Monthly Archives: March 2010

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Michael Coghlan/Flickr

Many people hold fast to the myth that Spanish and Portuguese are similar enough to be mutually intelligible. They are both Romance languages (based on Latin) and share many grammatical structures and vocabulary. They are indeed closer to one another than English is to its closest brethren, Scots and Frisian. But let me debunk the idea right now that Portuguese is just Spanish with a bunch of Z-sounds; they are two distinct languages. You might be able to get by for a couple weeks of vacation in Rio or Salvador with some Spanish, but living in Brazil means coming to terms with false cognates, misunderstandings, and lots of asking people to repeat themselves slowly—mais devagado in Portuguese, versus the Spanish más despacio. Ou seja, espanhol e português não são iguais.

See, not only is the Portuguese lexicon full of words that are similar but mean different things than their Spanish counterparts, words that exist in both languages but are used more in one than the other, and thousands of contractions versus the two in Spanish (al, del), the Portuguese sound system is a monster on its own. Word-initial R and double-R (rio, carro) get pronounced as an English H, unlike the trill that gives Spanish its snapcracklepop (ergo, HEE-oo, KA-hoo). Oh, and the O at the end of words is pronounced like the Spanish U (see previous example). And there’s lots more, minha vida.

Note: My Spanish was developed first in the Dominican Republic, honed and fine-tuned on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, and peppered with that Floridian-Cubano seasoning of Miami, so ‘scuse me if i’m not thpeaking de Cathtellano of Ethpaña. Like the various Englishes that exist, the many Spanish dialects all have varied vocab and pronunciation. And I’m talking about Brazilian Portuguese. Deal.

Easy
These words are pretty easy to recognize and mostly mean the same thing.

English-Spanish-Portuguese
door-puerta-porta
moon-luna-lua
street-calle-rua (think ruta)
coin-moneda-moeda
to leave-salir-sair
to write-escribir-escrever
to listen-escuchar-escutar
to arrive-llegar-chegar
yes-sí-sim (silent M, nasalized I)
much/many/very-mucho/muy-muito

Meh…
These require a little more brain power.

carrot-zanahoria-cenoura
apple-manzana-maçã
elevator-ascensor-elevador
stairs-escalera-escada
to speak-hablar-falar
to dance-bailar-dançar
to need-necesitar-precisar
to save (money, time)-ahorrar-economizar
but-pero-mas
hot-caliente-quente

Wha…?
No way in hell you can guess these words as a non-native Spanish speaker.

knee-rodilla-joelho
dog-perro-cão/cachorro
pen-bolígrafo-caneta
window-ventana-janela
to close-cerrar-fechar
to forget-olvidar-esquecer
to turn on-prender-ligar
to look-mirar-olhar (mirar is used in Portuguese poetry, as in mira lua)
to happen-pasar-acontecer
is there water?-hay agua?-tem agua?
we go-vamos-a gente vai (huh?)

I could go all day.

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  1. Say, “I’m moving to Brazil, dammit!”
  2. Find a friend who has just passed on a teaching job in the Brazilian capital, not your first choice of cities, but only 90 minutes away by air from your first choice of cities.
  3. Interview with your prospective employers via Skype from San Francisco.
  4. Respond with a resounding “yes” to the offer of employment they email you an hour later.
  5. Compile all necessary documents for the visa process: college degrees and transcripts, birth certificate, passport copies, money orders; order background check from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
  6. Beg your wily friend from grad school to take the papers to the Brazilian consulate in Miami for “legalization.”
  7. Listen to your wily friend from grad school cuss you out about having to wait in a long-ass line, having to use her own cash (since the Miami consulate doesn’t take money orders), and having to come back another day to pick up the documents.
  8. Listen to your wily friend from grad school tell you that they couldn’t “legalize” your grad school degree and transcripts because they were issued in the District of Columbia.
  9. Wait until your wily friend from grad school sends the documents back to you in Jacksonville.
  10. Beg your bestest buddy from back in the day to take the transcripts and notarized/apostilled copy of your degree to the Brazilian consulate in Washington for “legalization.”
  11. Listen to your bestest buddy from back in the day cuss you out about having to wait in a long-ass line and not having the consulate take anything because the money order (this consulate only took money orders) was for $10 and they only needed $5 because they could only “legalize” the transcripts and not the degree because it was a copy and not the original, which is framed and put up in storage somewhere.
  12. Listen to the consular officer in Washington tell you over the phone in English and in Portuguese, in spite of your pleas of logic and reason, that they cannot accept the notarized and apostilled (by the Florida Department of State, no less) copy of the graduate degree and to send the original so they can punch a hole in it.
  13. Look through storage somewhere for your original graduate degree and overnight it to Washington to your bestest buddy from back in the day can take it to the consulate so they can punch a hole in it.
  14. Listen to your bestest buddy from back in the day tell you that the turn-around time for the two documents you needed “legalized” is seven days, not the two days posted on the consular website.
  15. Have your bestest buddy from back in the day listen to you cuss out the entire country of Brazil from the rooter to the tooter.
  16. Read with trepidation an email from the school official handling your visa process that he’s going on Christmas vacation to Europe before the papers will get down there and that the mid-January moving date is most likely now going to be mid-February.
  17. Try to convince Brazilian consular officials in Washington to process your two documents in less than a week, then accept the inevitable as they tell you they’ll try to have them done before the one-week deadline, but they can’t make any promises.
  18. Have your bestest buddy from back in the day FedEx the documents, “legalized” exactly one week after they were submitted, to the school’s lawyers in São Paulo, since the administration’s already on holiday.
  19. Wait.
  20. Stare holes into your computer screen when you see that your work visa has been approved the day after Carnival, along with several foreign members of the Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra.
  21. High-tail it to Miami, walk the final documentation (including police background check) through the consulate on Tuesday, flirt with the receptionist handling your file who still charges you the full $231, pick up the visa on Friday, board the plane on Saturday.

And voilà! Brazil.

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You’re new to a city. You’re like Bo…you’own know Diddly. What do you do? You log onto CouchSurfing.org, that’s what you do.

A social networking site that’s actually built around facilitating live-and-in-the-flesh human connection, The CouchSurfing Project puts world travelers and other worldly folk in contact with one another for interaction as benign as a coffee and a chat, up to and including the more intimate use of floor space, couch space, or bed space. You set up a profile, look for like-minded individuals in your immediate area or in a place that you’ll be visiting forthwith, and voilá, you’re on your way to eye-opening experiences with some of the world’s friendliest, most interesting, genuine people. All communication is recorded in the system for safety purposes, and testimonials for both hosts and guests help paint a picture of what kind of nut-job you’ve got on your hands. Interest groups let you hook-up with other single female travelers, backpacking epicureans, beach bums, parasailers, or last-minute-couch-having Berliners, and it was in one such city group─the Brasília CS group─that I subtly mentioned that I’d just moved to town and was having a little welcome get-together at my place on Saturday. Forty people showed up.

See, CouchSurfing fits almost too well with a gregarious society like Brazil’s. People here really do look for any excuse to party and welcoming a new foreigner in their midst offers the perfect reason. And with Brasília being the national capital, and therefore a very transient city, many of my guests were recently-relocated Brazilians who’ve been in town only a bit longer than I have. I had students and teachers and journalists and civil servants and federal police officers and future novelists and regular vagabonds conversing on the pull-out sofas, sipping caipirinhas, dancing to Beija-Flor de Nilópolis and Madonna and Hector Lavoe.

My neighbor came home at 11:30 (official party start time: 5pm) and, with smiling politeness, informed me that party cut-off in the building is 10pm. By midnight, the revelers─my new-found friends, acquaintances, and running buddies─had moved the party over to a nearby park, each one thanking me as they left in customary receiving line fashion. No, thank you.

This evening, the security guard on-duty from last night gave me a thumbs-up, shook his head, and chuckled as he handed me a copy of the building rules.

Word.

A work of art.

Yes, the current local time was indeed 5:34AM.

Dawn in Dade County.

Fatigue setting in.

Uma garotinha…awwwwww.

Ole Man River.

The Mis’sippi ain’t got nuthin on this.

Not exactly ATL.

The river runs through it (the dark water on the left is from a separate tributary that merges with the Amazon at Manaus).

Oooooooooooooooooooo!

Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!

Ooohhhhhhhhhhhh.

Thunderous dusk over the capital (yes, it took that long to get there).

Arriving at BSB.

Can’t get any more Brazilian than that.

Fly Brother welcomes your views. If this post hit the spot, please comment and/or click .

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Robson Cesco/Flickr
New World in the Tropics is the title of a book written in the 50s on modern Brazilian culture by famed Bahian anthropologist and scholar, Gilberto Freyre. It’s also the theme under which I embark on another journey, begin another chapter in my life. I started writing this blog as my four years in another tropical country, Colombia, were coming to an end. I’ve not written much about my time there because those years proved infinitely challenging, both positively and negatively, and it may be a while before I’m prepared to pen detailed memoir of my life on the crown of South America. Also, I wanted Fly Brother to focus on international traveling from a—my—black perspective that extended beyond the boundaries of one particular place. And that boundless outlook remains the focus of the blog, even as I (and you, dear reader) settle into this new world in the tropics—Brazil.

The Re-Invention TourTomorrow morning at 7:15, I will depart Miami, arriving five hours later at Manaus, capital of Amazônia, before continuing another three hours to Brasília, capital of the continent-sized nation of Brazil. I think it’s important to note the distinction of the two capitals, as the Brazilian state of Amazonas is as large as many nations and has a distinct history and culture centered around the indomitable Amazon River and its besieged rainforest, dark green on the map and spanning nine countries. Brasília, by comparison and not unlike the great American city of Washington, was built from scratch almost as a coming-out party for this burgeoning republic of the future and as a paean to man’s mastery of nature. Despite having been to the country five times, my travels have been relegated to the coastal cities that most reflect the face Brazil shows to the world; this move to the Brazilian interior, a place as foreign to me as the Australian Outback, will be a move to another Brazil, to another world far from sand and samba, yet informed and shaded by it. Of that, I’m excited.

I’m also excited about the opportunity for reinvention. I’ve got a clean slate in Brazil. Not that I did anything untoward in Colombia, or even the States, that necessitates a complete change of identity (well, besides some bad financial decisions, maybe). I’m talking about having a blank canvas on which to draw anything I want, on which I can be anything, do anything. I can learn the guitar and be a hit gringo bossa nova singer. I can write two or three novels set in Brazil. I can stay put in Brasília after my two-year teaching contract is up, I can move to Rio or São Paulo or Recife, I can go back to Colombia or off to Germany or to Vanuatu (2006’s happiest place on Earth, if you didn’t know). I can create new experiences, interactions, friendships, relationships, loves and hates (hopefully much, much more of the former than the latter). Point is, even moving to Brazil after many years of voicing that desire is proof that I can do what I set my mind to. It may not be easy or happen on the timetable I set or exactly the way I envisioned it (yet), but there it is: accomplished.

Gooooooooooooooooooooool!
So now, it’s time for more goal-setting. Having been gainfully unemployed but steadily traveling since June has resulted in a financial deficit that needs reversion into surplus. I’m serious about the guitar lessons, but also about perfecting my Portuguese to a level that allows me to translate literature to and from English. I’m going to learn how to play soccer…er, futebol, dammit (capoeira, meh, not really big on handstands and such). I’ll have the first draft of a novel set in Brazil by the end of my first year there. I’ll volunteer with a youth organization at least twice a month. Besides a week in New York (TBEX ’10) and another in Colombia (tying up loose ends), I won’t be on any international flights for my first year in-country, opting for Amazon river-running, five-hunnid-mile dune buggy treks, and the humbling grandeur of Iguassu Falls to sate my wanderlust. And, of course, Fly Brother will be continually updated, with mostly international content infused with weekly ruminations on my Brazilianization.

So now it begins, this renaissance of sorts. Colombia honed me in many ways, sometimes painfully, but always necessarily. It’s time to apply those lessons as I continue on my quest for self-actualization. And I’m suited up and ready for my new world in the tropics. You coming?

Image by the Brazilian Ministry of Tourism