My first impression of Brazil: it is a city of modern people.
I'm in a void of endless urbanity that is riddled with sound, pollen and bustling trucks. Humanity's true faces present themselves here in obtrusive, blank walls that seclude and in the vulnerability of tired, naked feet sweeping across the cobblestone. Poverty is evident here and thrives in no bed of roses. But Brazil’s beauty shifts us away from the darkness. Sound amplifies in tides. Live music and buzzing crowds flood the streets and my shoes are like funk. From the roots of multi-culturalism this city proclaims a raging battle against oppression with wildstyle so deep, so fantastic, it shakes my bones. Rainbow flags and pride glow in the sunshine. The colours paint the sky ablaze and set fire to the rain. In the street, a boy kisses a boy like a girl could only ever dream of being kissed. This place is so unlike home. Our Brazilian whanau is friendship wrapped in cheek kisses. It's awesome to witness human nature in how we barely understand each other, and it seems this barrier has only contributed to our hoa. The amusing miscommunication between the foreigners and residents founds a friendship of longevity.
Brazil, a city of humanity in the word’s broadest sense. Eu amei isso!
So many little tents and stalls are at the Benedito Calixto Fair. Little trinkets and knickknacks cover the tables. Nataly and Giovana guide me through the bustling mess. Up and down we weave, skimming our eyes across an ocean of ornaments. And amidst it all, I spot a little green bunny. I’m quite taken aback when I see such a familiar item for sale in such an odd environment. It’s one of the very same green bunnies that once lived at my great grandmother’s house. There, on the antique cabinet in her lounge sat a family of them. One mummy bunny and three baby bunnies. I’ve found a fourth baby bunny. And now I pluck it from the table as a gift for my mother. I also manage to snag myself a record of The Monkees Greatest Hits – a childhood favourite, the perfect new addition to my epic vinyl collection.
Usually one thinks of an alley as some dark, scary place to avoid at night. But I’ve never seen one drowning in so much colour before Brazil. Peacocks and rainbows and blood and dancers have been splashed all over the walls. Should you shine light through a special window up in the far corner of the flats, Batman’s logo can paint the sky too. Hence its name, Batman Alley. The churros here are pretty bomb as well! As we depart, a very colourful entrepreneur approaches us with some handmade fibreglass saxophone he’s pieced together. It sounds so much like the real thing. He bounces up and down, tooting his horn and before you know it, we’re rolling about the floor laughing. What a wonderful entertainer!
I’ve had a recurring dream since I first watched Beauty and the Beast where I walk into some grand hall; my tummy is rumbling and there’s an empty plate on the table in front of me. Boom. The door bursts open and waiters prance about with platters of assorted foods. Lumiere sings with some fantastical Disney orchestra and choir accompaniment, while thousands of knives and forks bounce along the table. Let’s just say I went through a phase of admiration for Princess Belle as a kid and it’s never really dissipated. But it’s never been more than a childhood dream before visiting this restaurant in Brazil. Here, it becomes reality and it’s better, more magical than I could have ever imagined. Because the waiters aren’t prancing about, offering platters of assorted foods. They’re offering me sticks of meat. It truly feels like something out of a storybook! (Except for the fried frog I thought was fried chicken…)
Paulista Avenue prohibits car passageway every Sunday, so the people are free to roam the streets as they please. It fills to the brim with footsteps by the hundreds of thousands, stalls are scattered all over, musical acts and crowds storm the boulevard. It’s incredibly quixotic. The gals and I once again find we are weaving through an ocean of goods. We admire the items on display here, hanging from hooks and shelves. I was eight when I first walked into a store and spotted a purple wallet decorated with these adorable ice block cartoons. I walked out with that and a stamp on my loyalty card about two minutes later. For ten years, I never considered buying another one. That is until I spot this cute, brown patterned leather wallet with a clasp instead of Velcro, on Paulista Avenue. Does this quietly signify a small aspect of my turnover into adulthood? It’s a cute thought anyway.
Magic ensues from a live performance of Indio music on the street. Its performers wear spectacularly coloured feathers and marvellous headpieces. Their wind pipes and waiata bind my feet to boiling concrete. I have noticed, the sun does not scorch skin as harshly here. Even in this intense heat and shining sun, I could stay forever.
The city makes our bodies ache. I mean, the bike seats make our butts ache. We’re pedalling and exploring the city’s landscape. With the guides, we weave our way through lights and over concrete lumps, our hungry eyes soaking in experience. Apartment buildings explode with colour. Bush walls make up whole faces of apartment buildings which have been cleverly watered or parched in different places to paint pictures. It’s also totally awesome to practice a little Spanish with one of the guides. I have this tragically disastrous mind blank, believing I’ve been to Venezuela in Spain. I’m corrected promptly by my dear friends and discover I mean Valencia. After a demanding bike ride, the heat built up in our helmets is released and with the guides, I swap a few favourite songs!
I must say our dear friend Talita is a main driving force behind the success of our awesome Brazilian experiences. She’s multi-skilled and just so happens to be experienced in the culinary arts. After a busy day of absorbing knowledge, Talita offers to teach us some basic recipes: Brazilian style. Each team has been given the choice of preparing Pao de Queijo (cheese puffs) or Brigadeiro (chocolate balls). Our hands become a blur of flour and cocoa as each team attempts to follow Talita’s precise instructions. But get this, she’s only saying them once! Overanalysing her steps causes a great kerfuffle. We lose our heads, babbling her instructions over and over to one another like turkeys. ‘We’re mixing this with what!?’ ‘Do we stick our hands in there and kneed it yet?’ ‘They MUST be perfect balls!’. It’s a raging battle between teams: who will produce the best dish? Into the oven and fridge go our balls and we meander upstairs, waiting for the ‘ding’ so the judges may taste and delegate. Ding! The time has come, (the walrus said) … The cheese puff judges announce a very clear cheese puff winner: the choice is between bread rocks or cheese puffs. (I’m proud of us, Team dot.dot.dot!) Meanwhile, the Brigadeiro dishes spark a little more controversy. Fateh and Kevin each sell their team’s Brigadeiro interpretations like true comedic winners. Our laughter roars in the night. After thorough debate, an announcement is made: his team and Kevin’s tasty, cocoa-covered Brigadeiro emerge victorious! But the people are unsettled by this and protest arises! The people rally in support of the yummy, sprinkle-covered chocolate balls. Fateh’s Team Tudo Cachorro (Top Dog) will henceforth and forever be known as the People’s Champion.
I find Capoeira quite exhilarating while strange. It is a form of ancient martial arts that combines the fluidity of dance and music with acrobatics. Our time here travels in stages. At first, awkwardness and shyness dominate. That is until we realise the mutuality of our discomfort and our confidence grows. Stepping back and forth, a triangle keeps the foundation of our movements strong. One Mestre pulls me aside and is kind enough to impart her knowledge unto me: how to beat the drum. We’re in a circle on the floor hearing Mestre speak of the Capoeira history. As he does, two cultures: Maori and Afro-Brazilian link momentarily through their mutual history of oppression and rebellion.
Presentation Day: after a long week of late nights and pitch preparation, the morning has finally arrived. Each team gets up, presents their business concepts to Leitissimo for consideration. I’m proud of our team for winning the challenge. Snaps for Team dot.dot.dot! And I’m super proud of all us kiwis for literally representing our country so well. The Cultural Presentation is a whole other ball game. There are a lot of translation guesses, close call physical injuries and outrageous skits. Team Tudo Cachorro (Top Dog) sure take us to a whole other level with their pick-up line scenarios. And the Brazilians deserve immense bragging rights after their Kiwi Slang battles. I really feel this last day was the climax of our stay.
Many conversations take place over the course of our week in Brazil. Knowledge imparted to us from experts still has me rolling in ideology. It’s like a heatwave. Words bounce back and forth between us and the fluidity of conversation evokes passion and curious minds. I must make note of Leitissimo and the astounding time and effort that was put into our mentoring there. I think the whole team can agree that Leitissimo provided us with wonder, chills and delicious ice cream that day. Our glasses are raised. I’d also like to take a moment to thank every place that opened their doors to us. They provided us an opportunity to learn that extends further than any classroom could ever hope to. The New Zealand Consulate, Merkaz Jewish Club, Nautra, System B and Sebrae. Your lessons are treasured and with us wherever we go from now.
Our Brazilians are part of us. And the plane leaves in a few hours. My hay fever isn't just Brazil anymore. It’s leaving Brazil. I turn back to see time stilled. Our best friends waving. And it’s with a full heart I take a mental snapshot. A memory to take with me forever. And before I know, the bus pulls out and turns the corner. I might never see this place again. And although the tears hurt, I don’t regret a second of being part of this incredible, inspiring, totally mind-boggling, metamorphic experience.
Obrigada & Nga Mihi everyone,