Today was a hectic day. All I aimed to do was unlock my smartphone, but it took me through the maddest and busiest streets of Sao Paulo that were so flooded with the rush of humanity flowing on the roads that it was impossible for cars to pass. It was a crowded river of people as far as the eye can see.
Sao Paulo is incredibly hilly which provides great views of the city and streets when you’re on the higher side. This afternoon I was at “25 de Marco” which is a bustling shopping district that sells everything a person might dream of: trinkets, clothes, electronics, toys, food, music – everything – in a landscape of endless street shops combined with roaming street vendors.
The first thing that hit me was the noise: Peddlers screaming their wares- agua! agua! camisetas!, buskers playing guitars and singing ballads, roaming vendors tooting horns, and the general chatter of every person in the crowd blending into one unorchestrated hum of the human race.
Upon searching in this chaos for “Shopping Oriental” which several people suggested for my phone – and no one really knowing how to describe where it was located – I finally found it. I was expecting a Chinese shop, for some reason, but the store is run by a Lebanese man. He told me there are 10 million Lebanese in Brazil, and he’s been living in the city for 21 years. He runs a technology shop while working as a freelance graphic artist.
I asked him whether he’d be open to an interview in the coming week, and he said he’d be happy to talk. I need to check whether he is indeed the owner but, even if he is not, connecting with him might open the door to the owner.
In the end, he couldn’t unblock my phone so I have to return on Monday, but I hope to follow his lead.
Ethnographic research is personally involving. It is impossible to separate the researcher from the research, especially when the researcher serves as the primary instrument for data collection.
Upon approaching so many random people today for directions or even to buy things in a language I’m not 100% fluent in, I found myself adapting my personality to make the process easier. In general, strangers will respond most kindly and generously toward you when you project a positive energy onto them. It’s almost as though we need to consciously transmit the message: I come in peace.
This spirit of openness – “I come in peace” – changes everything as opposed to a spirit of passing indifference. Perhaps your eyes become more vibrant and make contact, perhaps the lines on your face crease more kindly, perhaps it makes you smile in way that’s more sincere and caring, presenting a personality that is warm, human, and not threatening. It expresses the best in you, and this positivity feels palpable; it transmits a vibe that we can sense.
Indifference is not a style that works for our survival, although it can certainly surface once we feel more settled in our environment. I realized that when I am traveling alone, and when my work relies on the strength of my personal connections, it forces me to come out of my shell. I find it important to melt the glaciers of shyness to express the part of my personality which is more caring, more loving, and more interested — because it matters in this human jungle, and people have little else to go with.