adaptability, high school, and shoulder-biting strangers: Sao Paulo and Rio

The past few weeks have been a rush. I fit a trip to Sao Paulo, birthday trip to Rio, and a conference at my work in in that time span. I’m tired, but feeling happier than I’ve felt in a while.

Sao Paulo was Sao Paulo: a wonderful rush. There’s never a lack of things to do there, as in any big city. Of all the cities in Brazil, Sao Paulo fits me best. I feel like I belong there. I ate Mexican food with Americans and Brazilians, went to a gay bar full of shirtless men, and drank over-priced caipirinhas. I went on a weird double date thing that ended in 5am roadside hot dogs and an awkward make out session.

Rio was tiring. Beautiful, as always, but I was there for my birthday while a bunch of my friends were in town for Rock in Rio, so I spent every minute of every day doing something, and drinking heavily while doing it. I got to eat macaroni and cheese, go to posto 9, and get threatened by the white trash Brazilian roommates of the friend I was staying with. I met some Europeans, which is always refreshing in this near cultured-less wasteland. I met the most bizarre Canadian on my birthday, and despite the fact that he was odd and not even nice, we had the most wonderful sexual chemistry that started with him biting my shoulder in public in the middle of a conversation.  He might have been a ginger; I couldn’t tell because his bandana wasn’t see-through. He looked like the kind of gringo you’d find in India, someone who had been traveling for years and was forgetting Western ways. I also got called a burglar by a wasted black Chilean. All in all, not a bad 27th.

I returned to Rio Preto just in time for my body to shut down/me to spontaneously give way too many seminar presentations. Is there any other way to give presentations in Brazil? But I got to present powerpoints with a cute raspy cheerleader voice, so it was all worth it. I also got to end the week by bumping into some French people at a bar, then going to a water park with them that weekend. The constant Rio Preto sun plus the water park hot springs is as close to heaven as I’m going to get here.

Onto some thoughts. I’m feeling content here. I’ve got a routine, I like where I’ve moved, and I have enough acquaintances that it distracts me from not having a close friend.

I have been thinking about that phenomenon here: Rio Preto is a city of acquaintances, mostly because of what people look for in friends here. A friend is somebody to do things with, like ride bikes or climb a mountain or play games. A friend is someone who is also entertaining: whoever can be the funniest or most ridiculous wins the most friends. So basically, it’s a lot like high school. Intelligence or good conversation is not part of the equation. Now, I’m not particularly adept at the latter, but I’m certainly better at it than the former.

As my time here dwindles (two months to go), I’ve been thinking about what it will be like to return home. I try to remember life with dryers, dishwashers, and snow. Reliable internet connection, punctuality, and people who have known me for more than eight months. I imagine myself rolling in a pile of my freshly dried clothes, thinking about how wonderful can be. I imagine sitting at Starbucks for as long as I want, drinking coffee because it’s cold, not just because I like the taste. I imagine screaming in my car just because I can. I imagine the joy of having someone bump into me and say ‘excuse me’, thereby acknowledging that I exist. I walk through altogether too many places here thinking I must be invisible, for surely people wouldn’t assault me with such gusto without a glance if they could see me.

My first thought is that I’ll do all of these things and rejoice while doing them, savoring the familiarity and downright American-ness. But I know that I’ll get back, and in that setting all of these things will just seem normal, and life will go on as if I’d never left. I’ll still think the fat, ignorant, country people of my parents’ town are annoying. I’ll still honk too much at bad drivers. I’ll still get impatient waiting for the dry cycle to complete before going to bed. I’ll still not like unloading the dishwasher. Humans’ ability to adapt to whatever environment they’re placed in is both a gift and a curse.

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Brasília

Before I left for Brazil, my mom gave me a necklace with an inscription on the back that reads, “The journey has just begun.” I wear it when I’m overwhelmed by whatever dilemma I’ve found myself in to remind me that this is just the beginning, of everything. In six months, a year, five years, my memory of this latest stress will be long gone, and even my memory of this time and place will begin to fade, so absorb it while it’s here, because nothing is permanent. While I was in Brasília, I felt that sentiment without having to wear the necklace.

Brasília looks like an inhabited Mars. It looks like aliens came to Earth, tried to pass for Brazilians, and built their city in this manner. They didn’t do a very good job.

Let me start over. I love Brasilia, when not many I know do. I love it because of its vibrant red dust, prickly bushes, and flat landscape reminiscent of Arizona, my favorite state. I love it because it’s nothing like the Brazil I know, so it’s like meeting an interesting stranger. I love it for its space and sterility and organization. I find comfort in all of these things. You can feel that important things happen here. The majority of people wear suits and have badges, and I imagine they have jobs they can’t fully tell me about.

I didn’t feel unsafe in the streets at night. I could let my guard down, which I didn’t even know I had up. People don’t honk their horns; the traffic just slides by on the extra-wide roads, eerily silent. Brasília is known for its architecture, which is bizarre and ultra-modern. Other buildings were shiny black and intimidating-looking, in stark contrast to the graffiti-covered white concrete variety that’s the norm here. The dry, warm air makes you want to be outside, drinking a glass of wine on one of those sparkly rooftops with stilettos on.

In the 1950s Brasília was planned, then built in under four years, a feat I now consider even more impressive after getting to know the laid-back attitude of Brazilian culture. Picturing imported workers rushing to build a utopian city in the middle of the desert gives me chills. It’s like a science fiction book.

Personally, the week I spent there flew by and sent my mind into planning mode. The trip was with my job and was the marker of more than half our time here in Brazil, the majority of our work already accomplished. The opportunity to stay another year was offered. I have dreams about doing it, or not. But I feel a tug back toward Europe, and I feel a trip through Southeast Asia.

All I know is I’m not ready to go home yet.