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.