Visiting Panambi – Community – A talk. (Map this!)
“Panambi?, Where’s that?” The immigration officer at the border at Saõ Borja asked us. Panambi is a small town of 30,000 people in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The residents are mostly German immigrants, the Portuguese spoken here varies quite a bit from the language we heard in the Northern states of Mato Grosso do Sul and Paraná. Set in a hillside among trees, the town, with its German architecture, is quite pleasing.
We were visiting our friends from the Camino Santiago, Dalva and Luis Ribeiro, who we had met in 2002.
We have managed to keep contact over the years, unlike most traveling buddies, mostly thanks to the MSN Instant Messenger. With eight days left on our 30 day Brazilian visa (this is the amount they give you at the Brazilian consulate in Puerto Iguazu) and unsure whether an extension would be possible (we did manage to get a 90 day extension at Policia Federal) we decided to visit Panambi, which was conveniently close to the Argentinian border. We could make it on a tank of Argentinian gas!
Panambi is a very tight knit community, as is often the case in small towns where the residents have been living together for a long time. Everyone was related to everyone else. At parties, “Who is your mother?”, was a common question, reminding me of the close knit communities in India. For a few days, we became part of the Dalva’s close circle of friends and acquaintances.
We met Shirley, the vivacious owner of the language school where Dalva works and her aunt Heidi who also teaches there. When I visited the dentist, I got whirled into the adjoining law offices where Maria Rita (the dentist’s mother-in-law) showed me pictures of her husband’s visit to India through the Rotary Club. We sipped chimarrão everywhere, at Dalva’s house, at her mother’s, at the law offices.
For a moment, we found ourselves in the slightly uncomfortable position of being celebrities. People were very curious to meet these crazy Americans who had been on the road for a year driving to Brazil. Dalva had arranged for us to give a talk on our travels, advertised in the local newspapers. The talk was at the local Scout’s building where we met Oscar, the Scoutmaster, (and also Shirley’s brother), an outgoing, friendly guy who loves to travel. The talk was in Spanish, which we muddled through, which the audience hopefully understood. At the end, we had a picture session, which remined me of a tango performance we had attended in Buenos Aires when the audience had lined up for pictures with the dancers.
We have been missing community and Panambi gave us an opportunity to get immersed in one. Now its time to move on. But I will always be grateful for the opportunity to be part of the daily life of regular people in a different culture, which travelers so rarely get a glimpse of. And in spite of the foreign food and customs and language, I was struck by the similarities in characters; for every person in Panambi I could find a twin character in the Bay Area.