Portuguese has a word that Brazilians love to use, a word that they also often claim exists only in their language — saudades.
Whether or not you can find an exact equivalent in another language, saudades is a beautiful, descriptive word that Brazilians use to express their longing and nostalgia for people, things, or places.
There are many interpretations of how to translate the word into English, but this is the gist of it:
‘(n.) a nostalgic longing to be near again to something or someone that is distant, or that has been loved and then lost; “the love that remains”‘
While the definition sounds extremely deep, sometimes Brazilians will use it in a lighter sense to more simply tell their loved ones that they miss them, but regardless, I feel that it is the perfect word to sum up my feelings at the moment as I prepare to leave Brazil.
I came to Brazil six months ago without any real plans, just with a general set of goals to learn a new language, experience a new country, and challenge myself to pursue new experiences in life. I arrived in November of 2021, and now it’s nearly May of 2022. My six month tourist visa is set to expire and the time has come to leave this incredible country.
Saudades is a common feeling when you leave a place or people that you have grown accustomed to, yet I also think that saudades is the ultimate sign of success, that whatever it is that I came here to do has been accomplished.
And despite its melancholy undertones, I’d also say that saudades is a good thing. Missing the people and places who have entered my life is a privilege in this sense. It’s also a cycle. This is not the first or the last time that I’ll have these feelings. Maybe there is an ever-present amount of saudades that we need to rediscover our lasting relationships, and pursue new ones as well.
Yet the saudades are not a one way road for me. It also works the other way. There are the pieces of my life that are missing that I left back home in the US — mundane places that held an unsuspectingly significant place in my heart, the friends and family closest to me, and, of course, my father, who left this world just months before I embarked on this adventure. Those all cause saudades too.
After having lived so much time in a country as fascinating as Brazil, it’s only natural to feel that sense of nostalgia — even before I’ve left. Being a part of this new world has been a daily journey of discovery, both about the country and, just as importantly, about myself. But by far the most impressionable part of Brazil has been the people who have entered my life. It’s crazy to think we were going about our lives, unknowing of the other’s existence, until suddenly our destinies collided.
I can think of 5-10 people that have somehow become a part of my life in Brazil who I truly admire. Whether they know it or not, these people are like role models, each displaying subtle qualities that I want to take home with me.
Brazilians often have very mixed feelings about their country and compatriots. And I get it. Between the justice system, violence, and corruption, I can see how it can be frustrating to live here. I also see how my highly positive view of the country comes from a position of privilege. I can leave whenever I want if need be. But at the same time, damn, I have been blown away by the genuine warmth and humility of the people. For Brazilians, that is definitely something to be proud of.
Aside from the people and places, I’ve also vastly improved my Brazilian Portuguese in these six short months. I’ve always been fascinated by learning languages and I can honestly say, despite all the challenges, I have fun while doing it. Learning a new language forces your brain to think in new ways. You learn to express ideas that may not exist in your native tongue, using words like saudades. The phrases and expressions turn into thoughts, therefore, whether consciously or subconsciously, molding your perspective of the world. This is really the greatest reward of studying language.
While part of me wishes that I could stay longer here in Brazil, I also feel like the time is appropriate to move on. I think another six months and I would definitely have a more native level of Portuguese, but the expiration date on my visa is lighting a fire to continue the search for the next adventure. I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve, starting with Chile and Colombia, and ending with a trip to the Mecca of surfing, Bali.
I am sure one day in the not-too-distant future I’ll be back to Brazil. I don’t see why not. As I maintain the bonds I’ve formed and my proficiency in Portuguese, I know that I will forever have a connection to the country. And, of course, the more time I spend away, the more the saudades will sink in, yearning for me to come back.