Amazonian Woman?

I love irony. I really do; it’s the perfect type of humour in books, movies, plays, and Alanis Morissette songs. But in real life? In my real life? Not so awesome.

I’ve known I wanted to go to Brazil since last summer, and I’ve been working all year towards this goal. While I consistently tucked away cash, I read blogs, books, and websites for teaching English abroad and scoured the internet for job postings in Brazil. Based on what I’ve read, I can easily go with just a tourist visa and stick around to work, but some complications are that housing is sometimes hard to get if you don’t already own land (wtf? Why would you need to rent if you already own?), and that employers can take advantage of you if you aren’t working there legally. Also, the maximum amount of time I could stay on a tourist visa is six months. In February, I found what looked like the perfect solution: an organization that provides English teaching internships in different locations around the country. The school provides free housing and a stipend, and this setup qualifies the intern for a trainee visa – good for two years, and more importantly, one of the only legitimate ways of teaching English in Brazil. I requested an application package, then did a ton of research, including speaking with three past and present interns about their experiences. Reassured that the program was legit, I submitted my application, complete with a $450 deposit, in April.

Now, one major drawback to this program is that I have no say in where I am placed. It could literally be anywhere in Brazil, and the placements change all the time because they’re dependent on schools being interested in hosting an intern. When I spoke with the other interns, all three of them were placed in São Paulo state, which sounded fine by me. However, one girl mentioned that her reference had been placed in Manaus, a city in the middle of the Amazon.

Let me make this clear: I have zero interest in traipsing through the jungle, surrounded by boa constrictors and piranhas and 100% humidity, for an entire year. Manaus sounded like a horrible idea to me, but the girl I spoke with said her reference was there a few years ago and she hadn’t heard of anyone else being placed there since, so I thought my chances were pretty low of getting stuck in the rainforest. I figured if they put me in the rainforest I just wouldn’t go.

It’s been about a month since my application, and I’ve been on tenterhooks all day every weekday, checking my email constantly in fear and excitement. (I’m also really stressed about talking to my current boss about leaving, but that’s another story.) Finally, last Thursday, I couldn’t take it anymore. I realized it had been a full four weeks, and I hadn’t heard anything. So I emailed the program coordinator to ask if this was a normal waiting period, or if they were having problems placing me. Even if they were, I’ve been in contact with another school that could get me a visa, but I just wanted to know if I should continue to wait. I didn’t get an email back on Friday, so I figured I wouldn’t hear over the weekend, and I was going away anyway.

So. I’m in Ottawa, visiting friends and having an excellent long weekend. I get back to their place on Sunday night after a day of wandering around the Byward Market and shopping, totally relaxed after splitting a half-litre of wine with my friend over dinner. I open up my computer, casually refreshing my email…and BAM. Email response from the program.

I’m instantly nervous. I click open the email, afraid of what I’ll find. Lo and behold, there it is: three lines that determine my (potential) future for the next year:

Dear Skylar:

Your visa paperwork has been submitted to your host-school in Manaus to be signed and issued.

Within a few days  you will be receiving your package.

Kind Regards.

Program Coordinator.

Holy shit, they placed me in Manaus! What am I going to do?!

I actually said this out loud to my friend and her boyfriend, whose room I was in. Then, after about five minutes of reading and re-reading the email, googling the location of the city to show my friends, and searching for images (not soothing), I started laughing and crying hysterically at the irony of saying, for about two whole months, that I would go anywhere in Brazil – anywhere but Manaus.

Boa constrictor sleeping off lunch in Manaus, Brazil

“Boa Constrictor sleeping off lunch in Manaus, Brazil.”  Photo courtesy of Tripadvisor, categorized under “Food/Restaurants.”

So I spent the past two days basically freaking out. I emailed a bunch of my friends, talked to my mom, spoke to random food-vending Brazilians at a festival, and watched a (scary but awesome) TV show documenting these people’s trip through the Amazon. In between, I tried to forget about it. And this morning, I went to the Brazilian embassy (a convenient 15 minute walk from my friend’s house) to learn about visa stipulations and hopefully glean some insight from native Brazilians.

The response I’ve gotten has been overwhelmingly positive about the opportunity, but everyone has said that it’s a decision only I can make. And they’re right; it will come down to me. I’ve decided that I can’t let fear make the decision, and so I will make an effort to give this fair consideration. Instead of rejecting the offer, I’ll wait to see what information I get in my acceptance package (coming in the mail a little slower than email), and ask the program coordinator for a reference from a past participant from Manaus. I’ll utilize some Brazilian contacts (past students and other friends of friends) and learn as much as I can. I really don’t know how long I’ll have to come to a decision, and I feel the pressure, but at this point I’m willing to entertain the idea of becoming an “Amazonian woman” – which is more than I can say for myself two days ago!

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4 Comments

Filed under Brazil, fear, IICA internship, life choices

4 responses to “Amazonian Woman?

  1. Manaus! I ❤ Manaus…and I think you will, too. I believe you will love the people, the food, the folklore, the river, etc. I mean, have you Googled "Teatro Amazonas"? It's gorgeous! And did you know that there will be World Cup games in Manaus? You may never want to come back ;). I almost stayed; I went back twice after my year there, and I'm not the only one. The American girl who worked at Fisk in Manaus with IICA two years (?) after me was seriously considering living in Manaus.
    Remember that Manaus is a cosmopolitan city of about 2 million people surrounded by the jungle.

  2. Thanks, Meredith! You have an excellent point about the World Cup games…FIFA tournaments are pretty much an addiction for me, so being there for WC would be a dream come true.
    PS Not sure if you got here through my subscription to your blog or my email, but I emailed you 🙂

  3. Pingback: Warming up to the Amazon | Same Boat, Different Ocean

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