I Need a New Watch

By Laura, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Time is different in Brazil.

There are many reasons why – I went from British summer time with the sun setting at 11pm, to it setting here at 6:30pm. We eat lunch anywhere between 1pm and 4pm, and tea just before going to bed. The buses can come up to 20 minutes before or after their scheduled time. At my apprenticeship, a four hour shift can be considered productive even if we just sit and chat the whole time.

Despite all this, on Monday my timing was actually wrong, even for Brazil.

My alarm went off ready to go to my apprenticeship working in environmental education at Comcap – the waste management department of the city council. I rolled out of bed bleary eyed, having stayed up too late the night before spending time with another fellow at Café Cultura, and forgetting the irregularity of the buses on a Sunday night. I had my normal breakfast of granola and fresh Brazilian bananas in the quiet living room; my host parents work from home and my host sister works in the afternoon so I rarely see them before I leave. The sky was clear outside and I laughed at my change of lifestyle – I used to scrabble to find all my A level folders before leaving for the bus, now I dig through my bags to find my sunglasses. 

The bus was later than usual – I whatsapped the fellow who lives near me as she was planning on getting the same bus as me that morning, to let her know that she could still make it. She still wasn’t there when the bus eventually arrived. 15 minutes into the bus ride my phone vibrated in my bag – she had replied seemingly very confused. “How has it gone if it’s 7:16?”.  I turned my wrist to check my watch, forgetting that it wasn’t there.

After a couple more confused messages we established that the time on my phone was an hour ahead – I was fuming. After all, there is nothing you learn to prize more than sleep when it’s so exhausting living in a space where you don’t speak the language. How on earth had my phone just jumped ahead an hour? And why had no one else’s? Why had I been sat at the bus stop at 7am?

I realized that I don’t normally wear my sunglasses at the bus stop because the sun isn’t normally that low in the sky at that time. I realized that the neighbor who normally gets the same bus as me wasn’t at the bus stop. And I remembered that I do normally hear one of my host parents showering during breakfast even if I don’t always see them. 

Annoyed at myself, I slumped off the bus and went to get a pão de queijo to pass the time – I now had the choice of arriving at my work an hour before everyone else or sitting at the bus station for an hour. With a surprisingly good bakery and an eBook on my phone, I chose the latter. I messaged another fellow to see if her phone had done the same thing, it hadn’t but she said that “it’s Temer’s fault”. At, what I now knew to be 7:30 on a Monday morning, I was too confused and delirious not to believe this, and I googled what President Temer could possibly have to do with my phone’s clock.

It turns out, in one of the most random pieces of legislation I’ve ever read about, President Temer decided to change when the south of Brazil would change between summer and standard time, and also alter which states used summer time. Apparently my phone provider didn’t get the memo, and jumped forward an hour two weeks early. Still grumpy over my lost hour of sleep, I was reminded that I’d have to do the same thing again in a fortnight.

Lots of people at home have been asking what Brazil is like. This is a hard question to answer, but I guess this experience gives you some insight: more sun than I’d ever seen at home, questionable public transport, a relaxed pace of life, unbelievable politics and unpredictable days. Oh, and technology doesn’t work very well. My watch broke a week after arriving and I’m now skeptical of my phone.

This morning it was very sunny again. As I reached into my bag to put on my sun glasses, I caught myself and glanced at my phone. Not again my friend.

My bus stop view

Home Is Where the Dog Is

by Olivia, Tufts 1+4 Participant

The very first day I moved in with my host family, they warned me not to be scared of Osa when she barked at me. The street I live on is comprised of many little “gated communities”, which are just 7-10 row houses with their own gate that requires a key. Osa is the large German Shepard that lives in the very first house of my “gated community.” She sits behind the gate to her own house all day long, lying on her step, waiting for passersby. She is a moody dog to say the least. 

With my host family’s warning in mind, I was expecting the worst for my first arrival home alone. I had heard Osa’s booming bark before when it had been directed at others, and I was not looking forward to bearing the brunt of it. But when I came home from Spanish classes on the first day, she didn’t bark at all. When she saw me come through the gate, she simply got up from her step, and came up to greet me. So, she likes me, I thought. And I prided myself for the rest of the night on my amazing dog skills and the fact that all dogs love me. However, the next day when I returned home from classes, I got a completely different response. The second my hand touched the gate to push it open, I was greeted with the most ferocious noise. Not only did my heart jump, but I physically jumped back and then immediately ran by her house to escape the threatening bark. From that day on Osa has been very inconsistent. Some days she sits quietly on her door step, some days she walks over to greet me, some days she barks the moment she hears me coming, and some days she doesn’t start barking until the gate is closed, and I think I am in the clear. 

It wasn’t long before Osa’s reactions began controlling my mood when I returned home in the evenings. If I arrive at the gate happy but she barks at me, I feel just a little bit sadder. If I arrive upset but Osa comes to greet me sweetly, I feel that much better. I desperately want Osa to like me. I want her to be used to me. I want her to think of me as another member of the community that she knows and doesn’t have to scare away. Every time she barks, I feel it is a reminder that I do not belong. 

Last week marked the first week that I went 5 days straight without Osa barking when I returned home. I’d like to think of this as a symbol of my progress in settling in to my community. I still don’t feel entirely comfortable in everything I do – I get nervous that everyone is staring at me on the bus when I do something dumb, I get embarrassed if someone notices me quickly change directions because I am often lost, and I feel bad and slightly resented when my Spanish fails me in a store or on the streets. I can’t say that Cuenca feels like a community of my own yet, but I do believe a house becomes a home when the dog no longer barks at your arrival.

Unplugged, But Definitely Not Disconnected

By Arlyss, Tufts 1+4 Participant

It’s that dreaded question. The one we want to—need to—ask, but the one we try to avoid. The four words that can instantly make us seem anti-social and uninterested, but we take the risk anyway: “What’s the WiFi password?”

A couple of weeks into our time in Ecuador we were all given “ecuaphones.” In other words, we were given the years-old phone where you have to click the “2” button three times to type a “c” then wait a couple of seconds to hit the button again to type an “a.” These were to be our form of communication as most of us don’t have regular access to WiFi during the day.

I’ll be the first to say, it was a strange adjustment. I’m used to checking my phone regularly, so whenever we went somewhere and there was WiFi, I would try to connect. During our first week in Ecuador, we had orientation in our soon-to-be Spanish school, which did in fact have WiFi. At lunch breaks, Christine, another Tufts 1+4 fellow, started a phone pile. Rather than use our phones for the little time we could, we would just sit and talk and enjoy each other’s company. We didn’t have the opportunity to text our friends from back home and then consequently feel homesick. Instead, because we unplugged, we bonded and got to know each other better, creating the amazing friendships we now have. We were able to become more connected to the beautiful space we were in (and appreciate the fact that we were in Ecuador!).

Now, at the school where I work each day, there’s no internet. I’ve adjusted to not using my phone during the day, to not feeling the need to—or even wanting to—use it during the day. When I’m at home on weekends I leave my phone in the other room for hours. This simple change may sound insignificant, but it feels really nice to not be attached to my phone and to be more attentive to the world around me. I can admire every stray dog walking the street, every astonishingly high pair of heels people are wearing (here in Ecuador, I’m finally not the short one of the crowd!), and every stunning view of the mountains.

And the best part of not using my phone? The personal connections I’ve made. When I get in a cab, I can’t just pull out my phone, so instead I usually talk with the driver. I had a long conversation with one of my taxi drivers about our families and what I’m doing here and his favorite parts of Cuenca. We even joked about me dying my hair blonde, but he told me it looked natural. On the bus I had an elderly woman tell me about the importance of unity and Catholicism, I talked with the mother of a family about her weekend trip to Cuenca, and I chatted with a thirty-year-old man about the fun activities of the Festivals of Cuenca and the adjustment to living here. I’m not buried in a phone screen, I’m open to the world—and I’m practicing Spanish!

Recently, the other Ecuador fellows and I went on our first excursion outside of Cuenca. Our only opportunity for WiFi during the weekend trip was to stand at the front gate of the hostel. Rather than spend time doing that, some of the other fellows and I just chose to accept a phone-free, internet-less weekend. It was so refreshing. There was no desire or need to use our phones. Instead of looking through all the social media posts about Halloween and missing our friends and the festivities back home, we made our own Halloween together by sharing ghost stories around the bonfire, relaxing in the hot tub, and looking for constellations.

By no means do I think that phones are always detrimental to our social relationships, but I feel more present during the day without mine. I no longer feel compelled to check my phone; I’m not worried about what I might be missing. I’m becoming more connected to the world around me, as I am unplugging from my phone addiction. And, if I learn nothing else from this experience, at least I’ll have developed some serious appreciation for people who had to text on cellphones in the late 90s.

Why We Plant Roses

by Rebecca, Tufts 1+4 Participant

As I sprinted up to the office, I looked down at my phone…9:01. Damn. It was day 2 and I was already late. For as long as I can remember, the value of punctuality has been drilled into my consciousness. “5 minutes early is 10 minutes late” a YMCA director once told me. “Punctuality is the ultimate demonstration of respect for people you interact with,” said one teacher. “Don’t be late, it’s annoying” said my manager at Starbucks. I knew what those 60 seconds represented and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of defeat. And as I took those last steps up, the receptionist casually said “Carin ainda não está aqui.” All that stress and my boss isn’t even here?? I walked over to her office, set down my bag, and took a seat. 5 minutes passed. 10 minutes dragged on into 20. Then 30. 45. Eventually, Carin showed up. As soon as she arrived, she headed to the kitchen for café de manhã, the ultimate culmination of Brazilian culture: coffee and chat. I had arrived, heart pounding, at 9:01. It was nearly 10:30 before we got to work. This fluid view of time was not a one-time occurrence, but rather the norm. We were told in orientation to expect this. However, I’m fresh off a stressful high school workload demanding a well-scheduled plan of attack and a job for which producing less than 9 fancy coffee drinks in 5 minutes is unacceptable. A bullet point on an orientation PowerPoint could not adequately prepare me for this transition.

Initially, I judged this cultural norm quite consciously. The habit seemed so clearly inefficient and impractical; what’s the use in sitting around waiting when there’s work to be done. I thought that with patience and deliberate action I could change the way my boss viewed my time…and her own. I saw every coffee break (and there are many of them, often several times a day), long walks to communicate face to face what could’ve been said in a text, every moment spent chatting as lost, time that could’ve been spent planting a few more seedlings, sweeping a few more trails, planning a few more projects. In viewing these periods, I saw only what wasn’t being accomplished.

As time goes on, I’m beginning to understand more tangibly what it means to assimilate into a culture without judgment. Coffee breaks are a chance to learn more about my colleagues, and through that, the culture and language which is my whole reason for being here. Long walks through the park are an opportunity to appreciate the amazing scenery, learn the trails of the park, and take in the crocodiles, turtles, monkeys, and more which surround me every day, but go unappreciated from the concrete walls of the office.

This has given me cause for pause, an opportunity to reflect on the United States’ addiction with production and work. We get so absorbed in the completion of tasks that we lose sight of our reasons for doing them. I like clarity and discrete concepts of good and bad, but comparative cultural analysis is anything but. I’m learning there’s value in staying actively engaged with one’s colleagues and surroundings, even at the expense of time. The people I work with know far more about each other than any workplace I know of in the US. As such, they have a greater appreciation for one another and I would venture, have fewer workplace disputes because of this.  I recognize all of this, I appreciate it, and I’m learning about myself and my own paradigms. However, the pursuit of cultural sensitivity and awareness does not have to mean a complete rejection of the culture in which I was socialized. I spoke with my boss about this experience. Initially, she was taken aback; ‘uma máquina de trabalho’ she called me, a work machine. But with time and patience on both sides, we’re finding a balance, implementing strategies sensitive to both parties. For instance, my schedule’s been shifted so that I now arrive at work at 9:30, increasing the likelihood that my boss will have arrived by the time that I do. And I do arrive at 9:30. But I also join my colleagues for their many coffee breaks, relish our long walks through the park, take in all that I can in spare moments. Time can never truly be lost if every moment is a chance for learning and enrichment. After all, there’s no use in planting roses if you don’t stop to smell them.

More than a Game

By Finn, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Some of my earliest, happiest, and most dismal memories stem from “the Beautiful Game.” Soccer has been a part of my life since the time I could walk. Ever since a ball was put at my feet I have never been able to satiate my desire to play, learn, and compete. From the moment that I was accepted in the Tufts 1+4 Bridge program in Cuenca, Ecuador I knew that I had to get a taste of the flare and passing of  the “tiki taka” futbol of South America. So naturally as soon as the first opportunity presented itself to play in a “cancha sintetica” I eagerly took advantage of my invitation. All week I anxiously awaited the weekend and my dream fulfilling match. Finally the day came and upon my arrival to the netted tuft field I was introduced to a large group of friends and family that had all turned up to play and watch. Saludos were exchanged, lots of kisses on the cheek from the women and a mix of fist bumps and handshakes from the men and everyone began getting ready to play. We sat in a loose circle lacing up shoes and hiking socks, banter, laughter, and stories were flying around the group in rapid fire Spanish. This itself was fine, I sat silently picking what I could from the conversation and piecing parts together, however it did not take long for the attention to shift to the unfamiliar face in the crowd. Naturally this meant that I was bombarded with question after question in Spanish and found myself completely and utterly incapable of responding to a single inquiry. For those that know me this would not be a surprise as my Spanish skills are far from proficient. However despite my acknowledgement of this fact I began to become increasingly frustrated and downtrodden. Here was the moment that I had looked forward to all week and I remember thinking “I’m miserable” .

Fortunately everything changed as soon as we divided into teams and began to play. The first half hour was a whirlwind of trying to keep pace and settle into an almost entirely new way of playing soccer. At our first break I bent over, hands on my knees, feeling every inch of the 7,233 extra feet of altitude. Slowly though I began to fall into the rhythm of the game. I realized that everything was principally similar but fundamentally different. The game had transformed with the introduction of tighter quarters, play was more rapid, challenges more frequent, skill of the individual more important. As time passed my confidence began to grow and it was at this time that I came to an incredible realization: despite my lack of skills in the Spanish language I felt right at home. This was at first odd to me because up until this point I had been held back utterly and entirely by the language barrier. However this was not the case on the field. With a handful of words I fit in, was comfortable, and truly was enjoying every second. For the first time I was truly playing the “World’s Game” and buying into the principal that soccer is a wordless language that transcends borders and is spoken in feet not tongues.

Everyone Has to Walk

By Sam, Tufts 1+4 Participant

For the first time in my life, I truly feel like an outsider. As a straight white man in suburban America, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of almost never having to truly feel out of place. And although I’ve done my best to both acknowledge and use my privilege to help those who lack it, it has comforted and supported me since birth. My experience in Cuenca has been a different story. Instead of being a pillar of society, goofy white boys such as myself are looked at funny, generally unwanted, and thought of as stupid until proven otherwise. Obviously the prejudice I’ve dealt with is child’s play to most marginalized groups in America, but I’ve felt it significantly nonetheless.

While everyone else has to bus, taxi, or carpool to and from Spanish classes every day, I have the blessing of being able to walk. Walking by yourself is a truly unique experience in that it’s something everyone has to do. I feel like a full blown gringo when I’m sitting in Spanish class, browsing the market, or buying food, but when I walk the big red target on my back seems to go away.

I’ve found in life that everyone has to walk. Life simply can’t go on without it. You can be the richest person in the world and you still have to walk from your king sized bed to your monogramed elevator every morning. When I walk through the streets of Cuenca I feel a connection to those around me in a way that my identity normally prevents. We may not like or even know each other, but we’re forever bonded in that we all have to walk to get to where we need to go. In that way I’m just another face in the crowd, with the same immediate purpose as those around me. And although the Cuencanos may never understand my reason for being here or want me in their city, they can at least understand that I too have a purpose, that I too am bound by obligations and the regular necessities of life. On the other side, although I may never belong here, when I walk I can feel raw and instinctive empathy, as opposed to manufactured and observational sympathy for the people around me. For that, I am extremely grateful for the need to walk.