Where Even Am I?

by Leonardo Ruiz-Sanchez

When I first arrived to Campeche beach, I was left amazed with the outstanding beauty of Florianopolis, considered the island of magic. Now, months later, when I go on a morning run, I pass the beach and I am used to seeing the ocean with its waves and the few people that have awoken early to enjoy them. It is wild that this is sometimes part of my daily routine when a couple months back I had never experiences the salty waters or the sand that never seems to leave even after leaving the beach. It seems almost normal and I feel the urge to make myself aware of everything, so it can be appreciated. I keep asking myself, “Where even am I?”

This can be a simple or tricky questions depending on how it is approached. It’s always easy to state the obvious: I am in Brazil. I am waiting for a bus. I am going to my apprenticeship. Although this is the truth, it is not the whole truth. There are so many other sides of my experience here that are so difficult to convey. They are what truly make it all unique.

I am in Campeche, Brazil, where it takes seven minutes to walk to the beach. In the mornings, the beach and its quiet cool winds and the low crunching sounds of my shoes on the sand create a safe space for me. Much of my reflection occurs with the sounds of waves crashing in the background. Even though the ocean took my favorite pair of eyeglasses, I still fell in love with it. I am unsure how I will feel when I am forced to leave this very crucial part of my bridge year experience behind.

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Food Insecurity in Brazil

by Dominique Landinez

Here I was, splitting a banana tree with a machete in the countryside of São Paulo. The pieces of banana tree, filled with water, were being strategically positioned in the dirt to aid the other crops for the rainless days. The other crops– chinese and lamb lettuce—would use the banana tree as a sort of back-up juice box. These were the kinds of small scale agriculture techniques that farmers in São Luiz do Paraitinga were using. This family grew all of their food right outside of their house. Their garden looked disorganized, with many different kinds of plants growing together in close proximity. The different kinds of crops and fruits were growing together symbiotically to protect one another from insects and other parasites. This technique may appear quite confusing to a city girl, but it was actually a very meticulous process that helped them avoid the use of insecticides —or any other chemicals for that matter. They took a lot of pride in their work. 

Today, 66 million people in Brazil are food insecure. Food insecurity, a noun, is understood as the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.  Though food availability is sufficient for the entire population, widespread poverty has made it extremely difficult for people to purchase food. Therefore, the problem is not that of availability but rather, in-affordability which leaves several communities nutrition insecure. This problem is a difficult one to tackle. The Brazilian government has already implemented policies in attempt to aid this continuing problem.

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Realizations in Rio

by Savion Sample
I sat atop Morro da Urca, one of the highest and most stunning mountaintops in Rio, staring out across the city. I leaned forward and pressed my bodyweight against the steel railing, taking a deep breath of fresh Brazilian air. Here I was, after a grueling 6 hour bus ride, a short bike ride along the coast, and a tiring hike up the side of the mountain. I was standing on what seemed like the top of the world, with the entire city beneath my feet. I turned back around toward the rest of my group and looked at Jacque, our tour guide for that day. She led my group over toward the other side of the mountain – not to where the view of the city was, but to where we could clearly see the large mass of houses clumped on the side of a neighboring hill, on the outskirts of the main part of the city. I looked back over to her, wondering why she had taken us to view all the favelas. She began to explain exactly what I was thinking.

“Over the decades, the Rio favelas have been portrayed and associated in a very negative light”, she said. “They’re often referred to as  ‘slums’, ‘shantytowns’, or the ‘ghetto’.” She went on explain how favelas have been misconstrued throughout the decades. Summing up the favelas as just ‘slums’ just doesn’t do justice to the richness of the favela culture and history. The favelas originated near the turn of the 19th century, after Brazilian soldiers migrated down from Bahia, having emerged victorious from the Canudos war. They settled along the mountains in Rio. Not long after, recently freed African slaves began to settle along the mountains as well, being complete outcasts from society and not having anywhere else to go. Later, urbanization caused workers to move from the countryside to Rio, where they sought for more work. But without being able to find an adequate amount of work or a sufficient amount of money like they had hoped, these migrants were also ultimately pushed towards the outskirts of Rio as well.

That day, Jacque taught me a very important lesson. Favelas aren’t necessarily the circus show that always seems to be portrayed in the media. They don’t exist so you can safely buy your Favela Tour ticket and silently judge from a distance like they’re some kind of animals. In fact, the people who live in these favelas in Rio are the exact opposite. They are motivated, hard-working people who are self starters and get things done. They may have been completely neglected by the government, but they’re strong people who have spent decades building their neighborhoods and their communities. 

Brazil is a beautiful country, but it does have its problems. But despite all it, I know that when I look back at my experience in Rio, I know that I’m going to picture my first day there: sitting atop that mountain, staring across the horizon, staring down at the beauty of the city, but also down at the beauty built along those hills – the tight-knit communities sewn together from a long line of battered history and a rich culture.

Tree of Life

by Henry Baer-Benson
Yesterday evening, Max and I were running along rio Tomebamba when we reached the El Vergel bridge and decided to rest a moment before heading back. As our heads cleared and our breathing returned to normal we began to talk about life after this year, something that had been encroaching on both of our minds. What started as a quick breather stretched into an hour long conversation about the future and the big decisions that always seem to arrive before we’re ready. We talked about having to choose a course of study, a career, a home, a partner, and the mounting pressure that so many new adults feel to get it right. At this point in my life, the idea of the right choice is so infuriatingly and overwhelmingly ambiguous that it sometimes seems like I’ll never know the answers. Especially when I can’t even decide on a pair of socks in the morning. I remember years ago being so excited about when I would finally get to choose my path. I never imagined that it would be so hard to figure out what I wanted. After our run I kept thinking about this, trying to figure out what had changed.

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The End of an Era

by Stephanie Waugh
This was the first January that I had free time in several years. From 7th to 12th grade I was a part of a Girl Scout robotics team in Austin and the first three months of each year were completely monopolized by my commitments to the team. Every day after school and all day on the weekends I would be at the Girl Scout Kodosky Center in room 110 using power tools, programming, and designing a robot. I would do no other activities during this time, all of my focus was on the task at hand. And I loved every minute of it! At the end of each season I would feel an enormous amount of pride finally witnessing my creation come to life.

This year, I watched the build season from the sidelines. After last season, I thought I was ready to leave this part of my life behind as I explored new opportunities in college. But I did not know how much I would miss it. This activity was such a pillar in my life and now that it’s gone, I can’t help but feel a little lost. I am now an alumna of the team, but that title does not come with the same perks as being the leader. I can no longer just go to robotics to forget my problems and build cool stuff. Now when I go, it will be as a mentor and my job is to assist others. I can help the new CEO in leading the team, but I cannot make the decisions myself.

I’m struggling a little with how to cope with this loss. Robotics was a massive part of my identity. It was my passion, a place where I could lose myself in the work, and it created a community for me that was incredibly instrumental during my teenage years. But all good things must come to an end. I always knew this was a short term passion that would end with my leaving high school, but I never imagined that I would feel the loss this strongly. 

But I’ve since realized that my internal struggle may not be about losing robotics as much as it is about leaving home. Retiring from robotics and graduating from high school was the end of an era for me, the first sign that my childhood is coming to a close. This activity that I loved so much must come to an end because I need to move on to do bigger things with my life. And I have to leave the comforts of home because it is time to see what I am really made of and how I can function in the real world. I think in the back of my brain I understood this, but just projected it onto the loss of robotics.

But now I realize that just because I am far away from Texas and I cannot participate in robotics the way I used to, it does not mean that I must leave a part of myself behind. My home and activities, like robotics, will always be part of my identity and they have all led me to be the person I am today. Maybe without robotics or without my childhood being the way it was, I wouldn’t have even applied to Tufts 1+4 and received the opportunity to live in Ecuador. The lessons I learned and the experiences I had throughout my childhood will always be with me.

Moving to Ecuador and taking this bridge year was the perfect way for me to test these new boundaries of adulthood, like completely managing my own schedule. This year I have felt free and on my own. I can make choices based purely on what I want and need, but I am still firmly connected with my family and my home in Texas. My bridge year has allowed me to have many experiences (like hiking to giant waterfalls and and participating in cultural rituals) that I cannot have at home and it has shown me that I can adapt to change and thrive in new situations. This was the perfect transition year between childhood and adulthood. I live my life in Ecuador as an adult, but this summer I can return to my family home as a kid for the last time.