A Brazilian Romance in Dublin

When he embarked on the journey of a lifetime his dreams were bright. His heart was hopeful, his will determined, and yet he knew it would not be easy. He was expecting some things to be challenging, but he felt ready for any challenge that might come his way. The journey of a lifetime involved a one-way flight from São Paulo to Dublin. He was 25 when he left home in search of a brighter future. He was buoyant and optimistic, and his name was Tiago dos Santos.

Many Brazilians say “Brazil is lost.” This sentiment is true for Tiago dos Santos. For him Brazil is not just lost, it is also broken and shattered into shards of corruption, inequality and crime. Thus it is not surprising that he became one of the numberless expatriates to leave Brazil in the hopes of finding some place better.

When he first decided to depart from Brazil he wished that he could bring his family with him but in reality this was not possible. For him this was the hardest aspect of moving abroad and at times he felt guilty for leaving his family behind, but he knew and they knew that it was for the best. They were in fact happy for him while at the same time they were sad to see him go.

In truth, Tiago was better off than many Brazilians even though he was poor. He had loving parents who worked hard (as janitors) to support him. He completed school and he came from a community of nice people. Such simple luxuries are not afforded to the most disadvantaged people in Brazil, and whereas Tiago was not engulfed in the gangs, violence or hunger of his country he still felt like he was stuck in a hopeless rut, hence why emigrating appealed so much to him. The attraction of supreme wages, learning a new language and exciting opportunities was irresistible.

Moving to Ireland was financially onerous. To initiate the great leap Tiago saved R$50,000 (approximately €7,500) over the space of three years. His parents helped him achieve this by selling the family car while he worked two jobs. Most of these savings went towards necessities such as the visas, English lessons and accommodation. Like many Brazilians in Ireland he availed of a study visa and he arranged to undertake a popular English language course at a school in Dublin 1. (Although this common visa has a lifespan of just eight months it can be extended up to two years so long as the holder can afford to enroll in further studies. However extending the visa is costly and stretching it beyond two years is not possible for many people because to do this one needs to be approved by an employer, enrolled in university studies or married to an Irish citizen. Alternatively some Brazilians in Ireland are able to enhance their visa status by producing European passports; many Brazilians can acquire dual citizenship from European countries because many Brazilians have ancestors or relations from Europe. This dynamic presents visa loopholes, yet this option is costly and not within the reach of every Brazilian that comes to Ireland. Highly skilled professionals have easier access to privileged visas). Despite all the difficulties Ireland was an easy choice for Tiago because other options such as America and Australia were even more expensive and complicated. Also, Tiago knew that there is a supportive community of Brazilians in Dublin and this was a comforting bonus.

In anticipation of his adventure Tiago envisioned an ambitious plan. His plan involved; finding a job upon arrival in Dublin, working hard, making lots of money, saving cash and sending some money home to his family. He had one younger brother – José – and he hoped that maybe one day José could join him and share in the good times too. He wanted to achieve fluency in English, and he felt confident that he’d be able to extend his visa again and again. Even if his visa couldn’t go further than two years he believed he would find a way to stay illegally or move away to another new country. In the true spirit of an ambitious young Brazilian he was full of lofty dreams and fearless of any obstacles.

When the day of his grand departure arrived Tiago bid his family an emotional farewell before boarding a flight at Guarulhos Airport. The airplane took off and 16 hours later he arrived into the cold winter climate of Dublin. Irish weather is a distinguished feature for Brazilian expats, and the cold was like nothing that Tiago had ever felt before.

As Tiago passed through Dublin Airport he was subjected to immigration security protocol. The process was a bit nerve-wracking but not overwhelming. He was briefly interviewed by security officers and during the procedure he had to produce evidence of €3,000+ (€3,000 is the minimum amount required by immigrants seeking residency in Ireland). He also presented proof of enrollment in an educational facility along with his temporary tourist visa. The security officers were firm but polite, and when they were comfortable with Tiago’s intentions he was invited to egress from the airport and enjoy his stay in Ireland. (Getting this far was in itself a milestone because for many Brazilians Dublin Airport marks the end of the road; every year many Brazilians are refused entry into Ireland at Dublin Airport. Some are held in immigration facilities before being sent home, some are even held in Irish prisons. Reasons for refusal vary but most often the objection to entry involves invalid documents). From that point Tiago travelled via taxi to his first touchpoint in Dublin City – a Georgian townhouse on Dorset Street, Dublin 1. From thereon the rollercoaster ride began.

Tiago’s first four weeks in Dublin were spent living in this Georgian townhouse. The townhouse was marketed as an apartment for foreign students and it was organized by an agency that works in conjunction with Dublin’s English language schools. The cost of a bed in this townhouse was €200 per week. Tiago shared a bedroom with one other Brazilian student, and in total there seemed to be about nine people living there at the time. He had only planned on dwelling there for one week as he was hopeful that he would be able to find an apartment in quick fashion, however he would quickly learn that accommodation was a crippling issue in Dublin, especially for cash-strapped Brazilians like himself. He also fell victim to a devastating property scam during this period.

He had met a conman posing as a landlord via the internet; the conman had advertised a room in an apartment in Dublin 7. The room was going for €550 per month and although this seemed like an outlandish price at first, Tiago came to realize that it was a bargain for Dublin. When Tiago met the bogus landlord he signed what seemed like a very genuine lease, but it later transpired that the lease was a false document. He also handed over a bond of €1,100 in cash (2 months rent) and he was told that he could move into his new apartment within a few days. After this meeting the conman disappeared and Tiago realized that he had been scammed. He had very little English upon arrival in Dublin yet he still managed to report this offense to An Garda Síochána, but they told him that they couldn’t help him because it was very hard to trace cash. They then warned him that these kind of offenses are common in Dublin and that he should be vigilant from now on. This terrible ordeal left Tiago crestfallen but only for a short period of time. Through his Brazilian resilience and positivity he picked himself up and carried on with his goals.

Before Tiago could apply for jobs he needed to activate his study visa. He knew that this would take about one month so he made sure to exercise retrenchment until he could earn some wages (foreigners that enter Ireland often arrive on a tourist visa. The tourist visa is valid for 90 days. In order for one to legally pursue employment one needs to activate a status of residency, this is done by initiating an upgraded visa at an immigration office in Dublin 2. Procedures involve presenting bank statements and other documents. Most Brazilians that study English in Ireland acquire a Stamp 2 Visa. This process takes about one month. Students can actually commence their studies before receiving their study visa, but they cannot pursue employment until they have received their visa).

The first month was quite hectic. It involved a lot of momentum such as; opening an Irish bank account, searching for affordable accommodation, finding his way around Dublin and commencing his English classes, not to mention the aforementioned property scam and bitingly cold weather. Yet in spite of all this Tiago was doing himself proud. He had picked up a few words and phrases in English. He also became comfortably subsumed into the Brazilian community, this aspect of integration was a lifesaver for him (the support that Brazilians offer each other in Ireland is inspirational. They help each other out so much and they strive to get on well together. It is a brilliant attribute of the Brazilian community). However he found it hard to assimilate into Irish cliques, mostly because of the language barrier. When he went out drinking he most often frequented Three Spirits on Capel Street – a pub/club for Brazilian students – and less frequently Dicey’s on Harcourt Street. These venues sold cheap drinks whereas other pubs were too expensive for most Brazilians. Tiago got an uplifting high when his study visa arrived as he was eager to get a job and start earning money.

When Tiago was eligible for work he followed the advise of his fellow Brazilians by going to a well-known recruitment agency in Dublin 7. The recruitment agency provided jobseekers with minimum wage jobs. In this agency Tiago procured a food handling certificate and a manual handling certificate. These certificates cost him €70 and a full day of boring presentations. The recruitment agency was like a processing factory for people seeking bottom-tier employment. It was packed with jobseekers of foreign origin and on the walls there were photographs of the Irish prime minister shaking hands with employees of the agency. There was also award certificates all over the walls. The award certificates boasted “best recruitment agency of the year” amongst other accolades. Therefrom Tiago was assigned work as a kitchen porter. He was given flexible shifts each week to fit his school schedule, and consideration was given to the fact that he was prohibited from working more than 20 hours per week (Irish residents who hold a study visa are legally prohibited from working more than 20 hours per week).

Before Tiago moved to Ireland he believed that he would be able to find dignified affordable accommodation in Dublin. He had heard good stories and bad stories about life in Dublin and he always chose to believe more in the possibility of the good stories. He believed that he could be a triumphant success because of his steely fortitude and determination, but as the months passed by he came to appreciate how difficult it is for a Brazilian expat to triumph in Dublin.

The townhouse that he stayed in when he first arrived was fine as a short-term halfway house but it wasn’t feasible to dwell there for too long. At €200 per week it was too pricey for him and there was much tension between Brazilian housemates and Mexican housemates. The atmosphere at times was uncomfortable and the kitchen was always dirty. Tiago eventually accepted the reality that quality housing was an unlikely recourse for him so he settled into a small house in Dublin 3 where the rent was €480 per month. For this price Tiago got a bunk bed in a room with three other Brazilian men. In total there were 13 Brazilians living in this 3 bedroom semi-detached house.

Seasons changed as six months flew by and Tiago went through the motions. He attended his English classes for four hours every morning and he yielded €200 per week working as a kitchen porter. Since coming to Ireland he adjusted to a diet made up mostly of pasta, beans, rice and other cheap items. He learned more English outside the classroom compared to inside the classroom; interacting with people in work and using language tools on his phone. His English had really improved but he was still far from possessing full conversational fluency. As he found it hard to befriend Irish people most of his social interactions remained within the remit of other fellow Brazilians.

His opinion of Irish people at this stage was that most of them were nice; they were similar to Brazilians in that they were fun-loving and sociable. He liked the friendly attitude of most Irish people and he was amazed by the decadent lifestyle that he saw in Dublin, but he did not like the carelessness, ignorance, delinquency nor exploitation that existed within Irish society, and unfortunately he saw quite a lot of these attributes.

At the start of this odyssey Tiago had been firm in his faith of good opportunities, but over time his faith began to falter and at times he felt moments of doubt, sadness and despair entwined with a yearning to see his family and encounter prosperity. There came a time when he started feeling disillusioned about the pot of gold at the end of the Irish rainbow. Assessing his situation with honesty he acknowledged that his life in Ireland had not been divinely glamorous. His wages did not go far when held against the cost of living in Dublin, and he needed more money even though he had managed to send some cash home. He found teenage gangs and heroin addicts in the city centre to be a nuisance. The housing situation was messy; where he was living was damp and mouldy, and the landlord was nasty towards the tenants. However he still saw more riches in Ireland than he did in Brazil. (Proof of this is in the fact that many Brazilian women marry Irish guys just so they can gain citizenship and avoid returning home. In that regard dating apps work very well for the Brazilian girls but unfortunately the same stroke of luck does not reach the men. For most Brazilian men there are no rich Irish women waiting to fulfill their dreams on Tinder.)

As more time passed Tiago extended his visa and he looked to ways that could make him more money. The €200 per week that he got from his tough job as a kitchen porter just wasn’t enough to live well. He needed an extra income so he started weighing up his options. He noticed that some of the girls were moonlighting as sex workers while some of the gentlemen were dealing drugs. Tiago pursued a less forbidden side hustle; he became a Deliveroo driver.

As a Deliveroo driver he had to fulfill the duties of delivering take-away food from retailers to customers. (The hourly wage for this job is approximately €6 per hour. Wages are paid cash-in-hand. Legal loopholes enable this practice.) Deliveries were to be executed on his own bicycle, and although it seems like a straightforward enterprise the role of a Deliveroo driver is actually fraught with dangers because drivers have to run the gauntlet of trespassing through dangerous neighbourhoods. Many Deliveroo drivers in Dublin City Centre are Brazilian students.

During his tenure as a Deliveroo driver Tiago and his fellow Brazilian workers were constantly getting attacked and harassed while performing their duties. They were beaten and mugged. What made matters worse was that An Garda Síochána didn’t care, they did nothing to stop these crimes from happening. The worst event that happened was when a Brazilian girl was killed by a gang of joyriders in a stolen car. This broke the hearts of her friends and it inspired Tiago to do something he never thought he would do before.

It was on an Autumn’s night when Tiago was out delivering food that he was set upon by three teenagers on a street in Dublin 3. Armed with a knife for the first time in his life he felt a wave of uncontrollable panic overpower him as the teenagers grabbed at his bike and belted him with fists. In this state of panic Tiago reached for his knife. He swung it around wildly and before he knew it one of the teenagers was lying on the ground bleeding profusely from the neck. A crowd gathered and Tiago fled the scene in shock.

Moments later Tiago dos Santos was arrested and charged with murder. Awaiting trial in prison he copes with the trauma by clinging to the Brazilian mantra “hope is the last one to die.” Hope is the last one to die.