I woke up yesterday morning, ready to accomplish my last round of errands: pick up a paycheck at the Callan school, cash it at the bank, make one last souvenir-run at Shopping Vila Olimpia, and finally, rush to the luggage store to buy a vessel capable of transporting it all. However, my to-the minute itinerary was thwarted when I realized upon arriving at the Vila Madalena metro that I had forgotten my passport, which I needed both for entry into the Callan school building as well as cashing my paychecks at the bank. Wearily, I slogged back uphill to the apartment, slowly perceiving that I had an even bigger problem; it was suddenly becoming very difficult to stand upright, never mind walk without feeling like my stomach was seizing up.
When I finally arrived back at the apartment I collapsed onto my bed, unable to move. I tried to sleep it off, but every few minutes, I felt a deep, slashing pang, like my kidneys were trying to eject my stomach through my ribcage. All I could think as I lay there was, why, after managing to stay healthy over three months of inconsistent eating and sleeping habits, did I have to get food poisoning the day of my flight (not to mention, what the heck did I eat?)?! Clearly I wasn’t meant to leave the country. I focused on revising and prioritizing my previous plan. Maybe I should just forget about the money. The most important thing was to be well enough to make my flight later that night.
Still, miser that I am, I really wanted to leave the country with all the money I had earned running around town in circles at the cost of my own health. I will spare you the gory details of the interim period, but feeling a bit better and knowing the banks close at 4, I finally forced myself out of bed around 2:30 when Samantha very kindly brought me a carry-on to use and some medicine. I also took a shower, and, for the first time, the water cut out at the end. Maybe it was time to go home after all?
Note from 2020: São Paulo is no longer in a drought (just a pandemic like the rest of the world), so the linked site allowing Paulistanos to check how much water is available in the water supply system or cantareira no longer exists, but I’m leaving it in the link above because it was very much a popular site at the time.
The building that houses the Callan school has 20 floors of offices, and I only make the trip once a week, but, upon seeing me, the woman at the desk always smiles brightly from behind her little window, “boa tarde, Catarine!” She then waits patiently for me to shuffle through my bag to find my passport and recite the number. Almost simultaneously, she affirms, “pronto, linda!” and I thank her as I pass by her window. There I am greeted by two men who smile, “tudo bem, Catarine?” and one swipes a card, allowing me to pass through the turnstyle. A third man holds an elevator open for me to enter, and I make my way up to the school. Yesterday, Debora, the receptionist welcomed me with a hug, “ow, a minha filha! You’re leaving me today! Michele just left for a class! Why didn’t you come earlier?!”
After I said my goodbyes, I made my way down the steep slope from Paulista to the Caixa bank on Brigadeiro Luis Antonio. I was in a feverish cold sweat, but being a true money-hungry American, I forced myself to make it there just under the wire. Aside from my one unfortunate encounter with the CitiBank ATM in which my Debit Card was cloned, I had yet to go to a bank in Brazil. And needless to say, the experience did not disappoint.
After telling the 13 year old just inside the door what my business was, he looked at my checks and gave me a number. I stepped through a revolving door, trying to discern whether it was manual or automatic. After walking into the glass, I tried pushing, but still nothing happened. A security guard on the other side stared at me blankly. Luckily the guard on my side explained to me that there was a metal detector in the revolving door and I had to put any keys, cell phones, etc. in a little slot next to it. I tried to shove my purse in the slot, only to notice immediately afterwards that it explicitly said, “please do not attempt to shove entire purse into this slot.” After dropping my keys and cell phones through, I cautiously reattempted entry, only to have my attempts frustrated again. “Geez, what else do you have in there, lady?” the guard’s eyes seemed to question, but he only motioned to the lockers in the front. I started carefully reading the directions about how to insert coins, trying to get it right this time. As I was rifling through my change purse, the guard came over, “you don’t need to pay, moça! Just turn the key!” Like duh!
So, finally, checks in hand, I made it through the revolving door and grabbed my cell phone and keys sitting on the other side. Remembering that I still had to wait in line, I checked the screen and saw that my number was currently being called. This was of little surprise since there was absolutely no one else waiting (or probably they were still running the gauntlet). At the counter, the teenager asked for my document. Naturally, I had left it in my purse. I told him as much, and he sternly told me that he would let me get away with it this time, but next time I really needed to remember to bring it to the bank! “But I did,” I protested! “It’s a mere 20 ft away!” Needless to say, Brazilian banks and I have decided we need some time apart.
Banking woes aside, however, I somehow managed to get most of my to-do list done—if you don’t receive a souvenir (especially you, my occasional reader from Russia), just blame it on the food poisoning. Very generously, Gerson, one of my bosses, had insisted on driving me to the airport, in part so he could give me my last payment. On the way there, he also showed a disconcerting amount of glee in ad-libbing a song whose lyrics loosely translate as: “Cat’s (pronounced Catche’s) leaving! Woo-hoo!” Such sweet sentiments aside, when we arrived, he illegally parked his car in front so he could escort me to check-in and make sure I made it through security. And not that Gerson isn’t a particularly nice, helpful person, but I have noticed this in general about Brazilians: they will always go out of their way to try to help a gringo, which usually means escorting them somewhere instead of just giving them directions. Sometimes, in my go-go-go mentality, I get frustrated since errands often end up taking twice as long as a result, but at the end of the day, it is endearing that people who hardly know me take pains to make sure I am safe.
In the check-in line, I learned that unfortunately Sam’s bag doesn’t meet carry-on requirements, so I ended up paying the price of the bag I had planned to buy (R$200+) to have it checked. What was more annoying was that I had to go to a separate room to pay the fee and then return to the check-in counter to show my receipt. This minor frustration was easily outweighed, however, by my inordinate pride and the security officer’s relief at my ability to conduct the security interview in Portuguese. When I finally made it through security (no shoe removal!) and immigration, I had only minutes before boarding. A mere hour and a half later, and we were headed back to the good old US of A!
Whether I return or not, this is far from the end of my blogging saga. I usually end up posting entries weeks after the events occur, making me woefully behind. Today though, I felt like it didn’t make sense to write about returning home three weeks after the fact and well after I hopefully get to see many of you. I still have many more pictures and stories to share here though, and I hope you’ll stay tuned!