Homeward bound!

It’s time to go home

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.

Despedidas: Debora, Isabela, and Felipe
Saying goodbye with Debora, Isabela, and Felipe

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?!”

Callan School building

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.

Right before I was yelled at by a security officer for taking pictures

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!

Ok, so maybe I did miss bagels a little… And based on the only items currently in my freezer, it looks like I won’t be missing Caipirinhas anytime soon.

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!


4 thoughts on “Homeward bound!

  1. Hi Cat. I was reading about jazz and bossa nova among other things when I somehow ended up here. Since I had nothing better to do and couldn’t sleep I began to read. When I noticed I had read all entries. Bit disappointing that I’m reading this the moment you left.

    Fun stuff! Seems like you made the best of your time in Brazil. Quite like the way you were very open minded about everything and your way of seeing cultural aspects of the country (compared to natives). At moments I thought ‘sounds quite an exciting place to visit’, only to remind myself shortly after ‘what am I thinking, I’m Brazilian!’. My journey away from home will start soon as well, hope I fare as well as you did.

    I’d love to read more about your thoughts on Brazil, here or elsewhere. There’s so much to learn and see in Brazil as well that can be overwhelming at times I believe. I feel very ignorant myself about so many things. Hopefully you don’t lose your interest. In any case, Brazil related or not, I’d be fun to read more.
    Hope you can enjoy home sweet home for a bit now. Cheers!
    P.s: not from this entry but you’ll find that in some places the personal pronoun ‘tu’ is still very much used and also the most common in everyday use. That’s the case in most of eastern Santa Catarina state, which is quite interesting considering the state is known for the influence of German and Italian culture from early immigrants.

    P.s.2: sorry about the last post. Can’t delete. The mobile keyboard messed up the text 🙁

    1. Thanks so much for reading, Ed! I’m so flattered to hear you enjoyed it, and I’m really happy my writing didn’t come across as overly critical or insensitive of Brazilian culture. Anytime you live somewhere new, especially a different country, there will always be challenges along with the exciting new discoveries, so I’ve tried to just learn as much as possible. And don’t worry! As you say, there’s so much to learn and see in Brazil so I’m definitely not done writing about it, and I’d really love more of your thoughts along the way. I haven’t travelled out of São Paulo state yet so I definitely want to do much more traveling and exploring in the near future—recommendations welcome! Where in Brazil are you from? What takes you away from home, and where are you journeying off to? Sounds like you’re about to embark on your own adventure!

      The Portuguese language and its many iterations throughout Brazil alone really fascinate me. Many Brazilians have told me that everyone speaks incorrectly because it’s such a challenging language, and the only people who speak correctly are those in the South. It’s interesting then as you say that people in SC still use “tu,” which seems more similar to European Portuguese. Is there a sense for some Brazilians that European Portuguese is “more correct” like many Americans have about British English? As someone who has been learning Portuguese primarily from listening to people speak, my conception of “good grammar” as an absolute, static entity has been a bit shaken. For example, if absolutely everyone in SP says, “vou te mostrar” instead of (in the absence of the “tu” form) the technically correct “vou lhe mostrar,” is it still wrong? Anyway, thanks so much for your insight and perspective! 🙂

  2. Sorry for the late reply.

    Well, I don’t believe people see Portuguese from Portugal as more correct at all. That’s probably because it has changed a lot more from the original compared to American and British English.
    It’s definitely a challenging language to write and speak well, no doubt about that. For the very same reason however, people don’t mind small mistakes and many times they go unnoticed. Grammar especially can be very complex and in my opinion is also it’s biggest strength and something writers can make very good use. For me is the very opposite of English that has a pretty straight forward grammar but on the other hand is very rich in adjectives.

    Regarding the use of ‘tu’, regions that use it are definitely more influenced by Portugal. That said it’s common the use of ‘tu’ but with the verb conjugated as if it was ‘você’. Obviously wrong and people are aware of that but it’s accepted colloquially. That also answers what you asked by being correct or not. Don’t be surprised though if someone from another region makes fun of that 😛
    Everyone speaks poorly in their own ways 🙂
    When writing it’s a bit different. It’s fine if you’re talking among friends but when writing to someone in a more formal situation you should watch out for the correct forms and tenses. In your example both forms are correct. What happens is that following that people mix the use of ‘tu’ and ‘você’ throughout that speech making it very inconsistent. I’d say it’s no different than an American using simple past instead of present perfect in many situations or using ‘ain’t’ where it should be ‘has\have not’ but if someone says ‘I was been’ or something along those lines then it’s more likely to be frowned upon.
    I’m from Florianópolis by the way. You may have heard of it. Or maybe not. I’ll be going for a post graduate course in Japan.
    About recommendations depends on what you’d be planning to do, if it’s just to visit or spend some time and what kind of things you’re interested in. I think Foz do Iguaçu is a no-brainer and there are also loads of other places. Most of them I haven’t even been because is such a big country.

    Wrote too much and I may have still forgot something. Oh, well…

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