I can’t stay here because it doesn’t feel right. And by “here”, I do not mean Brazil, I mean this particular homestay. It’s always difficult to live with people, and I can only imagine that this is enhanced when you don’t know each other, have a completely different cultural background, and do not even speak the same language on top of that, but I know that a change will be the best for me. In any case, I’ll keep you all updated on that but for the time being, I shall stay where I am.
Now for Brazil…wow. I can’t believe that it’s only been three days that I’ve been here, but it has felt like an eternity. Although I have only seen like 2% of the city at this point, I feel like I’m getting around a whole lot easier. For the first time in my life, I can actually say that I’m quite handy with a map (and not just with MapQuest) and have done a decent job at getting directions, and then following them into completion. In my experience, the Brazilians, being Brazilian, have been extremely helpful. The fact that I seemingly fit in with the normal population yet am asking them directions to the most simple landmarks and places, never fails to bring a smile to their faces.
For the past few days, I’ve been vigorously studying and analyzing the carioca in its natural habitat in the vain hope to one day be able to completely blend in not only physically, but behaviorally as well. Needless to say, I can already tell that it’s already going to be a long and painful endeavor. The problem is that there are so many extremes. Some cariocas like to strut, some walk with their shoulders hunched, some walk like Singaporeans, and others take their sweet old time. Few whisper, but many are noticeably loud. All are helpful. Most will smile. Lots of them stare. I guess that I’ll find some sort of equilibrium over the next year, but for now, I’m highly confused, though not all uninspired.
That’s what Rio de Janeiro will do to you: inspire. One look at the sidewalks and you can’t help but to realize that a lot more lies beneath the surface of these easygoing city dwellers. The sidewalks are not made of the gray cement or even the crimson bricks of Georgetown that we’re all used to seeing in the United States; no, they use intricate patterns of white, black, and gray stones. Almost like fingerprints, no two blocks are the same, and almost all of them are very meticulously kept and swept each day. Rio is so green and fruitful that even telephones wires have life dangling from them.
The weather has hovered between 65 and 80 degrees since I’ve been here. As a Buffalonian, for me, this has been great, but for the cariocas, it’s been a bit chilly. It’s not uncommon to see people in sweaters, scarves, and jackets. Kuffiyahs aren’t big down here, though for better or worse there appears to be a small following from what I’ve seen on the streets these past few days. Evenings are pleasant, with a breeze often blowing in from the Atlantic ocean. One could say that I am in a paradise, and I would definitely believe them without hesitation. I knew this when I finally walked along the beach in Leblon, the ultra-chic neighborhood where I am living at the moment, and smelled that infamous saltiness of the ocean air that we’ve all read about so much in novels, but that I had had yet to experience for myself.
But even paradise has its limits. Well, at least this one does. It is very easy to believe that, when you’re driving to Rio from the airport, that you’ve somehow taken a wrong turn. There are three stages. The first stage looks like an urban wasteland, pockmarked with dilapidated gray buildings with shattered windows, without a soul in sight. The second stage, a stretch flanked by factories that spew out dark gas into the air and brick buildings that appear to be abandoned, but then you see the clotheslines draped with colorful t-shirts and vendors walking towards you, thrusting Globo towards your car window on the highway with imploring eyes, and you realize that you were mistaken. Finally, you enter a tunnel and then…familiarity at first sight. This is it.
The Rio that everyone sees and dreams of visiting is the destination of a very long and complicated journey. In spite of the palm trees, beaches, and Havaianas, at every corner, you constantly have to be on your guard because you never know what could happen next. A little danger can make anything more appealing, but you still have to be smart and know that there’s no room for being surprised when you’re here. It immediately singles you out as someone not from around here. No matter what, the carioca goes with the flow, and that is exactly what I’m trying to do.
For the first few days, Georgetown has done a great job of helping us to ease into the expatriate life, so we all ate dinner together for the first two nights. It was great to see Magdalena, an advisor from the OIP, and various members and members-at-large of the GU Portuguese department. They’ve been nothing but helpful, understanding, and smiles. Through them I was able to experience my first fútbol match in Brazil at an outdoor restaurant called the Bar Boemia. A local, and highly-disputed Brazilian team, Fluminense, was up against a team from Ecuador. Words can’t quite describe what I witnessed at the Bar Boemia, so I tried to take a picture, but unfortunately, that didn’t quite work either. No worries, though, I’ll get it some day soon, and hopefully when the Brazilian team wins. Being yet unable to perceive the difference between cries of joy and screams of anguish in Portuguese, I didn’t know that the raucous that continued on until well past 2am signified a lost. I now know that, once I become close with other Brazilians, I will never mention fútbol game unless it had a positive turnout, for fear of how they might react. One word, I guess, can describe it, and that is violent.
Well, as you can probably tell, I have a lot to say but seeing that it is 2 in the morning here, I’m going to have to call it a night. In the next post, I’ll be sure to talk about the University that I’m attending here in Brazil, and with pictures too! Good night!