Teatro Amazonas, the famous opera house in Manaus.
So it’s been a few days, and I thought I should give an update on my present state of mind vis-á-vis “the Amazon.”
Somehow, against all odds, I’m finding myself warming up to the whole jungle expedition thing. Well, mostly because I’ve realized that it would be nothing of the sort; in fact, Manaus is twice the size of Ottawa at around 2 million. If I were to judge my openness to this rainforest ramble on a scale of, oh say, degrees Celsius, then on Sunday night I was at or below freezing (0ºC, for all you Fahrenheit users). Over the last few days, the temperature has risen slowly but surely (I would say like a Canadian spring, but that’s too unpredictable). After I talked to the Embassy people on Tuesday it was around 25º. After I told friends, family, and coworkers and got many encouraging responses, it was pushing 50º. Centigrade by centigrade, with each conversation and Google search, the mercury has crept higher. I’m really not sure whether the catalyst here is time or excitement, but the conversion is undeniably happening.
You may have noticed that I’m somewhat of an (obsessive) planner (at least for special events; I am way too lazy to plan for the day-to-day). Basically, I like to know everything that can be known about a place before I go. I memorize maps, budget out costs, research activities, talk to other people who have been there, and basically drive myself and others crazy with details. Last fall I went to NYC with two girlfriends for a three-day trip, and I had a folder, an itinerary, and a home-made travel guide shortlisting all the activities I liked in the bigger travel guide so we could still “wing it.” Yeah, they laughed at me, but it was totally worth it. Anyway, my point is this: while I had researched the shit out of pretty much the entire Brazilian Atlantic coast, I hadn’t given a second’s thought to the interior, and especially not to Manaus after I’d dismissed it as impossible. This led, as you know, to a massive freak-out when I was suddenly told by authorities outside my influence that my placement was in Amazonas.
I think that a lot of my first reaction was due more to unpreparedness (mentally and scholastically) than to a genuine aversion to Manaus. I also think that the excitement that followed that initial shock was neither positive nor negative, and with the influence of my friends’ and family’s reactions, it has taken on a positive energy. Hence, the upward movement in the jungle thermometer. I’m really not much of a worrier when it comes to meeting new people, learning new languages, or starting new jobs; these are things that I would have to do no matter what part of Brazil I moved to. Once that knowledge set in, I’ve come to realize I can probably handle whatever is thrown at me – and learn to love it, too.
Now that I’ve started to get over my fears, I’ve started becoming more receptive to some of Manaus’s many positive characteristics. First, there’s the fact that it’s quite a large city, as I said earlier. This truly is the best of both worlds for me: big cities are exactly my cup of tea (downtown Toronto is still “my” hood), but I didn’t want to get swallowed up in the hustle of 20 million Paulistanos or eaten alive by Cariocan favelas. (Don’t ask me why enormous cities require food metaphors…must be a subconscious allusion to Atwood’s Edible Woman.) Anyway. In Manaus, I’ll get all the culture, night life, and diversity of a larger city without the same kind of hustle.
Secondly, while I probably won’t be able to observe the integration of Brazilian immigrants at close range as I wanted, I will have the opportunity to learn more about the indigenous people. The anthro/socio side of my trip is extremely important to me, as I’d like to do a social sciences Master’s some time in the near future. Fortunately I’m equally passionate about all human cultures (although I do tend to favour some at different times), so this change is fine with me. Besides, I will actually be the immigrant – I don’t need to observe others, I just need to observe myself!
Third, I have always known that the host school and living conditions will be more important than location when it comes to happiness and ease of adjustment. I had a major breakthrough in this area last night. Thank God for the internet, it does everything! I trolled through some of my favourite Brazil expat blogs in search of any hint about life in Manaus. It was on Danielle’s blog, which I’ve been reading for half a year now, that I found a post with a few dozen comments from other English teachers on the quality of the very school (franchise) that I’ve been accepted into. And then, the real bingo: I found the blog of a girl who actually went through the same program as me, in the same city, in the same school, and loved it! All this was at around midnight last night, and in my animated exhaustion, emailed her for details. Meredith has been kind enough to message me back words of encouragement and assurance, and I look forward to talking to her more.
All of these considerations have my little internal thermometer spiking upwards. I’m at the point now where I’m sure I will go, as long as the visa pulls through. However, I eagerly anticipate the moment when I reach 100ºC and my excitement starts to boil over, as is deserved by the trip of a lifetime.