This March marks our one year anniversary of living in Brazil. While I feel it was a very difficult year, and I am proud of myself for not throwing in the towel, it seems that others don’t really feel that I have reason enough to celebrate – all because we are here on a company package. I’ve been reading lots of expat blogs lately and getting lots of comments from expat friends who are not here on company packages. They all seem to have the opinion that if you are on a company package, your life in a foreign country is just not the true ‘insert name of country here‘ experience and that it must be sooooo easy. That REALLY irritates me.
Since moving to Brazil, my five-year old daughter E has been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, Separation Anxiety Disorder, Social Phobia, and Social Anxiety. She also has a rule out diagnosis for autism – meaning that her test results place her on the autism spectrum, but they feel that the results may be skewed due to her other issues. At times, her behavior can be much like that of a child with autism if I do not control her environment properly. We have to avoid many situations and social functions that cause sensory overload which then leads to a meltdown of epic proportion.
The team that evaluated E suggested treating the other issues first, and if we don’t see improvements in a year, they will reevaluate her for autism. As a result, E receives occupational therapy twice a week and psychotherapy (mostly through art therapy) once a week. I had to first learn about all of these issues (I had never ever HEARD of Sensory Processing Disorder) and then sort this all out in a foreign country – one in which I had only been living in for less than a year at the time of her diagnosis. The fact that I am nowhere near fluent in Portuguese and that I don’t understand the healthcare and mental healthcare system here only complicates the matter. I would not have known where to begin to get her the help that she needs if we were still living in the US, so trying to figure out the system in a foreign country is daunting. Then I had to find therapists who speak English since my daughter isn’t fluent in Portuguese either. It’s been a VERY difficult year.
I’ve been on all sides of the expat life. I lived abroad long before my husband’s company offered to pay our way. I’ve done it on my own, and I’ve done it with very limited support from the school I worked at. None of those situations were easy. And you know what? This situation isn’t easy either – even if I wasn’t dealing with my daughter’s issues. Sure; I live in a very nice condominium unit. I have hot water in my kitchen. I have a bath tub. I also have a car. My kids attend a very expensive school. To some, this means that I am not living the true Brazilian experience because many Brazilians don’t enjoy these luxuries. But you know what? The other 99 Brazilian families living in my condominium do. And so do the countless neighbors in my barrio. Yes, it’s an exclusive area and we have amenities that many Brazilians do not – I’ll give you that – but this is MY Brazilian experience. There is no TRUE Brazilian experience just as there is no TRUE American experience.
I grew up middle class. We didn’t live in a fancy house or drive fancy cars. There were no ballet classes or name brand clothes because my family could simply not afford these things. My husband grew up much the same. My husband and I both put ourselves through college and, after graduating, he worked his way up the corporate ladder and now makes a very good living. We struggled financially the first few years of our marriage, but my kids will now live a much more comfortable childhood than my husband or I ever had. Even so, there are still neighborhoods in my hometown that my husband and I will never be able to afford to live in. The lives of the people who reside in these neighborhoods may not resemble my own American life while living stateside. But at the same time, the amenities that I enjoyed as an adult while living in the US were far better than those of my childhood. While living in the same country, I myself have experienced different realities. The bottom line is that we all have our own unique reality and we all experience challenges and triumphs – we just experience them through a different lens.
So for those that may not feel that I am living the true Brazilian experience, I would gladly trade you my nice apartment, my bathtub, the hot water in my kitchen, and my car if it meant that E could become a neurotypical child. Not that I don’t love E just the way that she is, but I would give ANYTHING to make her everyday life easier for her and to provide her with a carefree childhood.
This is MY Brazilian experience, and it is not easy.