Notes From the Field: On Becoming Family

My host father has 13 siblings, most of them live with their families on our little afforested street bearing their family name. Addressing them as a Tio [uncle] and a Tia [aunt] does not only sound familiar but works perfectly to dwarf my incompetence of remembering their names; at least at times when they do not concentrate in big numbers. However, as you will see on my pictures, this happens rarely.

And so, to the names of the siblings, were soon added names of their spouses, children, children’s spouses, children’s boyfriends, children’s girlfriends, children’s children, grandma, grandpa, great father, great mother, great great father, great great mother, great great great… a great amount of names.

One day, after we came home from 60th birthday celebration of my Tia (later I figured out her name is Edite), I got sick of this ongoing struggle. I asked my host-father for a help. Meanwhile scrutinizing faces from a big family album, hastily passing through the typical naked baby photos, I sketched a family tree with all the names.

I wanted to learn them by heart, but my mind has not the capacity to remember amount of names approximating infinity. Therefore, I resolved to take a picture of it, since I always walk around with my little gringo camera. Like this, during every family gathering I would be able to quickly swipe through my photos and revise the names.

Things got better. I, less anxious, could finally enjoy the abundant family time to the fullest. Their fervent shaking of hands. Their warm kisses on chicks. Their jokes I always get very late (maybe I should use my camera and take an audio and analyze them later).

Whether the gathering is due to Christmas, birthday celebration, or a Boi de Mamão rehearsal, filled with joy, dance, music and tasty food or due to a commemoration of a passed away family member, filled with grief, there is always a feeling of connection, belonging and family.

It is obvious I am not one of them… (Here I intended to come up with a list of examples of how we obviously differ in order to convey my message, but it is honestly tough to find them! They are Brazilians of all hair and eyes colours, skin tones and heights. So I had to dig a bit deeper) My name is Filip, they are used to Felipe or Filipe. I speak differently. I wear short swimming suit shorts, they wear long ones.

However, the comfortable feeling of belonging is strong; even without taking into account that they repeatedly tell me I am a part of the family. It is magical. It is hard to comprehend, I know. A complete stranger from a country 11 000 km away comes here and claims to feel like a part of a local family. The pictures will help to explain.

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