When a political crisis closed Brazilian universities during our studies in 1961, another Fulbrighter and I took the opportunity to travel north and see more of the country. While dining in a restaurant in Rio Grande do Norte, we overheard two American men in worn-out uniforms loudly having trouble understanding the waiter. We offered to help and found ourselves in the middle of a bureaucratic adventure. The 2 were former mercenaries who had just landed a B-17 at the airport in Natal, the easternmost spot in the western hemisphere. They had been ferrying the plane from Africa to the US, had gotten lost and ran out of fuel, so landed at the first piece of land they could find. Since they had no papers, no license, no flight plan or visas, they were met with outrage and suspicion by Brazilian authorities who were ready to throw the book at them. My traveling companion and I spent the next few days as interpreters between the bewildered Americans and the Brazilian Air Force, the Governor’s office, and several government departments. The plane and its pilots were finally allowed to re-fuel and leave. My friend and I continued on our trip around the Northwest of Brazil, having enjoyed this unexpected drama and feeling we were instrumental in untying a lot of red tape, or maybe even preventing an embarrassing international incident.
Nijole Etzwiler (Niola Semenas) – Fulbright to Brazil 1961