The Door with the Question Mark


I grew up differently than most people. My parents moved us around quite frequently and by the time I became a teen, I had already had around 12 previous residences across 5 states. From that moment until now, I’ve done what I know best and my current previous residence count is somewhere north of 30. Most people would be pretty bothered by moving so much but I suppose that’s the difference between being forced to move and choosing to do it. Either way, it’s a great way to learn about yourself and about the lay of the land.

I’ve traveled through the lower half of the US and lived in several states in that region and this has given me a good sense of what kinds of environments suit me best. Learning, in this sense, seems to come through a process of experimentation (of new places), elimination (of unfavorable places) and reflection (on past and future moves). I use the same method in Brazil and it has served me well, especially in the case of elimination.

Living in Belém, in the north, I felt really isolated, even though it is a city of over 2 million people. A good amount of time was spent to reflect on why I moved there and what I learned by going somewhere most people don’t go. Sure, it wasn’t exactly Acre (sorry, people of Acre) but there’s a certain distance-based psychological barrier that revealed itself while I was there and which kept me from continuing to live there. It didn’t help that my initial plan was only to stay there a few weeks before heading to Rio.

I do ask myself how can I really judge it, though, if I only spent 90 days there. Sure, I met a lot of cool and good-hearted people, went out at night, tried all the regional cuisine and even traveled straight across the state, but unfortunately I missed some of the region’s esteemed attractions. That includes Marajó Island where they have amazing pottery and where buffalos roam, or Algodoal Island where people head in droves for sun and fun during long weekends, and I also missed the Círio de Nazaré, an important yearly religious procession.

I remember when I told my Brazilian friends back in California that I’d be going to Belém, and they just looked at me, with a bit of a blank stare and said, “cool…have fun…”. Looking back, I suppose it’s like saying I’m all of a sudden going to move to South Carolina or something, or Alaska if we’re talking distance. The point is that I got to do something unexpected and be surprised by the unknown. I went somewhere most Brazilians, and even foreigners, don’t know much about. I like to think I carry a little bit of carimbó (a popular dance there, pictured above) with me, and came away with a better palette thanks to jambú (a plant with a numbing sensation that they put on pizza) and maniçoba (an indigenous leafy dish that can poison you if it’s not well-cooked).

When I look at my list, I can say that my more than 30 moves have made me happier. For anyone looking for a way to continually place themselves in unknown territory and learn at a quicker pace, I can recommend the road less traveled. I suppose what it comes down to is choosing between ‘happy’ and ‘interesting’, where happy describes the steps that should be taken in order to be happy (“graduate so you can get a good job so you can get a good house…”). Choosing interesting, on the other hand, is an automatic passport to the door with the question mark on it. Funny thing is, that’s what makes me happy.


7 thoughts on “The Door with the Question Mark

  1. I wish you hadn’t left Brasil! I’m moving to POA in late July and have been living overseas for a dozen years. I certainly wouldn’t trade my experiences for 2.3 children and a white picket fence–even if you threw in a golden retriever–but sometimes it’s difficult to find the likeminded in a new place. I’ve been learning much about life in the country via your blog. Thanks for your insight and humor. ***Brijin

  2. I understand liking to move, see now places and have new experiences. I spent a week in Poland on a whim, so I also understand going to places that most people wouldn’t think to go.

    I hear (or project) some loneliness in your travels, because you don’t seem to have found anyone who was so compelling to you that you couldn’t leave them behind.

    I lived in Salvador for eight months and then decided that I wanted to live in a MUCH smaller town along the ocean. I think the experience of living in a small town in Brazil and the experience of living in a metropolis are very different.

    Anyway, I personally wouldn’t move back to the United States at this time, even though it would be easier for me to practice law there. I like Brazil and plan to be here for a lot longer.

    If I go somewhere else, it will be someplace like Kenya or Indonesia, but not back to the United States.

    • Surprisingly, I’ve been really enjoying being back in the States. Still, I dream of far off places. You’re quite right about the loneliness, though I wouldn’t call it that, per se. Being alone, yes, but being lonely, not really. I mean, I wish the friends I did make in various cities could just travel with me but that’s not practical.

  3. Returning Stateside is often a fun oasis–an efficiency you took for granted growing up now boggles the senses. I love much of what you mentioned in your “Going Home” blog when I return: driving on good paved roads, thrift/consignment/bargains, an array of health foods and products. Then I would add Chipotle.

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