I wrapped up Part I with a mention of carioca, which is neither an amateur singing competition nor an exercise for improving lateral movement, but rather the word used to describe something or someone from Rio de Janeiro.
No matter where you go in Rio you see and hear the word carioca; We had lunch at Espetto Carioca, passed by the Coisa da Carioca souvenir store, and the residents of Rio even describe their dialect of Portuguese as carioca. It’s everywhere.
Like me, you might be wondering where the word came from. Finally, one afternoon I asked about the word’s origin. Turns out carioca was first used by the Tupi people over two hundred years ago to say home of the white man. Not quite the origin story I was hoping to hear, but European imperialism is kind of a common theme in South America.
Having said that, it’s easy to understand why the Portuguese set up shop in Rio. I was surprised to learn that harbor of Rio de Janeiro (Guaranaba Bay) is considered among the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Stretching 30 km (18 miles) in length and extending 32 km (20 miles) into the mainland, Guaranaba Bay is the largest bay in the world!
So large, in fact, that when European sailors first encountered it in 1502, they believed it to be the mouth to a massive river. As such they named the site Rio de Janeiro (River of January) after the month in which the “river” was “discovered” by the Portuguese.
That’s enough history for now. Enjoy some more pictures of the bay and the beautiful city that rests on its’ coast.
Breathtaking during the day, Rio is equally as alluring at night. During my week with Pedro, I got to tag-along to a birthday party at a friend’s place on the north end of downtown Rio. It was already dark by the time we boarded the train in Campo Grande and for the majority of the hour-long journey to the center of the city, my eyes were transfixed on the view outside my window.
The lights stretched for miles, climbing their way upwards against the silhouette of the mountains. Thousands of little lights dotting the hillside, shimmering as the train pushed its’ way deeper into the city. As I gazed out the window I realized that this was one public transportation outing that I actually wished would continue longer, but soon enough our view was engulfed by concrete jungle.
We reached the terminal, grabbed a taxi and made our way to the apartment, a place in which Pedro had never visited either. A security guard pointed us in the direction of an elevator, which would take us to the fifteenth floor for the party. We hopped in the elevator and much to our surprise, the building only had fifteen floors.
Sure enough, our party was on the roof. The family had reserved the party room and terrace, meaning our best views of the city were yet to come.
From the roof we sipped catuaba (a purple liquor from Brazilian tree bark), our eyes fixed on the panoramic view of the city before us. To our left, a glimpse of the bustling downtown. To our right sat the colossal Maracanã Stadium, which housed both the 2015 World Cup Finals and 2016 Olympic Opening Ceremony.
Fun fact: Maracanã is known for hosting one of highest-attended sporting events in history of the world, the 1950 FIFA World Cup. Known as The Maracanazo, some 199,854 fans piled into the stadium to cheer on Brazil, but to their disappointment the hometown team was defeated 2-1 by Uruguay… 🇺🇾 ¡Uruguay nomá! 🇺🇾
So there we were on the roof, completely consumed by the city. The highest and brightest light in sight was that of the Christ the Redeemer statue. The big guy on the hill appeared to be watching over everyone. It was truly surreal, but after a solid 10-15 minutes of gawking we did join the party.
Per usual my exceptional “whiteness” drew some attention, and per usual I enjoyed getting to surprise people with the fact that I could understand (most of) what they were saying in Portuguese. It’s amazing how quickly you acquire language when you are immersed in it 24 hours a day, especially when you have plenty of people to talk to!
I got to meet a whole bunch of Pedro’s friends and family during my stay in Rio, and while the Portuguese presented a challenge at times, it was during these moments that I was reminded that you can appreciate a person even if you don’t speak their language. For example, I think the most primitive yet impressible forms of communication is a smile.
I was only able to share a handful of actual conversations with Pedro’s parents and little brother, João, but you better believe we shared a whole bunch of smiles and laughs – the best form of communication!
Non-verbals can take you a long ways, too, and I learned quickly that Brazilians tug on their earlobe to express that something tastes delicious. My final few days in Brazil required me to be the communicate independently, which not only involved some pointing and gestures on my part, and a whole lot of patience on the part the cariocas with whom I spoke.
During these final few days, however, the vast majority of my conversations were held in English, as I took part in the 2017 Fulbright Regional Enhancement Seminar in Copacabana.
The conference was hosted by Comissão Fulbright Brasil and some 80+ Fulbright English Teaching Assistants attended, including those working in the following countries: Brazil 🇧🇷 (40), Argentina 🇦🇷 (20+), Peru 🇵🇪 (5), Uruguay 🇺🇾 (4), Panama 🇵🇦 (3), Paraguay 🇵🇾 (2), Costa Rica 🇨🇷 (2), Guatemala 🇬🇹 (2), and Dominican Republic 🇩🇴 (1).
The Brazilian Commission – with the help of Uncle Sam 🇺🇸 – really took care of us, putting us up in an unreal hotel right on the Copacabana waterfront.
It was three full – and I mean full – days of speakers, workshops (I gave a workshop!), and presentations, but we also had plenty of time to share stories and connect with other Fulbrighters, which was the highlight of the conference for me. There was simply so much to talk about with each and every person I met, that I honestly believe I could have had an hour-long conversation with everyone there without getting bored.
It was eye-opening. Inspiring. Overwhelming. Motivating. Humbling. Basically, I learned a lot and heard some remarkable stories. I met three ETAs who speak 6+ languages fluently, a handful who served in the Peace Corp, a gal who volunteered in Greece during the Syrian refugee crisis, a couple of PhD students.
There were Ivy Leaguers, alumni from other big time universities. Stanford. Notre Dame. NYU. UCLA. Duke. But to my knowledge, only a few universities can claim to have sent multiple graduates to Latin America with Fulbright in 2017, and one of which is the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire!
In fact, the Midwest in general was actually very well represented. I met a Badger (University of Wisconsin) and a handful of Gophers (University of Minnesota), including one who graduated from Missota Conference rival Northfield High School. Just goes to show that you’re never really that far away from home, as you can travel thousands of miles and still run into people with the same area code.
To summarize, the conference was tremendous. I think it requires a particular mindset, skillset and insanity to devote a year of one’s life to living in Latin America, and so I thoroughly enjoyed connecting with so many others who, like me, had decided to do just that.
We were an incredibly diverse group of individuals. White, Black, Latino, Asian-American, Indian-American. Christians, Jews, Muslims and Agnostics. Hailing from every corner of the country, geographically speaking, as well. It was such a unique collection of individuals, bound together by a a few commonalities, namely: a desire to represent the United States, a wish to help others and improve education around the world, and a passion for exploring this awesome continent.
And this place really is awesome. In one of our final conversations before parting ways, I discussed with Pedro how in English there are certain words that get overused and lose their true meaning. For example, is it really “awesome” when you make plans to meet someone for coffee?
Visiting a place like Rio de Janeiro makes me think about the words I use on a day to day basis, because if I use “awesome” as a synonym for “good” or “cool” when I describe a lunch I ate, or an article I read, what can I possibly say when I see a site that truly leaves me in awe?
A las ordenes.
Algo bueno: These unreal cheeseburgers (pictured below) grilled by Pedro’s cousin in the Bangu neighborhood of Rio.
Algo malo: The number of homeless people I saw in Rio was astounding.
Algo curioso: Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil until 1960, when the government center was moved to the newly-constructed city of Brasilia.