Getting through the mountains of paperwork and bureaucracy when moving countries can be difficult, but don’t forget the reasons why you moved in the first place, says Gina Maffey in the third part of her adventures from Scotland to Brazil.
I stared blankly at the wall. The air-conditioning unit was humming away merrily, but it could offer no advice to my conundrum. The man behind the desk repeated the question, asking where I was born. The form in front of him said England, but my passport said that I was British. My mind was hurriedly trying to piece together an answer, stumbling over the unfamiliar language. How on earth do you explain the fact that the United Kingdom is comprised of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and that England is a country within that kingdom… in Portuguese.
Our first week had been punctuated with encounters such as this as my husband and I sought to get all our documents in order. Hours of waiting in queues; passing from one desk to another; seeking approval from banks; the federal police; the tax office. The path to adventure had a seemingly slow and bureaucratic beginning.
Moving from one air-conditioned office to another, it was easy to forget what we were doing here, ideas lost in a trail of paperwork and signatures.
Academically, Brazil presented an opportunity to work with new teams, new ideas and new concepts. From an environmental research perspective there were obvious attractions too. We were based in Cuiabá, the ‘green city’ on the edge of the Pantanal – the largest tropical wetland in the world. It’s a biodiverse area, with many complex ecological and social interactions that we longed to explore.
But we had moved here for more than academic interest alone. We had also indulged a more selfish desire. A desire to get more ‘life experience’, to live in a culture removed from one’s own, to see and live the world from another perspective. And, above all, to hopefully see some of the species in real life that we’d only ever witnessed on screen.
For us, our personal agenda had also caused conflict: the decision to move abroad meant a greater environmental footprint. It was not a decision we had taken lightly, and it added pressure to ensure that we did the excursion justice, amply fulfilling both the academic and personal opportunities available.
I also questioned what I had to offer as a foreign academic. There had been excitement initially as I was revealed as a ‘native’ English speaker, an apparent oddity on campus. Teaching English seemed an option, but teaching in English was more problematic. The initial challenge would undoubtedly be getting my head in a Portuguese discourse and a Brazilian mind-set. For someone interested in environmental communication this was an extremely exciting challenge. To be forced to think creatively of how I expressed myself in the most basic of ways was an odd experience and a rare opportunity.
And so, throughout that first week my mind had jumped through lists of potential ‘jobs’ that I could do and projects that I could link in with. Would it be possible to apply for additional funding and work with my husband? Would it be feasible to teach in the future? Would we be able to nurture a working network here, and maintain the existing one in the UK? This overwhelming mix of new places, people and plans left our heads reeling and we jumped at the chance to take a trip outside of the city.
We headed north to Chapada dos Guimarães, a plateau that marks the border of the lowland that comprises the Pantanal and Cuiabá. As we left the somewhat familiar sights of the campus the city began to melt into the cerrado, and we glimpsed the breadth of the countryside that lay ahead. But then we reached it, the edge of the ridge. The edge of the modern world. A vast expanse of green stretched out below us, peppered with lakes and forests, as far as the eye could see. It was a breath-taking disclosure of the landscape that would shape our time here, and one that pushed all thoughts of air conditioned queues firmly to the back of the mind.
If you’re new to Gina’s adventures, here are the first two parts: