A Life in Condensed Milk

By Roger, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Brazilian food, in all its decadence, is often accompanied by dessert(s) made with Leite Condensado, or its boiled derivative Doce de Leite. The gum-numbingly sweet, slow-flowing white syrup is present in cakes, chocolate puddings, tarts, and just about everything else one could dream up. The postprandial sugar-induced torpor leaves me dazed and feeling as though I’m swimming in the stuff itself, which, accompanied by the often laxer Brazilian sense of time, makes the hours move slowly and gives life a dreamlike sort of feeling. Indeed, the sense of time here can leave and has often left me in a sort of lax daze as I wander through sunny streets that flow together like some great jungle-gym and take more food as it is offered, which it will be until the pan is clean. This feeling only wears off once I realize that time really is still moving normally for everyone else, and I’ve been astonished more than a few times as I’ve checked my watch and seen how the hours have dripped by.

So what to do? Does one try to “stay vigilant” against the sweet tide, attempt to keep a clear head, and not succumb to decadence? Or is this an example of ignorance, of cultural rejection? It is very true that utterly shunning condensed milk, both as a desert and a lifestyle, will not a happy year in Brazil make. But overindulging is an equally fatal tourist trap, and with dozens of grams of sugar per spoonful, it’s hard not to slip closer to utter depravity with each bite, with each day. Should I, or should I not, join the Lotus-Eaters in their dreamy Brazil days? On the one hand, I might lose parts of myself in the sea of creamy sweetness forever-but isn’t that what I’m here for? Still, my greatest fear is leaving this year with little more than a goofy smile to present as a result. This, in combination with the ever-present temptation to sip condensed milk and let the hours pass has resulted in adversity that I haven’t expected. The Brazilians themselves are not a lazy people, by any means. They alone seem to be immune to the sweet allure of seeming-endless hours and plates of sweets, and manage to work all the harder for it. Those who cometo Brazil, however, may find iteasy to suck the spoon and not take it back out.

My best solution is to lash myself, like Odysseus to the mast, to something that will keep me grounded among the drippy, easy hours that are so easy to eat and lose without being satisfied. Yes, laze in a hammock for all the hours of the day-just read a book while you do it, and finish it by the end of the week. Yes, spend that little bit of extra money on another Uber ride to save time-just make sure you save a little, for the end-of-the-month account. Yes, take a third portion of condensed-milk cake-just make sure you take an extra-long walk on the sand the next day. A little bit, a smaller bite, and by the end of my aventura doce, I might have something to show for it.

My Personal Impasse

By David, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Since coming to Brazil and working at R3 Animal , I am constantly confronted with the challenging irony that is my relationship to animals and the environment. As much as I am fascinated by wildlife (it was the first “encyclopedic passion” that I had) and fostered a great love for nature and environmental protection, the very method that I live my life states otherwise. Back in my life in the United States, I live in a house that is much larger than my family of three need (high water and electricity usage), utilize an enormous amount of single-use plastics (which take centuries to at least partially degrade), and want to engage in worldwide travel (contributing to the already large quantity of greenhouse gas emissions
attributed to air-travel). It only adds another layer of complexity to add the fact I consume meat, including a good amount of red meat, one of the biggest contributors to global warming and land development. I chose Florianopolis Brazil in part to work with this remarkable organization that is deeply committed in the conservation of native wildlife, yet the way of life I have brought with me, especially what I eat, contributes to the contrary.

The very Brazilian society that I have become immersed in sends mixed messages. Even though the biodiversity and beauty of the land is a source of national pride, there lacks a consciousness and motivation to protect it. Brazil is the land of the Amazon (the world’s lungs, producing 20% of its oxygen), the Pantanal (the largest wetlands in the world), and the Mata Atlantica/Atlantic Forest ecosystem (the most bio-diverse ecosystem in the world), to name a few. Yet it is the land where it is most dangerous to be an environmentalist, especially in the frontier regions to the west, where logger barons, agricultural developers, and rogue mining companies take advantage of weak law enforcement and currently, a government that is friendly to construction rather than conservation. I have conversed with many Brazilians (not only those in Florianopolis and the South where I live, but also in the Southeast and Northeast regions from my travels) and a good many of them mentioned that Brazil should exploit more natural resources to increase national wealth. In times of economic strife and financial ruin, the environment and its protections are often the first to go. Factor in limited government spending on environmental initiatives/projects, a dysfunctional national parks system, and lack of education and awareness among the populace, and the demise of Brazil’s natural integrity looms close by.

MATA ATLANTICA ON SANTA CATARINA ISLAND

In addition, Brazil is a land of carnivores; the diet and many classic recipes are dependent on meat. Churrasco, the Brazilian barbecue, is fundamental to social gatherings, where cutting boards of picanha (grilled sirloin cap) and linguiça (Portuguese-style pork sausage) are passed around. There are even churrasco flavored chips sold in supermarkets, which are very popular. Beef is the preferred meat of choice (in addition to being the most environmentally taxing), going to/in everything from steak, burgers (which have taken their own radical spin in Brazil), to being ground in pastel (the Brazilian-version of empanadas). Even many snacks, salgadinhos, contain meat, with among the most popular being mini-pastel (containing ground beef), coxinha (a fritter filled with shredded chicken), and misto-quente (literally a pressed ham and cheese sandwich). Although the vegetarian and
vegan movements have been gaining traction in the country, for many Brazilians, a meal is not a meal without meat.

PREPARING THE FAMILY SUNDAY LUNCH

I have grown up eating meat and I love its flavor; it is something personal that is hard to give up. As I travel and learn about cultures around the world, food plays an integral role in what connects us together, crossing borders and generations. Specially here in Brazil, meat plays a crucial role in not only diet but also in social bonding. Yet, given the unique apprenticeship that I have, as well as my personal desire to be a aware and sustainable traveler, I am constantly confronted by one central question: where is the line between engaging with a nation’s culture and refusing to engage in it on the basis of moral grounds and the welfare of our planet? Culture is supposed to be perpetuated and esteemed through generations, yet what happens if the culture is literally too environmentally unsustainable to continue at our current trajectory? I am a lover of humanity and its culture, yet I am passionate about doing my part in protecting this one planet we have. For me, it is only when I came to Brazil that these two sides have been at odds, the lines clearly blurred. The personal debate is ongoing, one I’ll take back to the United States and my
continued journey. I write this to hold myself accountable to whatever roads I choose to take and the lifestyle choices I will make in this personal and complicated impasse.

Owning Happiness

By Becca, Tufts 1+4 Participant

It’s my last night in Brazil and I’m….happy? I set aside time tonight to write something profound. A pontification on life’s beginnings and ends, a graceful foray through my best memories in Brazil, and the things I’ll miss most of all, hammering the keys as tears stream down my face. And yet it’s here and I’m just… happy. There’s no question in my mind, I don’t want to leave, the last 8 months have been the best of my life and I very firmly believe that if I were to stay longer, my personal growth and happiness would only continue to develop. But alas, faz parte. That’s life. I’ve had an incredible experience here, and I can genuinely say that I regret nothing. I went through cycles over the last few days and weeks emotionally. Most of the time I was incredibly happy. Then something would happen, I’d realize it was the last time I’d ever do, see, feel that thing, and I’d be sad for a moment, maybe two. Then I’d lift my head, and realize there were 300 other things to turn my attention to, and my sadness passed quickly. I’ve thought a lot about why that is. My life in Brasil really has been my best life. The idea that any component of that is sealed away into a thing of the past is sad for me, because I’ve been so intensely enjoying the present. But at the same time, I’m immensely and authentically grateful for every bit of happiness I’ve experienced, because I viewed absolutely none of it as given. I had no expectations up until just a couple months before, that any part of this year would happen, certainly not in the way that it’s happening, and I was happy with where my life was at before. With zero expectations and zero sense that I deserved my happiness, every good thing that has happened to me has just been icing on the cake. That, and I really do feel like I did this year right.

I’ve formed meaningful relationships with people from all 5 major continents. I befriended a churro man with a startup, and a Chilean woman who aligned my chakras to ‘life’s tunes’. I made my own drum, performed in Carnaval. I went to Serra do Tabuleiro, Garopaba, Curitiba, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Florianópolis. I went paddle boarding and surfing. I saw a penguin, cheered on a turtle, chased puppies. I climbed a tree and fell out of that tree. I reveled in the banal, and scoffed off the profound. I chased after many buses and missed many buses. I missed a flight. I had an entire airport conspire against me. Twice. I hitchhiked with a woman on her second day back from living in Kenya, and took an uber with a Palestinian man married to a Brazilian Jew. I collected pounds of trash, made paper, re-imagined my concept of waste. I contemplated the meaning of purpose, and the purpose of meaning. I had my phone stolen, then a month later got it back. I learned Portuguese, sucked at Portuguese, and absolutely slayed at Portuguese. I reveled daily in the wonder of language learning. I conducted interviews, and made a documentary. I protested and debated, and way more importantly, I listened a lot. I cooked pão de queijo and nega maluca and really awful beans and rice. I let other people cook me beans and rice and ate enough to last a lifetime. I developed addictions to açaí, Guarana, and paçoca. I drank way too much coffee and escaped a caffeine addiction. I did an obscene amount of paper machê. I gave speeches, and attended lectures. I went to bars and just talked for hours. I took long walks on the beach, and long walks through the city. I sat watching lightning until 3am. I swam in a thunderstorm, danced in the rain, danced Samba and Forró, danced and fought and played Capoeira. I fell in love. I cried, I laughed until it hurt, caught my breath, and laughed some more. I’ve learned and grown, and struggled and triumphed, and I don’t know if its just gap year cliches or if there’s some greater meaning, but this was my life, my real life, and I owned it. So yes. It’s my last night in Brazil. And I’m happy.

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.

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

Between the Lines

By Laura, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Everyday, on my bus ride to my apprenticeship, we pass over a viewpoint on the top of a hill. It overlooks the lagoa and the see beyond. Everyday, I make sure to look up.

In taking a gap year, I made the decision to learn by looking up. For a nerd like me, admitting that you can’t learn everything with your nose in a book can be painful. Admittedly, I would still dive straight into a library if I were looking for nuclear theories or a chronology of the Tudors, but I am quickly learning that the academic fields that strive to explore our similarities, differences, diversity and homogeneity as humans lack luster in text.

Last year, in a panic over what subject to apply for at university, I plumped for anthropology and archaeology. I read and read. Anthropology and Anthropologists; Adam Kuper. An Introduction to Environmental Archaeology; John G Evans. Power, Sex, Suicide; Nick Lane. Persistent tropical foraging in the highlands of terminal Pleistocene/Holocene New Guinea; Patrick Roberts. The Incredible Human Journey; Dr Alice Roberts.

That last title was a re-read of a book I was given in primary school. I had asked for it after watching the BBC documentary of the same name, in which Roberts travelled the world, visiting archaeological sites, genetic research centres and indigenous communities to trace the emigration of homo sapiens out of Africa and around the world. Out of all of the fascinating books I read last year, this one was yet again my favourite. I discovered very little new information, and some of the theories are becoming outdated, but unlike any of the others, this book sparked memories of watching Roberts’ conversations with almost every kind of person imaginable. I remembered native north Americans telling her about their folk tales of the split in the ice and the emigration of their ancestors from the north; I remembered conversations about genetic analysis at the Max Plank Institute in flashy open-plan spaces; I remembered the people of Flores describing the stories of what could have been homo floresiensis, existing in the maze of caves on the island. This book, at age 9, framed most of what I thought I knew about the humanity beyond 21st Century Europe.

Last week I was sat on a bus next to Sintra, another fellow who was testing out her Portuguese by reading a book she had bought about the political party PT. As we wound through the hills of Parana, I couldn’t help my eyes drooping – I never could stay fully awake on long bus journeys. I was nervous, and with my eyes closed, my brain began to swarm with images. Colourful dress, hunter-gatherer techniques, translators. Reindeer coats, folk tales, displaced peoples. Ever since that BBC series, I had marveled at anthropologists and their opportunities, and here I was about to visit an indigenous community in Brazil, utterly unprepared.

I do not plan on taking this space to retell what happened during our visit (though if you are interested I’m happy to talk about it!), but to reflect on my own expectations. Anthropology was always a somewhat uncomfortable seat for me; although I was fascinated, in reading the first book listed, I was forced to realise that any study of people as a contained, representative of humanity was problematic, and deeply rooted in colonialism. Ethnographic studies stemmed from racism and genetic studies marginalised native peoples further. As a white European, to walk into this community and ask deeply philosophical questions felt like those early 20th century anthropologists, and to dumb down my curiosities felt like a condemning of their intelligence. To overthink my every interaction was to imagine these people wrapped in cotton wool and yet did I ever even have a chance of my brain doing otherwise.

Ultimately, my group did seem to achieve a natural and healthy relationship over the day. That day did not contain the colourful traditional dress, the endless to and fro of a translator or the ancient farming techniques of a documentary. The stereotypes which I had unsuccessfully tried to quash for so long were happily disproved for the Gauraní and Kaingang. When it comes to the complex species that we call Homo sapiens, even a bookworm like me has to admit that written research can only take us so far. I do not claim to have solved the issues of interacting with marginalised ethnic groups, nor have completely abandoned my prejudice.  What I do hope is that I can keep clear a consciousness of my prejudice, and should I still chose to go into anthropology, I can hopefully use my knowledge to help others do the same. By definition, anthropology is “theology dealing with the origin, nature, and destiny of human beings”, a definition which I believe has a lot of room to innovate in. I still cherish that book and documentary, but this visit allowed me to stop watching others having those conversations, and start having them myself.

In many people’s’ eyes I had made it. I was sat in the interview room for archaeology and anthropology at St Hugh’s College, Oxford University. And finally the question came.

“I see you’ve chosen to take a gap year. If we offered you a place this year without deferral, would you take it?”

This time, without overthinking, I simply replied: “I would have to consider it very carefully. I think it is arrogant to study other people’s cultures when the only one you have experienced is your own.”

I can’t say for certain, (because who knows how the Oxford admissions system works), but I think that this was a major reason for my rejection, for this is when the mood of the interview turned. Looking back now, I don’t regret speaking my mind to this point. Maybe I will not have the prestige of studying at Oxford University, but perhaps I do not want to follow in the footsteps of the colonial anthropologists who would have preceded me there.

I woke up as the bus turned off the tarmac road and started bumping through the dry golden-green grasses. The images swirled back into my subconscious and Sintra looked up from her book. I think we all knew it was time to look up, and truly learn.

Sintra and I in the indigenous community’s classroom (how far did you really expect me to get from the books…) Photo credits to Daniel, a little boy almost as excited to jump in the river as we were.

Resources:

  1. A. Kuper, Anthropology and Anthropologists: The Modern British School, Oxon, 1996
  2. J. G. Evans, An Introduction to Environmental Archaeology, 1978
  3. N. Lane, Power, Sex and Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life, 2005
  4. Dr A. Roberts, The Incredible Human Journey, 2009