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Here to Stay

Sunday at 1pm | TV ONE

Your story: Rosimeire Cookson

This really isn't my story, as my family has been in New Zealand a few generations, but my wife's.

She says I'm a better storyteller, and I'm part of the last few years of the story anyway.

She's seen a life of dramatic change that I've commented at times seems like my grandparents', my parents' and my generation, all rolled into one.

Born on a modest farm in the heart of coffee country in the interior of southern Brazil, Rosimeire spent her early years without electricity or running water, in a house lit by kerosene lamp. School was either a long walk, or a ride in her father's horse and cart.

She did well at school, even though she moved house many times, and eventually gained entry to Londrina State University where she graduated in Geography, and did a post graduate diploma in education.

She worked in various jobs, but her last job in Brazil was in an English school as a PA to the director.

She had an opportunity to learn some English on the job, and then one day, one of her friends made the crazy suggestion of applying for a scholarship to do her Masters in Portugal.

At the time, there were only a couple of vacancies, both apparently taken, and then at the last moment, someone cancelled, and she was off to Porto.

This was where I came into the story, as on the other side of the world here in NZ, I had a unique opportunity to learn Portuguese, which at the time was simply something novel for me to do without any real objective.

As a very new student with what I thought was little opportunity to practice with Portuguese speakers locally, and Rosimeire feeling lonely in Portugal, the scene was set for a chance encounter on the internet, due to me forgetting to turn my computer off one night.

For us, the short phrase "Hello, I'm from Brazil" is as momentous as Neil Armstrong's classic broadcast from the moon.

In our case it had very little implication for mankind as a whole, but for us it was certainly one giant leap, that lead to this formerly flightless kiwi proposing in Portuguese one night just after Christmas on the banks of the Rio Douro in Portugal, and then a couple of weddings in Brazil later, and one here as well, we were finally settled down back in my home town of Blenheim.

This could have been the end of the story, with us living uninterestingly ever after.

That couldn't be further from the truth.

Shortly after we got back here, Rosimeire joined what at the time was an invite only social networking web site, Orkut, along the lines of the likes of Facebook or Bebo etc.

Orkut is Google's equivalent of those other sites and has been around quite a while, but by some quirk of history, in its early days it became overrun with Brazilians, so that now 'Orkut' and 'social networking site' are almost synonymous for Brazilians.

Shortly after she joined Orkut, Rosimeire created a community on the site for Brazilians with kiwi partners. In a short space of time the community flourished, and we've discovered other Brazilian-Kiwi couples scattered all over the country from Gisbourne to Arthur's Pass, Tauramanui to Timaru.

We've met a number of couples from the community, staying with some of them, and some of them staying with us. These occaisions we've coined a phrase for and call 'Orkuntros' ('encounters'). I've also invented a term for the community - 'brasiliwi'.

One of our most interesting encounters was in 2008 when we travelled back to Brazil for the first time since our wedding in 2004, and we met a couple we'd only ever corresponded with.

They were visiting family at the same time as us in the same city, and it turned out they had their civil wedding in the same registry office as us. Some coincidence for two kiwis to have married in the same place in a city of 500,000!

Speaking of travel, a strange thing I've discovered is that I've been to many places in NZ since I've been married that I've never visited in my life before.

Being married to someone from overseas has helped me rediscover my own country.

If there's anything that defines the Brazilian community, it is the generally strong sense of family. Rosimeire knows second and third cousins well, and big family get togethers in Brazil are the norm, whereas as a Pakeha New Zealander since I've been an adult seeing many even first cousins together is not that common.

There's also a warmth with Brazilians that many kiwis don't exhibit.

Hugs and kisses all around are the norm, and even completely sober Brazilians are capable of being greater exhibitionists than many kiwis who've had a good amount to drink.

Amidst all the fun, there's also a strong spiritual side. Even fairly non-religious Brazilians will say 'ficque com Deus' (remain with God), and we even heard of one case of a quite un-religious Brazilian who stopped going out with a kiwi because he couldn't accept her militant anti-religious attitude.

While NZ might appear to Brazilians to be prejudiced against religion, one thing Rosimeire found different here was the widespread support for indigenous culture, and the strength of Maori culture here.
She told me that there is a story that a great-great-grandfather or so, went out and caught himself an Indian wife from the jungle as happened fairly frequently in Brazil in the past, but the details remain murky as in Brazil, claiming an indigenous ancestory is commonly regarded as something to be ashamed of rather to be proud of.

Apart from her internet community, Rosimeire has been very busy in the local community as well.

Our Marlborough region has set up a migrant centre to help people settling in here, as well as local organisations to provide for migrants. Rosimeire ended up being involved from the initial planning phase, and soon I was dragged along too.

I don't know whether it's as a result of her involvement in this, but in her four years here, Rosimeire has developed an uncanny tendency for her photo to appear in the local newspaper with considerable regularity.

One of those other Brazilian traditions apart from fantastic food and sociability is a passion of Brazilian women to always look their best. Care with personal presentation along with the regular photo appearances have led me to start joking about the difficulty of being married to a celebrity, although in reality we generally keep a pretty low profile, and are anything but wealthy!

Just this last weekend we helped a couple of Brazilian friends celebrate their wedding. Like so many Brazilians, the guy came out on his own about 3 years ago, and worked in the vineyards at first, saved money and brought his partner and daughter out, and then with the doors closing on Brazilians in the vineyards due to Immigration's RSE scheme, they tried dairy farming for a bit, found the accommodation wasn't suited for a family, and finally managed to find stable work in a food manufacturing plant.

They've adapted very quickly to the kiwi lifestyle, but for them uncertainty remains.

For them, since they're both Brazilian, there's no certainty of being able to live here permanently, but for us, my wife, who's learnt to become a bit more kiwi, and for me, who've become a bit more Brazilian, we hope our mates are here to stay.