Re-Encounters – Around the World in Sao Paulo

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I don’t know how it happened but one day re-encounters have become way more important to  me  than encounters. Don’t get me wrong I still love encountering people, But now, I love reencountering them more.

About two years ago I met Chi. He had been travelling at that time for 1  year. He had left his native Taiwan to travel for 2 years the world. We met though couch surfing.  I organized a dinner celebration for Chinese new year for him 3 years ago. We hosted at the time.

When he arrived in our place he had crossed China overland, then Mongolia, Russia, entered Europe through Estonia went all the way down to Greece, traveled overland Eastern Europe to Western Europe and I had met him when he had reached England.


At the time I was doing my Phd at the LSE. He met my friends. He heard about about my research in the middle east.  My housemates. My ex-husband and I liked him so much that we convinced him to just stay with us all of his stay. He had such an interesting view on travelling. He who was from Taiwan and had traveled overland sleeping in a mattress thought the biggest difference in people was city versus villages.


Now, twp  years  later, he is still on the road… He has left home 3 years ago, after having worked 2,5 years to  save up. He used to feel he could only travel for two years. Now he feels he could still go on for 8 years on that money.

I wake up very early to meet him. He is tanner, has long hair now and had just been to Rio in Carnival. He is in Brasil he tells me for 3 things: carnival me, and the Amazon.


I love Chi. He is so unique. And so I take him to do the stuff I need. First of all… I take him to Kamal. I want to give my Coffee from Colombia. Kamal for those of you who read me is the guy from Siria.

We walked  from my house till we reach Avenida Paulista.  We talk about life. Where has he been. We no longer really care about how many countries, or borders. We care about people. So though I ask where he has been the following  years. I am most interested to know how was going to South Sudan to Sudan and then Egypt,  and then Israel, and then Turkey and then my most desired destinations ( together with  Burma), to Iran!!!

“The people in the middle east are too good. It is sad to see them be oppressed as they are.  Though I think the Arab spring was real chaos…. It is only spring for the news….South Sudan was the best introduction to Islam. People took their time for people. They visited each other every Friday. They are strong not because of the economy or the army. The people are strong because they care about each other. You know what it is funny… in every country they are afraid of the next. They are always afraid that something would happened once I crossed the border”


I know. What he talks about. So we get to Kamal. In the mall where there are so many Chinese immigrants. And when I bring my coffee Kamal is happy, he is moved. I tell him Chi is my friend. He has been travelling with a back pack for 3 years. Kamal is amazed. Kamal who came to Brasil  when he was 17. Kamal explains to people around Chi travels with backpack sleeps on a mattress,  has a pot to cook.  People are amazed. Chi asks me to ask him how was Brasil.

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I tell Kamal to tell the truth. I don’t care. I want to know this.

“ I love this place. Brasil opens its arms,  hugs  and welcomes you.  I have been back to Siria 4 times. You know. My brother stayed. And I go there and I know he is a good person but I don’t know him. He has been now here for 3 months. But he has a stuck mentality. If you don’t agree with him, he stops talking. I look everything from above and  is ok to disagree. In the middle east it is different.”

I am impressed learning what he thinks. I tell Kamal that I brought him the coffee from the cooperative. I explain the whole story and he gets it.  Very soon there is coffee in front of  me. He is curious about Chi.  We all talk in mix languages. I tell him, I have to go, and he tells me I need to come more often. I promise to do so. I learn so much about Kamal today. I learn so much about Brasil.

And then I take the tube/metro to go to Liberadade, a Japanese neighbouhood. There is something I want to get there. We enter a shop and we are helped by an old looking like Japanese man. He is from Shanghai.  I introduced him to Chi, they speak Mandarin. The old man had lived in Brasil for 45 years. The lady who works with him is Brasilian but she tells me her children are fluent in Mandarin.

I am shocked. How come? Was she married to a Chinese man? Not the case. She explains to me the school around the corner teaches Chinese to children. Her children are 12  and they had learned since they were 2. The school receives Chinese children, mix children, but  Brazilian like her children as well.

“ I cant understand what they write.” And she smiles

She is happy.  Chi and I walk around talking about life, people, films, lao tse. It is just so good to reencounter someone you know. I find out some of the people  I met in Asia or in Palestine have hosted him. People from different continents that now know each other. It is so good to discover a bit more my own city with a foreigner. None of us care too much about the touristic things. I want to show him, what matters to me.

I want to take him to my little home as I am creating it. As we walk out of the Tube  I hear my name.  I look and I see Bruno who plays in CIdao every Monday. Bruno who last time I wrote played my favourite songs in my little carnival. Turns out he is almost my neighbor.


I feel happy. I have reencountered a dear friend who like me cares about people. And I can finally show him what my home is. Which means very soon I will take him to the  Casa do Nucleo, the project  of the Pianist Benjamin Taubkin… and tomorrow I will take him to see Cidao. Then I ll take him to climb.

He insists I must not get tired.  He is just here to see me.

He does  not need to see anything. And I explain I am so happy he is here. I am so happy I can show someone I deeply respect a bit of where I come from. Finally I can, and soon we will go with my godfather back to the  Centrakl Market.

I know where I come from, Benjamin was right it is where the new is possible, Kamal is right it is a place that welcomes you with whatever it is that you come with.


Sao Paulo and Rio, Carnival- Resistence or Separation?


I am trying to reconcile myself with where I am from.  Brasil, the land of syncretism, of inequality, of multitude of narratives, of joy, laughter. Sexuality that swets out of peoples bodies. The land of Carnival. And it is carnival, and I who never could see what was soo Brazilian of me, decided I would celebrate it in silence.

Then, I decided, I should go to Rio to discover carnival. So, I called Lu, a childhood friend and she agreed to it immediately . On the same night we were in a bus to Rio. Elisa, who hosted us, is from Rio but does not really like carnival, nor the beach. We are friends since we lived in NY. So Lu, who went with me, and I went to the streets to celebrate while Elisa went to visit her parents.

We got out, with the intention to reach a Bloco de Carnival.  Carnival is celebrated  all over in Brasil. Usually in the streets. Blocos are basically a block of music… There is a concentration of people in the streets dancing and parading. Blocos have different themes. Different music.  Different people listening , drinking, dancing in the streets. It is open and free to all.

Rio, is overtaken by blocos during the whole day all over the city during the carnival week. I had searched for my friend Paula on one last year on a broken foot. At the time I looked for Paula Gabriel, my friend I met during my Master at the LSE.  There was too many people last year and I had a broken foot and.  I just could not reach her.


This time,  we had phones, plans, and still it took a long time for me to find her. And when I did I felt relieved and happy. It felt like ” It took a year but I am here now”. Paula and I are writing a book together. I hugged her. And now I could be really in the bloco.

Brasil is a mix place. Yet like in Colombia there are 3 main groups the indigenous, the African descendents, and the outsiders… from Europe, from the middle east, asia etc. In Brasil, it seems to me that we are way more mixed than in Colombia.

In the blocos you see them all. So I was there enjoying the music.. when I saw a man in his 50s started a conversation with a blond Brazilian girl next to me. She refused him, he attacked her Brazilianess, she was obviously not Brazilian to him. I hated that man then. Yet I just observed him. And watched him grab a Mulata ( a mix of white and black woman) and pull her saying to his friend,, this one is a whore let’s take her.

I wanted to shout at him. This blond girl, this mulata, you  are all the same. Cant you see it?? We are all inheritors of this huge massacre that took place here, and still does. I did not.  Then seconds later I saw a drunk guy coming to the blond girl. She ignored him as well, than she was rude. And I being me, I went to talk to him. He eventually left furious.

“ This girl believes she is better than me because she is blond!? How can you be her friend? You are a good person I can tell”

He was drunk. He left. I suggested to him he should drink water. He should take care of himself. One part of me rememembered when I was in Colombia and started to cry when a boy left me dancing alone. It was not him, but the loneliness in the middle of the salsa that was unbearable to take. So I knew this boy, drunk as hell, felt so abandoned there in the middle of so much joy…. That it ached me.

Minutes later I saw a 5 years old black child lost. I asked him whether he needed help. He hesitated. Huge part of me knew he was poor, probably used to all of this. Yet a 5 year old lost in a crowd of beer and music and people desperate to send sadness away can  nor should ever be used to it? Should we? So I walked with him. Till we found his “cousins’ I still knew he would get lost again.. Someone else would help him agaom for 3 minutes. But I stayed with him for a while, explained his cousins he was too little, I stayed with him till he told me I could go.

“ Juliano, take care of yourself. I know you can do it alone. But we must take care of ourselves and others around”

He shook my hand. There was sooo much grief in his eyes… that after that…..I stood a bit more but I had to leave eventually. Grief in a 5 years old… it is too much.

I was exhausted.

I once wrote that I thought Joy was the last form of resistence. And this carnival I understood it… how much resistence even while laughing it is just still separation.


It truly was. It was this last attempt to not to let anything go in. NO matter what happens, it is to stay and laugh, and kiss, and attempt bold gestures with people who do not matter.

Yet, in the craziness of carnival, even the rejection of a blond unknown girl can hurt too much. It hurted me. Watching the joy of all singing songs of people who had pain. Who sent pain away.

There is some enormous beauty to carnival.  Yet it coexists with shallowness. Nothing can ever be too profound. Maybe it is because nothing can go really in. And then love, and joy, feels almost stolen from its proper correlations to sadness. In most people, and most places, but not in all..

I came home, and I bid farewell to my friend. I just had to listen to my body it was too much. I needed a rest. And so I took a bus back to Sao Paulo and I went for dinner, with my dear friend the brilliant pianist Benjamin Taubkin. We had Japanese food.

We talked about carnival. About life.  About music. I felt my carnival was finally taking place. I drove to the bar of Cidao to see my friends play. I did not even have to ask my favorite songs. They started playing the Choro “Desprezado” by Pixinguinha,

and then Migalhas de Amor  by Jacob do Bandolim,

when they saw me.  The know I love it.

There was this older lady there. I saw her listening to  the music. She was beautiful. She heard the Choro.  Choro is a kind of music that is a mixture of African rhythms and European ones…  the name choro means  “ cry,” or chorinho  “a little cry). And  I could almost see the music in her body travelling. I wrote her a message.  In a napkin something along the lines

“  You hear music in silence. It is so beautiful. Thank you for making my carnival more beautiful”

I folded it and took it to her. Then I went back to my seat and stayed there till the musicians had stopped playing. I felt such a joy. She came to me, and told me she was from the northeast. That she would keep my message. She thanked me. We hugged. In celebration of joy, of music, of recognizing music goes inside when we allow that we smile while feeling pain without costumes. We eventually let the music, and the people around unweave the sadness, in a celebration.

So in Sao Paulo, a place not known for carnival, I reconciled myself.  I heard music that unweaved me.


Love is Subversive- Written for Varal do Brasil

“ Love is subversive”


It was what I thought  when I finished reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez “Love in the Time of Cholera”. Florentino lived stories where he was never present, waiting his whole life for a childhood love. In Colombia of the book, it was only possible when the flag separates them from it all, the flag of the Cholera. Because Cholera is contagious, and love could only exist in this way contained in a boat in a river because in society it corrupts everything. It corrupts all the visions.

This thought came to my mind a thousand times. Every single time that I have been to violent places. Every single time when I have been to very developed places. Why is it that love is so difficult?

In my whole life I have searched to give love to so many people in so many places. There was however always a point that I left. It was because the love that I searched to rescue me from myself, could not do it. Love made me vulnerable. It was because love was missing inside of me.

Love collapses something from which we are not prepared for Ideas versus the body. We feel love or some form of it in our body and we think about it in some other way.

I feel that love is compassion. Compassion is to understand what Asians philosophers; religious men, sociologists and many others have touched the idea that we are all of the time individuals in a plural world. Love collapses separation from the other. Love is human.

And as has Victtorio Arrigoni, the Italian activist killed in Gaza, said, we must stay human.

When I crossed the wall of separation in Israel, to get to the West Bank, (against the will of my friends) I, for the first time, met Palestinians. At the time I already used to write the stories of the people I met around the world. From Palestine I wrote about my daily life.

One day an Israeli philosopher with whom I was supposed to meet and kept postponing because I kept staying everyday one more day in the West Bank, sent me a text message saying he wished he could see what I was seeing.

I offered to send him the emails I had sent to my friends and within hours he sent me a text message saying,

“I cannot see you anymore”.

I asked him whether it was because of what I had written in my emails and he agreed. I was intrigued since I had not written anything about the occupation or the politics. I called him and he explained to me he did not know why it was so difficult. I insisted, after all he was a philosopher that was his job to make something familiar, strange.

“It is too human”.

It was difficult for him to say this. I was thankful. He followed by saying: “had you written about the occupation or the politics, I would have understood. I could have agreed or disagreed, I am prepared for that. But when you write about yoga or love or how they take care of you like we do here, it is too human”.

That day I went to Jerusalem to talk to him. I have never seen him again. But that has remained in my mind forever. When I write about the Human, I collapsed all separations, all of them.

And there is nothing more human than love, collapsing the mind versus the body dichotomy. It is very difficult to deal with all the confusion that comes from the enormous vulnerability of love, of being human of not being separate from the other, the others.

In Colombia, not along ago, I met a man from Gaza. He has a bar/restaurant in Taganga, (a fishermen village by the Tayrona Park). It was his way for fighting for Palestine: serving food.

In front of his cafe/restaurant, there were drawing of Handalas and “revolucion” written on the wall.


Handalas is a cartoon. He is the most famous character by the Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al Ali. Handala is depicted as a ten year-old boy, the figure has turned his back to the viewer, and has clasped hands behind his back.

He has always his back turned to the viewer and hands clasped because Naji Al Ali was critical of both Israeli and Arab leaderships. He rejected all peace solutions that came from outside.

It is different in Colombia. When I arrived in Taganga, I first saw the Palestinian flag, and then the Revolucion written in the wall and then the Handalas. I introduced myself to Yassert, the owner of the cafe/restaurant as someone who loves the Middle-East and who has friends in both sides of the wall.

I went back to Yassert’s cafe every single day. I went back to hear his story, to drink his coffee, and to see his son, he had become a friend.

Right on the first day I had been there, I went back to my hostel and decided to research more about the character Handala. I read why he had clasped hands. He refused help of the outside world.

I immediately remembered that there in Colombia the Handalas painted in the restaurant of a man who had fought in the Intifada, who had been released by the Red Cross, held hands in a massive hug. I remembered that one carried a key, the other a weapon; one had a sling shot downwards. All carried by their shoulders.

I disliked seeing a weapon. I however, when I read that Naji al Ali had made them in clasped hands and separated, with their back to the viewer, felt relief. There in Colombia they held each other. There is one who carries a weapon in his shoulder, but his arms and hands supports the other. The neighbour.

I looked back on my mind, to remember that the WORD Revolucion was written differently as well. There was the word LOVE in the middle backwards. It was in bright red letters. There where love was so subversive that was kept in a boat, a man who had fought in an Intifada, serves food. He fights for his cause with his restaurant, feeding people, bringing those who are willing to talk to talk.


And in his wall Handalas hug and the biggest word is LOVE.

Love, is subversive, but has not been contained by the boat of Florentino. Love is human. With all it perfect imperfection. And Vittorio Arrigoni, italian activist who was killed in Gaza, knew that.

I have been sometimes disturbed by activists who seem to all fight their own ghosts in other places. The same thing I have done myself in so many places in the world.

That day, someone I love, showed me for the first time Vittorio’s blog. His main message was “Stay Human!”

To love is to remain human. With the weapons, the cameras, and the fears. Love is subversive because it forces us to stay. It collapses all divisions.

So from Colombia, from Taganga, I thanked the universe, humans, god…. that cholera had been contained, but not love. Love exists in every part we allow it to be. That might be the path: to allow it to be in its full humanity, in all its perfect imperfection.

Brazil, waiting in Sao Paulo, Coffee and writing


Life is what is happening now, while you are waiting.”


I heard these words from my speech therapist. I have heard them before. But now they freaked me.


I am back in Brasil. And I am home. I feel home. And these days I started a new tradition: going to the Central Market of Sao Paulo ( Mercado Municipal)  with Toninho, my godfather.

So, the central market in Sao Paulo is a fascinating place. I had been there before. This time I am with Toninho, and he grew up there. So he tells me the fascinating stories about all that came through rivers to Sao Paulo, how it was at first something like a stock exchange of food. I am fascinated by this. Even more fascinated I am by the people around. Tourists, and the now very pricey stalls, with what is best there is of fruits, and nuts, and meats. The owners are old. They have been there for too long. Toninho knows these people. His own great grandfather “is” somehow there. His grandfather took rides with a donkey who could drive him home everyday while he slept. Everyday he got drunk there.

Oh yes there are bars as well, and a Lebanese place to eat. I choose immediately the Lebanese place. We seat to eat watching the market there. I hear stories of these people who are not here. But they still are. All these old men selling fruits, and nuts, and different kinds of food… I can see them too. And their grandchildren, and the grandchildren of their first clients. They are all there. I eat what I know from the middle east.

how much I crave for the middle east usually. Not today. Today I am with Toninho in the Mercado Municipal.


I tell him I am writing a book. I take out my new fiction short story. I never write fiction. Too difficult. I just don’t feel it could be called fiction, because I notice as I type it gives me a strange feeling of ownership. And nothing in this world is really just mine. It is all social. We are social and individuals at the same time.


As I daydream of the implications of this… I abandon the market in my imagination. The market that exists, the market that now exists even more profoundly because I know the stories of the people. People I have never met but that Toninho has. My mind flows back to my broken phone.


Some of you might remember when I went to fix my phone with a Lebanese man in a mall where mainly Chinese illegal immigrants worked. It has been almost a year now. I take a cab there. Hearing from the cab driver the prejudices he has towards illegal immigrants. The cab driver who himself is discriminated by the people in Sao Paulo because he comes from the northeast. I try to explain to him the irony of it. Why is it that some people are oppressed and then become the oppressor and cant see it?


I walk by the Chinese mall, and i know how to get to Marwan, the Lebanese man who has fixed my phone before. I go down. He is working. I look the stand next to him. Kamal from Syria (pro Bashar) is not there. I wonder what has happened to him. But as my mind flies around I hear him from inside the stand of Marwane. ” How are you?” I reply ” Salem Aleykum. His stand now has become a coffee place. And from what I get Kamal now works with Marwan”


” Are you ok. You have been sick? you look so skinny”


I say jokingly ” Kahua, Ana Bdi  Kahua” Something like “ Coffee, I want coffee.. “in what I remember of Arabic. I tell him this thinking of Yassert in Colombia. I tell him I have been sick and I am amazed he remembers me so long ago. The man next to him, is Lebanese. Ibrahim. He has just come out of Hospital. I ask Marwan how many days without phone will I be. ” For you 50 minutes. Is that ok?” I am impressed. It usually takes days. He is a very busy man. but I know he is being kind to me. 50 minutes is Nothing


So I spend the following minutes talking to Kamal and Ibrahim about coffee. The coffee that appears mysteriously for me. That coffee place belongs to Kamal now. You must eat too! So I ask for Cheese Bread ( Pao de QUeijo) and we talk. And talk, and Kamal teaches me how to make coffee with Cardamom. He loves coffee. He is a chef. We talk of life. I show them the Ibrahim mosque in Hebron. Of course..only because my phone is ready before I am…and I can show pictures on it..I show Yassert in Taganga. Time flies…. .

Kamal does not let me pay for the coffee. I know it will be pointless to argue on that. I know because I know Yassert and I know Palestinians. I just know. He knows I know but he knows I am Brazilian.  So I insist. He disagrees. I tell him he has a coffee place. He cant not charge for coffee. Ibrahim says he will pay my coffee. I tell Ibrahim I have just met him, Kamal is an old friend. I know I cant pay.


And I remember my friend Paula Gabriel, who has once written about Mauss The Gift and Branding ( but i ll digress too much now… my free flowing mind). In short lines, Mauss, argues that a gift is a relationship. When you give one you are establishing one. I know if I pay i am declining that. I do not decline a relationship. I accept. And then comes to my mind more coffee. Jose Carlos in Colombia.


The day I go down the mountain I visit  Jose Carlos finca, a coffee farm. According to all in Minca,  it is the best organic coffee from Sierra Nevada. Jose Carlos had brought his last batch of coffee to me when I was falling apart sick in Minca. Nacho had told him to sell it to me. It was real treasure… I realised as people kept showing up to talk to him later. I promised to visit him in his FInca once I came down the mountian… it was up in the hills… and I went ( as you might remember to see the snowed capped mountains), I stop.


Very few things disturbed me in Colombia as much going to this Finca did. The FInca is brilliant. it is in the mountain. It is all organic. The coffee is great. Jose Carlos tells me it all. He tells me his life. He came from a family of fighters, in very rich family of Colombia. They were Marxists, and then they lost the civil war, and moved to the US. Jose Carlos became a business man. Now, he had quit it all. and he lived in a shack in this mountain alone to find happiness. He went to the city once a month. I feel he is journeying the same fight now on his own. I feel he is unhappy. I feel unhappy. I see Peter admires this lifestyle. They have this notion they are too fucked up, they need to be perfect before they can be with someone in this world.


I walk out. I ran away inside of me. I cant take anymore abandonment because people feel they are not good enough. I hear Jose Carlos.. but I want to save him. I want to save myself. I bring his coffee and I am afraid to drink it. But I do it. And I buy more coffee from a cooperative. It might be not so special as JC coffee is but I feel at ease drinking this coffee that comes from people who understand they need others.


I have 4 bags of this cooperative  coffee from Sierra Nevada here. And I think it is sacred this coffee. Jose Carlos coffee is perfect but it lacks what i most crave. Imperfection. I love his coffee.. but there is only two people I can give it to. To my parents. I do no longer feel that abandonment I used to feel. So I can give them the best quality coffee I have, and yet my most difficult coffee to give. And I drink it with them.


So the few packages  I have of the coffee of cooperative.. I keep to give the right people. And the right people must really love coffee… and already have a real social relationship with me.


I give one to Toninho, my godfather,  with whom I went to the market, I tell him all the story in Mercado Municipal of Kamal. The other I give to my dear friend Victor. The third I decided that day, I would give to Kamal. He loves coffee.. and yes I accepted that coffee..without paying. I accepted the social contract of a relationship. A friendship.


I still have one left which I will wait for the right person to come and drink it with me.

My speech therapist is right, life is what happens while you are waiting. But when you have something very worth to wait for. You live it all that is around more profoundly making what you had never done before. Waiting.


And so I wait. But while I do it life becomes more and more interesting. And I write a book with all that belongs to all. All of us. And I am capable to send to my family to read. And they read and tell me what they think. And I take what they can give. I change what I have written acording to their thoughts. their combined thoughts. My thoughts.


Someone once told me in Colombia. And this has been blocked to an extent in my mind that i cant know who it was.  Whether it was in real life, or in the internet… where it was… someone told me I was a writer. I answered what I usually do. I was a story teller….That to be a writer it is like to be a musician, a poet. It is sacred. And this person who now almost feels like a character in my imagination replied. ” You struggled so much to live a life of meaning, a sacred life”  Why cant you see it in you?


So, yes, I wait, I write, I am a writer. I struggle to be one. And I am finally, home.