Évα, Two, तीन

Pomegranate and a cup of chai

By Alex, Tufts 1+4 Participant

If you watch a home video of me up until the age of five, you’ll notice my parents disagreeing with one another, specifically about language. Everything I say in English, my mom asks me to repeat in Greek. Right after she does that, my dad whispers from behind the camera, “Now is not the time, Sofia.” My father, who grew up in a British-American household, did not understand my mother’s will to engrain the Greek language in my brother and me. For her, however, language correlated with successfully raising us to understand and appreciate our roots.

As a result, despite my dad’s grumbling, my mom continued to force me to spit out as much Greek as I could as a child, whether it was for asking for a cookie or telling her about my day. I grew up confused as to which language I should talk in, because between the Greek my mom was insisting upon, the English my dad was speaking to me, and the Spanish my nanny sang to me, I could hardly distinguish the three. I knew not to speak Greek to my father but often ended up singing Spanish nursery rhymes to my mother because they sounded similar to Greek ones.

Language gradually became less of a burden and more of a skill. In given moments, I could use bits and pieces of each one to help me form connections with different people I met, from the Greek passport control agent to the Mexican waiter at my favorite diner who would sneak me pieces of chocolate after I spoke my broken Spanish. Language was my superpower: a few words opened a doorway of friends, and most importantly, free food. I excelled in languages in school because I put my heart into them and always saw them as an opportunity to make the world a little bit smaller.

The first day my family members visited me in India, I suddenly felt like a stranger to a country I have been living in for the past four months. Upon arriving at our hotel, a person greeted us with hot chocolate. My family members happily accepted the drink. I was shocked. I had never seen hot chocolate served in India and blurted out, “Bhaiya, chai kaha hai?” I wasn’t thinking, but rather responding naturally. I saw the way my family looked at me after hearing this foreign language come from my mouth and in that moment, I became a stranger to my family. Rohan, the boy who had offered us the hot chocolate, smiled widely as I continued, “Mira nam Alex hai” and “Main Pune me reheti hu” (My name is Alex and I live in Pune). In the first few days while I struggled to connect to my family, I used my Hindi to open up relationships with people I felt would understand my new tastes better.

A picture taken by me from my first night in Delhi on 12/21/19 after I had spoken some Hindi to people in front of my family visiting from home

My interaction with Rohan was only the beginning. At every meal, I became friendly with the waiters, asking them for their recommendations and telling them my Maharashtrian favorites. To my family’s delight, this often led to free desserts, and what touched me the most was when my new friends would bring me ginger lemon tea after they heard my horrible cough, telling me they had prepared it themselves using their mother’s recipe.Speaking just a few sentences of Hindi broke down the formality between me and the hotel staff, allowing me to meet people from different parts of the country. When they heard me speak the little Hindi I knew, I could see their faces instantly relax.

During this meal, I ordered everything in Hindi!

In the beginning of this year, I dreaded Hindi class. I did not see the point in learning a language in a city where most people spoke to me in Marathi, the local language. Traveling around India with my family earned Hindi its spot in the superpower category, rekindling my deep love for the transformative power of languages. I came back to Pune more motivated to speak a few more lines of Hindi and Marathi in an effort to see what they could unleash. The results were often large smiles, exclamations of surprise, and questions that led to conversation. As a foreigner, I now know that putting in a little effort to speak Hindi or the local language allows me to experience India more deeply by making it possible for me to communicate with people and show my respect for their home.

The Blue-eyed Angel

by Bryan, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Oftentimes when my host mother would greet me, she would say, “Meu angel com olhos azuis.” My blue eyed angel. One of the things I had to become accustomed to was how my host mother displayed affection. On about day 3 of my living there my host mother began kissing me on the head and cheeks, and on roughly day 5 she felt comfortable enough slapping my rear, as she does to her grandchildren. At first, this made me very uncomfortable, but I soon became accustomed to it; it’s just who my host mom is and how she displays affection. I always knew my relationship with her was special, but I didn’t quite realize just how much I meant to her until she spoke these words to me. It all started with my host brother in law making a toast during Christmas dinner. He primarily toasted my host mother, Miriam, and told her how proud he was of her and how strong she’d been after losing her husband just months prior (only about three months before I arrived).

She later came to me, and thanked me. She said that she was going through a really hard and sad part in her life, and that I brought her so much pride and joy ever since I came into it, and that I was her angel with blue eyes. While I knew I was entering the house at a tough part in her life, I never knew just how much she was struggling because she was always so cheerful. It was incredibly touching. This was the moment I realized just what an impact I’d had on her life. I knew she loved me and I had an impact, but I failed to piece together our relationship and its timing, and how that made it all the more special. She’ll never forget that part of her life, and I was a part of it. The happy part. After that, she began calling me that regularly and would introduce me as such to friends and family with a smile on her face while caressing my head or gently lifting up my chin.

After entering my host family and hearing them often talk about the previous fellows they’d hosted, I was determined to be the favorite. And I’m proud to say that for our final dinner together when they were mentioning other fellows, I asked them who the best one was, and I had achieved my goal! I truly am going to miss my host family, and my host mother in particular, and it’s nice to know the feeling is mutual. Miriam took me to the airport and when we said goodbye, she had tears in her eyes, and then subsequently grabbed my hand and walked back with me to the group. It was incredibly sweet. We had said goodbye multiple times and she never left until I passed through the checkpoint and was no longer in sight. She even sat there on her phone while I spoke with my friends and staff, not wanting to leave until I was absolutely out of sight! She even said she would come to my graduation from Tufts.

Now my mother always tells me everything happens for a reason, and I tend to shake my head because I don’t really believe in that kind of thing. Now maybe Miriam and I did meet each other for a reason, or maybe the timing and everything was just a mere lucky coincidence. Either way, our relationship is incredibly special, and certainly had a large impact on the both of us. I know I’ve made a lifelong connection with my Brazillian family and they consider me part of their family as I do for them. It’s special to have this unique relationship and understand the impact I’ve made on their lives, in particularly Miriam’s. Even when you may think your life doesn’t matter that much, you never know just how many lives you’ve touched. And even touching one alone, that is worth living for.

A Collision of Worlds

by Luke, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Abuelita Carmen and I

The moment had finally arrived. Abuelita Carmen, Julian, Emilio, and I looked out onto the single, empty landing strip—waiting, waiting, waiting. After four months I was about to see my family from the States face-to-face again. Would they recognize me? Would they notice how I had changed? How had they changed? We had spent this time away pursuing our individual adventures, crafting our own narratives. What would it mean to be reunited again?

I was ripped out of my thoughts by the sudden appearance of a plane (THEIR PLANE!) landing. Emotions overwhelmed me—a sudden wave that tightened my chest and brought tears to my eyes. The plane came to a stop after taxiing off the runway, and a stairway was placed to connect the door of the plane to the tarmac. Suitcases were being unloaded—waiting, waiting, waiting. Finally, passengers started to disembark. Not them. . .not them. . .and suddenly I spotted my younger brother and then my mom and dad and older brother. Four human beings who to anyone else were just strangers going down the stairs to the tarmac but to me were the four people who had raised me, challenged me, encouraged me, made me laugh and cry and scream and dream.

The first few days with my family were overwhelming. There were moments where I felt as if nothing had changed and then moments where I felt like a complete stranger. For me, it seemed like there was this collision between the person that I had become and the person that my family knew me as.

Family from the States, at Parque de la Madre

I tried to give my family a taste of what life was like for me in Cuenca. This is my host family, the people who show me so much love and patience every day. This is my room, where I have solo dance parties, moonwalking (unsuccessfully!) across the floor, music blasting through my headphones after a long day. This is where I buy the BEST CHOCOLATE CROISSANTS I HAVE EVER TASTED. This is where I hang my clothes to dry. This is where I catch the bus in the morning. This is the market where I discover delicious new fruit. This is Fundación Crea Tu Espacio where I work. On and on and on.

But my description of these places and people does not tell the full story nor does it embody all of the emotions and mistakes and memories that complete the picture. There is an impossible gap to fill, nuances that can not be explained that will forever be known only by me.

On New Years Eve, we celebrated with both of my families. My host family prepared nothing short of a feast, putting hours into making the ham and aji and llapingachos. The food was delicious, and we all went for seconds and thirds under the approving eye of Abuelita. After dinner, we welcomed the new year with a muñeca burning to ash in the street and fireworks exploding in the sky. I remember the feeling of gratitude—for my families, for the ability to live in this beautiful moment, and for having this experience of a bridge year.

I would love to say that my time with my family was filled with only positive moments. But that is not the case. I would be sharing an incomplete story, one that does not accurately portray the complexity of our time spent together.

There were moments that were frustrating and awkward. We went to a fancy restaurant with Abuelita Carmen, sharing a lavish meal together. My host family and I never went to restaurants. When I glanced at Abuelita and saw the look of hesitation and unease etched into her face, discomfort bloomed in my chest. I had been oblivious as to how this experience would make Abuelita feel. I realized how often I had been to restaurants in my life, not even thinking twice about how lucky we were to have that ability. I found myself ruminating on this thought so much that it prevented me from being fully present during the meal.

Confronted with a situation like this, I realized how in the past I never really checked my privilege; I was so comfortable in the environment I had been raised that I neglected to think critically about what that meant. I felt embarrassed and ashamed and confused. It was difficult for me to accept how blind I had been to the differences between my families. Remaining ignorant about these differences did not make them nonexistent. Going to this dinner demonstrated to me a powerful lesson about life, a lesson that I am still learning and will forever be learning.

In the past, it has been hard for me to be honest when dealing with difficult emotions and to ask questions that elicit these difficult emotions. This bridge year has taught me that an abbreviated version of a story that only highlights the happy moments is a disservice that impedes true, deep learning. If anything, I hope to move more mindfully through this world, remembering to check my privilege often and keeping in mind how this privilege has facilitated my life journey.


Curling Up and Flying Away

by Roger, Tufts 1+4 Participant

My friend from Costa Rica took me to her host dad’s caretaker property: an abandoned library.

As each Fellow moves through their journey, they’re confronted by a slew of day-to-day encounters and oddities, each tucked away as a memory-a portion of the physical voyage we’re on our ways through. A gorgeous bunch of natural flowers with unfamiliar scents, particularly haggle-y street vendor in an open-air bazaar, or a spontaneous and joyful dance on the streets at Carnaval have all added to each of our unique experiences and given us new recollections on which to draw to re-access our emotions during this year. (I have found that writing these experiences down has been particularly helpful in doing this, as merely reading the words can teleport me backwards into the middle of any of the rich days I’ve lived.)

All of these memories are being created within this space abroad, outside of the home and the comfort zone. Thus, it seems almost strange (and even selfish) to desire a further level of self-transportation. I mean this in the form of stories, of books. Having read more than the other Fellows this year by a significant margin, I’ve been asked time an time again why I would choose to spend my valuable time in a foreign environment seeking to enter another one though printed pages, by both peers here and back home. It certainly is a valid point: You can always read, but you can’t always be on the beach in Brazil. Though I had come in to this year with the goal of reading as much as possible (to recoup for time lost during high school), I began to internalize this, and my practices changed. As the number of inquiries of my habit rose, I began to read less and less. And though I knew this was ‘the best use of my time,’ I was keenly aware that I was doing this more to please others than myself, and my days, though fuller of uniquely-foreign experiences, were notably dryer and less memorable.

It was not until I heard the words of wisdom from (who else?) a Brazilian librarian that I was able to find closure in this internal conflict. As I laid out the “why read at home when you could be on a Brazilian beach” conundrum, she simply laughed and said, “Why not read on a Brazilian beach? It’s for certain you can’t do that in the States…” and it clicked.

This is no new realization-thinkers before me have come up with it, and many after will, as well-but I am glad I’ve come to it in my own, on my own time. That’s what this year is for, hmm? Having heard her words and reflected on the duality of my outdoorsy Brazilian year and my private one passed between the pages of what has now added up to twenty-four books, I’ve realized that that the environment in which a book is read can and does so, so deeply affect my as a reader’s experience, and that some of the most profound memories I hold were built directly upon this confluence. I recall with soulful fondness my enjoyment of Californian Cannery Row while swinging in a hammock on a cloudless, dusty Brazilian day, of my laughter at Waiting for Godot as I sat in a bus terminal, knowing that my bus would never come, of my tearful joy at the love found in the last pages of The Teahouse Fire as I realized a love of my own. Yes, of course I will reflect with gratitude on the experiences and relationships formed independent of the themes of whatever I happened to be reading at the time. They far outnumber those for which I found true, meaningful overlap. But those that did-these are the ones by which are made not only memories, but blossoms of growth of the soul.

(That last bit was going to be the end of this. But after a tumultuous flight from our host countries followed by an utterly positive moment that made all of my reading in Brazil worth it, I felt it could be prudent to share this last thought.)

Back at home, a month before expected, and my heart and eyes are still in Brazil. I feel a deep sense of longing to simply be there, for my body and my ego to be in the same place. I will walk outside in a tee shirt, forgetting the new necessity to survive rather than thrive in the outdoors, and stubbornly stand, freezing, for a few minutes, wishing the tropics to return. I say “Please” and “Thank You” and “Excuse Me” in Portuguese when talking on the phone, and have to give an, “oops! My bad…” And of course Brazilian hugs (or any hugs, for that matter) are deeply and presently missing.

But I can still get back. Open Captains of the Sands, and the beach is there, washing over me. There is a portal inside some of my books now; they cannot be read without a journey backwards, towards the hurt-so-good past. And for that, I would do it again in an instant.

Gandhi Jayanti Day

by Alex, Tufts 1+4 Participant

The Indus Valley Civilization and the fierce Mughals have pulled me to India. In high school, I consistently found myself being drawn into my world history textbook every time India was mentioned. I particularly enjoyed learning about Mahatma Gandhi and admired how instead of using force, he had inspired Indians to liberate themselves from the British colonialists using non-violence. Later on, this same philosophy would be used to spark freedom movements across the world, from the end of the Apartheid to the Civil Rights Movement. The earth was a better place because Gandhi had walked it.

Due to my love for Indian history, I was excited to find out October 2nd, Gandhi’s birthday, was a national holiday known as Gandhi Jayanti Day. Since government schools spend the day commemorating him, I would luckily be able to celebrate his 150th birthday alongside my students.

At school that morning, teachers handed out posters with slogans such as “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” and “Clean and Green is Our Dream” to our students, directing them to form a line outside of the school building. Excited, I quickly joined them, and we walked around our school’s neighborhood, chanting “Clean Pune, Green Pune,” alongside some of the neighboring schools. Many people stopped on the street to cheer us on or stare blankly at the commotion. After an hour, we returned to school and sang happy birthday to a picture of Gandhi while eating sweets. My kids were smiling, and I was happy that by raising awareness on pollution, something Gandhi would have strong opinions on, we had done something meaningful. Participating in peaceful protests meant keeping Gandhi’s legacy alive.

Energized by the morning’s events, I didn’t want the celebrations to end after I got home. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, an American holiday similarly celebrating a man who devoted his life fighting for equality, my family and I read from some of his works. I was especially surprised that my talkative host father wasn’t making a bigger deal of the holiday. When I approached him about it, he looked me in the eye and told me he believed, to some extent, that Gandhi had left a mess for India. The shock evident on my face, he explained that Gandhi consented to the partition of Pakistan and India. If Gandhi had opposed more vocally, which he had the power to do, my host father and many others think the issues involving Pakistan and India would be lessened. He continued by saying that Gandhi often receives all the credit for independence, but the battle he began in the early 1900s wasn’t over until 1947. In reality, victory came because Britain was weak after both world wars and could not afford to fight for India.

Although I had only known my host father for less than a month, I cared greatly about his opinions. I enjoyed learning from him during our many conversations about politics and values. While initially confused, I later realized that this conversation with my host father broadened my views about a man whom I had been groomed to treat as an untouchable figure. They contrasted a morning solely full of festivities. As a result, Gandhi Jayanti Day forced me to challenge my preconceived assumptions. I had been comfortable with my knowledge of India’s fight for freedom from school and my own research that I hadn’t opened myself up enough to hearing more from locals. While I still admire Gandhi in many ways, I have taken the initiative to learn more this year by questioning in order to better immerse myself.

Photo taken by me while rallying on the street outside of our school on October 2nd, 2019.