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Life Arts    H4'ed 12/6/18

Escape from America: Natal, Brazil

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Message Linh Dinh
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In 2015, I started an Escape from America series, featuring American expats, so here's the latest:

Natal, Brazil
Natal, Brazil
(Image by Sean T.)
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Lunch in Natal, Brazil
Lunch in Natal, Brazil
(Image by Sean T.)
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How long have you lived overseas?

Well, I've been spending half my time overseas for about the last 20 years. The vast majority of it has been in Brazil, and this country is quite strict about its immigration policy. It can be done, but for someone like myself, it's just too difficult of a nut to crack. Thus, without intending to do so, I've been living this transitory lifestyle for a long time. In fact, there have been countless times, where I vowed never to go back to the US and contrarily to never leave it after returning.

Since the only realistic way (for me) to remain here indefinitely is to marry a Brazilian, and lacking the courage (no guts - no glory), I haven't been able to stay. Every time I try to linger in the US and grind it out, I eventually lose my mind and give up. Life in America is an absolutely soul-crushing experience, but leaving it is almost as hard as staying. I suppose it all goes back to Kierkegaard's wisdom: 'If you stay, you'll regret it. If you leave, you'll regret it.'

What made you decide to leave the US?

I was always a restless soul, and moving around America lost its allure pretty quickly as I found each locale to be slightly worse than the last. I followed the Iran/Contra affair in the news, and I arrived at the conclusion that the US was nothing more than a banana republic (without the bananas), and I would have laughed at anyone who suggested that "caravans" of immigrants would be trying to enter the country in 2018.

When in college at Michigan State, I met a Brazilian girl as one of the six students (out of 45,000) studying Portuguese. Knowing her and her friends gave me the courage to investigate the place for myself when I graduated in 1989.

Since then it has been a comedy (tragedy) of errors as to why I haven't been able to establish some sort of residency. For the most part, I was attracted to Brazil because of the fun atmosphere, and this exacerbated my lack of self-discipline.

What do you miss about not being in the US?

Seeing my Dad.

What are the challenges of living where you are as a foreigner?

For six months per year on a tourist visa, there really aren't any. My credit cards and bank debit card work, and short-term housing is always easy to find. I speak the language fluently, and there are enough foreigners around here to acclimate the locals to strangers. Probably the biggest hassle is being asked a couple times per day for money by street beggars, but I get the same experience walking the streets in America.

While foreigners are common, Americans are extremely rare in this part of Brazil, so I'm regarded as a bit of a curiosity. It's usually a bonus. For the most part, I barely feel like a foreigner. I've spent so much time here, it's turned into my second home.

The only thing I can't adjust to is the constant invasion of my personal space. People bump into me, cut in front of me, stand too close to me... I could spend 100 years here and never get used to it. Of course, if the person invading my personal space is an attractive female, I don't mind it at all! ;)

What are some of the pleasant surprises you've encountered in your new home?

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Linh Dinh's Postcards from the End of America has just been published by Seven Stories Press. Tracking our deteriorating socialscape, he maintains a photo blog.

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