I realize how important it is to have Brazilian friends while living here in Brazil. American friends, or at least English-speaking friends, are also vital, of course, but Brazilian friends provide a crucial perspective.

I find that I talk to myself a great deal during the day, mostly interior monologues (though sometimes I do speak to my non-verbally responsive office mates). I see the world around me and try to understand it: the interactions with men and women, the invisibility of the poor, a culture where trash on the ground is acceptable, homes with barbed-wire-topped walls are the norm, and a populace that lives with blatant inequalities and still keeps its sense of hospitality and humor.

Still, those are my own thoughts, and I need the perspective of native Brazilians against which to test my own impressions.

When my monologues become dialogues, reality expands. New perspectives open and comprehension shifts. The journey, taken with friends, then shapes my thinking and style.

My Portuguese teacher, Ana Lucia, is a tremendous touchstone for me.

Ana Lucia explaining the foreign fruits to me. Here, a cashew fruit. (We eat the nuts on top, and they make a juice out of the fruit.)
Ana Lucia explaining the foreign fruits to me. Here, a cashew fruit. (We eat the nuts on top, and they make a juice out of the fruit.)

During our hour-long dialogues, I learn my language by talking about diverse subjects, whether some book I’m currently editing or observations I’ve made about Brazil. She’s marvelous about listening to what I have to say (and helping me to say it correctly in Portuguese), and then sharing her point of view (always in Portuguese, as well). Sometimes she agrees, and other times she suggests a lack of dimension in my conclusions.

Most of my errors are a result of my not understanding the Brazilian culture, the Brazilian mindset. Ana Lucia opens doors in my mind, allowing new input and comprehension. Sometimes, it’s a matter of understanding the European heritage combined with a third-world mentality, or an acceptance of corruption and getting around the rules.  Other times, it’s understanding that the cities have exploded in population and the infrastructure hasn’t kept pace. Change takes time, and beneficial change takes longer.

Other Brazilian friends whom I’ve met through the International Newcomers Club also provide much-needed perspective, and share their feedback on a rapidly transforming city and metropolitan lifestyle. The city has been in upheaval in the last ten years, and even they don’t always understand what’s going on with their culture. But they love their city and share their hopes.

Together, we try to make sense of this kaleidoscopic city of Sao Paulo.