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.

The absurdity and the magic of borders

A few weeks after my latest visa rejection, I was invited to a meeting as a guest member of my hometown Cultural Policy Committee. The Brazilian government are trying to implement some big changes to cultural policies nationwide, and it’s meant to start locally, with each council electing a Cultural Policy Committee, which is meant to act as the midfielder between the official Cultural Secretariat and the citizens. As you will know if you know me personally or if you’ve been reading the other posts on this blog, my hometown sits on the border between Brazil and Uruguay, so in addition to the local Committee, border towns should also appoint a Bi-national Cultural Policy Committee. Ours is a bit all over the place, but that is not the point of this post.

The point is that I was invited to integrate a small group of representatives travelling to another border town further south for a 2-day seminar on the cultural integration between Brazil and Uruguay, which was very interesting. Lots of relevant issues were discussed and it was enlightening to hear about projects going on along the border line. One of the most intriguing aspects of the exchanges, however, was to notice how things function in a different way within one single stretch of land. The Culture Secretary of Jaguarao, the town that hosted the seminar, told us how jealous he was of Livramento, my hometown, for having a much easier time organising their book festival. Because Livramento and Rivera (Uruguayan side) merge together and share the International Park, where the festival happens, there is no red tape to go through regarding book sales. Uruguayan and Brazilian publishers can exhibit and sell side by side without any import, tax or exchange faff. Now, there’s a river between Jaguarao and Rio Branco, and a checkpoint on the bridge, which makes it a hell of a lot harder for the Uruguayan booksellers to go through and take part of the festival on the Brazilian side. Instead of just walking up to the spot and setting up shop, they need to deal with paperwork, licences and documents months in advance to be able to cross the bridge with their merchandise, which has resulted in some people loading their books on a dinghy and rowing across to the other side and back, unnoticed under the bridge (but I didn’t tell you that).

That sort of thing made me think of the arbitrary element of borders – the difference a river makes. We are talking about the same two countries here with their respective policies unaltered, but a completely different way of functioning on different spots along the same land boundary. That’s why the relevant agents have been calling meetings like the one we had in Jaguarao: to try and find ways of making our exchanges easier by listening to logic and negotiating.

I agree with Brazilian sociologist Fabio Regio Bento’s argument that a “world without borders” is a utopic and romantic notion, which isn’t necessarily better or more exciting than the world we currently live in. He says that most human experiences happen on the threshold of something – like the ultimate one, between life and death, for example. Liminal places never cease to amaze me, I just would like to see what they can do with fewer restrictions imposed on them.

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Livramento reps at the seminar