“Sometimes I don’t know who I am.
My name is Aime and I have an Estonian name because of my grandmother. Even if I’m Brazilian, I don’t feel 100% Brazilian because of my mix of surnames and blood. I have Finnish and Italian roots. Finnish–Estonian from my mother’s side and Italian and a bit of Portuguese from my father’s side, because many from Europe moved to Brazil after the war.
My grandparents on my mum’s side came to Brazil from Finland in the 1950s and the older sisters of my mum were born in Kotka. My grandmother was pregnant with my mum when they arrived in Brazil. My mother was born in São Paulo.
I’m born in Niteroi in Brazil. I have my family there from my father’s side. But after my parents divorced when I was 2, my mum moved to Penedo, this Finnish village colony. I think most people in Finland don’t know this exists – it’s between Rio and São Paulo, 200 km from Rio. Near the beach and mountains. It’s a funny story too. A utopia. A Finnish guy went there in the ’20s and fell in love. They bought the land and brought some Finns there with the utopian idea of having a Finnish community, living together; a kind of Moominland where Finns go. People come there now for a piece of Finland in Brazil. They have a summer Santa Claus house and many saunas and some hotels.
I grew up doing sauna and going swimming in the river. I feel so attached to the sauna because it’s a part of my life. I used to play in the sauna when it was not in use, it was like our secret place to hide as kids. Part of my childhood, my life – but in Brazil. My Finnish grandfather built the sauna himself. All the houses where he lived have a homemade sauna by him. He was a sculptor, a very talented, handy guy. So I really relate to Finnish culture in that way. We also had Finnish Christmas when my grandparents came from Finland to spend summer with us and escape winter. Penedo was a place where you didn’t need to care about having a key to your home or locking doors. Everybody knew each other. Sometimes I went to the market by horse or barefoot.
When I decided to come to Finland I had been trying to reconnect with my roots. After living here I understand my grandmother a lot more. The funny thing is the way my grandmother behaved with us, but now everything is making sense. She did not have an easy life, escaping her homeland of Estonia as a 17-year-old.
“No way, I don’t want this life for me”, I thought.
I had been planning to come here many times earlier, but it never really worked. I felt disorientated after a personal loss. I had a state job that was a dream career for many people in the public sector. It’s a job forever in Brazil. I was very young. I was lucky. Had a good job with good money. Apartment in front of the beach in Niteroi. I tried to make myself stay there but I realised I was depressed. My mum said that I should go to Finland and take some time off. Take a one-year break. She tried to push me to think about life, what I really want to do. But I didn’t have energy for anything. And then I got pregnant. I think becoming a mum was one of my big dreams.
I started to think about everything and have different values then. “No way, I don’t want this life for me”, I thought. To be forever in this job. In Brazil the maternity leave was 3 months. So I quit the job. I didn’t want to pay somebody to care for my daughter and be in a job from 9–5. During 3 years I kept my life stable and tried to figure out what to do. I was not sure that it was the best decision. I thought that the one thing I can offer to my daughter is safety and good education and if Finland can do that for me, why not try?
Then I decided. When she was 3 and I was in a part-time job I was going to drop her off at the kindergarten. And then when I stepped out there was a murder on the corner of the street. I was totally like “fuck” this is the life my daughter will be facing. That day I was thinking that I don’t want that for her. I don’t like to live in fear. For me freedom is priceless and I especially appreciate that here as a woman. This was the point in my life that I thought “Okay, I give up. I want a change.” I had nothing to lose.
I moved 10 years ago. My daughter was around 5 and I celebrated my 30th birthday as a farewell party. I had a big party in my mum’s house in Penedo with all my friends. Like a band playing. It was a really nice party. I decided that I wanted to celebrate because I didn’t know when I would see my friends again. I came with my daughter, my luggage and 300 dollars.
It was an interesting thing about safety. It took me time to feel safe. Because of the lack of personal contact I was a total mess. So it took me time to also deal with myself. But Finland helped there a lot: about self-confidence, about safety, about trusting the words people say. I appreciate silence and things being more organised nowadays. I’m not the most organised person but Finland taught me a lot about how this is important.
I had part-time jobs when I arrived, babysitting, cleaning, everything helped. I was open. It took time to have a network. In Brazil I had a lot of connections, in Finland I know a good Brazilian lady called Mira. She is the big mama of many Brazilians because she has lived in Finland over 20 years. I also started to do voluntary jobs. It helps a lot. It keeps you busy and you can’t complain about life when you see people in different situations. It opened a lot of doors because you get connections and that was the way I ended up with a good and happy job at the co-working place, Hub Helsinki.
Then out of the blue a Finnish girl came to me because she wanted to do a project in Brazil related to education. It was interesting, because some months or a year earlier I was doing a workshop and wrote that the biggest thing I could dream about was a project collaboration between Brazil and Finland, something related to adult education. First she was just asking for my help to translate the project to Portuguese. And then I was giving a lot of feedback and ideas and she invited me to join. In 2014 we had this amazing opportunity to go to the north of Brazil. I’ve never been there. It was a totally different world, like Lapland here. Different culture and different people. We were in a village in the middle of the jungle. My daughter was with me the whole time, 6 months. It was a shock for her because she only knew about big cities, like Rio and São Paulo and it was a great opportunity for her to learn a lot more about Brazilian culture, roots and flavours. There were 3 computers in the village with Internet and no electricity or running water for parts of the day. When we came back we appreciated things in Finland even more.
I have become more Finnish in some ways. Saying that I don’t want to do something straight, without the need to apologise or explain why. Or listening more and becoming comfortable with silence. That was definitely a good learning for me!
What I’ve realised after some years here trying to adapt and to integrate is that I don’t want to be put in a box. I want to be myself. One time this guy was asking me what I miss the most from Brazil. Like food, family, parties. He said he missed hugs, honestly. And then it went pling in my head – me too! Because people in this country don’t touch much, unless they are drunk. Or if you like to pay for a massage. I realised that we need more contact. I miss human contact a lot. It is a bit tricky to keep this balance. When I went back to Brazil some years after I’d been living in Helsinki I automatically tried to shake hands with people and they thought I was strange. At Hub in Helsinki we started doing this hug thing. And at Luckan, where I’m a volunteer, we have a hug day every year to celebrate the day against racism. We give out candy and hold up signs and hug people in the streets.
I feel very grateful and blessed for how my life has turned out in Finland and looking back, how all this experience has made me what I am today. I always believe that everyone has a mission and I am still looking for mine, but I think I’d like to start a new journey to become an entrepreneur in the fields of hospitality and travel, things I deeply love.”