Giving My Brother a Glimpse Into My New World

Where do I start? When reflecting on the last few months, I realized how much I’ve grown throughout this program. With an abundance of new friends, experiences, and challenges, this program has been one of the most rewarding in my life. I couldn’t decide what to write about, so I’ll just tell a story of the visit I’ll be telling my future kids about.

A little over a week ago, my brother came to visit. I have a strong relationship with all of my brothers, and we’ve had our ups and downs addressing family and personal challenges. They’re my biggest support system, and it’s been a few months since I last saw them. Visits from my family are challenging to orchestrate due to my dads health, but Nick, the younger of my twin brothers, insisted on exploring this new world that I’ve become immersed in.

So he makes the solo journey across the pond to see his big brother! I was nervous, how could I capture all that I’ve learned and experienced to demonstrate for him in only one week? This was going to be his first time in Ireland, and our first duo traveling experience, so I wanted to make the most of his time here. The planning begun.

He would arrive in Dublin airport, and I wanted to be his first sight after walking through customs. I booked a shady airport Travelodge, which I checked into around midnight. To fuel my planning, I dined at the finest Swords has to offer: Hogs & Heifers (neither of which I could eat). Nonetheless, I sat at the bar with my salad and began to draw out the plan.

First, we would experience Dublin. Nick arrived jet-lagged early the next morning, and we got brunch together in downtown Dublin while awaiting our train to Galway. Conveniently, I commandeered a “Welcome to Ireland” sign at the airport from a family that abandoned it, in order to put on a show for Nick’s arrival.

Nick must’ve brought the sunshine with him, because for the two days we spent in Galway, it didn’t rain at all. During the day, I took him to all my favorite spots: we got dinner at my favorite Indian restaurant, experienced a true Irish delicacy: the spice bag, and he got a tour of my campus and classroom.

I also wanted him to meet the amazing people who’ve changed my life over the past several months. I couldn’t book everyone in, but I did my best. I coordinated a celebration for my program at my house: a night filled with burnt nachos, JZyNO, and African dance. He even learned a notorious Kenyan drinking song that has been a staple of my celebrations with my classmates. The night wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the pubs, where I insisted he try a Guinness 0.0 to experience the taste of Ireland.

He took one sip and gagged.

A general dislike for Guinness must run in the family, and perhaps since we are both sober, the Guinness zero might not adequately reflect the true nature of Guinness.

Our two days in Galway must’ve lulled Nick into a false sense of security, but I had a surprise planned. He mentioned wanting a tattoo after seeing my travel exploits, but I want unable to book with my Galway artist. Instead, my artist in Portugal agrees to run two back-to-back sessions, so back to Dublin airport we go.

This was Nick’s first time in a non-english speaking country, an experience I’ve been looking forward to sharing with him. Neither of us knew any Portuguese. What could go wrong?

The 4 euro Uber from the airport took us to our Airbnb in Barrio Alto, the area of nightlife in Lisbon. We spent the first few days exploring Portuguese cuisine, attractions, and the renowned aquarium. 6 hours were spent admiring the sunfish: the largest species of bony fish.

The tattoo phase of our trip brought us to Tomar, a small town in central Portugal. My artist has a studio based there, and we’d be spending two days in the town getting inked. I rented a car to make the hour journey manageable, and we set off. Tomar was much more challenging to navigate than Lisbon, as nobody spoke English. Being off the typical tourism path, Tomar was home to some the best Portuguese food I had during the trip. After a combined 16 hours of tattooing, we set off for the final phase of the trip: the largest waves in the world.

Nick and I have been avid surfers since we were kids, and Nazaré was considered to be the Mecca of the sport. On our final day, we hit the coast. By this time, a storm was coming through, so the swells were upwards of 30 feet. We hiked to a small castle, which housed a small surfing museum and glorious views of the waves.

On the drive to the airport, I was proud of myself. I led Nick through my Galway experience, and then we explored a new country together, forming new moments that will forever be cherished in our relationship. During our stop to top off the tank, we reflected on the journey. Nick’s first Ryanair flight, first sip of Guinness, a night out with my classmates, our tattoos, and other moments throughout the week that defined my experience and afforded him a glimpse into the world that’s enabled me to grow so much.

Upon losing power, I coasted to a halt on the side of the busy motorway. The car was completely dead. Our flight left in two hours.

I started to panic, in a quick moment, my flawless planning had all come crashing down. We were now stranded on the side of the road, in the pouring rain, in a new country, mere hours before our flight departs.

I look over at Nick, and amidst all the chaos, he smiles, and the two of us burst into laughter. A truly monumental way to end one of the best trips of my life. Over the past several years, Nick and I’s bond grew stronger through our struggle with mental illness. Sparing the details, it’s been a long journey of ups and downs that brought us to this very moment, sitting on the side of the road together. We should’ve been freaking out, concerned about getting home, but the resiliency of our past created laughter instead. Anything that can go wrong certainly will, and we weren’t going to let this impact the final moments of our trip. Some quick thinking and a helpful Portuguese tow truck driver ensured we made it to the airport on time for our flight.

It’s challenging for me to articulate how profound this experience was for us, but I learned many lessons throughout Nick’s visit. I’d focused so much on providing him with a truly authentic experience, I may have missed out on what he wanted out of it: simply time with his big brother. I felt terrible at the end of our trip to Portugal; I thought I let him down. Usually when we travel anywhere, the running joke that all we do is eat and lift weights, so I wanted to make this experience special for him. I mentioned this despair to Nick, and he said he didn’t care, that we’ve been through worse, and that it’ll be a moment that we look back fondly for the rest of our lives.

In my graduation speech for undergrad I mentioned that of all the titles I’ve ever had, “big brother” was my favorite. During this trip, I learned of the profound contribution my brothers have made to my resilience and perseverance. I always thought of myself as the mentor, but in that moment, I learned that I was also the mentee.

and I learned that “Gasoleo” in Portuguese translates to “Diesel” in English.

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