The unexpected nature of patriotic love

My relationship with Belgium has always been ambiguous. Some of the most difficult parts of my life happened before I was six, while living there. But then again, some pretty rough episodes came during the subsequent 17 years, while I was in Brazil; I just never thought about blaming the South American country. But I did blame Belgium, maybe because that was what my mother did. Even though I had this mixed feeling of pride for being born in a European country because it made me different from most Brazilians, I always told whoever wanted to listen that I would never go there without a return ticket.

That’s why I expected it would be a huge surprise for everyone when I decided to come back to Brussels after I finished university, to live for an indefinite time. The country I had for so long categorized as the “never getting back together” place.

What I found were comprehensive nods from literally everyone, as if coming back had always been obvious to the rest of the world.

After accepting the frustration that comes from telling surprising news and being received with “that was the obvious move” look, I braced myself for the change. I had prepared my mind for the cold, the isolation, maybe even the sadness.

But Belgium received me with open and loving arms, and I was surprised again. Everybody I encountered while settling in smiled and welcomed me back. Not that I expected that they would accuse me of anything, or that they would say something like: “How dare you come back after you abandoned us without a second thought?” But I did not expect the warm welcome either.

When I think back to all those years of thoughtless rejection, I feel a little bit disappointed for letting myself nurture this obscure prejudice born out of spite rather than fact. There was never any blame in the country but in some of the people that lived in it.

Now that I am opening myself to love Belgium as much as I have loved Brazil, I can see the beauty of it. It is not a place that gives way to isolation; on the contrary. The parties and events organized by the city are more frequent than in Sao Paulo, and if you give the chance to people, they open themselves to you. Maybe it is cold more often than not, but it only makes the sun that more special.

I am happy I came. I don’t know what will happen in my life, and I am not yet sure I made the best possible decision coming here, but I am happy that I did. If nothing else, for the simple fact that now I know I can love the place where I was born. Without fear, without hesitation, and without prejudice.

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