“I won’t be here for the World Cup,” said a fellow classmate at our Portuguese class a few months back. “I’m leaving Brazil.”
I was immediately struck with a sense of dismay, exacerbated when another student announced their plans to leave soon. Then again last month, I discovered a fellow expat blogger was planning to leave, and I had the same reaction. I’m not particularly close to any of these people, but I always feel a bit of insecurity when an expat — of any country, not just the U.S. — decides to leave. In my head I plead, Wait, I thought we were in this together. Again, I’m not close to these people. Some I’ve barely even spoken to.
I’ve been asked many times how long I intend to stay in Brazil, and the truth is, I have no idea. “I’ll stay until I leave,” is my lame answer. But others’ departures trigger the tiniest doubts in the back of my mind about whether living here is doable. And I remember the moment when I told my friend I was planning to move and she responded with, “You know, usually people leave those countries to come here to the U.S.”
It’s not easy. It requires patience and an open mind. It requires talking to people to find out how the hell to get the government to work for you, learning which are the best routes by trial and error, researching the difference between alvejante and água sanitária before I go to the store, and being prepared for the occasional misunderstanding as people try to decipher your accent.
But it’s also a lesson in recognizing what can or cannot be changed, as well as appreciating things for what they are. I value the way people will invite you over after just meeting you or how in the face of chaos people will creatively find a way to get around. They’re skills I strive to have.
While others may have their reasons for staying or leaving, I can’t compare my journey to others. And if eventually I do leave, the time I’ve spent here isn’t any less worthwhile.
I take pride in knowing my neighborhood and its details. I like knowing that at the Sunday feira, there’s a man with a thick northeastern accent who spends the morning shredding coconut with a knife and sells it by the cupful. I like knowing which house has the six cats and that the Siamese one will ignore you, but the tabby will come running and demand to be petted. I’ve even come to appreciate knowing what time the gas truck passes by, announcing its presence with dinky music.
I like recognizing what’s constant, but I feel especially good about recognizing what’s changed. After all, it takes a true resident to know that the large white wall used to have a Japanese-themed mural, but has been since painted over. Or that it didn’t used to be this noisy at night, but they changed the bus routes so now buses pass through this street until late. Even knowing the minor fact that the guava tree in the park was cleared away makes me feel proud.
I’ve come to realize that this knowledge and awareness are key in combatting my foreigner mentality, the belittling feeling that I don’t belong. Even though I still struggle saying the word Anhangabaú, I can tell people which buses pass through here. When I leave the house, I walk down the street with comfort, with familiarity, with perception. I have a growing sense of context and memory that give me a sense of place.
I can’t wait to see how much more I will learn about my neighborhood in a year.
One of the curiosities about Brazil is that every region seems to have its own unique fruit that’s hard to find in other regions. São Paulo and the rest of southeast Brazil has jabuticaba. These black-purplish balls grow on trees — literally.
Source: Alda Alves Barbosa
I enjoy them although they’re not always an easy fruit to like raw. They can be sour or sweet, depending on your luck. Fortunately they’re also commonly used in jams and drinks with enough sugar to eliminate any unpleasant sourness.
To use up the last bit of jabuticaba I got at the feira, I decided to make a caipirinha. The recipe at the famed Bar Veloso in Vila Mariana calls for fifteen jabuticaba. Frankly I’m too lazy to count them out so I filled up about two thirds of my glass. Other recipes I’ve seen call for a respectable half a cup, but I like an intense fruity flavor. I put in about two tablespoons of turbinado sugar so as to draw out the jabuticaba flavor and make up for the sour ones. Then with my muddler (an essential here) I started mashing the fruit.
Most recipes for this cocktail are pretty simple — fruit, sugar, ice, liquor — but I like my drinks a little more complex. I took about an inch long piece of ginger and cut thin slices. I added to the mix, muddled, muddled, muddled, and then added about six large ice cubes. I had no cachaça at hand, but I did have rum so I mixed it in to make what’s called a a caipiríssima, caipirinha’s rum cousin.
And it turned out well! Delicious and pretty. And you have boozy, spiced fruit to eat afterwards.