the saga of an indigenous go-go boy

I spent the weekend in my town, where my American friend from a nearby city visited me. We went to a gay club with two guy friends and the freak show began.

Looking around, I saw a shirtless man so ripped he looked like his skin was going to explode. Another had a skinny head and a weirdly hard-fat body clad in plaid. Another had long hair and was old and asked me if me and my friend like to kiss on the mouth while his overly large friend rubbed my back. I saw a tall man in white pants pull his dick out and gesture at a midget, who went together into the dark room, a place where my friend told me not to go into in general, but that if I did, not to go in with my cell phone or wallet.

My Brazilian friend suggested excitedly that we ‘go watch the dancers with the…’ then gestured across his crotch in a motion that made me think ‘chastity belt’ or ‘diaper’. There were four go-go dancers on a stage, wearing little man underwear and boots. I was hypnotized by the hottest one’s abs, which I think I’ve only seen the likes of in the movie 300.

They stopped dancing, I talked to my friends, turned around, and he was there, looking shorter than he seemed on stage. Still shirtless, he grabbed my hand, led me away from the music, and told me his life story.

He was 21 and finishing high school, on account of his dad leaving his mom when he was little so that he had to work from the age of 13 on. His mom is evangelical and told him he couldn’t keep dancing when she found out he was, but now she’s ok with it. He got the gig when he dressed up as a go-go dancer for a costume party and his now-boss spotted him and asked him to dance at the club. He said no, it’s just a costume, but eventually agreed for the tantalizing price tag of R$80 per hour. He’s Maori. His tattoo is like The Rock’s. Then we made out. His breath smelled. I surreptitiously touched his abs, figuring I probably wouldn’t feel abs like that again in my lifetime so I might as well take advantage of it.

He followed me and my friends around the rest of the night, and I felt so bad I couldn’t run away, even when he started working his creepy Latin charm. I just kept thinking of him having to support his little siblings by go-go dancing, sliding along that slippery slope toward prostitution. I imagined him in his high school night classes after hours of working out so that he can keep working making $40 per hour. He asked me if I would stay in Brazil if I found a reason to stay, implying that in some sort of universe he would be the reason. I said no. He asked if I would go to the represa with him tomorrow, and I said sure, whatever, and left.

The next day he called 18 times. Needless to say, we did not go out.

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spontaneity and locationships: solo in São Paulo

This past weekend I decided to return to Sao Paulo solo for round 2. Sampa left a bad taste in my mouth the last time I was there because my suitcase was taken (and returned, thank God), and my introverted and independent self was completely overwhelmed by having to interact with 28 other Fulbrighters and be ushered around from location to location for four days.

I had planned to visit Sao Paulo with a friend, who at the last minute couldn’t make it. It was 8pm on Friday night, and I decided what the hell, I’ll just go alone. I just had to finish the 3rd season of The Walking Dead before leaving, so I barely had time to shower and cram some clothes into my backpack before heading to the rodoviaria for my midnight bus.

I arrived at Barra Funda bus station at 7am feeling groggy and slightly overwhelmed. I had decided on a whim to arrive in a city of 11 million people without really knowing where I was going or what I was going to do. And it was 7am.

I made it to my hostel and was flamboyantly welcomed by the owner, who petted a Korean American’s head and called him a beautiful Japanese. After the owner insisted, I ended up eating breakfast there and smoking a cigarette (back on that, yeah) where I met a sexy and macho Rio man (surprise?). We joined up with two American doctors and checked out the market and the graffiti alleys in Vila Madalena. I bought gaudy jewelry and rifled through overpriced vintage clothes. I enjoyed my unrushed walk and Brahma break on my way to the alleys. They were elaborately and impressively painted with images both disturbing and beautiful. The Rio man shamelessly kissed me in one in the middle of the afternoon.

SP graffiti in progress 2

I met some English girls who were traveling through South America for five months (again, how do people afford that?). We all went out, looking like gringa hipsters and completely under-dressed for the Brazilian club scene. Seeing as we all forgot our IDs, we just went to a bar and drank overpriced caipirinhas. Negative: One of the doctors started pissing me off because he was using me as an interpreter and getting bitchy when I wasn’t constantly at his side to make him feel less stupid. Positive: He was using me as an interpreter.

The second day I went out again with sexy Rio man and a new guy I scrounged up, a German who slept on the top half of my bunk for a full 24 hours the day before; needless to say I didn’t quite know what to expect of him. He was kind of like a Clark Kent/Superman: at first he was kind of boring and nerdy, but as the day went on he got more and more fun. When he finally took off his glasses at night and started drinking Bacardi with me, he was almost gostoso. Looks aside, we had a good time wandering around Avenida Paulista and the Sao Paulo cemetery, peeping in the weird mausoleum house things that they bury people in there. We saw one that had old-timey pictures of the dead people in there, and one of their faces was completely scratched out except for the eyes and mouth.

SP scratched out face

I got drunk that night playing ‘never have I ever’ with strangers who felt like friends. I found out way too much about everyone and in turn revealed too much about myself. It felt great. A Brazilian staying there played samba on his guitar while he sang. I learned how to insult someone in German. I laughed at the English girls’ South American mishaps. I wandered the streets at 4am in search of hummus and actually found it.

I woke up early and hungover the next morning to a farewell note from the German, who had left even earlier. I ate breakfast and took a shower that was hotter than I can get in my apartment. I left when I felt like it, stopped in a big used bookstore I passed on the way to the metro, and missed my bus. Whatever. Nothing mattered and everything was exactly as it should have been.

I stuffed myself with goiabinha on the ride back and felt deflated as the humid Rio Preto air hit me on my way out of the bus.

trilingual semana santa in Ouro Preto

This year I didn’t spend Easter putting on my pinchy white church shoes or eating too many Cadbury eggs; I spent it walking around here:

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Every Easter in Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais, people decorate the streets with colored sawdust in the wee hours of the morning, and the streets stay like that for approximately three hours until the Easter procession complete with Moses, angels, and a band tramples over it.

Five of us from the same program met up in Belo Horizonte before heading to Ouro Preto for Easter. Native languages spoken: English, Spanish. Lingua francas spoken: Portuguese. The weekend was a jumble of languages and people sleeping in far too close of quarters, and it was great. I never knew three full-grown women could sleep on a single air mattress. I need to remember while I’m here not to take for granted the opportunity I get to be surrounded by friends who find traveling more normal than not, and knowledge of more than one language a given.

Ouro Preto is my favorite place in Brazil so far. It has such a different feel from the rest of the Brazil that I know: it felt safer, more antiquated, had a different kind of beauty. There weren’t metal gates topped with barbed wire around all the buildings. I sat on the curb at night and thought nothing of it. I spoke in English and no one looked at me. Dark beer was plentiful. The architecture was different: more European, which is to be expected, given Ouro Preto’s colonial history. It was secluded in mountains covered in palm trees and perpetual mist. It was like the jungle and Portugal had a baby and named it Ouro Preto, and it was unique and refreshing.

I talked with a friend there about our being in Brazil starting with a feeling that we followed. It was hard for me to put into rational terms when I was applying for this scholarship why I want to be here. Yeah, I love Portuguese; yeah, I know cool Brazilians. World Cup, Olympics, BRICK country, blah blah. But all that time there was just this feeling that I suddenly had a few Julys ago that I had to go to Brazil. It never waned, and I spent my two years of grad school doing everything I could to get closer to that goal. It was what got me through syntax class, my less-than-inspiring job, and every other obstacle, big or small, that I faced. It was what I felt I was meant to do next in life. I still don’t quite know why it is that I’m here, but even though it hasn’t all been a cake walk, it still feels right, and I’m still looking.