Originally my friend and I planned that during the summer of 2014 we would volunteer for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil but because the school year didn’t end until the middle of June for me I was unable to start at the beginning of the tournament. My friend, who is in college and therefore finished the semester in May, was still able to go so I decided that once the school year was over I would meet her there.
The day before leaving to meet her in Rio de Janeiro I sent her a message on Facebook asking for the address of the place that we were staying at. Many people during the World Cup decided to rent out their houses and apartments for visitors to stay in, while they would stay with a family member and make a little extra cash. It was a smart deal for both parties so I knew we would be staying in someone else’s house, but the question was where. I was not planning on taking any form of technology with me to Brazil (no cellphone, computer, or anything that could connect to wi-fi) so I would not be able to get a hold of my friend until I arrived the following morning. I wrote the address down that she gave me on a post-it note that I could had to the cab driver, since I wasn’t completely confident with my Portuguese and wanted to make sure I ended up at the right place. I continued to pack my bags, put the address in my passport and left the next morning.
I am never able to sleep on planes when going to another country because I am too excited so I was pretty sleepy when I arrived in Rio. Fortunately, I found a cab driver who spoke a little bit of English so I handed him the post-it note and the drive took about 30 minutes from the airport. However it was not a house I arrived at, it was an entire apartment complex. There were 4 buildings, each about 8 stories high and had 6 apartments on each floor…and I didn’t know which one my friend was in. The cab driver dropped me off; I thanked him and paid him and then stood realizing what a pickle I was in. It was 7 in the morning and I had two choices, since I didn’t have a phone, or knew where to find internet, I could either start crying because I was lost or ask the security guard in the few phrases of Portuguese I had learned if he could help me. (Luckily, many Brazilians are used to foreigners speaking Portuñol–a mix of Portuguese and Spanish so I could rely on my Spanish to help me communicate). So I thought to myself here goes nothing.
“Desculpe, eu não falo muito Portugues mais…” I proceeded to ask him if he had directory of who lives in each building. I knew the name of the person who owned the apartment so I thought that maybe I could figure it out. He did not have a directory so he offered me a phone but I wasn’t sure if my friend’s phone would work or if she would answer since it was so early in the morning. At this point he stared at me with a blank look and asked what I was going to do. I shook my head since I had no idea.
He then proceeded to ask another lady who was on her way to work if she maybe knew where a certain person lived. She didn’t know off hand but then proceeded to ask me about what brought me to Brazil, and who I was staying with. I told her I was from the US and meeting my friend and her new friends that were Mexicans. When the guard heard that they were Mexican he had a realization and walked off as the lady wished me luck and continued on her way to work.
When the guard came back he pointed to a balcony that had a Mexican flag on it. I looked around and saw that many balconies in the complex had the Brazilian flag hanging off of them…all but one. We counted up how many floors it was and how many balconies over and decided to give it a try. We walked up to the second floor, to the third apartment on the right and knocked on the door. Sure enough, it was the right apartment! I thanked the guard for all of his help and I stood in shock for a second; I had just solved this tricky puzzle with help of a kind stranger, was in other country on the other side of the equator where I must have known more of the language than I thought, and had accomplished so much already by 7:30 in the morning. My friend woke up to greet me and I told her this story and we laughed about how lucky I was to have had that flag hanging outside on the balcony. And that is how the Mexican flag saved me in Brazil.