How can you call a place home, if you’ve never really lived there? Great question, my first day back in Brazil in 2017 got me thinking about the phenomenon of belonging to a place, despite never really having grown up there.
The Red Eye Flight
My morning started off in the spirit of adventure, accidentally forgetting my bra in the plane, and having to walk around São Paulo bra-less. Rewind, how does one accidentally just leave their bra on a plane? Here’s the simple truth: ya girl is not trying to suffocate her boozums on a ten hour flight, when the process of flying is already so uncomfortable. So in my attempt to get cozy on a cramped LATAM flight, I whipped my bra off, and placed it in my bag that got shoved deeply under my seat by the abuelita next to me while getting up for her third trip to the bathroom. My bag exited the plane with me, but somehow my bra stayed behind, probably clinging onto a life vest underneath seat 27H. All I’m saying is that’s going to be a story amongst the cleaning staff later, my bad.
Post flight and in typical red eye fashion, I run to the bathroom to wipe the thick black mascara crust that had formed under my eyes over night, isn’t traveling just the sexiest activity? Part of the culprit for the morning grog was that I’ve been playing no games on flights lately; I’m that person who shamelessly rocks an eye mask, neck pillow, and drapes blankets on myself that come up to my chin. The kind of set up where you can tell I’m really trying to pretend I’m not on a plane, 30,000 feet above the ground, and uneasy about it.
Home Sweet Home
It’s only 6 AM and I’m already feeling stranded. The good news is that because it’s my country, I’m able to feel at home even with discomfort.
They look like me, they speak my language, they even have mannerisms that I’ve somehow carried with me, despite never having grown up around my people. One of the mannerisms I’m definitely guilty of is being overly expressive about generic things, like talking up the fact there are options for both cold, and room temperature water when drinking from the airport water fountain.
While killing time in the airport, I start smiling with the feeling of familiarity that overcomes me. This is MY country, I was created here, my genetics are laced within the soil of the earth underneath me. It’s all profound, until I realize it’s 6:15 AM, I’m exhausted, and I’m aimlessly lugging my suitcase around, with no bra on.
Now the real adventure begins, hunting down functional WiFi in the airport to order an Uber to a location I don’t even know exists yet. That’s right, I made no plans, took zero screenshots, and planned on free ballin’ it (in more ways than one apparently). The only plan was that I had to meet Damon at some point to check-in to our Airbnb, around 3 PM.
Lucky for me, the GRU WiFi actually worked, unlucky for me, it was too early in the morning to actually find options for places to sit and wait for sleeping beauty Damon.
I bit the bullet and headed towards Vila Madalena, the neighborhood of our soon-to-be-home. Even taking São Paulo’s ridiculous traffic into account, I would still be pullin’ up on the scene about two hours before any coffee shops or restaurants even opened. God, I love how my people love to sleep in; another habit that I blame on my genetics.
7:45 AM rolls around and I’m whipping through the windy streets of Vila Madalena, admiring the street art, and buildings that are festively colored, just because. Bushy plants cascade down the façades of homes so carelessly, almost as if even the building had wild curls.
It’s clear to see that the character of the people are reflected on the streets; vibrant, rough around the edges, but happy nonetheless.
As expected, I exited the Uber (which feels more like a damn limousine service in Brazil), and the neighborhood is basically shut down at 8 AM.
With suitcase in hand and backpack on back, I start doing what any traveler would do – wander and take it all in.
For about five seconds, I notice the sweet texture of the air. It’s still early in the morning, so the wafting heat that will swallow the city by mid-day hasn’t gotten a chance to have its brunch yet.
The neighborhood feels safe enough for me to plop my booty on the side of a closed storefront, and people watch until at least one restaurant or coffee shop opened.
Strangely enough, I managed to pick the most Brazilian sidewalk to sit on, in front of a store named “O Borogodó.” According to my Brazilian friend Luisa, borogodó is one of the most beautiful words in the Portuguese language. It means charm, a personal touch, capable of attracting. The perfect word for what would happen next.
As I sit in front of the closed Borogodó, I start noticing little kids in school uniforms being dropped off at their preschools by overworked mothers wearing Havaianas.
That was me about 18 years ago, innocently walking to preschool, looking forward to playing with playdough that was stored in old Pepsi bottles. It just got me thinking about how one decision changed everything.
Deep in thought (and still bra-less btw), I get caught off guard by someone opening the door to the Borogodó behind me. It’s not like I’m trespassing, but I’m that A-hole sitting outside of an adorable store with my bags, looking like a smelly backpacker.
A charming cleaning lady steps out with a broom, bucket filled with bleach water, and a smile.
“I’m so sorry I was just sitting here for a second, I can leave if you want.”
She warmly responds telling me to stay, and I explain my situation about how I had taken a ten hour flight, and was basically stranded while I waited for anything to open around the block. Rosie, my new friend, starts chatting with me while vigorously sweeping the extremely Brazilian looking sidewalk. The image of the hard working Brazilian woman hasn’t ever left my mind from childhood.
Rosie makes my morning by giving me the best compliment I could’ve received; she thought I actually lived in Brazil – what a joke. I hear the thickness of my American accent seeping out with every word I attempt to pronounce naturally in Portuguese. It gets better in time, at least that’s what I tell myself.
Rosie explains the concept of a “bloquinho” during Carnaval, where São Paulo’s neighborhoods started organizing block parties about five years ago to celebrate without having to leave the city to head to Rio or Salvador. Her morning tasks included sweeping and bleaching the pee from the party animals that relieved themselves as they stormed past the store the day before. Oh the joys of Carnaval.
We got to talking about what she loved so much about Brazil, and her response was a simple,”I love it all,” said with sheer happiness, as she swept the sidewalk. Not one complaint in the world, she demonstrated nothing but generosity by letting me, a complete stranger, camp out while she did her morning task. She would sweetly ask me to move my suitcase off the path she was planning on sweeping next, just like family.
Eventually, 9 AM happened and genuinely looking out for my well being (she could see the fatigue and hunger on my face), Rosie spotted a nearby restaurant that had just opened. We parted ways, and I walked away knowing it was just one of those random travel moments that seem unimportant, but that carry all the meaning.
To conclude my solo morning in Brazil, I stumbled upon an adorable all natural, vegetarian and vegan grocery store and restaurant where I indulged in a fruit juice, tapioca with mozzarella, tomato, and oregano, (it’s all the rage if you’ve never tried it), and a café com leite for less than $7.
As I typed up this very blog post, I get pulled away from my screen by someone walking by the restaurant, “você é a Jo?” Boom, another beautiful moment unfolding to welcome me to Brazil. Caio, a YouTube subscriber who watches our channel was randomly in the area, and spread the good vibes for the weeks to come.
Damn, it feels good to be home.