Monday, August 19, 2013

Brazil, 1985 Part 1: The Observer

[In December, 1984, I moved from San Francisco to Brazil to live on the beach in an exotic land and teach English, the ink still wet on my TESL certificate. I spent about a month in the interior with a Brazilian friend and work colleague named Julio (pronounce the 'J') who decided it was time to go back to see his family after a four-or-five-year absence. Julio's family didn't know (or didn't want to know) that he was gay and he tried to pass me off as his girlfriend. That, as well as my stubborn independence, caused friction between us, and, as much as I adored his family, I was anxious to be on my own and away from them. I had recently been offered two jobs in the small town of Rio Verde where Julio's father, a lawyer, lived. But I got on a bus headed for the coast to see what was what. I was to transfer buses in Belo Horizonte, about the halfway mark between Rio Verde and Recife, on the northeast coast of Brazil. These entries are from my journal.]

January 20

North by northeast - bound for Recife from Belo Horizonte.

"Strange sounding places
With strange sounding names
Calling, calling me"
Spent the entire day - 13 hours - in Belo Horizonte. Arrived at 8 am after an all night bus ride and wandered around the bus station for two hours, about ready to cry from needing sleep, seeing the long day ahead of me and not knowing how to kill it.

I asked a lady at a newspaper stand, where's a good place to go on Sunday? She gave me the name of a place. I got in a cab, traveled three blocks before finding out that the place was really far - about 15 kilometers - and got out of the cab at the bus station again. Went into the bus station, ate two slices of pizza, read a few pages of Jack Kerouac's "The Town and the City," about fell asleep, and decided to find out how much a hotel room would cost for few hours of sleep.

It cost 9000 [cruzerios, at that time, I think] so I got some nervous, weird dream-filled sleep in a funky, moldy-smelling hotel room, and felt much better and ready to head out into the world. I figured I'd get a juice and then catch the Hitchcock flick, "The Trouble with Harry" or "La Traviata" if I could find that theater. After my favorite liquada [fresh squeezed, blended juice] of papaya and orange, I kept walking until I found a park. Men eyeing me without conscience, people in row boats on a green slime pond, lush trees and palms everywhere, all wet from rain. I sat by a guy singing and playing guitar and tried to look Brazilian and casual in the environment. A girl of mid-late 20s walked past me and we smiled at each other. She sat next to me and commented on weather. We talked for a while until it started raining. Then we went and had a beer in a loncharia. I never did see the movie. At one bar, a guy winked at her and she showed him the tip of her tongue and he came over to meet her! So they talked and talked and I smiled and pretended to understand at least half of what they were saying. I had frango [rooster] and rice for dinner and they walked me to the bust station.

Now I'm listening to the Roches on a dark bus and my batteries are running low. I have so many thoughts and impressions but I tell myself, "don't think so much, just try to be here now." But I realize I am an observer on the wheeling journey called life. The other day, Julio's cousin, Nielha had a baby. There were several family members - about eight including the father - standing outside the room, waiting to hear its first cries. Everyone thought it was a girl when they heard it cry: "Chora de mulher!" (cries of a woman) they exclaimed. But when the baby was brought out into the waiting area, they saw that it was a boy because his ears weren't pierced. The father was about to cry, sitting on a bed in an adjacent room, and I went in to hug him and rub his neck, 'cause I was about to cry myself and I figured he'd appreciate the support. I was so surprised to see that nobody else touched him, until I understood that this show of emotion was not rare or something that needed comforting. It was natural and everyone was feeling it.

I got two job proposals in Rio Verde that I've accepted, one teaching kids between high school and university level literature and grammar, and the other giving conversation classes. With both salaries I'll be earning a million a month [about $200]. Sound great, eh? And I like Rio Verde and the family well enough to stay there for a couple or three semesters, until we save enough to move to the coast. My trip now is to see what the situations are, how much I'd be paid at a school there, how much is rent and the cost of living, etc. And, of course, to see the ocean once before I'm shut in by thousands of miles of land that takes so long to cross.

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