Tough Love

By Elizabeth Kenneally

Rafaela, my host sister, is four years old, blind and a drama queen. In the beginning, I assumed that she would be the most difficult to bond with because much of my early integration involved me silently listening to conversations and simply being present. Since she couldn’t see me sitting there, none of this meant much to her. But we have managed to connect in other arguably more important ways. Her world revolves around sound and touch, so the color of my hair and the brand name on my clothes means much less to her than it does to the rest of Ecuador. In Rafaela’s world, I am just a nebulous physical presence with a foreign sounding voice that sometimes makes weird smelling food. But for some reason, we get along.

If it’s been more than an hour since I’ve talked to her, she will repeatedly shout my name at the top of her lungs. If I don’t answer, she will ask the nearest person where I am and what I’m doing with slowly increasing volume until someone inevitably breaks down and responds. Sometimes, she tells me that she is “in love with the sound of my voice.” Other times, she tells me that I talk like a gringa and should learn Spanish already. Multiple times she has asked me why I’m from the United States and not from Ecuador. My follow-up question of why she’s from Ecuador and not the United States caused her somewhat of an existential crisis resulting in an extended period of silence, but I think that is when I truly earned her respect. Continue reading

Patience, Persistence, and Maní

By Chastidy Vasconez

Last week I asked my host mom and her cuñado how to say peanut in Spanish. Not knowing very much English, they tilted their heads in confusion. Attempting to get my questions across, I grabbed a piece of paper and pen. “Color café.. con líneas,” I said as I drew out a peanut. I then motioned my hands as if I was breaking a peanut open repeatedly. Finally, my mom’s cuñado said, “Ahhh, un almendra!” No, not an almond. I then resorted to just googling a picture of a peanut, which I probably should’ve just done in the beginning.

For a brief moment I was reminded of home. Holding conversations with my own parents often looked like a game of charades, with puzzled faces and fleeting moments where we thought we were on the same page. Growing up with deaf parents was trying at times because my fluency in American Sign Language wasn’t the best. However, in moments of frustration and confusion, I learned to navigate around not knowing specific words, figuring out different ways to get my message across. Now, being thousands of miles away from home in a country with a different language, I’m noticing the patience and persistence I developed from my home life, an experience that at times felt isolating from that of my peers. I think about my parents everyday, and I am ultimately extremely grateful. What seemed to be a struggle growing up has helped me tackle on this new journey, and figure out the word for peanut – maní.

Bleached Hands and Backflips

By Trevor Hall

Bleach is for clothes. Not for hair.

At least this is what I thought until today. As I rest my body against this hard bus seat, I reek of bleach. My hands are stained in the best way they have ever been before. Thirty minutes ago, I dyed my hair for the first time. Exhilaration runs through my body because I have checked another box off my bucket list. I am not even sure if I am on the right bus right now, but I don’t care. 10:08 reads across my red Lacoste watch. It’s peaceful, and as I look outside the window the dense shadows blend in with the darkness. Usually, I’m super stressed out on the bus, always checking my surroundings and GPS to ensure I am not on track for getting lost. Tonight, though, is a different night. On this evening in southern Brazil, I have forgotten all the negative possibilities. I have embraced my bleached hands and open my memory to backflips a week ago.

The water around me is covered in divots from the rain. The heavy clouds and the lagoinha (a small lake) that surrounds me are postcard-perfect. The paddleboard below me nudges me forward. As my mind wanders off into nothingness, I think about how I don’t know how to execute a backflip. But I figure it is a phenomenal time to learn—in the rain while paddleboarding. I am already soaked like a soggy sponge from the rain. And even if I don’t land it, the lake water would brace my landing. Hopefully…
Eventually, I conjure up the courage to push off.

Splosh. Continue reading

Pancakes…?

By Sophie von Muench

In the kitchen of my host family’s house, I happily fiddled with the proportions of ingredients and flipped pancakes in a small pan. For a second, I was brought back home as I heard an echo of my grandma’s voice in my head from the first time we ever made pancakes together. It was a month into my time living in Brazil, and I had yet to see a single one — apparently, pancakes as we know them are a purely American phenomenon. Thus, I was determined to make these perfect, complete with authentic New York maple syrup from my town’s local farmers’ market, and I was excited to share a little piece of my life at home with my Brazilian family. They were incredibly confused about the maple syrup (“what do you mean it comes from trees?!”) and were watching my every move, trying to craft a recipe to write down from my unscientific fiddling. Finally, I proudly set the stack of golden pancakes on the table with the bottle of maple syrup next to it, and stepped back to admire the scene. I gleefully awaited the moment of revelation when my new Brazilian family tried ‘real’ pancakes for the first time.

A minute later, I was motionless with my mouth gaping open and my eyes popping out of my head. My host dad had plopped a pancake onto his son’s plate, added a spoonful of meat, a little broccoli, topped it off with a sprinkle of cheese, and proceeded to roll the pancake into a taco. I realized I was holding my breath, and let it out in a big burst of laughter. Soon the small kitchen was filled with chuckles as my host dad laughed at how different our ideas of pancakes were, my host sister giggled at her pancakes falling apart (they were not designed to be rolled!), my host brother laughed at my amazement, and I laughed out of pure astonishment at what they were doing to my beautiful pancakes. The show-and-tell about American culture turned Brazilian in the 30 seconds it took my host dad to assemble the first pancake taco. The pancakes we had that day were neither completely American nor completely Brazilian, but a hilarious mixture that I look back on with the same warm amusement I associate with my favorite memories of home.