Brasilia is a big shift. Pay phones on street corners, stop signs taken as suggestions, and every neighborhood around here gated. It looks like one wall after another at the outskirts of the city, curls of barbed wire on top of gray and off-white concrete blocks, like prisons except covered in signs of the tropics. Wide, waxy green leaves spill over either side of the walls. Giant mango trees grow taller than the two-story houses they neighbor. Green coconut bunches, pink spiked fruits straight from outer space, and even the weeds are splashes of color, dynamic brushstrokes lighting up a dripping landscape. img_7992

It’s spring here and fall everywhere else I’ve been. This is how it always feels when I visit Brazil. I can’t tell which differences are seasonal and which regional— it’s all another planet with strange parallels to life back home. This morning, one TV in my uncle’s house played Sex and the City dubbed in Portuguese. The other was tuned into Boomerang, with reruns I used to watch like Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes, and Scooby Doo. In the car this afternoon, Adele’s Hello played on the radio and my 5-year-old cousin hummed along. I’m experiencing the usual strangeness, reminded of the reach of America’s pop culture and the lack of reciprocation.

And North American news stories rattle around my subconscious. The metal grates on windows and barbed wire on gated neighborhood walls and a few red dirt roads suggest USA gossip. The World Cup, Olympics, polluted rivers, Rio kidnappings, vigilante justice, Zika virus— I half-expected a warzone, not residential calm. Not suburban sprawl off the south end of the capital. Not things as I remember them. Things are as I remember them, from the pay phones to the cartoons. The only parts I don’t remember are the nearly five years that have passed since I was last here, my younger cousins now five years taller, my aunt and uncle five years more parental.