A friend took all photos posted here. I can’t take credit for these!
I had run out of currency in Brazil.
I had 4 Reales to my name…which translated roughly as $2.00. It was enough to buy the Coca-Cola that taunted me from my hotel refrigerator.
Unsure of how I would even pay for a taxi back to the international airport (card machines aren’t common in taxis like they are in Manhattan), I’d spent my last few Reales to meet up with two friends from college.
My first trip to São Paulo was a whirlwind of work with a little bit of fun. I was snarled in almost three hours of the infamous São Paulo traffic trying to make my way from the international airport to the conference, but I also got to talk to an interesting woman I split the cab with who’d spent her entire career teaching oversees.
I attended a wonderfully thought-provoking educational conference during the day and met up with two college friends at night. One friend is originally from São Paulo. She decided to (im)migrate back to Brazil after spending about twenty years in the States. Naturally, she was a great resource when getting around town.
Between sushi dinners at JAM (Brazil has the largest Japanese diaspora in the world along with the largest Italian and African diasporas so trying sushi while in Brazil is a must), caipirinha-spiked nights, and a stop at a samba club I–ignorantly-made up a way of saying thank-you (gratzi in my mind until I learned how to say obrigada) that caused my male friend to burst out laughing every time I slipped and said the word. I honestly don’t know where the word came from. I think I was just so eager to communicate and be the ever-polite Southerner.
Not knowing how to say thank-you is worse than not knowing your own name in my opinion.
Eventually, I learned from this same friend how to say I don’t speak Portuguese and thank-you.
Even more, I went right on practicing my Spanish in Portuguese-speaking Brazil. It was more common for people to at least understand or speak Spanish than English. Thus, it became the norm for me to talk with a taxi driver or lobby clerk in Spanish while they answered me in Portuguese. Some of the sounds are extremely similar. Sometimes this dual language conversation worked. Other times it didn’t.
Either way, I found my way with the help of my friends.
As the travel guides warned, São Paulo is a very expensive city. Even with the roughly 2 dollars: 1 Real exchange rate, a number of meals were more than I would have been willing to pay in the States.
If ever in São Paulo one restaurant to splurge on is Consulado Da Bahia. The food is representative of Bahia state, a region enslaved Africans heavily influenced. There during Restaurant Week, my friend and I split two dishes. The traditional beef, beans and rice were delectable but the dish that stole the show was a bubbling fish soup with butternut squash undertones.
I’m not a soup person, but I about cried at the end of the night when the man took the dish away without boxing it to go (alas, it was something that was lost in translation). Richly flavored food, a passion fruit caipirinha, and great conversation was the perfect way to close out my last night in the city.
The next night I was heading back to the international airport. The money situation all worked out because the teachers I split a cab with (they’d organized one with a card machine…that, of course, didn’t work when it was time to pay) insisted that I not pay a thing when it came time to actually divide the bill. I had helped them “save face” at the conference earlier in the week. Besides, they argued, they knew the school would reimburse them while my school had me pay for ground transportation and food (of course, which is still a great deal!).
I was exhausted and thankful while waiting for my 3:00 AM flight.
The last conversation I had in Brazil was with a 20-something year old Nigerian man on his way to Trinidad. I noticed him because he spoke English and looked confused. The gate had changed, and I was explaining to him that he had to keep checking the digital boards for confirmation especially since it got confusing with three languages (Portuguese, Spanish, and English) announcing flight information in the early morning hours.
A little cold towards me in the beginning, he warmed up as his nervousness set in (and when I revealed my dad’s Nigerian). It was his first time abroad, he revealed.
I smiled as I stood in line to board my plane. “Congratulations and good luck,” I responded, “and enjoy.”
Gratzi, obrigada, thank you, Brazil. I will be returning many times before my 10 year visa expires.