Video: Mercado

by Elizabeth, Tufts 1+4 Participant

When my parents came to visit me during la Semana Santa, one of the only plans I made beforehand was to take them to a market. Markets in Cuenca aren’t just places to see pretty arrays of fruit and buy 5 avocados for a dollar; they are perhaps some of the best equalizers in the city. I see all types of people on buses, but those with more money don’t take them and prefer to drive. There are lots of different people at the mall, but those with less money don’t shop there. But everyone needs fruit, vegetables, and meat. You can see men in suits waiting with small, stooped ethnic Cuencan women alongside young children going shopping for their families. It’s the best place to go to really get a flavor for the culture and see people going about their daily lives. 
Ranging from a few stalls to what seems like the size of my hometown, markets in Cuenca are scattered across the city. Some, like the Mercado 10 de Agosto and the Mercado 3 de Noviembre are open every day, always bustling with excited vendors and hurried shoppers. These markets have multiple stories: one is filled with different cuts of meat and entire animals, one with every kind of fruit and vegetable imaginable as well as a section with plants and herbs, one that sells food ready to eat, and often a section for clothing. Most markets also have “la limpia,” a ceremony involving patting you down with plants and rubbing you with an egg that is meant to cleanse you of bad energies. It’s a very popular tradition and is captured in this video.
The culture in Cuenca is very friendly and familiar, where people call each other veci (neighbor), mi corazón (my heart) and mijo / mija (my son / daughter). That’s probably why my host family and I continue to buy fruit from the same little old lady each week even though better prices for the same food are potentially available two feet to the left. Because of this, the only person who agreed to let me film her was the lady making hornado (a typical Ecuadorian dish with mote (hominy), roast pig, cascarita (crispy pig skin), potatoes, and salad) because she already knew me. Así es. 

Soccernomics in Brazil: How Socioeconomic Status Impacts The Beautiful Game

by Jonas, Tufts 1+4 Participant

 I decided to go to Brazil for one main motivation: football. Real football. Soccer. The country is ripe with football culture. Jerseys are sold in every shop; games are on televisions in every eating establishment; pitches exist in almost every neighborhood. Brazilian fans have been known to go to extremes for their national team, including jumping off of buildings, both in defeat and victory. In Brazil, torceda (supporting a team) really is coração (heart).

In Brazil I played for a team called Orlando City, an academy or development team created and sponsored by the Orlando City soccer team based out of the United States. It was a fun team to play on, and I got to play with my host brother which helped strengthen our relationship. The Brazilians that I played with were very talented, some of the best on the island of Florianopolis, but paled in comparison to kids from around the country. When we played in the Copa Floripa, the largest tournament on the island and in Santa Catarina, we scored just two goals and lost every game by a dividend greater than three. But the kids I played with in Brazil did something that kids in the US soccer system stop doing after they are about fourteen: they play for fun.

Continue reading “Soccernomics in Brazil: How Socioeconomic Status Impacts The Beautiful Game”

Why I Love Praying Before Meals

by Henry, Tufts 1+4 Participant

When I first sat down to eat with my family my host mom told me, slowly and clearly, that in their family they pray before every meal. “Is that ok?” she asked. “Si si si si si” (yes yes yes yes yes), I cleverly responded. I had never prayed before eating anywhere outside of my grandparents’ house before, and I was excited to take part in this ritual and feel like part of the family. After a week, however, the novelty had worn off and I began to realize that I was truly a stranger in this house. The moments before meals punctuated my day with feelings of doubt and guilt. For fifteen seconds, as I watched my family close their eyes and lower their heads, I felt like an outsider. I wanted to participate, I wanted to be a part of the family, but I couldn’t. It felt wrong for me to do so. If I closed my eyes to join them, I felt like an imposter. I understood words they were saying, but I couldn’t share their prayer.
Fortunately, like all things bridge year, time was my savior. After a month it was comfortable. I still didn’t feel involved. Sometimes, I admit, I was bored, but I was only disinterested instead of disconnected. I was happy to be present for these ritual parts of my family’s day. As the year went on I noticed them less and less. It became habitual, and by April it was not only comfortable, but comforting. Eating meals as a family is an integral part of Ecuadorian culture. We sit down together for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We eat and talk and joke and learn. And we always begin with a prayer. It’s become a natural part of the process such that when my host mom isn’t home and we don’t take those 15 seconds, I feel less engaged with my family and less focused on the meal. 

I’ve periodically found comfort in other rituals as well. For the first half of the year the Maxes and I would go out to eat at least once a week, for a while my host siblings and I would watch a show before going to bed, and I try to call my family on Sundays. But none of these rituals have been as consistent as prayer before we eat. In her TED Talk, Baya Voce says that “connection isn’t created by the things we go get. Connection is created by the things we go back to.” I’ve realized that I look forward to praying before meals as a moment of decompression after a long, confusing day. A pathway back to the present, where I can laugh and share and connect with my family. After so many months of repetition, “Señor Jesús te damos gracias…” has become my singing bowl.

By the Beach, In the Sea

by Rujen, Tufts 1+4 Participant
During my bridge year in Florianopolis, Brazil, I had a goal: to visit all the beaches on the island. This proved to be an extreme challenge because the island of magic has more than 40 beaches. I could not visit all the beaches. Thus, I decided to go for the most beautiful beaches which are on the east coast of Florianopolis. These are also the beaches with strong, big waves, exactly fitting the waves that I liked. 
My home, Nepal, is a country full of mountains and hills, rivers and lakes, waterfalls, and glaciers. Born and raised in a place with such a diverse topography, I often found myself climbing mountains, hiking the trails between the hills, swimming in the rivers and getting soaked under waterfalls. I thoroughly enjoyed what Nepal had to offer but never did I expect to find this new exploration in Brazil.
It feels wonderful to spend time on the beach near the sea. Just watching the sunrise or sunset makes me feel happy. The sound of the gurgling waves hitting the shores is melodious. As these waves gently soak the sand, the acetylene blue sea simultaneously changes color. While the waves continue, the fragrance of sulfur along with the cool breeze refreshes me. While I walk along the beach, the feathery sand sticks to my damp feet and I carry it all the way up to my destination. I had never felt this kind of attraction back home. I was in love with the sea.

Once, while I was watching the beauty of one of those beaches, I could see two ripples far out on the sea. At first, I thought it was some normal fish swimming its way along. But, as it swam closer, I realized that they were two dolphins of two different sizes, probably a mother and her child. It was the first time I had seen a dolphin. I was delighted, and as I checked off one of the items in my bucket-list, I pondered: “The sea is a world in itself. How would it feel to be a fish?”

With this, another objective arose in my mind: scuba diving. Scuba Diving provides a wonderful opportunity to see the world through the eyes of a fish. As I anticipated about scuba diving, I imagined how it would feel to be a fish. Even weeks before the actual scuba diving day, I was very excited. On the diving day, however, I had mixed feelings. I was thrilled to explore the sea but nervous because I was not a good swimmer. I entered the water with an oxygen cylinder, mask, and regulator. As a general rule of scuba diving, I am not to breathe through my nose—only through my mouth. However, during my dive, I could not breathe properly. I struggled to only breath through my mouth. Additionally, a bit of water entered my mask and my eyesight was blur. During this fearful time, I forgot the technique to remove water from the mask and resorted to call on the scuba instructor to take me to the surface. It was a disaster. It was not supposed to be like this. I had imagined and expected a smooth scuba diving session, but it was a failure. I had failed.
After some time, my scuba instructor asked me, “Do you want to try again?”. This was my last opportunity. My desire and love for the sea were so strong that I challenged myself to do it.I took a deep breath, tried to remember the techniques and got ready to breathe through my mouth. This time, I went in and took a moment to adjust to the surrounding. As I entered the sea, it was all well. Under the sea, the water was azoic blue. I saw aquatic plants swaying in the waves I made. A dozen of colorfully striped fish passed right in front of my eyes. I could see the rays of light striking the surface of the water. The water made my ears numb but I could sense the calmness of the sea. It truly was a different world.

On Expectations And Jobs

by Nadia, Tufts 1+4 Participant

From when I first arrived in Nicaragua, I was set in my expectations of what my work would be. I expected to be doing what some would call ‘’busy work’’- an extra helping hand for my organization so they could focus their efforts on bigger projects. Efficiently doing menial labor for the good of a larger community was what I was ready to perform, and I opened my conversations with my bosses and supervisors saying exactly that. I would be working with kids to help them with their homework and help with the after school activities to keep them entertained. I could definitely do that.
Yet, when I entered, I only got a few days of that work. Once my half-days of work wrapped and I began my routine of full shifts, it happened. My boss sat me down and basically told me that my job was to convince the kids that reading was good.
Reading Corner time with the kids!
Now here we are, 7 months after that moment. It took 7 months to get to the point where I feel like I genuinely have done a lot of good, but I did not have all the resources I have now. The timeline of the evolution of my responsibilities began with a once-a-week hour long class. All I had to do was fumble my way through a few games and books that were unpopular.
Right before the winter break, as I was preparing a trip that would be two weeks long to take advantage of the break, my work load changed. As it got lighter because of the coming break, it also got vaguer. I had heard mentions of extracurricular classes I might have to teach, but only faint whispers. I had mentioned it casually to some co-workers and received shrugs in reply. My boss waved it off and I could not tell what was a natural change in the way my host agency worked and what was being dropped because there were not enough people to make it happen.
The central market with my supervisor, where I am trying to take pictures and also lend books out at the same time.
I was not sure what to do. These classes that I would theoretically be teaching would be 3 hours long with the same group of kids for about a week and a half. The curriculum I was planning was all baseless- I had no idea who the kids would be. I only knew their ages, certainly not their reading levels or interest levels. I knew I wanted to do debate classes, but did I have the skills to teach that to kids younger than who I typically taught, and with a clunky, sparse vocabulary?
In the end, the kids told me they enjoyed class and were wondering if I would be implementing some of the lessons when we came back from break.
Since then, I have gained confidence in my ability to teach subjects more complicated than ‘’reading is good.’’ I have taught poetry classes, gone to conferences about implementing complicated literature and poetry into curriculum, and am planning to make a book with stories the kids will write themselves.
A theater storytelling event I set up with a nearby school.
I had expectations when I walked into my host agency as everyone does (and shouldn’t). In the end, I am glad that my expectations were broken. Had I just been filing papers the whole year, I do not believe I would have learned or helped nearly as much as I am now. Plus, some highly-specific skills ended up being more useful than I thought.

Part Two

by Elizabeth, Tufts 1+4 Participant

I am lucky enough to have been given a second chance. 
At the beginning of this semester, I switched host families and my office was completely reshuffled. I went through three bosses in a week. And it was hard. It was hard to come back with no sense of normalcy, no pre-established comfort zone. Nothing was familiar and I had to do that beginning transition phase all over again. But it was a blessing. 
The second semester, I now understand fully how hard it was the first time. Now I am searching out opportunities, conversations, and experiences. I come home filled with excitement for all of the possibilities that are open to me. First semester, I didn’t seek that much out, and I thought it was because I was lazy or afraid. But I wasn’t. I understand now that I just did not have the bandwidth to do more and more and more. Simply having a lunchtime conversation in Spanish was overwhelming and difficult- why would I continue to search for additional overwhelming and difficult ways to occupy my time? I would even go to bed between 8:30 and 9 because I was too exhausted to even read. And I blamed myself for not “getting the most out of my experience.” But the truth is, I couldn’t do any more than I was doing. That’s what the second semester is for. 
The second semester, I am now emotional over the idea of leaving. I don’t know what’s different this specific semester. But all of a sudden I can feel how much I will miss Cuenca. I have finally become part of this community. My new host family are pretty close to convincing me to stay forever. My job, although often slow, is now filled with people to talk to. I love Cuenca. I love my host family. I even love my internship some of the time. It will be so much harder to leave Cuenca than it ever was to leave home. 
What I really mean to say is stick it out. It’s not all fun quirky cultural experiences. It’s exhausting and difficult. But it’s so incredibly worth it. Never for a second have I regretted this year and I don’t think I ever will.