What was this bearded stranger really asking me? He was sitting across the table from me with a plate of typical Brazilian food: rice, black beans and manioc. I tried to cut myself off from what he was talking about and looked past him out of the restaurant window: beach and sea, nothing between here and Africa.
At a party yesterday he’d learnt that the reason there were so many blond-haired people here on Florianopolis was because this island had been populated in large part by Germans. When Sao Paulo had hosted the coffee boom in the 19th century the barons had attracted Japanese, Italians and others to work on the farms, not the African slaves who had gone to the North. But ethnicity, he had been told, did not make a difference to their Brazilian-ness: generous-hearted, fun-loving, Portuguese-speaking - no voluntary or enforced ghettoisation like you find in the USA.
He asked me if I had been to the Afro-Brazilian Museum in Sao Paolo, to look at the contribution of the c4m African slaves to the art, culture, politics of Brazil. What did I think, he asked. The bearded stranger had clearly not failed to notice I was black! But I really had no insights to offer him about their role in Brazilian society today; nor whether Leopold Senghor had got it right when he said that with most slave societies the slaves were gradually Europeanised, while in Brazil it had been the Portuguese and other Europeans who had become more Africanised. I continued to look out towards Africa. I listened politely, but silently because I had no insights: my visit to Brazil was nearly over and I was just looking forward to going home to Tanzania the next day.