It’s early on a Saturday morning. I am enjoying the way my coffee always tastes like home and how in the States the days are getting longer. Earlier this week I was in Brazil working and learning with teachers and students, seeing old friends, and eating pineapple each morning.
I have many thoughts I want to share about this trip, first though, I want to tell you about visiting with an uber driver, an ice cream stand worker, a worried daughter, and a six-year-old leader.
An Uber Drive with 13 Siblings
Our uber ride has arrived and the four of us pile in.
“Boa noite. Qual é o seu nome?” (Good evening. What is your name?)
“Boa noite. Sou Kathryn.” (Good evening. I’m Kathryn.)
I look at the uber app on my phone to find the driver’s name. “Marcelo, sim?” (You are Marcelo, yes?)
“Sim. Você fala português?” (Yes. Do you speak Portuguese?)
“Estou aprendendo.” (I am learning.)
The drive is 15-minutes long. During that time Marcelo tells us his life story. We learn about his 13 brothers and sisters. We see photos of his lovely wife and daughter. He is very proud. We learn about the upcoming trip he is taking to visit a brother in Japan.
We learn these things in little bits, told with enough patience and pauses for me to translate them to my colleagues.
As we make our way, through the busy São Paulo streets, Marcelo asks us about our faith, our work, and how often we’ve been to Brazil. I translate the answers back to him.
The car feels like it’s moving at a slower, easier pace than the Saturday night blur and bustle outside. When we arrive at our destination, Marcelo says, “Eu vou desligar o carro. Eu quero dar um abraço em cada um de vocês. Obrigado por ouvir a minha história.” (I am going to turn off the car. I want to give you each a hug. Thank you for listening to my story.)
We embrace, all of us changed from this spontaneous connection.
What gives certain places weight in your heart?
On Sundays, Avenida Paulista is closed for traffic, which opens up a huge stretch in the middle of the city for artisans, musicians, and walkers. I’ve had the gift of walking on Avenida Paulista on Sundays so often that I know some of the artisans. I smile at the potter whose coffee cups have the most glorious glazes. I stop and buy more paper earrings from the young woman who has a fondness for wild designs and also a finicky credit card machine.
I think about a line from a poem I wrote last year:
When did this city evolve from being somewhere I visit,
to somewhere I return to?
What gives certain places weight in your heart?
After a rainy week, the sun is shining today. My friend and I weave through the crowds to an ice cream stand staffed by a young woman. I buy us scoops of ice cream and ask if she will take our picture.
“Claro!” (Of course!)
We group together and smile at her. She laughs and comes out from the stand to take the photo from the other direction.
“Se você quiser tirar uma foto, deve ser com meu carrinho de sorvete.” (If you want to take a picture, it should be with my ice cream stand.)
The young woman beams as we pose in front of her ice cream stand. Sweet, sticky strawberry ice cream runs down my fingers.
She couldn’t have imagined this, but here she was
My friend is zooming through Santos to get us to the highest point in the city before sunset. She wants to show us the view.
“The lights on the buildings look like beads on a necklace.”
As we drive, she tells us about her mother who is recovering from emergency surgery.
“It can happen so suddenly,” my friend says. “One moment, you’re fine and the next you’re not.”
We nod. We’ve all experienced this with people I love. For a moment, her words blur and I am no longer in the car. I am with my grandma in another state, in another country, across the ocean.
Something pulls me back into the conversation. My friend is telling us about the under-resourced hospital about how she fed the strangers who roomed near her mother.
“They didn’t have anyone.” she tells us sadly.
She said she couldn’t have imagined this, but suddenly here she was cutting up meat, adjusting bed pillows, and bringing in extra linens.
We arrive at the overlook just as the light is starting to change. We take photos and watch the sun dip into the sea. The lights shine across the shore exactly like beads on a necklace.
Their secret handshake starts with a high five
The students will arrive in a moment. For now we are organizing crayons, preparing ourselves for the chaos and excitement of twenty three 6-year-olds.
The first child to enter walks right up to me. In a few moments we will learn that she is both the class leader and the class clown. For now though, we are just meeting for the first time.
I lower myself to her eye level.
“Você fala português?” (Do you speak Portuguese?)
“Estou aprendendo, assim como você está aprendendo inglês.” (I am learning, just like you are learning English.)
She looks at me seriously and to make sure I am telling the truth, she quizzes me. “Um dois três…”
When I answer, “quatro cinco seis!” she giggles and gives me a hug.
Suddenly, we’re good friends, so she teaches me their class’s secret handshake that starts with a high five and ends with a fist bump.
When you are away from home and already feeling a bit lost, are you more willing to crouch down to a child’s eye-level, to connect with an uber driver, to feed a stranger, to smile at someone you don’t well? Are you more receptive to making a new friend and then learning from them? I am not sure, but I think it bears mentioning that most of us are a little bit lost every day.
The more I travel, the more I’ve learned that it isn’t the unfamiliar landmarks that give us direction, but the familiar spaces we share.
With you for the journey,