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Random Traveller Stories: Brazil Through Foreign Eyes Pt 7

Brazil Through Foreign Eyes
Meet Carmen Naidoo, from South Africa, who has been teaching English in Rio de Janeiro for the last few months. Read the following interview where she tells us about her most memorable experiences from Brazil and gives some useful advice to newcomers.

1. Tell us a little about yourself, where are you from, what do you do etc.?

I´m a 27 year old South African from Cape Town and I have been travelling for the past 4 years. I´ve taught English in South Korea, worked and lived in London for two years and now I am here, hence I don´t actually have a real job as yet! LOL. But I graduated with Business Science Marketing in 2001.

2. When did you arrive in Brazil and what brought you here?

I arrived in Brazil on the 6th April 2006 and am leaving (infelizmente) on the 6th October.

I have always had a fascination with Brazil and wanted to experience the culture of this great country, so I decided to do a TEFL course in Rio and have stayed on teaching ever since.

3. What were you first impressions of Brazil?

Hot and sultry! I arrived in April while the weather was still extremely humid. My second night, I went to Lapa, Rio´s notorious nightlife district and it was amazingly sexy and vibey. I loved it.

4. What do you miss most about home?

My washing machine. I don´t have a washing machine where I live right now and so I have to handwash my clothing!

5. What has been your most frustrating experience in Brazil?

I can´t say I have had any... I´ll have to think about it really hard and so if it doesn´t jump right out at me, it couldn´t have been that frustrating.

6. What has been your most memorable experience in Brazil (specific incident)?

I think these past few months have been memorable in their entirety.

But I guess a specific incident was when I was on my way home from Lapa and I took a white van (informal taxi), I´d taken them before so I wasn´t worried or anything, but the driver had forgotten to drop me off at my stop and we ended up going all the way into Rocinha, Rio´s infamous favela, at 3am.

I remember being scared for about 2 seconds, but everyone was so lovely to me reassuring me that they´d get me home, so I relaxed immediately. That was pretty memorable as I remember feeling absolute fear (because of all the horror stories I´d heard) and then total relaxation in a matter of seconds.

7. What do you most like about Brazil (in general)?

Top on my list has got to be the way everyone, regardless of if they don´t know you, will always greet you when you come into contact with them. It´s so courteous and respectful.

And the Brazilian hospitality. The "Minha casa e sua casa" mentality.

8. What is your favorite restaurant/place to hang out here?

I´m in Rio, so definitely Lapa. People dancing samba, drinking caipirinhas, chatting and singing and this all on the streets! It´s fantastic and cheap!

9. Do you have any funny stories/incidents to tell about your time in Brazil?

I guess for me it´s really funny when people start having conversations with me, because they think that I am Brazilian, but then when I try and answer them in my really bad Portuguese, they always have this puzzled look on their face as if to ask if I am drunk or just not well, but then when they realise I am not a Brasileira, they go "Aaaaah ta!" hehehe.

10. What difference between your homeland and Brazil do you find most striking?

Actually more than the differences, what I find striking is the similarities, because South Africa also has a huge divide amongst the rich and poor and the poverty is as evident as it is here in Brazil.

One difference though is that unlike in Brazil you will almost never find South African shantytowns close to really rich neighbourhoods like you find in Rio.

Also Cape Town specifically reminds me so much of Rio in terms of the landscape as we also have the mountains and ocean surrounding us. But we don´t have samba though.

Then I suppose the other main difference is that we have so many official languages in South Africa, whereas Brazil only has one.

11. How is your Portuguese coming along? What words do you find most difficult to pronounce/remember or are there any words that you regularly confuse?

Well I am really proud of myself because I have been here for 5 months so far and I have not taken any formal lessons yet I can understand a lot of what is being said to me, speaking is more problematic because I tend to speak in the present simple all the time. But Brazilians are so sweet because they always say that I speak very well, even though I know I don´t.

One piece of advice to any foreigners wanting to improve their Portuguese... watch the telenovelas! That was one of the primary ways I learnt Portuguese. And they are so entertaining too.

In the beginning I used to confuse Dois, Dez and Deus.

12. What advice do you have for newcomers to Brazil?

One thing that always bothers me about certain travellers is that they always seem to compare what THEIR country does or have, as opposed to the country they are in. I have no idea why people do this because it is pretty evident once you get off the plane that you´re not in your own country so why would things be the same?

There is no set formula to the way things operate around the world. This is probably the best advice that I can give.

13. What are some things that you would recommend for a visitor to do in São Paulo (or anywhere else in Brazil)?

Well here in Rio there are many many things to do like the usual touristy things like beaches, Pão de Açucar, Corcovadao. But I would also suggest just hanging out at the great side street bars mixing with the locals. And of course Lapa!
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