Tonight we hosted two and a half Brazilians at our apartment. Or two people and one who seemed to be really drunk (a baby).
The baby, Manoel, singles me out right away as the least willing to interact with him, and thus begins our intense night of one on one interactions. He finds cat toys throughout the night, and continues to place them in my hand shouting, “Da,” the Portuguese word for “give.” He squeals, and he screams, and he continues to shout “Da” and pick up things around the apartment and give them to people. He’s very cute, but this is the first time we’ve had a kid in our apartment, and it is a bit of a shock.
We have a surprising amount of kid toys in the apartment as well, because Carp’s mom recently sent us an Easter basket full of bubbles, silly putty, an action figure and a ball that changes colors when you bounce it. Manoel finds all the toys almost immediately. I also give him a stuffed polar bear I have, which he decides he had better chew on. Francis, our cat, ventures out to see what all the commotion is about, and Manoel squeals with the greatest joy. He chases the cat across the apartment, and Francis gets a few bops on the head. Francis soon decides that this little person is not someone he wants to mess around with.
Manoel’s mother’s name is Kachina, and the dad is Ra. They met in northern Brazil, living working near the Amazon rain forest. Kachina is from southern Brazil, close to Uruguay. Ra is from central Brazil, from the savanna climate. While Kachina was pregnant with Manoel, Ra took a 40 day bike trip attempting to cross the width of Brazil. Manoel was born before he could finish his journey, but he still completed a book about the trip. They are here in the US on a 70 day road trip across the country, and thus far they don’t seem to be impressed with America.
“It all looks the same. Every city we go to looks the same. In Brazil, it is much different. Every place you go to is different. You could be drinking out of a well, or you could be freezing in a small village without electricity. Here, everywhere has electricity, tap water, strip malls and grocery stores.”
We laugh about differences and similarities between the US and Brazil, and learn more about Brazilian politics and culture. Later, over tea and beer, Ra brings up Dilma Rousseff, the former president of Brazil who was ousted last year in a sort of coup. Kachina, drawing in chalk with Manoel in the corner, joins the conversation to say that Dilma was similar to Obama, whereas their new president, Michel Temer, is more like Donald Trump.
It’s hard to talk to both Ra and Kachina at once, because one of them must be chasing little Manoel around. Throw a cat, language and cultural barriers into the mix, and four stranger trying to get to know one another is a little bit more difficult. One thing we had not anticipated is the need for a place to store dirty diapers. Kachina asks us about this, and Carp stuffs an empty granola box with a plastic bag to be used as a trashcan in the bathroom. “Diaper bin!”
Once Manoel begins to try to eat the cat treats, Kachina decides that it is time to fix dinner. They bring in their food from their car, and begin to cook. We share our rice, because theirs fell in the Missouri river earlier today as they were having a picnic on the way to Kansas City. Ra drinks a local beer, and begins to fry onions on our cast iron. I make macaroni and cheese so they can have the “ultimate American experience”, and Kachina spoon feeds baby Narciso the american specialty. They wash their own dishes as is hostel/couchsurfing etiquette, and store their bread, jam and cheese in our fridge.
Carp and I are exhausted and a little overwhelmed with three extra people and a cat running around the apartment, and tell our visitors goodnight while they continue to cook. Hosting couchsurfers has always been great in our experience, but it’s always a bit of a stretch from your normal life and routine.
Later, I read up on Brazilian culture, as I realize that I know embarrassingly little about it. It is largely derived from European Portuguese culture as a result of three hundred years of colonization by the Portuguese empire. Still, Brazil is an enormous country, and traditions and culture vary largely within each state and region inside the country.
The next morning I awake to a scream of delight from Manoel, as Francis has apparently jumped onto our visitors in bed in the living room. Carp and I get up, and we all share coffee and breakfast together. They serve up what I formerly perceived as solely European culture: cheese, bread, fruit and granola with yogurt for breakfast.
They share breakfast with us, and we talk about their plans. We find out that they were really wanting to spend half their 70 days in Canada, but the Canadian VISA got cancelled and now they had to find a way to spend 70 days in the US. It’s unfortunate because Ra was wanting to move to Canada for school, and part of this trip was going to be about checking out new locations to live. They do not want to live in the US (lack of universal health care, etc.). I don’t blame them.
Manoel continues to chase Francis around the apartment, and we put Francis in the back room so he can get a break. Around nine thirty in the morning they head out the door to start their day, and they leave all their extra belongings and food at our apartment- this is the trust culture of couch surfing. We had a great time with our new Brazilian friends, and I’m privileged to be able to write about it.