By Renata W.
It was at the start of the sixties—only nobody knew then that they were going to be “The Sixties.” Fidel Castro had recently come into power in Cuba and there was a lot of talk about “exporting the revolution,” which annoyed the United States and several governments in Latin America. I had passed the entrance examinations to the University of São Paulo, where students were restless. I was enrolled in the Sociology course. Some of the books available were extremely expensive, but many others were very cheap, printed in Spanish, in (Soviet) Russia so that’s what was affordable for the students. I thought that was very clever of the Russians. The students had set up various political organizations, and new students, like me, were wooed by the Maoists, or the Trotzkyites, or the Stalinists. And strikes were called to end the war in Vietnam (as if that would sway anyone in charge of it), or “hunger in the (Brazilian) Northeast” (as if that could be solved by a strike). But the Americans had their own strategies for grassroots action, and one of them was facilitating access to one-year full scholarships at a large number and variety of universities. I had decided I did not really like Sociology–though I’m still grateful I was able to take a fascinating course in Anthropology; I loved the idea that different people could think their world in so very different terms from others, and that so many systems made sense. So I applied, and indeed got my fellowship and was assigned to Ohio University, in Athens, Ohio.
I had never been on a plane when I boarded the Aerolineas Argentinas jet from São Paulo’s Congonhas airport to New York’s Idlewild. The flight was uneventful, but right on our tail was hurricane Diana, arriving right after we did. I collected my luggage, having found that all flights out had been cancelled, and that I would have to spend the night in that strange, huge city. Customs confiscated the apple I had kept from the flight breakfast, just in case hunger set in. I felt lost. But someone directed me to the airline counter, where I was able to rebook my ticket to Ohio for the next day. What about till then, however? I felt completely lost. But a nice policeman took me to the information desk, where I was given the name of a hotel on 6th avenue. I think I took a taxi.
The man at the hotel desk said “Sorry, we are full up.” And I started crying.
“Let me see,” he said. “One moment.” “OK,” he said after calling somewhere. “There are a few Dutch girls who got a room and they said they will let you stay there, and we’ll put in an extra bed. Would that be OK with you?”
Would it ever. The girls were nice. The hurricane did not turn out as savage as feared; the weather cleared, and we decided to go out. We were directed to Times Square (Times Square!) where we found a couple of booths selling deeply discounted tickets to Broadway (Broadway!) shows, and they happened to have a couple for My Fair Lady. Talk about luck. Of course I had read the play and of course I knew about the musical. It had never occurred to me that I might possibly be able to see it on my way to Southeastern Ohio.
It was wonderful.
The next day I thanked the girls who had allowed me to crash in their hotel room, boarded a plane to Athens (Ohio), and the real anthropological adventure began.