Still learning in Rio

I´ve had a few experiences here that have stood out in my mind, that have kept coming back to me.

The first was when we went to a fruit & vegetable market in one of the plazas – the sidewalk was crowded with vendors and all sorts of food that was unfamiliar. Some of the more colorful stands were the ones with dozens of different kinds of peppers. A few stands had taken their produce, diced it up then wrapped it in a plastic bag for quick stirfry or salad makings. People gave out free samples of mangoes and papayas and other stuff I didn´t recognize. At one point I wanted to know whether the market would be there the next day so I walked up to a vendor and asked, ¨El mercado es aqui maña?¨ The market is here tomorrow? In Spanish. The guy looked at me and looked to his friend and said something like, ¨Why´s this guy trying to speak Spanish to us?¨ I felt pretty bad about it – it just slipped out, I forgot I was in a Portugese-speaking country. I recommitted myself to making sure I ask, ¨Fala Ingles? Espanol?¨ before starting with the language theatrics. Azure suggested we tack on ¨I don´t speak Portugese¨ (in Portugese) at the beginning, which is a good idea.

Later that day we went to the beach and I decided to try my hand at body surfing. Well, the waves were huge and the beach was strange, I couldn´t get a feel for the bottom, so I was really shy about it. There were only a few people attempting each wave, and they were really good, so I decided to sit back and watch rather than injure myself immediately. They ride differently than I have – I´d always gone straight down the wave, trying to catch it in the middle and go straight to the beach, but the guys here seem to catch it higher up and then ride the momentum down and to the side, like a surfer does. I tried it and it worked better – this way, when the wave breaks I barrel roll instead of crashing head first onto the sand, which my mom will be happy to hear. Also, as BK taught me 14 years ago (half my life), and I STILL remember, somehow, if I ride on my side with one arm extended I get the best hydrodynamics, as the guys here do, too. I have a lot to learn, I´m sure I´m screwing this up somehow. But my mind keeps coming back to how frightening the waves were when I first got there, the feeling that I was way out of my league in something that was so familiar – the water.

A couple nights later we went out to grab a beer at the corner bar while a big game was played out on TV. A guy came around selling peanuts and gave us a little sample. There was a bunch of miscommunication about the price and, essentially, I shook him off because I thought it was too much. Then I tasted the peanuts and they were amazing and I decided I had to have some. So I called him back over and misunderstood the price again. But this guy dealt with me in the most patient, respectful way, he just kept smiling. And the smile was so genuine. Our approaches to the same exchange were so different that it revealed a major differences between our perspectives. Ellen eventually reached over and gave me a couple coins to give him because I had become incoherent. I couldn´t believe what a monster I was, not only for haggling over a couple cents, but also because only once in our lives would this guy and I interact, and I took that one interaction and made it about money. Anyway, it also showed me how an interaction can be made much more positive by just being patient, pleasant, smiling.

So, this morning Azure and I went on a favela tour and – like the all-you-can-eat sushi we had afterwards – it´ll take some digestion before I really understand it. I´ll send out a detailed email probably tomorrow, but for the time being you can read my overly-defensive justifications below.


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