were only enhanced at the end of the workshop, when one of the participants, an experienced American teacher quite a few years my senior, approached me to say thank you, ask for a book reference, and yell at me: “What the hell are you going to do in Scotland?!”, which was kinda sweet.

This was my first time in Brasilia, and I had made a point of wanting to visit my own country’s capital before setting off in an adventure that would probably take me to many intriguing foreign capitals, so I’d like to tell you a bit about it. It still is one of the most bizarre places I’ve ever been to. First of all, it’s a city that was commissioned to architects and engineers, and therefore especially designed (by the great Oscar Niemeyer) and purpose-built. This means that it didn’t develop organically like most cities and towns around the world, which gives it a sterile and somewhat intimidating character. But maybe that feeling also comes from the fact that it is the Government’s headquarters (which was indeed in Rio until Brasilia was inaugurated in 1960). Another strange thing about Brasilia is that it is definitely not a pedestrian-friendly place. Every time Marion and I asked for directions, people kept asking if we were driving and told us brasilienses were made of head, arms, and wheels. We were stubborn enough to try and walk around, but we ended up sunburnt (it was winter, but the city has been plonked in the middle of a desert and it hardly ever rains there), exhausted and almost ran over a few times. There aren’t even pavements in most areas! Other than that, it really is worth a visit. If you look at it on Google Earth from above, you can see it’s shaped like an airplane. The main Government buildings are built along the plane’s body, with the Congress and the President’s house at the ‘cockpit’, and then the rest of the city (hotels, houses, schools, etc) is methodically distributed over the north and south ‘wings’. And of course, if you are into design and architecture, all of Niemeyer’s work is a must see.

Anyway… as you know, I left Brazil and went to Scotland to study theatre. In 2007, in Bristol,  I met brilliant Brazilian dancer and choreographer Augusto Omolù, who introduced me to the work of Eugenio Barba, the Odin Teatret and the International School of Theatre Anthropology, when I was still trying to figure out the answer to that American guy’s question. And then a whole new world opened up to me, and everything that Augusto told me about his work with Barba resonated within me, like something I didn’t quite understand but felt like it was the right direction to follow. I dedicated the following years of my course to studying Barba’s practice even if it wasn’t part of my coursework, aided by lecturers from a different specialism who had introduced me to Augusto and had also collaborated with Barba in the past. The more I learned, the more interesting and confusing it all got, and I ended up using a lot of this newly acquired knowledge to write my dissertation (an analysis of the performative elements in the funeral ritual of a Brazilian indigenous tribe, if you must know).

A year and a half after I graduated, I had an opportunity to go to the Odin Teatret in Denmark for a 2-week workshop with Tage Larsen, one of their actors. Eugenio Barba wasn’t there, unfortunately, but it felt like some sort of scared pilgrimage to be in that theatre and have access to their library, videos, archives. Cheesy as it may sound, it was a dream come true. That wasn’t my last encounter with the Odin. Shortly after I was forced to move back to Brazil, I had the chance to take part in a short seminar led by Julia Varley, another legendary Odin actress, in Las Piedras, Uruguay. And then, fast forward to December 2013, the cherry on the cake: I was one of 10 Latin American directors selected to take part in a residency with Eugenio Barba himself – guess where? Yep, in Brasilia.

So that’s how it all came full circle to me. 7 years after I had been to Brasilia for the first time, just before moving to Scotland to study theatre, I was back in the capital for an intensive course led by a guy I didn’t even know existed in 2006 but was now one of my biggest role models. It was such a fantastic week, during which I felt like I was finally beginning to understand what I’d been studying for good part of a decade. And I got to sit together for dinner with Barba and Varley and tell them about my own work. Cheesy as it may sound, it was a dream come true [2].

eugenio_julia

 

Bristol with an L

After my visa refusal in April last year, I decided I was going to Edinburgh for the Fringe anyway, just for a visit, as there’s absolutely nowhere else in the world I’d rather be in August. Prior to my trip, I started hearing horror stories about people who were seeking entry to the UK as tourists but were refused and deported. I’d read a couple of them online, via the Manifesto Club, and the third one was told by a friend. His niece went to London to study English for a month and wasn’t refused entry after all, but only after she answered a number of pointless questions about her family and their lives in Brazil. Subsequently, the immigration agents called her dad and asked the same questions and the answers had to match. Needless to say, I was terrified I wasn’t going to be allowed to visit my friends in the city I’d lived in for 6 years.

I proceeded to gather as much information as possible and be prepared to be grilled at Edinburgh Airport. I think I’ve memorised the whole of the UK Home Office website by now (it was still the UK Border Agency then). I pre-warned my friends picking me up that it might be a while until they let me through, and that there was a chance of not actually being allowed in.

As the plane landed in Edinburgh, I started to cry. My heart was pounding, and it was all a concoction of feelings ranging from happiness at being back and fear of being sent away again. I filled out my landing card, waited in a long queue and finally arrived at the desk. A lovely, really polite lady was my immigration officer that day – one of the reasons why I always preferred to connect somewhere in continental Europe and then fly straight to Edinburgh rather than to London, where people who work at airports seem to be miserable and sadistic. She took my card and passport, asked me where I’d flown in from. “Paris” – And are you here on holiday? “Yes” – Where are you staying? “With friends, and here’s a couple of letters to confirm this” – Are your friends Brazilian? “No, they’re both Scottish” – Ok, how do you know Kirsty? “Through work” – And how do you know Jennifer? “Uni” – So you lived here before? (checks out my last visa, still on passport) “Yes, for 6 years. Had a student visa for 4 years, then a post-study work visa for another 2, which is the one you can see there” – Ok, good. Have you ever had any issues with Immigration before? “Yes, and I know that this is why your computer’s beeping” – Can you tell me about it? “I’ve applied for a Tier Exceptional Talent visa and was refused” – Why was that? “Because I’m not exceptionally talented” – (smiles) What did your refusal letter say? “Ehhh, no, love” – Pardon? “They didn’t give me a reason, they just said no” – Are you sure? “Yes, I am. I actually ended up filing a Freedom of Information request to the Arts Council of England to get more detailed feedback, which was still vague. Look, I could tell you the whole story, if you want, but let’s just say I also contacted the British Consul in Rio and she said herself she wasn’t clear how this visa worked” – I see. So what did you study while in Edinburgh? “Drama and Theatre Arts. Got a First. Want to see my diploma? I have it here” – No, thanks. And now are you living in Brazil? “Yes, I am” – What do you do over there? “I’m working as a teacher and translator. Here’s a letter from my employer” – Oh, good, thanks. And do you live in a rented property? “No, I own a flat with my sister” – Ok. So is that why you requested an Exceptional Talent visa, for your work with languages? “Erm… no. For my work in theatre” – Oh, so have you done that sort of thing before? “Yes, I’m a director and producer. I worked in theatre throughout my 6 years in Edinburgh” – That’s lovely. And are you staying for… 3 months? “Yes. Here’s a copy of my return ticket” – It’s an awfy long time to see friends, isn’t it? “Miss, I lived here for 6 years. I have a fair amount of friends to visit. But I’m not spending all 3 months in Edinburgh, I’m also going to Portugal for a wedding, then I’ll come back to fly out from here” – Ah, ok. When are you going to Portugal? “Just after the Fringe. Wedding is on the 14th September, I’m a bridesmaid” – (smiles) That’s nice. So, you said you’re working as a teacher, but how can you go away for 3 months? “I don’t work at a regular school, it’s a language school for business people. We tailor our courses according to the students’ needs, so there isn’t a regular calendar of classes” – Ok, I get it. Look, have a seat over there, I’ll need to take all this with me in there and just cross-check a few things. (goes off for another 20 minutes) – Right, Miss D’Avila, let me explain this: I’m allowing you through, but there is a stamp with a code here meaning that when you come back from Portugal, you might be asked to produce all this information again. Is that clear? “Sure thing. Well, thank you”

Almost an hour later, I’m allowed in.

Toni Nealie is a writer from New Zealand who lives and works in Chicago, and has had her fair share of immigration trouble. I completely identify with her feelings, thus described: “Being viewed as a potential threat diminishes you, fractures a personal landscape, peels off pieces of bark until you are raw. You begin to suspect your own legitimacy, your place in the long, snaking lines of mainly brown people waiting for their numbers to come up. Are you trying to sneak through a keyhole into a society that doesn’t want you? are you in the shadows of illegality? could they deport you? could they make you disappear?”. Her heartfelt narrative of her own airport trials can be found in full here. It really is a bizarre situation to be in.

When I stepped out of the airport and was taken to Cramond Island for a picnic with my friends, I felt like it was the first time I’d breathed in almost a year. And I had a wonderful month and a bit in Edinburgh, and then took a train to Bristol to see a long-lost friend and from there I flew to Lisbon.

I arrived in Lisbon with another thick stack of photocopies of everything I reckoned I’d need to be allowed in the country. I was a tad more concerned, because my friend getting married was Brazilian, but I had all her details, including her residency number. Not having a copy of the actual wedding invitation was another thing making me nervous, and I was kicking myself internally for forgetting to do that. I waited in a queue for 40 minutes and then arrived at the desk. [following dialogue was in Portuguese] – Good evening. “Evening (hands over passport)” – Where are you flying from? “Bristol” – See, when you say that word in English, you pronounce the L at the end, don’t you? “Yes…? Bristollll” – Ha. That’s funny. (stamps passport) Welcome to Lisbon.

Yep. That was all.