A Turkish detour

At such short notice, the cheapest flights I could find were via Sao Paulo and Istanbul with long layovers at both airports.

My bags never properly got unpacked since 2012 and I had left a number of boxes with some of my belongings scattered around friends’ houses in Edinburgh, which I couldn’t wait to get reunited with (friends and boxes). Within a week of getting the new visa, I was ready to go.

I said my goodbyes to family and friends in Porto Alegre once again and flew to Sao Paulo, where I waited for 10 hours overnight. There was no point trying to leave the airport and I had some translation work to do, so I took as much advantage of the free wifi signing in with different email addresses as possible. Your passport and visa gets checked before leaving the country, so I went through security and immigration there and finally boarded my flight to Istanbul in the morning.

I’d never flown with Turkish Airlines before – they were actually quite a good company. I loved flying over the Sahara Desert in the daytime – it’s a bizarre thing, but you can see the desert moving from above. Truly amazing. I’d never been to Turkey before either, but regrettably, I’d get to Istanbul quite late and although I’d have to wait there for 8 hours, I wouldn’t risk going into the city centre at night so that would have to be a holiday at some point in the future.

I never felt insecure travelling by myself, but I did have a couple of odd moments after landing. First, as soon as I got to the lounge, I noticed that there was a guy following me. I wasn’t sure if he’d been on the same flight or not, but I kept walking and took a few turns and stops to see if he’d go a different way or keep going and he turned when I did, stopped when I stopped. I was under the impression he’d said something about me quietly, but I couldn’t make out what. I then spotted a large group of backpackers sat near one of the shops and made my way there, pretending they were my friends. The guy then disappeared. I saw an empty spot on the floor next to the group and sat there. I took my purse out of my rucksack and started sorting out my money to get some food soon and then another guy approached. Smiling, he took a bag of sweets out of his bag and offered me one. I declined and thanked him, he insisted, shoving the bag in my hand. I lied that I was diabetic and couldn’t eat sweets, which made him give up thankfully. He could be just a genuinely nice guy offering a random some sweets, but again… wouldn’t risk it!

After those two occurrences, the rest of my night at the Istanbul airport was fine. I had some food and some mad ice cream, worked a bit more, drank lots of coffee and eventually made my way to my departure gate, where they checked my visa and my backpack for a third time since I started my journey. The woman doing that was a bit confused about the visa, because the actual stamp on my passport had an expiry date in 7 days because the system changed and I now needed to collect a residency card upon arrival in Edinburgh. I appreciate that the card has biometric data and can be used as ID, which means I don’t have to carry my passport around with me and that’s good, but they could have informed all the people conducting checks that this is how it works so we avoid suspicion and embarrassment. I suppose that’s asking too much.

After all explanations made and accepted, I was allowed to board and head to my final destination – my beloved Edinburgh! This was end of October 2015, when after 3 years in limbo I was allowed to return – not permanently yet, but it was the best shot I had.

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On Holding it Together

DSCF5622As I walked down the Royal Mile aiming for the fudge shop, it didn’t feel that it was my last day in Edinburgh again. It even felt like it was business as usual later on when my friends and I did a mad dash out to Falkirk to see the Kelpies before I left (which are magnificent, by the way), and after that, when we all had dinner at Toby Carvery in Corstorphine. I wasn’t ridiculously drunk this time and I wasn’t flooding the place with tears, declarations of love and promises to return soon. I was angry, though. I was fuming inside. The however many stages of grief, I suppose. If I keep going back and leaving, it will eventually turn into resignation acceptance.

So I came back to Brazil, I lost and recovered my luggage, I went to the beach for a few days, saw my relatives, etc. And then I had to have a haircut and I freaked out. See, my family and friends are now used to hearing about my struggle with the UK draconian immigration laws, but people who don’t know me aren’t, and the prospect of having to explain the story of my life for the umpteenth time to a complete stranger filled me with dread. Not just having to go over painful details that were now swept under the rug again, but to be seen as a failure. You might say this is not true, but this is how I feel when I start telling the story and people question each one of my moves. I obviously failed as a theatre maker because I didn’t get an Exceptional Talent visa – that means I’m not good at what I’ve chosen to do. I also failed at doing something else because I never got a ‘real’ job that would lead to a work visa – that means I’m not good at anything else. I failed at being a seductress because I didn’t score a British husband/partner that would get me a spouse visa – fuck knows what that means and that’s a different can of worms. I failed at being a smart ass rogue Brazilian and never got a fake EU passport – that means I’m not good at being dishonest. Please understand that I don’t necessarily think those things about myself, but I can see that thought process happening inside the heads of people I talk to.

I still needed that haircut. I kid you not, I rehearsed a slightly different life story at home before booking my appointment. When the inevitable ‘so what do you do’ and ‘where do you stay’ questions came up, I’d tell them I was a freelance translator and lived between Porto Alegre and Livramento, where I often visit to check on my mum. That’s all. Uneventful. I work from home, have few friends, I don’t go out and don’t travel much, only been to Uruguay a few times. Unmarried, two cats. No, never lived abroad, only studied English over here at language schools and then at uni. Yep, that’s it. We’re just trimming the ends today, nothing radical. That’s lovely, perfect. Thanks, bye.

It didn’t happen like that. I can be a good liar, but this whole situation and my angst about it are stronger than me. I ended up telling the hairdresser I lived in Scotland but had to come back for a few months to work on a project. So I managed to avoid the immigration chat, but I couldn’t bring myself to saying I lived in Brazil permanently. Maybe it feels that if I do, I will then be finally giving up and resigning to it. Maybe I just really couldn’t be bothered with the whole saga. In either case, this type of reaction worries me. It probably is only natural in the course to acceptance of a personal tragedy, but it can’t be right for someone to panic because they’ll be asked two ordinary questions at a hair salon. I realise how much of an overstatement that sounds, but trust me, it messes with your head.

I remember a conversation I had once with someone close to me that suffered from actual mental health issues and they asked me what my disorder was, assuming no one is ‘normal’. I said I didn’t have anything, or at least had never been diagnosed, or ever felt the need to be checked over. I have been ‘accused’ by a couple of exes of being ridiculously self-sufficient and aware, and maybe that is an indication of something. I get anxious and sad, but I believe those things happen at a level considered normal – I’ve never stopped functioning as a result of anxiety, sadness or even fatigue. I have no intention of hijacking attention from, or disrespecting people (including friends and family) who really suffer from mental health conditions, and I think I’ve generally been good at handling those (if you are one of my crazies and you’re reading this, I’m sorry if you ever felt I didn’t treat you right, I’m still learning). What I’m trying to say is that, although I didn’t lock myself up at home, I’ve close to having some sort of breakdown a couple of times since this started, and sometimes I’m not sure how I am still holding it together. Maybe self-sufficiency and awareness do come in handy, after all. I’m just not sure if they are everlasting.

Not Talented Enough for the UK

Most people reading this post are friends who already know the outcome of this whole saga. Irrespective of your knowledge of my ordeal, however, I would like to ask you to please read this with a sense of revolt rather than pity.

As you can imagine from the title and introduction above, I have been deemed not talented enough by the Arts Council of England for the second time, and therefore not eligible for a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa. I can’t go back to Edinburgh and continue my work there. I will have to run around my friends’ houses to collect my things they’ve been keeping for me and find a way of disposing of them/shipping them back to Brazil. I will have to decide what to do with my Scottish-registered theatre company. I will have to change my plans and my career.

 

tier1

If you haven’t been through something like this, you can’t really know how painful it is. Granted, I’m not a refugee or asylum seeker and there are millions of people out there who desperately need to migrate as it is a life or death situation for them. But with all due respect, this feels a bit like dying to me. It feels like I’ve been removed from my life. You know when you go through a personal tragedy of some sort, but you have your work to focus on, your friends who lend a helping hand, the rest of your surroundings to help you through? Well, that whole network of support is what has been taken from me. You can put things in boxes and into storage, but you can’t do the same with a career and with people.

I’m being punished for not being good enough, and I’m constantly reminded of that when I answer the questions I get almost daily about this. One good thing that has come out of it is that I’ve honed my storytelling and communication skills to perfection, being forced to adjust the register between talking my 30-something friends and cousins who are doctors and lawyers, and talking to my 80-year-old auntie who didn’t go to uni. Oh, and I’ve had to tell the story many times in three languages as well. But I’m not exceptionally talented, so don’t mind me.