Monday, March 29, 2010

Spanish ≠ Portuguese

Many people hold fast to the myth that Spanish and Portuguese are similar enough to be mutually intelligible. They are both Romance languages (based on Latin) and share many grammatical structures and vocabulary. They are indeed closer to one another than English is to its closest brethren, Scots and Frisian. But let me debunk the idea right now that Portuguese is just Spanish with a bunch of Z-sounds; they are two distinct languages. You might be able to get by for a couple weeks of vacation in Rio or Salvador with some Spanish, but living in Brazil means coming to terms with false cognates, misunderstandings, and lots of asking people to repeat themselves slowly—mais devagado in Portuguese, versus the Spanish más despacio. Ou seja, espanhol e português não são iguais.

See, not only is the Portuguese lexicon full of words that are similar but mean different things than their Spanish counterparts, words that exist in both languages but are used more in one than the other, and thousands of contractions versus the two in Spanish (al, del), the Portuguese sound system is a monster on its own. Word-initial R and double-R (rio, carro) get pronounced as an English H, unlike the trill that gives Spanish its snapcracklepop (ergo, HEE-oo, KA-hoo). Oh, and the O at the end of words is pronounced like the Spanish U (see previous example). And there's lots more, minha vida.

Note: My Spanish was developed first in the Dominican Republic, honed and fine-tuned on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, and peppered with that Floridian-Cubano seasoning of Miami, so 'scuse me if i'm not thpeaking de Cathtellano of Ethpaña. Like the various Englishes that exist, the many Spanish dialects all have varied vocab and pronunciation. And I'm talking about Brazilian Portuguese. Deal.

These words are pretty easy to recognize and mostly mean the same thing.

street-calle-rua (think ruta)
to leave-salir-sair
to write-escribir-escrever
to listen-escuchar-escutar
to arrive-llegar-chegar
yes-sí-sim (silent M, nasalized I)

These require a little more brain power.

to speak-hablar-falar
to dance-bailar-dançar
to need-necesitar-precisar
to save (money, time)-ahorrar-economizar

No way in hell you can guess these words as a non-native Spanish speaker.

to close-cerrar-fechar
to forget-olvidar-esquecer
to turn on-prender-ligar
to look-mirar-olhar (mirar is used in Portuguese poetry, as in mira lua)
to happen-pasar-acontecer
is there water?-hay agua?-tem agua?
we go-vamos-a gente vai (huh?)

I could go all day.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Global Juke Joint: Croatian Soul

Eddy Meets Yannah. They bad, y'all. And they're from Zagreb, too!

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Moving to Brazil in 21 Easy Steps

  1. Say, "I'm moving to Brazil, dammit!"
  2. Find a friend who has just passed on a teaching job in the Brazilian capital, not your first choice of cities, but only 90 minutes away by air from your first choice of cities.
  3. Interview with your prospective employers via Skype from San Francisco.
  4. Respond with a resounding "yes" to the offer of employment they email you an hour later.
  5. Compile all necessary documents for the visa process: college degrees and transcripts, birth certificate, passport copies, money orders; order background check from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
  6. Beg your wily friend from grad school to take the papers to the Brazilian consulate in Miami for "legalization."
  7. Listen to your wily friend from grad school cuss you out about having to wait in a long-ass line, having to use her own cash (since the Miami consulate doesn't take money orders), and having to come back another day to pick up the documents.
  8. Listen to your wily friend from grad school tell you that they couldn't "legalize" your grad school degree and transcripts because they were issued in the District of Columbia.
  9. Wait until your wily friend from grad school sends the documents back to you in Jacksonville.
  10. Beg your bestest buddy from back in the day to take the transcripts and notarized/apostilled copy of your degree to the Brazilian consulate in Washington for "legalization."
  11. Listen to your bestest buddy from back in the day cuss you out about having to wait in a long-ass line and not having the consulate take anything because the money order (this consulate only took money orders) was for $10 and they only needed $5 because they could only "legalize" the transcripts and not the degree because it was a copy and not the original, which is framed and put up in storage somewhere.
  12. Listen to the consular officer in Washington tell you over the phone in English and in Portuguese, in spite of your pleas of logic and reason, that they cannot accept the notarized and apostilled (by the Florida Department of State, no less) copy of the graduate degree and to send the original so they can punch a hole in it.
  13. Look through storage somewhere for your original graduate degree and overnight it to Washington to your bestest buddy from back in the day can take it to the consulate so they can punch a hole in it.
  14. Listen to your bestest buddy from back in the day tell you that the turn-around time for the two documents you needed "legalized" is seven days, not the two days posted on the consular website.
  15. Have your bestest buddy from back in the day listen to you cuss out the entire country of Brazil from the rooter to the tooter.
  16. Read with trepidation an email from the school official handling your visa process that he's going on Christmas vacation to Europe before the papers will get down there and that the mid-January moving date is most likely now going to be mid-February.
  17. Try to convince Brazilian consular officials in Washington to process your two documents in less than a week, then accept the inevitable as they tell you they'll try to have them done before the one-week deadline, but they can't make any promises.
  18. Have your bestest buddy from back in the day FedEx the documents, "legalized" exactly one week after they were submitted, to the school's lawyers in São Paulo, since the administration's already on holiday.
  19. Wait.
  20. Stare holes into your computer screen when you see that your work visa has been approved the day after Carnival, along with several foreign members of the Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra.
  21. High-tail it to Miami, walk the final documentation (including police background check) through the consulate on Tuesday, flirt with the receptionist handling your file who still charges you the full $231, pick up the visa on Friday, board the plane on Saturday.
And voilà! Brazil.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Fly Brother Podcast - Season 1, Episode 5: Lady Travel Bloggers and Around the World by Couch

In this episode of the Fly Brother Podcast:

Celebrating Women's History Month with Lady Travel Bloggers
CouchSurfing Your Way Around the World

"Aquarela do Brasil"/"Nêga do Cabelo Duro - Elis Regina
"Une Very Stylish Fille" - Dimitri from Paris
"Reach the Sky" - Eddy Meets Yannah

Links mentioned in the podcast:
Fly Brother - fly-brother.blogspot.comcheck out the other Very Fly Sisters on the blogroll to the right.

NEGES Foundation -
Black in Cairo -
Nikita the Traveller -
Currents Between Shores -
Felicia Shelton Photography -

And don't forget these amazing Fly Sisters:
A View to a Thrill -
Adventures Abroad -
Adventures in Wheelville -
American Black Chick in Europe -
Baci from Rome -
black and (A)broad -
Black Broad Abroad -
Black Girl in Prague -
Black Girl on Mars -
Black Women in Europe -
BrownGirlsFly -
Chronicles of Ajala -
Farsighted Fly Girl -
Fat Juicy Oyster -
From a Yellow House in England -
Geotraveler's Niche -
I'm Leaving on a Jetplane -
Int'l Glamazon -
L'Étrangère Americaine -
Miki Tokyo -
My So-Called Life in France -
New Beginnings -
NYC/Caribbean Ragazza -
Out and About Africa -
Overdose of Satisfaction -
Seoul to Soul -
Seoulicious's Weblog -
Shannon Evans -
Sista in Tokyo -
Sister Sha in Seoul -
Spirit of Black Paris -
Style Noir -
The Real Tragedy -
The Supa Dupa Fly Seoul Sista -
Two JetSet Divas -
Urban Travel Girl -
Where the Hell Am I? -

Shoot me your comments, questions, suggestions, requests, or just a shout-out: flybrother [at] rocketmail [daht] kom.

Fly Brother welcomes your views. If this post hit the spot, please comment and/or click.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A House-Warming in Brasília -or- Why CouchSurfing is the Greatest Thing on Earth

You're new to a city. You're like'own know Diddly. What do you do? You log onto, that's what you do.

A social networking site that's actually built around facilitating live-and-in-the-flesh human connection, The CouchSurfing Project puts world travelers and other worldly folk in contact with one another for interaction as benign as a coffee and a chat, up to and including the more intimate use of floor space, couch space, or bed space. You set up a profile, look for like-minded individuals in your immediate area or in a place that you'll be visiting forthwith, and voilá, you're on your way to eye-opening experiences with some of the world's friendliest, most interesting, genuine people. All communication is recorded in the system for safety purposes, and testimonials for both hosts and guests help paint a picture of what kind of nut-job you've got on your hands. Interest groups let you hook-up with other single female travelers, backpacking epicureans, beach bums, parasailers, or last-minute-couch-having Berliners, and it was in one such city group─the Brasília CS group─that I subtly mentioned that I'd just moved to town and was having a little welcome get-together at my place on Saturday. Forty people showed up.

See, CouchSurfing fits almost too well with a gregarious society like Brazil's. People here really do look for any excuse to party and welcoming a new foreigner in their midst offers the perfect reason. And with Brasília being the national capital, and therefore a very transient city, many of my guests were recently-relocated Brazilians who've been in town only a bit longer than I have. I had students and teachers and journalists and civil servants and federal police officers and future novelists and regular vagabonds conversing on the pull-out sofas, sipping caipirinhas, dancing to Beija-Flor de Nilópolis and Madonna and Hector Lavoe.

My neighbor came home at 11:30 (official party start time: 5pm) and, with smiling politeness, informed me that party cut-off in the building is 10pm. By midnight, the revelers─my new-found friends, acquaintances, and running buddies─had moved the party over to a nearby park, each one thanking me as they left in customary receiving line fashion. No, thank you.

This evening, the security guard on-duty from last night gave me a thumbs-up, shook his head, and chuckled as he handed me a copy of the building rules.

Fly Brother welcomes your views. If this post hit the spot, please comment and/or click.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

An Old Rant Revisited

Today, five days into my new life in Brazil, I got pissed for the first time since I arrived. It was at the gym and it involved a cultural and linguistic misunderstanding. As my Portuguese leaves much to be desired, I was reminded of this short essay I wrote, almost four years ago to the day, while living in Barranquilla, so I thought I'd share. Careful...there's cussin.


When living in a country where the language is not one you were taught as a child, often there are no words. Literally.

So I'm grocery shopping the other day when I come out of the store with my food in a cart pushed by a teenage bag boy. We walk out into the very narrow parking area to get a cab to run me and all my crap the four blocks that i had just walked from my house to the grocery store.

Well, the width of the parking area is a serious issue because a woman was parked in her minivan, emergency lights flashing, reading a magazine, basically blocking any car from passing to her left, but also blocking my grocery basket from passing to her right.

All we needed was one inch of space. A pulgada.

The bag boy taps on her window and asks her to move up a little, as does the taxista. She’s like, I'm waiting on this parking space, pointing to the car next to the cab.

"Disculpa," the taxista says, apologizing for his error. I'm like, "No, no disculpa. She thinks the whole world has to wait for her. Other people have things to do today and all she has to do today is shop (I was 99% sure of that, given what I’m learning about the culture). I gotta get to work," I say. She hears me, which is good, ordinarily.

So the other car pulls out, she pulls up, and we start loading the cab with my groceries (well, the bag boy and the taxista do can pay people to do everything here). Then, and I got myself into this, she gets out of her car and starts talking, without looking me in the eye, "Lo que es aracataca. Aracataca bucaramanga bucaramanga barranquilla mompós.”

See, this is what happens to me when I'm annoyed or pissed. All the Spanish goes out the window and I end up having a thousand things to say in English and two words of Spanish.

Whatever she said, the bag boy and the taxista look at me for a retort, and all I can get out is, "I don’t know what the fuck she just said so lets just get this shit packed and get out of here" in English. Not having the time to engage in a lengthy confrontation with ol girl, nor trying to sound like a damn gringo who barely knows the language, I then say to their blank faces (in Spanish) that my Spanish isn’t good when I'm mad and I have to get to work. So much for going native.

(It's important to note here that I'm pissed a) because I would have won the argument and b) instead, I came off looking like a blithering idiot).

Later in the cab, when I'm calm, I say in Spanish, "All the she had to do was move up a fucking inch. She's a gotdamn sociopath, blocking the whole damn driveway when, if she knew the dimensions of her vehicle and how to drive the bitch, everybody could get to where they had to go." The taxista agrees with me, saying "Cali cali bogotá. Bucaramanga mompós."

I think I might be hard of hearing. Either that, or these fools ain't speakin' Spanish.

See, this is the thing. I've been blessed/cursed with the ability to mimic sounds almost perfectly. My French accent is so good, when i say "Pardon, parlez-vous anglais?," people ask me what for? (I guess that's what they say...they don’t say yes or no, so i assume that they assume i speak good French). I picked up the Dominican accent of Spanish so well during my time there, that people called me a liar to my face when i said i wasn't Dominican (more on that later) despite glaring grammatical and vocabulary mistakes. All that mattered was my ability to roll my r’s in words like ferrocarrrrrrrril and puerrrrrta and RRRRRRRRRRRRRepública Dominicana, whereas all the other Americans still said stuff like car-row.

So when I start speaking, my great accent is coupled with a decent vocabulary and a functional grammatical structure which indicates initially that I'm a native speaker. My "local" appearance also helps. But then, a few sentences later, folks start thinking, this muhfucka ain't from roun' heah. Hmmmm.

Well, when I'm angry about something, I really do lose it. It's like a foreign person in the U.S. who can hardly get a complete sentence together when she's short-changed a dollar at the grocery store. She might really need that dollar and she knows the cashier did the shit on purpose, so she's hot, all the while thinking, "Beeyotch, if we was back in China and you tried that shit, my posse woulda strung you up from a tree and slit you from guzzle to gut, then boiled the entrails and fed em to the pigs." But all the frazzled pobrecita can get out is a feeble, "" Cuz when you upset, you ain’t got time for all that thinking and translating foolishness.

So next time I see ol' girl in the parking lot, I'll just break out into a refrain of "Move bitch, get out the way."

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Monday, March 8, 2010

Photo Essay: Crossing the Amazon by Air


A work of art.

Yes, the current local time was indeed 5:34AM.

Dawn in Dade County.

Fatigue setting in.

Uma garotinha...awwwwww.

Ole Man River.

The Mis'sippi ain't got nuthin on this.

Not exactly ATL.

The river runs through it (the dark water on the left is from a separate tributary that merges with the Amazon at Manaus).




Thunderous dusk over the capital (yes, it took that long to get there).

Arriving at BSB.

Can't get any more Brazilian than that.

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Friday, March 5, 2010

New World in the Tropics

Image by Robson Cesco

New World in the Tropics is the title of a book written in the 50s on modern Brazilian culture by famed Bahian anthropologist and scholar, Gilberto Freyre. It's also the theme under which I embark on another journey, begin another chapter in my life. I started writing this blog as my four years in another tropical country, Colombia, were coming to an end. I've not written much about my time there because those years proved infinitely challenging, both positively and negatively, and it may be a while before I'm prepared to pen detailed memoir of my life on the crown of South America. Also, I wanted Fly Brother to focus on international traveling from a—my—black perspective that extended beyond the boundaries of one particular place. And that boundless outlook remains the focus of the blog, even as I (and you, dear reader) settle into this new world in the tropics—Brazil.

The Re-Invention Tour
Tomorrow morning at 7:15, I will depart Miami, arriving five hours later at Manaus, capital of Amazônia, before continuing another three hours to Brasília, capital of the continent-sized nation of Brazil. I think it's important to note the distinction of the two capitals, as the Brazilian state of Amazonas is as large as many nations and has a distinct history and culture centered around the indomitable Amazon River and its besieged rainforest, dark green on the map and spanning nine countries. Brasília, by comparison and not unlike the great American city of Washington, was built from scratch almost as a coming-out party for this burgeoning republic of the future and as a paean to man's mastery of nature. Despite having been to the country five times, my travels have been relegated to the coastal cities that most reflect the face Brazil shows to the world; this move to the Brazilian interior, a place as foreign to me as the Australian Outback, will be a move to another Brazil, to another world far from sand and samba, yet informed and shaded by it. Of that, I'm excited.

I'm also excited about the opportunity for reinvention. I've got a clean slate in Brazil. Not that I did anything untoward in Colombia, or even the States, that necessitates a complete change of identity (well, besides some bad financial decisions, maybe). I'm talking about having a blank canvas on which to draw anything I want, on which I can be anything, do anything. I can learn the guitar and be a hit gringo bossa nova singer. I can write two or three novels set in Brazil. I can stay put in Brasília after my two-year teaching contract is up, I can move to Rio or São Paulo or Recife, I can go back to Colombia or off to Germany or to Vanuatu (2006's happiest place on Earth, if you didn't know). I can create new experiences, interactions, friendships, relationships, loves and hates (hopefully much, much more of the former than the latter). Point is, even moving to Brazil after many years of voicing that desire is proof that I can do what I set my mind to. It may not be easy or happen on the timetable I set or exactly the way I envisioned it (yet), but there it is: accomplished.

So now, it's time for more goal-setting. Having been gainfully unemployed but steadily traveling since June has resulted in a financial deficit that needs reversion into surplus. I'm serious about the guitar lessons, but also about perfecting my Portuguese to a level that allows me to translate literature to and from English. I'm going to learn how to play, futebol, dammit (capoeira, meh, not really big on handstands and such). I'll have the first draft of a novel set in Brazil by the end of my first year there. I'll volunteer with a youth organization at least twice a month. Besides a week in New York (TBEX '10) and another in Colombia (tying up loose ends), I won't be on any international flights for my first year in-country, opting for Amazon river-running, five-hunnid-mile dune buggy treks, and the humbling grandeur of Iguassu Falls to sate my wanderlust. And, of course, Fly Brother will be continually updated, with mostly international content infused with weekly ruminations on my Brazilianization.

So now it begins, this renaissance of sorts. Colombia honed me in many ways, sometimes painfully, but always necessarily. It's time to apply those lessons as I continue on my quest for self-actualization. And I'm suited up and ready for my new world in the tropics. You coming?

Image by the Brazilian Ministry of Tourism

Fly Brother
welcomes your views. If this post hit the spot, please comment and/or click

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fly Brother Podcast - Season 1, Episode 4: Night Flight 121 - The City to Sampa

In this episode of the Fly Brother Podcast: Night Flight 121 - The City to Sampa

Journey with Fly Brother on an ethereal, all-music flight from "The City" to SampaNew York to São Paulofeaturing recent and classic house, downtempo, acid jazz, and electro-samba. Whether its to work out, chill out, or make out, this compilation will transport you each time you listen. Download and get lifted.

"Saturday Night Experience" - Jody Watley
"Voodoo Bliss (Aaron Bingle's Azure Mix)" - Janice hosted by BSG
"Bedtime Story" - Madonna
"Down" - Herbert
"Night Over Manaus" - Boozoo Bajou
"Amazodiac" - Audio Lotion
"Waltz for Koop" - Koop
"My Endless Journey" - Imada
"Samba do Gringo Paulista (Bigga Bush Reconstruction)" - Suba and Bigga Bush
"Playground do Brasil" - Imada
"Love and Happiness (São Benitez Sunset Mix)" - River Ocean f. La India

Links mentioned in the podcast: Fly Brother -

Shoot me your comments, questions, suggestions, requests, or just a shout-out: flybrother [at] rocketmail [daht] kom.

Fly Brother
welcomes your views. If this post hit the spot, please comment and/or click