A New Perspective on Tampons and Tacos

By Olivia, Tufts 1+4 Participant

It was a Tuesday afternoon, and I was not in a great mood when Señorita Charrito, a woman who cooks and cleans at my work, approached me. I was waiting for the kids to finish eating so we could continue with the many hours left in our day, and I was less than enthused. But a less than enthused facial expression would never phase Charrito. She grabbed my bag that I had tucked under my arm and began rummaging through it – something she likes to do when she’s bored. As she was pulling items out and messing around with them – my headphones, chap stick, a headband – she came across a loose tampon. 

She stopped, examined it for a minute, and then asked me what it was. Not knowing the word for tampon (which I now know is just tampón), I attempted to describe in Spanish what a tampon is used for. It was more graphic than I would have wanted because the most helpful words I knew how to say were “hole” and “blood”. Once she understood what I was saying, she unwrapped the tampon and proceeded to examine and play with it. It wasn’t long before we were joined by one of the educators, Veronica, and several of the kids. Suddenly I was giving a full lesson, placing the tampon in a glass of water to show how it expands. Charrito and Veronica were fascinated. They told me they had heard of a tampon but had never seen one before. While I laughed to myself at the thought of a tampon lesson in this environment, Charrito and Veronica were marveling at the idea of this modern approach to women’s hygiene. They had a million questions: does it hurt, how long does it last, does it ever fall out or get stuck? When the kids finished eating and it was time to move on to our afternoon workshops, Charrito and Veronica handed back the wet tampon and the empty applicator as if they were returning a diamond necklace I had leant to them, and they thanked me for teaching them about it.

​The next day when I arrived home for lunch with my host family, I was ecstatic to hear we were having tacos. Juanita, my host family’s house keeper, joined us for lunch as she always does on the days she works. I finished my soup before everyone else and thus moved on to making my taco. But as I began piling on the beans and guac and cheese, I noticed Juanita was watching very intensely from her seat beside me. I didn’t think too much of it and continued creating my perfect taco, but it was hard not to notice the look of total confusion mixed with a tinge of fear in Juanita’s eyes. 

When they all finished their soup, my host mom and host sister began putting together their own tacos, but Juanita sat quietly at the table with her hands in her lap, again watching closely. Finally, my host sister looked up at Juanita and asked “Quieres que te ayude?” (do you want me to help you?). She nodded, and my host sister walked her through step by step how to put together a taco. As it turns out, Juanita had never had a taco – it’s not as common to eat foreign cuisine in Ecuador as it is in America. Her face lit up with her first bite. She couldn’t believe how good it tasted. Just like Charrito and Veronica with the tampon, she had a million questions about where and how tacos are eaten and how much they cost. We enjoyed the rest of the meal discussing our favorite taco ingredients.

Tampons and tacos: two mundane things in my life. And suddenly they’re entirely different for me. I never would have looked at a tampon as a treasure and tacos as strange or difficult to assemble. Yes, I’ve been educated on the disparities of feminine hygiene around the globe, but education is different than experiencing it first-hand. And yes, I know that in many countries it’s not as common to eat the traditional food of other countries especially for less wealthy families, but it’s still shocking to see that a taco can be a foreign concept. Signing up for my gap year, I was eager to experience a whole new perspective on the world, but for the past 6 or 7 months I haven’t revisited this idea much. And though I’m sure when I get home I’ll realize all the ways in which my view of the world has changed, for now I’m left with a new perspective on tacos and tampons.

Wet Paint

by Laura, Tufts 1+4 Participant

I was settling into painting an environmental mural in the warehouse on the botanical gardens of Floripa when the percussive introduction of a very specific song began to ring out of my phone’s tiny speaker. “Magalenha” by Sergio Mendes. I don’t have many songs downloaded in my phone, but this one made the cut.

I love painting because it completely focuses one of your senses while letting the others run free. My mind performs cartwheels while balancing technical and spatial skills with creativity and color, and somehow as I zoom in and out from the tiny details to the whole image, the process helps me do the same in my unrelated reflections. I have had a rocky relationship with my art this year. Removed from my easy access to materials and studio space, I have been unreasonably frustrated with my dimly lit room. Away from other art students, my motivation to produce has ebbed and flowed. The small scale museum at my apprenticeship has been a tantalizing but largely unavailable temptation. So when, after a month of pushing through city council bureaucracy, I had my proposition for an environmental consciousness mural approved, I had mixed feelings. This mural is 3×2.4m. I am, well, very, very far off either of those heights. And I had to be realistic with myself; I had not painted anything on a significant scale since my A Level art exam, which is almost a year ago now. Do the basics, don’t aim for anything too complicated, I told myself. This isn’t some piece of work that will sit under all the other paintings in your room, some people are going to have to see this every single day, I reminded myself. But at the same time, the prospect of having a brush in my hand, buckets of paint around my feet, and a blank space to cover still sparked my imagination.

I proposed a couple of wild ideas to my boss – a portal from a polluted city to a jungle, an entire landscape made out of bottle tops – I should probably thank her for either not understanding these concepts or not understanding my Portuguese. Eventually we decided to tackle the most important issue for the seafront location of the mural: plastic waste. A trip to the island’s turtle rehabilitation center, many meetings with various departments of the city council, and one or two logistical nightmares later, I finally stood in front of my two metal panels, primed, background dry, and outlines drawn on. After about an hour, I realized none of the other workers were using the warehouse that day, so I leaned over my materials to press play on the limited music collection downloaded on my phone.

“Magalenha” by Sergio Mendes. You would assume this was part of the music which I have grown to love while in Brazil. The less embarrassing thing for me to do would be to let you believe that. The truth is that in 2016 Danny Mac and Oti Mabuse did a samba to this song on Strictly Come Dancing. I always knew I wanted to take a gap year, but I think it would be naive of me to diminish the weight that this dance had in my trajectory towards Brazil. I fell in love with Latin dance when I began to watch Strictly, and this samba was what set my goal in stone: I was going to learn to samba and I was going to go where I needed to be to do that.

The percussive introduction cut the still air of the warehouse as the phone speaker crackled. I stepped back from my painting. The bigger picture was beginning to come together. I could see the reflections and shadows of the plastic bottle, revealing its form, and the water splashes framed an empty space where a turtle would hopefully be tomorrow. The bigger picture was beginning to come together in my head too. I thought back to the version of myself that watched that samba in awe. Then, I couldn’t understand the lyrics, but I can now. Then, I couldn’t follow the lightning quick samba steps, but I can now. I had a lot of dreams and stereotypes of a continent across an ocean, and now I am standing on that soil, surrounded by the reality of this country. The number of days which I have left in which I can say that is numbered now. 17 to be precise. That’s difficult to come to terms with, grappling with whether I’ve achieved my goals or not, figuring out how to spend my last free days, unsuccessfully trying to create a sense of premature closure. But when I’m painting, as I stand nose to panel for the details, and run to the other side of the room to be able to see the whole image, my mind zooms in and out too. In, to every detail of my daily life here, out, to my personal growth. In, to specific conversations that have defined this experience, and out, to my changed attitudes towards the country I romanticized. And slowly, as the brush hits the surface again, stroke by stroke, things begin to make a little more sense.

I’m grinning now as I look down at my fingers, tapping the keys as this ramble comes to an end. They’re covered in blue paint, smell a little of açaí, and remind me of how I can feel at home anywhere in the world with a little paint, and maybe a little bit of dancing.

Brown and Bold

by Ashley, Tufts 1+4 Participant

I can recall my early preschool and kindergarten days where I would spend countless hours (probably minutes) drawing and coloring to my heart’s content. I was not one of the children that would paint the sky green as the sky is blue or cloud anything other than shades of white and gray. That was not how the world was and my picture then would not be a representation of the world I called home. 

I only used the shade “peach” when I drew human beings. I think back and underneath my mother’s beautiful black-brown curls and glasses was a shade that was not her own. It took a long time to switch out the peach crayon and include the range of shades all around me. Now I find myself in a space where I am surrounded by seas of people with a complexion just like mine. Everywhere I turn, I see beautiful pigmentation and melanin; however, even in this `oasis of color,’ the beauty standards still try to rip apart men and woman, both deserving of praise. 

Lightening creams were something that were introduced to me this year and the reaction I gave my family when I was offered it came from pure shock. 18 years of being brown in America, where my neighborhoods were filled with people that looked like me while school was full of white walls and white people, taught me to protect my brownness with tooth and nail. The idea that it could be wiped away with “tan removal” made me want to grab my shield and amour. I realized that nothing could be done when someone is ready with a sword and a shield; there are no grounds for talking, for sharing cross-culturally. 

Taking down the defensive walls I brought up around this issue of being brown proved to be grounds for connection instead of conflict. I shared my products and got into conversations with my host sisters about liking my caramel like skin and the hair that embellishes my arms and legs. While my host family saw my declarations as a little extreme, throughout the months my truths were accepted. Although my thoughts were not accepted they grew to be understood.

Soon came the months of Holi and my Hindi teacher spoke about how Holi is a time where color, religion, race melts away as the colors are played with and people connect through the inner being. There are multiple thoughts on this but I resonated with this idea proposed by Maam Suchita. 

When the actual day came I saw what she meant. The controversial spectrum of brown was now a rainbow on the streets laughing, running, and connecting with one another. Colorism was no longer a source of divide as blues, reds, and yellows flew through the air. 

Hyderabad Pride was another place where the rainbow was created again. Colors, signs, and love were in the air as we marched and danced down the highways. Our group took up space that was invaded by lightening creams, social norms, and lack of exposure and was combated with love, understanding, and intentions for connection. 

As I left Hyderabad, I left with hope that one day my host sisters and other Indians could find a home in their own skin. The hope that one day the colors of Holi and space of Pride will no longer be needed to accept the amount of melanin that make up color. My limited kindergarten mind could not have predicted the amazing color that would make up our complex world and I continue to share that wherever I go to. 

Foam and Fire

by Kamil, Tufts 1+4 Participant


What a word. Crowds of cheering people packing the streets like sardines. Fireworks. Massive parade floats, marching dance ensembles, and city wide warfare.

Everyone carries a bottle of “Carioca,” ranging from a humble 300mL in a few easily concealable inches, to behemoth bottles that carry over a liter. What is “Carioca”?

Carioca is scented foam. It doesn’t stain and it’s somewhat non-toxic. People sneak attack each other with water, flour, and foam. Others form groups and prowl the streets looking for unwitting victims or other groups to challenge. It’s harmless fun, although some people go quite wild.

In my home base of Cuenca, people wore helmets. Some had ear plugs, others surgical masks covering their mouth. You will get foam in your eyes, ears, and mouth, sometimes even with some protective gear. I wore a bandana over my mouth and ears, which was quickly rendered quite useless as mounds of foam piled up and I began to appear more like Santa Claus or the Abominable Snowman than a recognizable regular person.

Mind you, there’s plenty of celebrations unique to every country. Certainly, Carnival is more international than other Ecuadorian holidays, such as their new year’s’ traditions.

For that, the trick is make effigies out of wood and old clothes, representing the past year, and burn them to make room for the new year to start fresh and cleansed. 

For the truly entrepreneurial, each neighborhood has judges and contest prizes. The biggest enter regional contests and compete with each other in public areas to the background of fireworks and concerts.

But everyone makes them. Each family burns their own representation of the old year, with some rubbish shirts, pants with holes, and torn shoes that would otherwise be discarded. At midnight sharp, the neighborhoods are alight with bonfires in front of every house, family sharing a good time together, and more than a few people running and bonfires and cheering family reunions. People dance a bit, wish each other best of luck in the year to come, and some take turns jumping over the bonfire to be reborn from the ashes of the past year. The experience cleanses.

Holidays mark the special divisions of our otherwise mundane year. Days, weeks, months are vital to our routine and systemic society, but don’t capture constant awe, nor offer a seductive allure. Celebrations are a reset button. When you participate in the emotional highs and everyday annoyances of a people, you get a better insight into their culture. It’s something romantic to reminisce over, and remember for the rest of our lives. Nothing quite stands out like the biggest holiday celebrations in the memory, or lack of celebration in those days.

Whatever happens, I’ll sorely miss all the traditions and celebrations I’ve encountered here in Ecuador. I’d likely take some back with me, but struggle with my family and local community that considers such actions utterly different and incomprehensible. Why would you throw flour at people and burn old clothes? 

Why cut down a pine tree to put in your house and dedicate a day to eating turkey?

A grand part of it all is the unity of a culture in everyone celebrating it together – a spirit enveloping the community so to speak.

It’s holiday celebrations that bond families together, and maintain them. I can’t help wondering where I’ll be next year, as my host family celebrates various Ecuadorian holidays and I’ll have a regular work or school day. I wonder what they think of me celebrating various Polish and American traditions that they don’t understand very well. Certainly I offer to explain and share, but my goal is to learn something here instead of pushing my culture on others and assuming I can teach anyone anything.

Goodbyes are bittersweet at best, and some of the hardest things to do at worst, but our shared family reunions and holiday celebrations will highlight all my experiences and memories, as well as provide a thread of unity and shared piece of culture I can relate with others I meet during my future travels.

I hope I find little ways to celebrate the culture I’ve grown accustomed to, and fell in love with.

A New Scale of Love

by Jamie, Tufts 1+4 Participant

As my time in India comes to an end, I have realized the best way to measure how much my host family loves me is by how much food they try to (and most times, successfully) pile on my plate. 

Before we were placed with our host families we were warned by Global Citizen Year India staff that we would be faced with a challenge. The challenge of having to say no to the massive amounts of food that our host families would attempt to put onto our plates. We were told that it’s a “cultural thing,” but after spending 7 months with my host family I have determined that it is based on how much they care about me. My theory was confirmed twice in a week when I went to have lunch and dinner with my extended host family. 

The first incident happened when I went to visit my host Mom’s mother’s house, which is also where both her brother and sister and all of their children live. I had thought that I just came in to say hi and check on my host mom but I was clearly wrong. They brought me cake, soda, egg puffs, and even prepared dinner and dessert. My host Grandma made a comment that she felt like crying when she found out that I was leaving so soon. During that dinner, she served me and she served me lots. 

The second incident occurred when I went to visit my host Dad’s brother’s house. We had gone to have dinner so this time I was expecting to eat, but I was expecting to evade the extra offerings of food. I think I expected this prematurely, as I hadn’t told them that I was leaving in two weeks yet. Once I told them, my host Aunt caressed my face and began to serve me food. Within that dinner, she served me 3 separate servings and they weren’t small either!

I thought that I had mastered the way to get around accepting more food. It usually entailed putting my hand on my stomach and saying “I’m full! I’m full” or putting my hand up and saying “No, I’m good, I’m good”. Sometimes when I was really trying to resist I would pull out the big, Hindi guns and say “bass,” (pronounced bus) which means enough, but none of these methods worked in either of these situations. 

This is where the more food, the more I’m loved theory comes in. None of these expert avoidance tactics worked because the amount of food they serve me is a testament of how much they have grown to love me, and I don’t think anything could get in the way of that. I am so grateful to have been a part of a family that tries to feed me to my hearts content and my stomachs extent. 

So, if you are ever in a similar position, try not to focus on the loss of the battle but on the love your family has for you. 

A Gap Year in Thirty Photos

Um ano sabático em trinta fotos

By David, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Here, I show how I made the most of a seven month’s time in Florianópolis, Brazil. 

The pictures speak far better than words. Enjoy.

Aqui mesmo, eu mostro o melhores momentos depois sete meses morando em Floripa.

As imagens contam muito melhor que palavras. Aproveite.

The first beach (Morro das Pedras), out of far too many to come

Morro das Pedras, a primeira praia que eu conheci nesta “ilha das praias”

The best view from my favorite trail in Floripa: 

overlooking Galheta beach and my neighborhood, Barra da Lagoa 

O melhor mirante desde a minha trilha favorita na cidade, 

que fica em cima Praia Galheta e o meu bairro, Barra da Lagoa

Early morning before work jaunt to catch the sunrise

Pegando o nascer do sol, bem cedo na manhã, antes do trabalho

Sunset at Lagoa da Conceição (the island’s largest lagoon)

Por do sol na Lagoa da Conceição

My first release at R3 Animal: Alejandro the sea lion at Praia Moçambique

A minha primeira soltura no R3 Animal: Alejandro, o lobo marinho, Praia Moçambique

The Brazil Gang of Tufts 1+4, at its finest

Um momento top com as minhas amigas queridas da minha faculdade, Tufts

Sharing a snack with one of my more persistent clients – Princesa the Tamandua

Alimentando um dos meus clientes mais famintos – Princesa, a tamandua-mirim

My second R3 release – twelve Magellanic penguins

A minha segunda soltura no R3 – doze pinguins-de-magalhães

Churrasco: the social glue of Brazil

Churrasco: a “cola social” do pais

My biggest R3 nightmare: being attacked by crazy papagaios that hate everyone

O meu pesadelo pessoal: ataques desde papagaios malucos que odeiam todo o mundo 

Climbing up Morro do Chapeu with my host father, Claudio, the highest point in his hometown – Capitolio, Minas Gerais (January)

Subindo Morro do Chapeu (o ponto mais alto da cidade) com o meu pai brasileiro, Claudio – Capitolio, Minas Gerais (Janeiro)

View of the lake atop Morro do Chapéu, after a five hour hike

Vista do lago em cima Morro do Chapéu, depois uma caminhada de cinco horas 

The next best solution when an ABC kid misses food from home – Japanese restaurant, Curitiba, Paraná

ABC = American Born Chinese, for ya gringos

A próxima melhor solução quando um menino chinês-americano tem saudade da comida da casa – buscar o restaurante japonês mais perto – Curitiba, Paraná (Novembro)

Hiking trails with barefoot Brazilians (the only real way to hike, they’ll tell you)

Fazendo trilhas com brasileiros descalços (o jeito verdadeiro)

The face of a guy trying not to smile after literally hand-pulling 33 fish out of the water in three hours (as a group, we caught 105 fish that day) – Lins, São Paulo (January)

O resultado depois um dia top de pesca: pesque 33 peixes em três horas (em total, a gente pescou 105 peixes) – Lins, Sao Paulo (Janeiro)

The start of my independent travel to the Brazilian Northeast (February)

Cities: Salvador, Recife, João Pessoa, Natal

O inicio da minha viagem independente ao Nordeste (Fevereiro)

Cidades visitadas: Salvador, Recife, João Pessoa, Natal

Awestruck at the architecture in Salvador (this was pretty modest, 

considering everything I saw)

Olhando a arquitectura top em Salvador

Elevador Lacerda overlooking Baia de Todos os Santos (Bay of All the Saints)

Elevador Lacerda em cima Baía de Todos os Santos

Cruising Salvador’s Baia de Todos os Santos

Passeando no barco na Baía de Todos os Santos

Friends in Recife

Visitando amigos no Recife

My pilot friend in João Pessoa took me flying – I couldn’t say no

O meu amigo piloto em João Pessoa me levou em ultraleve –

Eu aceitei 🙂

Flying over João Pessoa, Paraíba

Voando em cima do João Pessoa, Paraíba

Dune Buggying in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte

Fazendo tur de buggy em Natal, Rio Grande do Norte

Walking through the largest cashew tree in the world – Natal

Explorando O Maior Cajueiro do Mundo – Natal

First attempt at surfing – Praia da Barra, Floripa

A minha primeira vez surfando – Praia da Barra, Floripa

The moment when you realize Brazilian food is too good

*in case you are wondering what that is, that’s their version of a hot dog

A comida brasileira é top demais (especialmente os cachorros quentes)

We look too happy to be an autopsy team, right? – 

moments before operating on a toninha (La Plata dolphin)

Estamos felices demais pra um equipe de necropsia, né? – 

Antes uma operação da toninha

My lovely R3 people

O meu povo lindo no R3

Host family (Luciana, Claudio, Murilo [cameo], and Joao), the best I could ask for

A minha familia brasileira (Luciana, Claudio, Murilo (só por 2 meses), e João) 

o melhor que eu pedia

Ok, that’s enough photos, I’ll call it a day – Botanical Gardens, Curitiba

Ta, vamos parar aqui com as fotos – Jardim Botânico, Curitiba