Killing the Saudades (Matar Saudades)

How can a place I’ve never been feel so familiar?

For the past 8 days I’ve been on a service trip to Goa, India. As is the case with most trips where you go to ‘serve’, you come back with far more than you ever anticipated. It was a remarkable trip and I’ll be processing it for a while.

Though I lived for 23 years in Pakistan, I never had the opportunity to go to India. Relations between the countries vacillate between not good and quite bad so going back and forth was not easily accomplished.

India is not Pakistan, as Robynn wisely reminded me in a truth filled letter before I left;in fact the differences are profound. Yet there are so many similarities in those things that feel like home. Curry and chapatis, rice and raita, Urdu masquerading as Hindi, small kiosks with everything from batteries to long life milk, busy bazaars, kameez and shalwar, crazy traffic that feels normal, and ready smiles and relationships. All of these met me at deep soul levels, so deep it is difficult to articulate.

These were the sights, sounds, and smells of home.

They were brought up from deep in my psyche and nourished my heart.  They are woven in my tapestry of memories and were called up on this trip.

There’s a phrase in Portuguese that goes along with the word “Saudade” – the phrase is “Matar Saudades”.  ‘Saudade’ itself is best described by A.F.G. Bell in his book In Portugal of 1912 as “a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.” Matar Saudades literally means “Killing the longing, killing the saudade”. You say it when you get together with a friend you haven’t seen for a long time – let’s kill the saudade – Let’s get together. Let’s have our fix and then we can move forward for a time. You say it when a sound or smell fills you with a sense of wistful joy, you remember, you wrap yourself in the memory for a moment and in doing so, you kill the longing, you “matar saudades”. 

And that’s what happened on my trip. For a time the saudade was killed. I was fully engaged in a world that felt familiar and comforting. To be sure we worked hard and got little sleep, to be sure I knew we couldn’t keep up the pace we kept for much longer. But this saudade, the longing I experience so often in the west was killed for a time.

Ute from Expatsincebirth says this about killing the saudade: “It’s used to express the end of this feeling (“matar” means “to kill”, “to end something”). You can “matar saudade” by looking at pictures, talking about what makes you feel this way and by re-living (in your memories) the moment you’re feeling sad about.

I am back now, sitting on my couch in a land where I struggle to feel at home. A cool breeze comes in from the outside and September is quickly moving us into a glorious fall. I am not discontent, but I am so grateful for the time this past week – where in slums and church services, bazaars and schools I was able to kill the saudade.

Blogger’s note: Saudade – A Word for the Third Culture Kid is by far the most popular post on Communicating Across Boundaries. If you have not yet read it, you may want to as it helps set the background for this post.

27 thoughts on “Killing the Saudades (Matar Saudades)

  1. Hey – I’m a portuguese woman who came across this when googling how to describe “matar saudades” to an english friend; just wanted to say that you captured it well and really put it beautifully. Have a good one x

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    1. Bella – I am so happy to hear from you! Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. Finding the word Saudade was amazing – and then learning the phrase “matar saudades” added icing on the word cake :) There are times when English is far too limiting!

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  2. I loved the word “saudade” when you explained it in your other post – and I love this post and revisit of the concept! (and I need to learn some Portuguese anyway for when I visit a high school friend this fall in Sao Paolo – thanks to you, I have a few more words!)

    I hope the India trip continues to be exciting/fascinating! I thought of you yesterday when I purchased fresh fava beans at the mexican market yesterday – I’m going to make “ful” from scratch!

    You are my hero Marilyn – you are an amazing woman!

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    1. Oh – Sao Paolo?! So fun HIllary! Cannot wait to hear how it goes. I work with many Brazilians here in Boston and would love to visit. The India trip was indeed a gift. I know you get how that feels. & thank you for your lovely and so generous words at the end. My soul feels warmed despite being far from the Indian and Middle Eastern sun.

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  3. I grew up in a Portuguese culture in Africa, and we used “matar saudades” often too. “Saudades” to me means longing for a time that passed, people that left, a country I miss, something that is missing, in order to make true happiness possible. It is a deep-seated missing. We can be momentarily happy, but not deeply happy until we matar that saudade. Interestingly, it was one of the proofs to me of the existence of heaven one day when a really deep wave of saudades came over me, and I wasn’t even sure just what was missing–I was actually “happy” at the time, as far as I knew. Because here on earth there is a deep piece (peace) missing; we imagine/feel how it could be so much better, and we long for that day when the missing piece is filled. We can’t explain it, we just know this is not all there is to life…Does that make sense?

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    1. yes yes yes! (was I emphatic enough?!) Makes complete sense. I call it the holy ache. I wrote this one time “It’s the one that reminds us that we are in between. We are in the not yet; the messy middle. That place where we know what we see is only a fraction of the real story, yet we ache for that real story to be revealed, to come to fruition. We are ‘between the lost and the desired’.”Thank you so much for responding to this piece.

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  4. My half-Brazilian brother-in-law taught me the word when we were in college. I appreciated the concept but was annoyed by his stuffy cultural arrogance!

    Latin American protest music is full of similar sentiments, much of it written by exiles or people who have seen their countries go down the tubes around them. One song by the Chilean group Inti Illimani, ‘Una Finestra Aperta,’ written while they were exiled in Italy, says something like, “What is this I hear? My child is chattering in Italian!” The first time I heard the song and read the lyrics, it gave me chills.

    My wife and her sister sing an old Mercedes Sosa song called ‘Todo cambia’ “Everything changes” and it gives me goosebumps every single time. The lyrics talk about how everything in the world changes, and then it says, “Just as everything else changes, it’s not strange that I should change. But my love doesn’t change, no matter how far away I am, nor the memory of the pain of my people and nation. What changed yesterday will have to change tomorrow, just as I am changing here in this distant land. Everything changes, everything changes…”

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  5. Some days….often….I wish there was a way to permanently kill the saudade. I want it more than numbed, I want it gone. I’m so looking forward to our own trip to India later this year…but I find myself already dreading the return. Sigh….

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    1. yeah – me too right now. Do you sometimes feel that you couldn’t go overseas again because of how hard it has been to adjust to the U.S? I do and then I shake myself out of it :)

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  6. We lived for almost six years in Brazil where I first learned the word saudade. While A.F.G. Bell’s definition is poetic, the Brazilians seemed to use the word in a much more practical way. Ter (to have) saudades means to yearn for something or someone missing. I suppose it could be a way of life or days gone by never to return but, as likely, it is someone (or even a country) you miss dearly who you will see again. I never heard the term “matar saudades” used there but, that said, I understand how getting away, out of the US and to some place more familiar and comfortable can kill saudade, if only for a little while. I am so glad that you were able to have that experience. I have full confidence that you gave as much or more than you gained.

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    1. Interesting how you describe the practical use in Brazil and then how it’s used outside of Brazil and Portugal with immigrants. My Portuguese colleagues taught me the word last year. We also have a huge population of Brazilian immigrants outside of Boston and they seem to use it as a missing the home land and all that goes with it. It’s a great word!

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    1. It is a great word isn’t it Eric?! And really no equivalent. One person said while nostalgia is missing something that is gone, Saudade is more like missing someone or something that disappeared.

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  7. Beautifully written Marilyn ……. re-entry is difficult, I am finding this. Longing for Masala Chai Tea and chatter around Pastor Matthew’s dining room table. It felt like home and I have never been to India.

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      1. Why were they giving you the “evil eye”? Because it was late and the chai was caffeinated? because they were wanting to go to bed? because they wanted chai too but didn’t have the courage to raise their hands? because they come from a tradition that doesn’t raise their hands? I’m imagining myself around Pastor Matthew’s dining room table and I’m raising my hand for the chai too!

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