Fleeing to Brazil where they speak a language different from my own rocked my world. On arrival, I could utter in Portuguese only bom dia, boa tarde, boa noite, obrigada, por favor, and com licença.
My husband’s Guyanese-Brazilian friend loaned me a Portuguese-English textbook. With nouns having male and female attributes and verb-endings that changed with you and me, and all those others, the Portuguese language seemed a formidable language to learn. I set a target of memorizing ten new words a day. A pocketbook-size English/Portuguese dictionary became my closest companion. For the correct pronunciation of words, I found help in watching the popular novelas de televisão, Brazil’s soap operas.
Help came the day my husband came home with an English-speaking, Brazilian young man willing to teach me Portuguese. He was the life-buoy I craved for surviving in Brazil. I will refer to him as Gabriel.
The afternoon Gabriel took me, my husband, and two sons to the Ponte Metálica – the famous ‘Bridge of the Englishmen’ and remnant of the former Port of Fortaleza – I was unable to squeeze my way out of the packed bus to get off with them. I had to remain on the bus until the next stop. My sons were relieved to see me; Gabriel apologized for the crowded bus. This was the first of many popular places around Fortaleza that Gabriel took us.
Gabriel shared with us some of the dos and don’ts of Brazilian life. He did not make fun of me after I told a store clerk that I was looking for shoes pra você (for you) instead of para mim (for myself). When he graduated from the State University of Ceará, he invited me to join his family at his Graduation Ball.
Through Gabriel, I learned of an opening for a secretary at the Sociedade Brasileira de Cultura Inglesa, a private school for teaching British English and culture. I got the job. After working with them during January and February 1989, I secured a position of import/export assistant at an international trade consultancy firm.
Gabriel was discreet about his sexual orientation. At the university, where we had our first Portuguese lesson, young women flocked him. I never saw him holding hands with another male. Only after knowing me for some time did he disclose that he was gay.
Gabriel taught me that a person’s sexual orientation does not change one’s humanness; that our preconceptions about others rob us of the opportunity of getting to know brilliant and generous individuals who can change our lives for better. Knowing Gabriel, I was able to embrace and work well with gay co-workers at a West Hollywood retail store – enriching my life experience.
Gabriel was my first Brazilian friend, um amigo do coração (friend of the heart). Many other generous people journeyed with me during the sixteen years I lived in Brazil. You will meet them by-and-by.