Perdido

April 5, 2010
Guarulhos International Airport, São Paulo, Brazil. Ten hours into my year-long Brazilian exchange and I was thrilled! No longer with the group of noisy exchange students, my jetlag was only held off by the adrenaline in my veins. Surrounded by kiosks selling everything from sweaters, to traditional food and drink, to cartoonish stickers, I made my way to my terminal. Gate 2A, flight 3554, seat 18C, departure at 2:00 pm. “This is easy. I’m ready.” I told myself.

Seated, I waited patiently for a boarding announcement. But all of a sudden, “Antencão: Voo 3554 está astrasado. Attention: Flight 3554 is delayed,” resounded over the PA system. My mind started to race, and all my thoughts had Murphy’s Law in mind. Will my flight arrive in a new terminal? A new gate? Where can I find this information? Will it be in English? I tried using one of the hundreds of televised schedules in the airport, but it was no use. Even thirty minutes later, there was still no information. The screen taunted me as if it were holding my lunch money just beyond my reach. So, with my puny Portuguese Today! Phrase book, I mustered the guts to wander beyond the terminal and seek out someone, anyone, who could help.


“With excuses,” I stuttered in broken Portuguese, “You has information? Flight 3445?” The new, strange language fell mangled from my lips as various airport personnel stared at me blankly, brushing me off with a mere, “Sorry, I don’t speak English.” Things did not get better as everyone I asked routinely redirected me to the baggage claim. Each time I reentered, it was as if more and more of my confidence had been placed on the whirling track, snatched off by someone else before I could retrieve it.

Distraught, I listened for my flight number on the passing announcements and checked the schedules again. At six o’clock, still waiting for my two o’clock plane, I sat almost hyperventilating back at Gate 2A. Gathering up my remaining ounce of confidence, I asked one more person if they could help me. I realized that I could not be shy. Rotary had prepared me for this, for the uncomfortable, annoying, frightening, amazing, and all-around unexpected situations that all exchange students face at one time or another. I stuttered once again, in my horrible, broken Portuguese accent, but now I stuttered with conviction. A smile broke across my Good Samaritan’s face; he could help me, and he spoke English! After what felt like a lifetime of anguish and uncertainty, my exhaustion and panic were lifted off my shoulders.

Luckily, I was in the right place, and my flight eventually boarded. It would be my first solo ride in Brazil, and also my first true adventure on my own. Still oblivious to the various hardships I would face, in this moment, I knew I had what it took. Now I was ready.





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