A British backpacker living with Brazilians

This is the second time I’ve locked myself in the bathroom.

Pull yourself together Leah, everything is fine.

I don’t want anyone to see me upset, they’ll think they’re doing something wrong. They aren’t. I just feel overwhelmed with confusion sometimes. I never planned anything like this.

I am living with a Brazilian family. I can barely talk to them, no one can properly talk to me. I often don’t know what is going on, or what’s being said.

I’m sitting helpless, everyone looking at me like a new born baby. Asking questions about me, talking at me and asking Patrick things that I don’t know. I have to sit there, smile, and act like its no big deal. Randomly hearing ‘Leah’ ‘Gringa’ ‘Patrick’ ‘Inglaterra‘.


I met a Brazilian guy on the beach in Ipanema, Rio De Janeiro, and, we clicked. In fact, I really like this one. As a backpacker living in hostels, on a tight budget in a foreign place with next to no privacy, I accepted his offer of crashing as his for a few days. A few days turned into a few weeks. We like each other, it’s a crazy experience, why the hell not.

I don’t have plans or time limits, I have the freedom and always joked that I travel solo to open myself to situations that could happen, like this.

He lives with his mother and sister, far out of any tourist areas, in a neighbourhood where most people have never met anyone from England, let alone speak a word of English. My Brazilian man does, thank the lord. He taught himself the last five years.

They live in Curicica, on the top floor of a small rooftop apartment, in a slightly rural and rough place. For Brazil standards, its not too bad but compared to England, it is very different.

This has been one of the most crazy, confusing and coolest experiences ever. A real authentic, local experience to see Brazil in a way most tourists never will. I have been welcomed into a tight nit community and into their family house. They’re doing everything they can to make me feel comfortable and safe and most people are trying their best to communicate and be friendly. They didn’t expect this either.

I turn up late one night with Patrick, with my ginormous rucksack after over an hour on buses and subways through North Rio.

‘Oi. Boa Noite. Tudo Bom? ‘

I spend the next few weeks adjusting to his lifestyle; cooking, cleaning, smoking, dancing, partying and relaxing in his community. Meeting the locals and making new friends, and despite the heavy language barrier, I feel close to these people. We have formed a unique relationship and have found great comfort in this lifestyle.

Challenge number 1. Learn Portuguese.

I am cooking with his mother in silence, communicating by signals and google translate. Talking to them with a smile and eye contact. Bonding by laughing and understanding the confusion from each other. It’s beautiful in so many way, it’s eye opening and inspiring to be a part of.

But boy is it hard.

To rarely know what being said, what the joke is, what they are talking about. It gets bloody frustrating.

I want to talk to them, to tell them about myself and hear their stories. I can’t.

I have to seriously keep telling myself it’s ok to not have a clue about anything. I feel helpless, not to mention the neediest person ever to Patrick, my Brazilian fella. To go from making every single decision for myself, being independent and choosing every step I make, to barely knowing how to get on a bus and having troubles just trying to order some milk alone. I promise, I am trying. I’m slowly speaking a small amount of Portuguese, the basics, I am trying to learn, the be understanding and easy going but there are moments I just ask myself… What are you doing Leah?

Lesson 2. The culture is different.

I am used to opening my mind to different lifestyles, learning about how others live and understanding there is no right and wrong way, it’s just what we are used to.

Learning about Brazilian people and culture is fascinating. I am fully in this, learning their traditions, how they cook, how they dance, party, celebrate, engage, interact and lots more. There are parts here that shock me, that surprise me, that I envy. I genuinely feel that this lifestyle has a lot of me and could see myself falling into this way of life and culture, but I have many adaptions to make.

Lesson 3.  I’m English.

The more I am here, the more I am noticing things about the United Kingdom, us British folk.

English people are a lot more reserved and cold. We are polite yet proud. Brazilians, they want to kiss, touch, care. They cook for the entire family, open and relaxed and easy going. Many are sexual, fit, beautiful people, its insane to be a part of and I hope I can carry some of this throughout my life. Relaxed and last minute. I am learning things about human nature and society that are giving me true life lessons. Expanding my mind in different ways.

Lesson 4. Adapt but don’t change.

Compared to many English, I have found Brazilians to be confident. Not in a cocky way, just outright and open. Women on the beach don’t hide their bodies, most are aware of their appearance and like to look after themselves. I found a lot of Brazilians quite flirty, touchy feely kinda people. Their culture is beautiful, but different to mine. There are things I have to accept and know that in Brazil, it doesn’t always mean the same then at home, however I have a few things that I struggle to accept. Growing up in British culture, we act differently in many ways. Patrick and I have to work out a balance that we both can adapt too.

Lesson 5. Safety.

I somehow feel safer here then in most tourist parts. I am at birthday parties with men carrying guns. There are military operations going on constantly in the favelas and things work very differently here.  They are the ‘security’ of the street, the families, the community, and I have become someone they would also protect. I have come to understand some of the reasons behind the gun crime here.  The longer your in places like this, the more normal things become.

Final lesson. It’s ok to not understand.

Like I said, it’s been a whirlwind here for all of us. I sometimes don’t know what I am eating, what the music says, what everyone is saying about me, where the bus is taking me or how things go. Entering into someone else’s life and home, I had to let go of what I thought was right. How I did things and certain expectations.

I know who I am. What I have done to get here and what I need to do to survive but no else understands.

Brazil is fantastic!

Brazil is a magical place. Filled with samba and funk music. Delicious and tasty food. BBQ’s and Caipirinhas. Extraordinary landscapes and weather. Jam packed public transport and idylic beaches. Bustling and crazy cities and a diverse group of people. Sharing and giving. Love and laughter. Ginormous favelas and extreme corruption. A way of life that they make the best out of.

I have been overwhelmed with confusion, love, and hospitality. Eating the tastiest foods and dancing like I never have before. Feeling somewhat safe in places most people would feel uneasy and on edge. Seeing extreme poverty and reality of pure survival methods. Seeing Rio De Janiero away from Copacabana, seeing Brazil for what it is.

It’s been a pleasure to be a part of this wonderful and mental place. To be accepted into a home as a stranger and leave with family. I thank everyone I met from the bottom of my heart, to the friends and family who gave me their time and energy and love to welcome me. I have found incredible new relationships and friendships I will never forget. I have learned some truly phenomenal life lessons. I will be heading back for more time with Patrick in Brazil as I continue traveling.