This is a continuation of Part One. In case you haven’t read it, please do so by clicking here.
My birthday was only three days into my visit, and it was difficult to find something special to do, as I barely knew anyone. The day preceding my birthday, I told my professor guide that it was my birthday the next day. His face lit up and he enquired if I had any plans. He then invited me to his family farmhouse, saying they will be having a party there. Turns out it was his mother’s birthday as well. Elated, I accepted the offer and found myself spending my birthday in the company of his large family at his farmhouse. The highlight of the afternoon was when his family started singing “happy birthday” in Portuguese and stopped abruptly. As I stood there over the cake with a knife in my hand, grinning in the middle with everyone staring at me while an awkward silence enveloped us, I wondered if the song was over and I should proceed to cut the cake. One of the family members interrupted my thoughts and asked, “What is your name?” I laughed and replied “Rahul”. After a few practices of the pronunciation, the family resumed singing, this time with my name in between, and gave me a memory to cherish for a lifetime.
A healthy camaraderie was also developing fast with the residents of Xanadu and before I knew it, my face was painted in the Xanadu flag and I was chanting, ‘Hu! Hu! Xanadu!” on the streets as I marched to the football tournament venue, where Xanadu was to face off with a rival frat house. They too, were seemingly loving my company, not missing out on opportunities to poke fun at my Indian accent, or calling my ready-to-make packaged Indian food, ‘astronaut food’.
I realized that Brazilians like to be cut out from the world, and many of them are content with their way of life. I was asked by a man if we support Osama Bin Laden, and whether I was sad when he was killed. I chuckled at the thought that to them, all brown people must be the same. Maybe this was because they were so consumed by the political turmoil they have faced for decades in their own country, they didn’t pay heed to the outside world. Or maybe because Brazil is so beautiful, they just didn’t care.
Since travel within Brazil is relatively expensive, I spent most weekends traveling in and around the interiors of Guaratingueta, accompanying fellow Xanadu residents on road trips. However, a visit to Brazil wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Rio, and I pumped out some extra money for a trip to the land of the Redeemer.
Rio is everything they show in movies, and more. It’s almost like the entire city is on a psychedelic high. It is blessed with a calming feel and has an idiosyncratic vibe to it. The Statue of Christ the Redeemer could be seen from the bus as we pulled into the Rio bus stop, and a wave of excitement hit me as soon as I saw it.
It is also an extremely dangerous city, with high crime rates and a rich profusion of drug wars. The drug wars are so blatant, that the drug dealers aren’t even afraid of the police. This realization came to me when I was walking with my host, Thais, and a few other interns in an area in Rio. I had my hoodie on and as it became windier, I pulled the hood over my head and started pacing faster than my companions. Two minutes later, Thais comes running up to me and says, “Don’t walk like this, if the police see you with the hood on, they will arrest you for selling drugs”. I was so perplexed by this instruction that it became one of my most vivid memories from Rio.
As dangerous as it is, it is also filled with kind and generous people. I had decided to venture out into Rio all by my lonesome for a day. By the end of the day, I had somehow managed to get myself lost and needed to get to the right bus stop for a bus back home to my host’s house. Asking around in my broken Portuguese didn’t help either. Exasperated, I called up my host, who instructed me to hand the phone to a local shop owner. Luckily, this owner turned out to be an English speaking angel. He proceeded to reassure me and even offered to drop me to the bus stop. On the way to the bus stop, he asked what I do and where I’m from. On finding out that I’m a computer engineer from India, he frowned a little, then smiled and said, “All you Indian computer engineers go everywhere and take our jobs”. I giggled and wholeheartedly thanked him before parting ways.
Even though I had heard of Brazil’s beauty and people, I didn’t know anyone who had actually traveled there, and South America had always been a beguiling mystery to me. The eight weeks I spent in Brazil was a learning process, a period where I discovered myself, and had an absolute blast while doing it. The people I met and experiences I had are unforgettable and will remain etched in my memory forever. It was a surreal eight weeks by any standards, and whoever gets a chance to go to Brazil and interact with the locals should do so without a moment’s hesitation.