April 26, 2011 § 4 Comments
In early February 1978, I entered Brazil through São Paulo – an industrial city of almost 15 million. I possessed only a 3-month tourist visa that could be renewed for another 3-month stay. The government had put a moratorium on permanent visas for missionaries and this was the best the mission board could do at the time.
When I walked through immigration, the official looked at my passport with its 3-month tourist stamp, stamped it with his stamp, and waved me through to baggage claim. There, I gathered my bags on a cart and stood in line. When my turn came, I hoisted my five bags onto the low table and the customs guy looked askance at the suitcases and then at me. He spoke a bit of English and asked, “You are a tourist, yes?”
I nodded and smiled. “Yes, for six months, I hope,” I replied. “I’m going to study Portuguese.”
“Ah,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. He made a checkmark on each bag with a piece of white chalk, and then said, “Welcome, and I hope you will enjoy your stay.”
“Thank you! I know I will.”
Thus began my Brazilian adventure. I had six months during which I would –
– live in a borrowed apartment with borrowed furniture and drive a borrowed car;
– immerse myself in the study of the language and try it out every chance I got;
– wonder if I would be granted a permanent visa or have to return home for good.
But on that first day I did not worry. I was too engrossed in the sights and sounds and smells of this new exotic land.
The first thing I noticed was the heat. February in Brazil is high summer. São Paulo is an inland city, industrial, full of smog and sweltering. But once on the super-highway to Campinas – home of the school where I would learn the language – it cooled a little.
A missionary couple had met me just outside the customs doors. We loaded their car with my bags – interesting that their askance glances looked like the customs guy’s. Once in the car they began a running dialogue – about the country, the city, and Campinas. All missionaries learned Portuguese there, and loved it.
Soon I began to ooh and ahh at tall flat top-pines, purple flowered Passion trees, and tall Bougainville bushes decorating colorfully painted stucco houses surrounded with banana groves and chickens.
After a while we pulled into a truck stop for gas and I was treated to my first Guanará and a cochinha (Brazil’s national soft drink and a chicken croquette on a stick). Ummm – love at first taste!
By the time we reached Campinas I was sufficiently excited and wide awake. I was also on sensory overload!
By day two I had moved into my borrowed apartment and attended my first day of classes – I was already a week behind because of my late arrival. Nevertheless, I was picking up the language pretty well. I could say “Quanto é?” – “How much is it?” and I had a good ear for Portuguese pronunciation, at least that’s what my teachers told me.
On Day three another missionary and her six-year-old daughter took me to my first “feira” – street market. To my amazement, this market was set up in a neighborhood street – four whole blocks of it. Along the street vendors sold everything from children’s toys to live chickens.
“You’ll need to buy a “feira” bag,” my new friend told me and pointed to a stall on the right. “I’ll be at this vegetable stall.” With that, she turned me loose, with only her daughter as my guide.
When I got to the stall, I saw the large plastic-mesh bags and point to a green and red one.
“Quanto é?” I asked and the vendor responded with something that sounded like “4 or 14 or 40 (quatro, quatorze or quarenta) Cruzeiros.” (Brazilian currency of that time). I knew how to ask the question but not how to listen for the answer! Yikes!
“He says quarenta Cruzeiros, Aunt Mary Lois, that’s 40,” Valerie said.
I paid the man for the feira-bag and as we walked away from the stall, said, “Stick close, Valerie. You are now my official translator!”
She laughed, but stuck with me and together we bought bananas (three varieties – I like bananas), apples, eggs, green beans, tomatoes, and a variety of other fresh food. I also bought a jug of Clorox, which I needed to wash all those fresh veggies and fruit! (I learned to live with the slightly off taste – health, don’t you know!)
Valerie was good. I later discovered her family had been in country for six months and she knew more Portuguese that her own parents! (Children learn languages faster than adults do!) Later that evening she and her mom took me with them to the supermarket where I bought the rest of the goods I needed to set up housekeeping –
I was learning the value of the money quickly, too. One US dollar equaled 16 Cruzeiros. Calculating how much it would cost to buy a small TV, by the Fourth day I was ready to go shopping! If I were ever to learn to listen to the language and hear it for understanding, I needed help and the TV was the best!
I began to learn the culture and the language and the music of my new country. Guaraná, Samba, and food! – I adapted quite well, actually.
So when I saw the color of the film, “Rio”, and heard the music, my mouth began to water and my eyes to tear up. Tenho saudades! (I have homesickness!) I think it’s time to drive up to Ocala to the Ipanema Churrascaria (churrasco is Brazilian pit bar-b-que – all kinds of meats). There I shall eat my fill of black beans and rice, fried bananas, and Brazilian steak – I can smell it now!