By Cory Bunyard
My initial interest in Brazil began with a conversation in a taxi in Buenos Aires when a cab driver shared with me that “Here in BA we have no money and we stay sad and smoke cigarettes. In Brazil they have no money and they take of their clothes and dance on the beach”. Brazil definitely appeared to be more my kind of place.
Within a year I was on a flight to Rio from LA. My initial plans to travel the country for three weeks and attend a yoga teacher certification in Garopaba (state of Santa Catarina) had been squashed by lack of funds and fear of more expenses than I had expected. I wasn’t discouraged since, months before boarding the plane I had met someone online. He had the name of an Angel, but I’ll keep that private. My intention was to meet someone to show me Rio, but I had found more. Over months of internet and phone conversation we had decided that he would meet me at the airport since I was arriving at night and take me to his apartment where I could decide the next day if I would stay or go on to my hostel depending on how meeting in person developed.
I never left his apartment. It was love. My first experience of Brazil was nothing like most tourists since I lived the life of a resident in Niteroi in a small two-bedroom apartment near a favela. I had little money to spend on tourist excursions and I spent my days accompanying him to work, walking or working out in Icarai, taking the bus through the favela to Itacaoatiara, seeing museums on free days, strolling in shopping malls when the heat was unbearable, eating lunch with him and his co-workers in local restaurants, shopping at Sendas and Hortifruit all by bus and foot. I saw a few other Americans the one time we went to Ipanema. I found the beaches in Rio crowded and chaotic in comparison to our little paradises in Niteroi.
I returned to the US as planned, but with intent to return as soon as possible in hopes of beginning the process of living together in Brazil. Having thought it over and weighed out our options as a gay couple and our financial and work realities, we resolved that it was more realistic for me to move to Brazil than for him to come to the U.S. It was what I wanted anyway. I returned only three months later with plans of staying at least three months. We would figure it out. We needed to be together and see where this was going.
I gave a massage here and there with a friend for money and helped at the design office on occasion. I had paid some bills in advance. I would rarely wander alone in the beginning for fear of safety and lack of language skills. I had learned some Portuguese before my first trip and having learned Spanish before I had found it less challenging than some had said, but I was far from fluent. He spoke some English and we managed. I think it was good in the beginning since we couldn’t really have petty arguments for lack of words and they would always end in, “It’s ok, I love you.”
I had to return to the US again. We had learned of the possibility of a Uniao Estavel, or Stable Union. It had been successfully used by a few same-sex couples for immigration of the foreign partner, but it required proof of a stable relationship lasting two years or more in which both parties could prove not only the duration of the relationship, but their financial dependence upon each other much like a Common-Law Marriage in the U.S. We were in no position to prove either or to continue with him supporting me and I wasn’t quite ready to let my credit card debts go, which were equal to more than our rent in monthly payments.
I continued to go back and forth over four years total, each time with a little more progress financially. Money was not our only challenge. Cultural adjustment had become much more of a reality once I started to truly ‘live’ there up to six months at a time stretching the limits of my tourist visa, doing translation work on the side and living frugally. The only splurge in all those years was a romantic trip to Buzios for our second anniversary and we still took the bus. I had left everything I knew behind. I had no friends, no job, little language and little money.
It was completely unrealistic but we believed in it. At times I would lose it emotionally and begin to hate it. The poverty, the difficulty in doing things that are so simple in the US, the lack of work, the time we got robbed and the fact that he was the only person I could share everything with wore on our relationship. This, along with the challenge of being a gay couple with no simple marriage certificate to resolve our situation, eventually wore us thin, especially him.
Waiting in Kansas at my mother’s house to finally move permanently, and for him to return from a work project in Angola with dollars to get a new place and finally begin the process of our “Uniao Estavel”, I received an email from him, for the first time all in Portuguese, explaining to me that he just couldn’t do it. The last time I left was too much for him emotionally and he didn’t know if he could take anymore. The relationship had become a burden and he didn’t believe in it like before. He was even seeing a therapist. It was a rock in my heart, but deep inside I understood and I suppose I saw it coming. I wasn’t sure if I was more disappointed in the relationship ending or that I wasn’t moving to Brazil.
People accept the walls we’ve built between our nations because they haven’t experienced how ridiculous these walls are when you just want to be with someone you love. Recently the Supreme Court of Brazil legalized the “Uniao Estavel” for same sex couples, a great triumph. I remember thinking that while the U.S. was chasing down individual terrorists, Brazil was winning the battle for love. Recently, my ex and I have been talking more and I am planning to visit later this year.