At some 400,000 people, Caxias do Sul isn’t a huge city. But I’ve stumbled across enough coincidences here to make me feel like it’s a lot smaller.
For example, there’s an billboard by my house that depicts a model in a crisp navy sweater. The ad is across the street from the bus stop I use to get to school, so I spend a lot of time staring at this dude while I wait. One night, I was getting a ride home down this street after a meeting of The Club, and I warned my friend my turn was coming up. “Oh, after my ad?” He asked. I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t: it turned out that he modeled for a brief stint while studying photography at university, but because he had since grown a beard and was wearing glasses, I hadn’t recognized him as the model I had spent hours staring at.
That same night, Barbara came back from hanging out with some friends of a guy she met on Tinder. One of his friends turned out to be someone I had befriended through the board game group. Ironically, she went to this friend’s birthday party and not me, because I had class that evening.
A couple months later, I went out to lunch with this friend and his wife at a restaurant just outside of Caxias. We were speaking in both English and Portuguese, which prompted a woman at the table behind me to tap me on the shoulder. She explained (in Portuguese) that she overheard us speaking English and that her daughter had studied in Portland. While there, her daughter had befriended an American who now teaches English in Brazil through a program called Fulbright—which apparently also has participants placed in Caxias, and was I part of that program? I told her I was, and I made some small talk with her daughter in English, generally marveling at what a coincidence the entire encounter was. I didn’t know the ETA in question, but I messaged her on Facebook just to share the news.
Oh, and then as we were leaving the restaurant, a passing car honked at us—which I thought nothing of in the moment but later learned was Luciana, one of my host mom’s friends who happened to be on her way to another city.
Some of these coincidences just stem from the fact that people from the US aren’t super common in Caxias. (“We all want to go there; why’d you want to come here?!” is a question we ETAs often get.) I once had an Uber driver recognize my apartment because he had recently driven another American woman (Barbara) there. And when I brought my family to a museum when they were visiting me, the tour guide suspected I might be staying with Elaine, because he was friends with her daughters and knew she was hosting Americans.
I’ve also had a couple encounters that just stem from being out and about. After church one day, my program manager managed to run into the city mayor and introduce us. Another time, Elaine and I were sitting in the cafe of one of Elaine’s friends. An older gentleman (another friend of the owner) joined us, so when the friend returned to work, the gentleman and Elaine got to chatting. He was a sculptor, which was cool enough, but he also turned out to be the creator of the giant sculpture sitting at the entrance to UCS.
The Fulbright program: making the world a tiny bit smaller since 1946.