Nov 8, 2016
By Maree Erkkila
Free-falling to Freedom in Brazil
2010 was not my year; free-falling since 2009 from successful Customer Service Manager, rising rapidly through the ranks to redundant job seeker, an anonymous face caught up in the tsunami of unemployment as Australia was hit by the Global Economic Crisis. At the same time I went from being married, in love and planning a much dreamed of family, to separated and fighting in vein to save my marriage as my husband set up a cozy new life with his secret lover. Spiralling further and further downwards towards rock bottom, alone, jobless, heartbroken and without spousal support, I finally crash landed; in bankruptcy.
Well, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way is up!
I had a dream; to salvage the last shred of my life plan, stop the free-falling and move to Brazil!
Sure it would not be as a family unit and I would no longer be cocooned in the secure embrace of the upper middle class lifestyle my in-laws had offered, but the challenge gave me renewed purpose and hope. Still longing for a baby, I discovered that even singles can be eligible to adopt in Brazil, this became my beacon of hope, the driving force to follow my dreams and never give up, no matter what challenges lay ahead.
Simply affording the airfare seemed impossible, a pipe dream, but where there is a will there is a way and by selling almost all my worldly goods on eBay I did it. With enough spare funds to survive on a shoestring for around 12 weeks, it was make or break to find a job in that time.
With a mix of excitement and fear, armed only with a basic knowledge of Portuguese, a passion for Brazilian music and a few Capoeira moves up my sleeve, I flew off into the unknown.
My heart pulled me towards the state of Bahia, and after three bus trips totalling about 35 hours, I made it to Salvador early on a January morning in 2011. I found a room in the heart of historic, sometimes dangerous and above all picturesque, Pelourinho for around USD$13 a night and there I began to live my dream.
My life story was a tapestry of hopes and dreams interwoven thread by thread with heartache and loss; thankfully I have a strong, independent core which worked like a flint to the sparks of freedom and adventure that came as each new stitch was sewn, thus fuelling the fire to survive here that burns deep inside me to this day.
I trod along the ancient cobbled streets, moving to the beat of drums, drinking in the sight of beautiful coloured buildings, and visiting the statue of Zumbi dos Palmares (an important figure in Capoeira) to sing to him and ask for guidance.
New found freedom combined with faith in my decision felled any remaining fear, my soul felt like it had come home. Against the odds I found a job with only days to go before my funds ran out, that dogged determination had paid it’s dividends. Sure, I was as poor as a church mouse, earning minimum wage of around USD$300 a month, but I was on my way!
From there the path has not been paved with gold, I have followed the paupers trail strewn with rocks, stumbled many times, scraped my knees and lived on the proverbial smell of an oily rag, sometimes in areas not too many steps above the poverty line but I have continued on my journey; a relentless dream catcher.
The experiences have been worth the struggles; I have seen sights both beautiful and historic that I could never have imagined, undertaken voluntary work with some amazing musicians which lead me to promote local Brazilian music to the world, something that became my soul food in this new life, and to top things off I have met so many diverse and wonderful people.
Living without mod cons; cold water showers, no washing machine, no oven, no fridge, no car, no TV, sometimes even no bed, brings sharply into focus what truly matters in life and those material items don’t even make the list! I have often had next to nothing in Brazil, but my life has been richer. Richer in experiences, richer in culture, richer in friendships.
My advice to those reading is, if you are struggling there is hope! Fears can be conquered, lows turned into highs and if you feel like running away, then sprint towards your dreams. Freedom is through that door you see just ahead, you hold the key so put it in the lock and walk through to the life that you dream of for yourself! As for me, I’m now applying to be a citizen of my new homeland; watch this space.
NB: Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art.
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About the Author
Maree is a 41 year old New Zealander who through playing Capoeira (Brazilian Martial Arts) moved to Salvador, Bahia Brazil. A roadie in her previous life, Maree now teaches English and writes / films promotional material for local Brazilian artists to be showcased overseas. Maree has written a series of 9, as yet unpublished children's stories about her bass guitars called Sr. Baixo and Beto.