I kept meaning to post a new blog after I returned to the U.S. post-Rio, but I consistently found myself making excuses–too busy, nothing to say, technical glitch (whoops–entry deleted!). The truth is, I am still in the process of re-acclimating to life in sunny southern California, and sorting out my feelings on being home, on what the significance of my experience abroad truly meant to me, and on how I perceive these two vastly different cultures–U.S. and Brazilian–once the chaotic surges of transitional emotions have ebbed (this still hasn’t quite happened!).
My plane departed Rio for the States on November 10th, and some very, very dear Brazilian friends refused to allow me to leave the country without sitting with me at the airport until it was time for my plane to board, in spite of all my protests. I wanted to quietly sulk off, to sit with all the complicated, bittersweet feelings of sadness and anticipation alone, but my wonderful friends would have none of it, and it meant the world to me. I will never forget our airport antics as we gleefully posed for silly pictures and I shouted farewell laughingly in melodramatic, broken Portuguese. All the while, my heart was breaking, as these friends had become some of my closest on the entire planet, and I didn’t know when I might ever see them again.
My pre-departure days felt like a whirlwind, as my 7-month-old Yorkshire Terrier, Harley, needed to have all the proper paperwork filled out as well as an airline-approved travel bag for the journey, I had loads of things to pack (and give away, as there was no way I could fit it all back in my suitcases, which were now stuffed with puppy toys), and there was simply not enough time in the end to see everything I had hoped to see (next time, Jardim Botanico!).
The week before departure, I truly did not want to leave. Rio felt like home, and I was finally beginning to feel like a real Carioca, a Brasileira at heart. I probably would have gone super-emo and spent my last hours in Ipanema listening to cheesy, mournful melodies if it weren’t for the distraction of my terror at the thought of traveling 20 hours in an airplane cabin with my puppy sealed inside a Sherpa bag. I had absolutely no idea how he would behave, and I had awful fantasies about him howling in the cabin for tense minutes on end, or even escaping and scurrying around the plane underfoot of unwitting passengers.
It is surprisingly easy to travel from Brazil to the U.S. with a pet, as long as said pet is vaccinated and has a pre-departure check-up and papers. It was equally easy to purchase Harley’s plane ticket: I wish my fare only cost 150 bucks as well! I was surprised that the airline didn’t ask me any questions about his behavior; they just wanted to make sure that he was under 15 pounds and would fit in a bag stowed beneath a seat (he is 8 lbs, so, yes, he does).
He did amazingly well on the 20-hour journey home. We had a brief layover in Houston en route to Los Angeles, and his “inspection” consisted of some airport personnel asking me if he bit, and joking about how vicious he looked. To my surprise, he did not utter an entire peep the entire time (really–no one would have ever known I had a dog with me on the airplane!). He whined a tiny bit in Houston (he had to pee, after 12 hours–I would have been whining a lot more loudly if I were him).
When our second plane finally touched down in Los Angeles, our final destination, it was surreal. Everything was written in English! People were speaking English EVERYWHERE!! I could understand what they were saying! It was bizarre. I kept almost speaking Portuguese, and then biting my tongue. I smiled to myself at the foreboding sign that greets international arrivals to LAX at the top of the escalator: “Warning! From this point forward, there is no turning back!”
It seemed apropos at the moment.
I had my purse draped over one shoulder, and my dear Harley in his Sherpa bag over the other, as I descended down the escalator to the baggage claim area, when my entire family came into view: my mother, father, brother, sister, all of whom I hadn’t seen in ten months, smiling expectantly, joy lighting up their faces. My sister had even made a giant poster proclaiming “Welcome Home!” with Harley’s likeness painted on it (she is an artist)!
That moment, seeing them all standing there, together, waiting for me, feeling the gravity and magnitude of the journey I had just made, the weight of the responsibility of safely transporting my dog-baby half-way around the world lifting, feeling far away from a world I had inhabited for months, seeing the love and excitement on the familiar faces of the people who know me better than any other on earth, realizing how small I am, and vulnerable, the world suddenly felt very large and I felt very humbled. A rush of emotions coursed through me, and I looked down at little Harley, tucked in his bag, and back up at the “Welcome home!” sign, and I burst into tears of relief, joy, fatigue, saudades do Brasil, and gratitude.
It was a moment I will never forget, a fitting ending for one of the greatest journeys in my life.
Beijos. xoxo, Erica