Feed Me, Brazil!

There was a trail of pink juices slipping down her chin when I noticed my mouth was watering.  Ali’s teeth tore violently at the bloody meat.  The steam was still floating above the filet as she promptly devoured it.  Her guilty, wicked smile could not go unnoticed as the music of forks and knives colliding around me clattered loudly in my head.  Meanwhile, my stomach was creating a song of it’s own.

This was the pride of Rio de Janeiro.  If there was one thing I remembered during pre-port, it was the recommendation of the steak.  We were told the dinner would cost $50 per person, but that every dollar was worth it.  Porcao was the place, and tonight, every student, every faculty member, and every child was there.  It was the busiest night in the restaurant’s history, and I was surprised we got the table for 14 that we did.  For $50, each person would get endless meat and as many trips to the buffet as needed—except for me.

Honestly, I can’t afford shit.  The reason I’m on this ship is because of financial aid and student loans.  With the government paying for my fees and my parents paying for all personal expenses out of their own pocket, I have learned to spend my money minimally.  And yes…if that meant skipping an endless serving of steak, I had to do it.  At least, my morals told me I had to.

I think the main problem was that I had nowhere to look.  There I was, seated two from the left end, and four from the right.  Our table of 14 stretched along the glass wall separating us from the buffet station.  Above us hung a chandelier tower of Brahma beer bottles.  The arms on each side of me were either in the process of nibbling at the remaining meat on their forks or tearing at the skewers the waiters circled our table with every 40 seconds.

“Why aren’t you eating?”  It was Dean John’s turn to walk by my table and greet us.  This was the fourth faculty member to visit us in fact, and the fourth time I had to admit as to why I was, alone, not able to taste what everyone had made reservations for.  I shamefully tightened my lips and glanced down at my plate.

“Can’t afford it.”  I wondered how closely the color of my face resembled the rare, pink tint of the steak that was being carried by the waiter to my right.

I imagine John told me something polite and clever, however, I can’t quite recall because my focus was again called to something else.  The waiter stood in front of me now.  His smooth black vest and ruby red bow tie fooled me for a second that he was my own personal butler, delivering me dinner.  He held a skewer that held enough meat to resemble a man’s calf.  The knife fell through it with such fluidity as if it was chocolate pudding.  As a feathery slice separated itself from the whole of the meat, I watched as he leaned toward me with the slice.  I imagine my mouth was in the shape of a zero as the steam floated beneath my nostrils.  He feels bad.  He’s going to give me some.  Bless his soul!

I clutched at my fork blindly as my eyes locked onto the dripping oval of meat approaching me.  My arm lifted to accept it as his skewer swerved just barely to the left, aiming onto the center of Ali’s plate.  I could still feel the steam making my face sweat as it dropped beside me.  My face burned with embarrassment as my right hand sloppily faked it’s way into a twirling motion, treating the fork like a baton.  It might’ve been a weak way to hide my strike for the meat, but it seemed to work and the waiter promptly turned to carry the skewer to a new table.

“Fuuuuuuuuuuccccccckkkkkkkk.”  It slurred out of my mouth slowly as I dug my head into the crevice between my left elbow and my armpit.  Were my friends trying to smack their tongues as the meat swayed between their teeth?    The aroma gave me goosebumps as the orgasmic moans of university students around me spilled from their mouths.

“Mmmmmmmmmmm.”

“Oh my god!”

Heavy breathing began drowning me as I peeked my right eye out to witness my friends holding their plates up to their faces, eyes closed, letting the smell of their fresh meat overwhelm their senses.

I cursed myself as I tugged on the roots of my hair.  I swiped for the menu beside me and flipped to the dessert page with urgency.  What’s cheap?  What’s good, but what’s cheap?  My finger trailed down the line before it landed on the chocolate mousse cake that was labeled as sixteen reals.  Eight American dollars.  I can do that.

I flung my hand into the air eagerly, catching the waiter’s attention immediately.  I pointed aggressively at the words beside the price I desired, and with a subtle nod, he was gone.  Again, I was alone, facing the lit up face of my other friend, Alex.  Her hand rested on her belly as she leaned back, sighing.  Her other hand still held her fork, slowly piercing the chicken heart that now lined her plate.  I could tell she didn’t want anymore.  She was full.  She couldn’t eat any more food.  Should I have felt guilty for finding pleasure in this?  Maybe so.  I waited to see if any of my friends would run to the bathroom to throw up the meat they had eaten too fast.  I waited, watching their speed drag as their eyes drooped and their stomachs bloated.

One of their faces hit the table with a thud as a brand-new plate was presented before me.  A brown, circular cake sat before me.  A familiar grey steam floated above it, however, the smell was much different from the meat I had witnessed all night.  I smelled Christmas Eve, when my mother and I would bake chocolate cupcakes while singing along to “Sleigh Ride” on the holiday radio station.  Warmth traveled down my fingers as my fork made it’s way the center of this cake—my cake.  The four prongs sank into the crusty skin before the chocolaty lava cascaded out onto the surface of the white plate.  A gust of grey smoke erupted from the cake as the boiling lava escaped from its chocolate cave.  I felt my chin resting upon the red table cloth as I watched this mud-slide of a meal tease me.  Except this time, it wouldn’t escape me.

“That looks so good!  Shit, why didn’t I save room for that?”  Alex’s mouth fell as her eyes burned at my dessert.  The jealousy was obvious, but tonight, right now, I felt no empathy.  I smiled like a six year old brat who won a spelling bee.  My grin twisted as my canine teeth made an appearance.  My fork lifted the crusty shell of the chocolate toward my mouth before answering, “Guess you should’ve saved room,” before, for the first time tonight, my taste buds found what they were looking for.

—Melinda La Brie

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Passion

“Vasco! Vasco! Vasco!” they shout. Drums beat. Whistles shriek. A pulse beats through the entire stadium.

The roaring cheers of the crowd wash over me, and I am consumed by the enthusiasm of the thousands of fans that fill the stands around me.

Marco, the Brazilian soccer fanatic who stands in front of me, jumps and sings for the entire two-hour game. As I squirm in my seat to try and figure out where the action is on the field, Marco’s eyes are glued to the ball and follow its every move. He stands with his toes at the very edge of the bench, just to get an inch closer to the players he so idolizes. Thick drops of sweat spring off of his body every time he tosses his fist in the air at a goal or throws his face into his palms at an interception. Heartfelt victory cheers pour out of his mouth each time the ball is kicked. He tells me that if his team loses, he will be too upset to go to work in the morning. And if his team wins, he will be too busy celebrating to go to work in the morning.

I have never seen so much passion consume a person at one time.

How can someone be this passionate about soccer? Where does his passion come from? Does that kind of passion lie within everyone? Does it lie within me? What gets me sweating, jumping, and shouting at the top of my lungs? If it isn’t soccer, then what is it? I’m not sure. But after watching Marco root for his favorite team, I want to find the thing that makes me jump and cheer and stand at the very edge of my seat. Whether it’s supporting my favorite team or fighting for world peace, I will one-day find my passion.

—Kathryn Condon

Why I cant write good

“Why you can not write well,” Matt corrected me. “And it doesn’t matter. Just write the same way that you talk. No one uses correct grammar anyway.” He said this while he hopped up on the concrete wall in front of the hotel.

“I dont know man, I’ve never been good at English or any of that. I cant spell well and I don’t read a lot.” I told him this after a couple bottles of wine. I was being honest about a topic I’m sensitive about, but while we waited for the taxis this was the perfect time for me to open up.

“Well where did it all begin?” He asked as more of a Pysc major than an English major

“Uh, when I started being bad at reading and stuff?” I squinted even though it was dark out.

He nodded.

“Guess all the way back to first grade. My teacher was real cute; I couldn’t pay attention to anything she said.” I had to shout over the fast paced Spanish music that blared from the passing car.

“What was her name?”

That was a weird question I thought.

“Her name was, Miss Hamilton. She wore overalls and played country music everyday. She had freckles and was always smiling. When everyone in class was sounding out words during reading hour, I was grinning, watching her. While the other kids practiced spelling, I was thinking about, ‘Hey baby.’”

My girlfriend walked up just then and happily put her arms around me. I forgot all about Matt. “hey.” I said to Kacey. “Where you been all night?  You know your not suppose to stray too far away from me”

“GOLD! That was perfect. Write that right there,” Matt exclaimed pointing a finger at me.

“Huh?” was all I replied.

“That is a great story. How girls have distracted you since you were a little kid and even now, and that’s why you didn’t learn grammar when you were young.”

That’s when it hit me. Writing doesn’t have to be this overly formal script plugged with a bunch of adjectives that I don’t understand. I wasn’t expecting to have an epiphany at 11 o ‘clock at night on the way to a party, but it happened. Now it made sense why my Travel Writing teacher loved my personal journal and not my graded assignments.

Matt brought me back to reality, to that not so busy street in Uruguay when he asked, “As you got older did you continue to have difficulty in school because of girls?”

“You shittin me?” I raised a brow at him. “My dad got so many calls from my teachers in high school because I kept talking to chicks in class, that they became contacts in his phone.”

“Perfect, throw that in there.” He brought a hand to his chin and thought for a moment. “Reference a few historical figures that have been distracted from women and compare yourself to them. You can start with the blog post that’s due soon.”

Matt was right, even though my teacher has been trying to get me to understand this all semester, I didn’t get it until now. One little conversation in Punta de Esta changed the way I will write forever.

–Jake Rose

I Missed It

“Have you ever been to a symphony before?”  The ambassador’s assistant sits straight in his chair.  I shuffle my dark wooden chair to space myself out in the crowded box seating room. 

“No, I haven’t.  I’ve never seen anything like it, actually.”  I lean back into the chair, finally settling in.  “Pretty much everything is new to me at this point.”

A man clad in the dress code of tonight, black slacks and a matching button-down shirt, saunters up to the single microphone on the wood stage.  Three grinning white masks gaze down at him from the walls on either side of the stage.  Ornate moldings and ironwork of angels, swirls, and other European-style designs adorn every surface of the theater except the one behind the audience, which is a freshly painted flesh color, and the floor.  The man’s voice is quiet and subtle, but the theater’s acoustics deliver it to my ears as clear as if he were standing ten feet away from me.

Torra, a squid, threw Ringo a torpedo toe,” the Portuguese man said.  Well, that’s what I heard. 

The ambassador’s assistant leaned over to me.

“He said, ‘Thank you for coming,’” he whispered. 

Kwimpo told a young cork to fly.  Noon appreciates oregano for Thomas Shannon in a nacho,” the man on stage announced.  My ears perk up in recognition.  The announcer is talking about the man sitting just two boxes away, and I can see his attention flare at the stage as well.  But he’s an ambassador of the United States; he retains composure and stands up to receive the honor.  The captain of the MV Explorer and its Executive Dean, who invited me and two of my friends to join his party tonight, are seated right next to Ambassador Shannon and look up at him with mischievous grins. 

With that, the lights dim and an assembly of musicians march on stage.  I have never seen such an array of instruments: violins, cellos, violas, basses, big drums, little drums, trumpets, saxophones, flutes, harps, a shiny black piano, and the arm of a very young composer to weave it all together.  Neon blue spotlights highlight the edges of all the instruments like they’re straight out of a comic book.  The same blue shade lights white canvas panels behind the musicians, and they become a surreal background.  The composer bows, and the symphony begins.

I don’t know how to properly listen to a symphony so I treat my eyes to the décor of the old theater.  Even in the dark I can see the huge mural on the ceiling.  It’s divided into four separate panels, but I can only see two from from where I’m sitting.  One of them depicts a flying angel with wide white wings placing a wreath onto the head of a stature, which is encircled by people dressed in mute-colored robes.  The other panel illustrates a man sitting on an ornate throne, also surrounded by people, with an enormous fish swimming in the background with its mouth wide open.  I chuckle a little and find something else to look at. 

An enormous iron chandelier hangs just below the mural on the ceiling.  I hadn’t noticed before, but the lights depending on it are familiar.  They’re thin and white, as if the glass had been spun with clouds.  The ends of the lights curl open like budding flowers.  I close my eyes and remember why they look so familiar.

Two boys, one blonde and one brown-haired, sit on the corner of a neatly made king-sized bed that occupies most of the room.  The floral pattern on its comforter matches that of the wallpaper, and that of a picture hanging from the attached bathroom’s wall.  The blinds on the windows are closed, letting only a little light leak through. But a ceiling fan bathes the room in yellow.  A timeline of pictures stand on an old lacquered wooden dresser: black and white pictures from one of the first generations of cameras, poor resolution color photos from the 70s and 80s, a couple of high definition images from the 21st century; the boys on the bed make their appearance in the latter photos.  A TV and a Nintendo Game Cube whir in front of them on the bed and their hands clutch fat grey wireless controllers.  Every once in a while, the blonde boy throws his controller in the air and twists it at the same time, flipping it through the air and catching it a few seconds later.  Then, he tosses it too high and smashes a light on the ceiling fan with a loud crash.  He freezes amidst shards of glass that has fallen onto the bed and he stares at the door. 

He waits for the inevitable bust…

“What happened?  Oh—Taylor, what did you do!” my grandma gasps. 

 

I reenter the theater and the symphony is over.  People are giving the orchestra a standing ovation on either side of me, so I stand up and clap, but my mind is elsewhere.  The lights hanging from the chandelier aren’t new to me.  They’re from my grandma’s house, my past, something I haven’t bothered to contemplate in a long time.  The crowd stops its applause, the lights come back on, and they seem a little brighter than before.

—Taylor Cunningham

My Mother the Lumberjack

Joao was the youngest of fifteen children. By his standards he had done a lot with his life and would have made his father proud. His father was the most well regarded shaman in his small tribe. He was proud and did everything he could to provide for his family. But he was poisoned by men envious of his life and he died. His wife was left to care for her fifteen children alone. Every day for years, Joao would ask his mother how his father died. Her response invariably was, “I am your father now.” One day on their way back from town, Joao and his mother came across a stream that was too wide and was full of electric eels. They were stuck. Joao’s mother knelt down, placed both hands on her son’s cheeks and said, “I will always take care of you. “ She then found the thickest, tallest tree, cut it down, threw it across the stream and said, “Now walk and do not stop walking because I will cut down the entire forest for you.”

My mother, like Joao’s mother, would cut down the entire forest for me. She was left to hold the axe years ago and is fiercer with it than any. She sleeps with it under her pillow while I’m out late with friends. She hangs it from her waist as a warning for the girls I bring into my life. She grips it tight now as I travel the world. Six thousand miles away and I know that axe could reach me and level any forest. I have sprinted recklessly through life, comfortable in the knowledge that my mother has laid log after log beneath my quick and clumsy feet to guide me across the wide streams of life and protect me from the eels that lurk within them. One day that sprint will come to a halt, and I will stand on logs cut by my own hand. There I will say that I have done a lot with my life, and I will say it with a tight grip on the axe of my mother, the lumberjack.

—Matthew Poundstone

 

Chocolate from Home

Hot and humid air presses down on me like a wet blanket as I navigate my way through the tented stalls of Rio de Janeiro. Across the uneven concrete, my eyes dart around the dusty flea market. I see miniature statues of Christ the Redeemer carved out of wood, plastic, quartz, and stone side by side with wisps of torn fabric fluttering feebly in the dry wind of the late afternoon. Screaming children, merchants crying their wares, and the babble of prospective buyers assault my ears while I try to absorb all that is going on around me at the Hippie Market.

I lean close to jewelry stands where rusted silver rings gleam dully on faded black velvet. My fingers brush past them to caress the bright quartz bracelets that look as though they were hewn from a story book. My eagerness is at once quelled by the common sense side of me: when will I ever need that? I can just see it accumulating more dust than it already has stashed away somewhere in my room. I carefully step around a gaggle of children clustered around a stand of old toys. Naked Barbies smeared with dirt, ripped dresses, baby dolls with missing eyelashes, and toy trucks that have taken one too many trips to the dump all lay at the mercy of chubby little fingers clutching at them. Squeals of delight emanate from the group of kids as their eyes light up and they nudge each other to share each new-found treasure. I strain to find the beauty, but all I see are things I will never need. Masks hung jauntily on display, hammocks and flags lying limp in the heat, CDs and clunky necklaces: they all fail to move me. Again, I move on. Feeling as though I will be caught like a mouse in a trap if I linger too long in any one place, I shuffle on and on.

I pause in front of a wizened old woman sitting at a little table with a spread of chocolate candies set before her. I’ve caught up to my friends now, and they are “oohing” and “ahhing” over how delicious the little treats look. Individually shrink wrapped and set into neat little rows, each bonbon looks mouthwatering. White chocolate, milk chocolate, half and half, sprinkled with chocolate pieces, long squares, and round balls – it seems like this grandmother has made her own little handmade candy shop. For the equivalent of about one dollar, I purchase one and pop it into my mouth. The old woman smiles knowingly as my eyes widen at the flavor – it’s just like brownie batter. I’m transported back to my family’s kitchen licking the warm chocolaty batter off the spoon as my mother half heartedly scolds me about salmonella. My little sister runs through our kitchen clutching her newest treasure with pride: a chipped set of chick salt and pepper shakers she bought from a garage sale down the street. They will become the new centerpieces on her dressing table in our room. Dancing around in ever-new configurations, they will be turned this way and that until they look just so among her horses, empty perfume bottles, and dolls with hair that has been frizzed out with time.

Invigorated by the taste of home I thank the kindly woman and move on to check out authentic masks. But I begin to see the shabby toys as something more: something that looks a little like hope that reminds me of my own childhood. I smile as I see with new eyes the children effortlessly seeing past the dirt and grime of the toys, to see a treasure in this little market in Rio.

—Kelly Fisher

Fish Out of Water

The wheels against the gravel road bounced my body off the seat, while the starting and stopping swayed my body, forcing my eyes to close. While I tried to keep my eyes open, the red flash of the clock ahead sparked my anxiety. 5:20…5:21…5:22… I sat silent on the outside but not on the inside. I was on my way to have dinner with a stranger: not sure what to expect. My foot starting tapping the ground. I started to bite my nails. 5:55…5:56…5:57.

The voice inside of my head would not stop. It didn’t help that Flynn, my sister and travel partner, sat fast asleep. It boggled my mind how her eyes could close and not be woken up by thoughts of being late.

He must be nice if he is a friend of your sister, I thought. It will be fun. You will be more awake. Plus, there will be food. Don’t forget to not zone out. Be polite. Be funny. It will be cool to meet one of your sister’s friends from school while he is working in Ghana. He will understand if you are late. People get stuck in traffic all of the time. At least we are coming and making an effort.

I told myself all of these things while still sitting on the bus. “Maybe we should call him, you know, just let him know we are running five minutes late.” It was more of a demand than a suggestion. My demand woke Flynn up and her deer in the headlights look finally let me know that she was worried about the time as well. Since Flynn had set up the date, she made the call. Once it was made, Iwasat ease.

Accra was no longer in the distance. The bus stopped and I ran off the bus, greeted not by our friend, but by people wanting my money.  About four or five Ghanaians swarmed Flynn and I, shoving things in my face: bracelets, paintings, and notepads on which they wanted me to write my name.

“Your name, my dear? What’s your name?” vender number one said.

“I make you a bracelet! Come one, my friend,” vender number two insisted.

“I make it right here. Let me write down your name,” vender number three said with a pencil in hand.

You are not my friend. I am not your dear. I don’t need a bracelet. It is cool that you are making it right in front of me, but no thank you.

I wanted to shout all of these things to the venders so that they would leave me alone.

“I already have a bracelet. Thank you, though,” is what I really said, not even looking them in the eyes. I focused beyond the venders. Hoping I would see a man who was looking for me.

“Flynn? Kendall?” A voice shouted in the distance, accompanied by a grin filled with teeth as white as a freshly painted wall. Now all of the vender’s voices became distant. My feet followed Flynn as she walked toward the voice.  The voice belonged to a tall, sharply dressed man who must have been the stranger I was suppose to meet, Nick. Standing next to him was his Ghanaian coworker, Andy. After five minutes of “hello’s” and “nice to meet you,” the four of us headed down the dimly lit street toward dinner.

At the restaurant, Andy took Flynn and me over to the grill to pick our own fish. When I approached the tilapia covered grill, it boggled my mind, not out of confusion, but shock, that I had to pick out my own dinner. After the fish made its way to our table, I stared at it for a while, and it stared back at me. The fact that it was dark outside and there was no lighting besides the street lamps nearby, did not help. I couldn’t see my plate; all I knew was that it had eyes, a mouth, and the rest of its body.  I listened to Andy explain how to conquer this unique meal. “You take a pinch of banku , pull back the skin of the fish, grab some meat, then dip your fingers in the salsa: enjoy.”

I watched Andy dive into this fish that looked like it had just come out of the ocean.  I took a pinch of Banku, plunged my hands under the skin, into the slimy meat of the fish.  I took a pinch of what looked like vegetables and salsa. As the mixture made its way to my mouth, the fish fell, the salsa fell, but the Baku stuck to my fingers. Once the fish actually made its way to my mouth, it was very fresh, to say the least. While fishing around my dinner plate, trying to stay away from the head of the fish, the four of us could not stop talking.  Even though this was the first time all of us were meeting, the conversation came easily. Multiple different topics of conversation flew onto the table. Ghana, work, the ship, home, anything. It didn’t matter that we had never met. The four of us shared this unique experience and conversation at the same time. Between each bite of fresh tilapia, silence never occurred.  The fact that I did not know half of my company impelled me to keep the conversation flowing. I became no longer anxious, but excited. The bus ride back would definitely be a nice nap and not full of an anxious conversation with myself.

—Kendall Okner