Hinduism: Embracing Complexity


When people ask me why I chose to study religion at Colorado College, I often find myself unable to provide a satisfactory answer. I’ll point out how helpful and intelligent the professors are. I’ll argue that one can explore religion as an anthropologist, a biologist, a linguist, etc. I’ll mention how courses in the department challenge limiting conceptions of a true or pure tradition. Somehow, though, I always leave the conversation feeling as if I failed to fully express the importance and relevance of this field of study. I therefore struggled to start writing this blog post as I found myself trying to neatly sum up the experience of studying religion. I didn’t realize that I was doing exactly what I’ve learned to resist the past couple years, attempting to generalize and define an experience that can’t be contained by language alone.

In the course description for Hinduism, Tracy Coleman writes, “Our goal is not to define Hinduism in a straightforward manner, but rather to glimpse how varying interpretations of central concepts construct a complex tradition that changes over time, while nevertheless remaining recognizably Hindu.” In the study of any religious tradition, then, one must examine the particulars to illuminate the whole. Studying Hinduism, I’ve made an effort to recognize complexity and inconsistency both between and within texts that have been historically understood as Hindu. In doing so, I’ve found that while most ‘Hindu’ texts wrestle with similar questions of desire, duty, and devotion, they nevertheless put forth divergent perspectives and worldviews. A hymn in the Rig Veda for example may encourage one to practice fire sacrifice in hopes of gaining material wealth, while an excerpt from the Upanishads or Yoga Sutras could explicitly condemn such desire for worldly comforts. These apparently opposing worldviews, however, are generally grouped together under the umbrella term Hinduism. Is one perspective more ‘Hindu’ than the other? Of course not. Individuals who identify as Hindu may value one text or deity over another, but no one is ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Instead, each person relates to tradition and culture in his or her own unique way, valuing one perspective as useful and relevant to his or her own life and rejecting opposing viewpoints.

Having said that, though, I must recognize the importance of family and tradition in the individual’s worldview and spiritual tendencies. Like most people living in the ‘western’ world, I often think of myself as an isolated individual, distinct from the outside world. In studying Hinduism and other religious traditions, though, I’ve had to appreciate different modes of being-in-the-world. In India, for example, people often understand themselves not as individuals separate from the external world but as an essential part of the whole. The actions of an individual have an impact on more than just that one person. People are not necessarily free to follow every whim and desire; instead, they all have their own dharma or duty to their family, caste and community. With this perspective, the individual has a real and pressing responsibility to maintain the social order. This way of looking at the world has been difficult for me to fully grasp at times as my own cultural conditioning convinces me that I truly am a distinct and unique individual, acting freely in every moment.

As I’ve immersed myself in various religious traditions, I’ve learned to embrace diversity and complexity as an essential feature of life as lived. I’ve also learned to rethink everything I thought I knew about religion. The major religions of the world today elicit many strong opinions and emotions. I came to Colorado College convinced that religion no longer had any real purpose or place in the modern world. I considered myself an atheist and believed that major religious traditions could only create further division and discord throughout the world. I quickly learned, though, that religion in the 21st century is experiencing truly remarkable growth. More and more people are turning to religion. While I still don’t quite know what I believe when it comes to God and the divine, I’ve found that there is truth and wisdom in every tradition. I’m no longer content to simply discredit and reject religion. Instead, I’ve resolved to immerse myself in these complex traditions and determine for myself their value and role in my life and worldview.

Ethics of Genetics

Trisomy – Possession of 3 copies of a chromosome instead of the normal 2.

Trisomies occur in non disjunction events: when chromosomes do not properly separate during the production of gametes (egg or sperm). In that scenario, an embryo conceived from gametes with improper number of chromosomes may be missing or have more than the normal number of chromosomes. In these cases – spontaneous abortions usually occur because the embryo is not viable due the lack of or the abundance of the chromosome in question. A very common disorder that results from a trisomy is trisomy 21 – Down Syndrome.  In autosomes, a trisomy usually produces a non viable embryo. However, if a trisomy occurs in the sex chromosomes, the embryo is viable will most likely develop. There are a bunch of different variations of the trisomies.

In a normal biological female and male, the sex chromosome are XX and XY respectively. However, a trisomy can cause XXX, XXY, or XYY to occur. In these cases, the people that possess these combinations can live a relatively normal life.

People with XYY have a disorder called “Jacob’s Syndrome”. Jacob’s Syndome has also been dubbed “XYY Supermale”. The reason why is that the extra Y chromosome causes a dosage problem. Even though females may have two copies of the XX chromosome – one is inactivated to compensate for the dosage issue  that might occur. However, the extra Y in this case, can not be inactivated. The dosage issue caused by the extra Y can have dramatic effects.

The following signs may be an indication that a young boy or teenager has XYY Syndrome:

  • an autism diagnosis
  • an inability to grow facial or body hair
  • attention difficulties
  • delayed motor skill development, such as writing
  • delayed or difficult speech
  • delayed or absent puberty
  • emotional or behavioral issues
  • gynecomastia, or enlarged breast tissue
  • hand trembling or involuntary muscle movements
  • hypogonadism, or low testosterone levels
  • hypotonia, or weak muscle tone
  • learning disabilities
  • low energy levels
  • small penis
  • small, undersized testicles
  • taller than average height
  • weak bone

taken from: http://www.healthline.com/health/xyy-syndrome#Symptoms4

The reason why we spent quite a bit of time on this particular syndrome was that, in the past there was a huge issue about association of genetics and behavior. There was study done in the early 20th century with looking at the karyotypes of prisoners. They found that in the prison population compared to the general population, the prevalence of Jacob’s Syndrome was slightly higher. This was later debunked with further research. However, it brought about the debate on whether or not genetics predetermines behavior. Professor Ralph Bertrand presented the question of whether or not it was right to test for Jacob’s Syndrome at birth just like one would be tested for Cystic Fibrosis or Phenylketonuria. He asked about the rightness or wrongness of such testing because the results may then change the way the parents and society treats children who have been labeled at birth to be “future criminals”. Some students said it was wrong to do such testing because genetics is not destiny. Some students said the test should take place in order to give children with this disorder the proper care and education. Such subject exist in the realms of ethical purgatory. In the end, behavior is so complicated – that the explanation of having an extra Y predetermines criminal activity is simply inadequate.


Sophomore Year Slump?

We’ve all heard of it.  We’ve all dreaded it.  We’ve all still managed to fall victim to it in some way.  Some argue that the idle mind is its catalyst, others say it’s the result of feeling burned out after the first-year inferno of eagerness and energy.  At CC, one would expect a similar phenomenon: it would make sense if students tackled their first few blocks with ease and then suddenly grind to a halt as a result of the stress and weight of subsequent rounds of intensive study, right?  Over the course of these first few months back on campus, I have found only the contrary: as we students of the class of 2018 transition from the tentative stages of freshman year into the more driven phases of second- and third-year learning, we have begun to blossom in a brilliant display of creative potential, academic capacity, and a confidence that is unwavering, for we are now returning to our home field, and we are ready to amaze.

Hello!  My name is Sam Dahnert, and I am a member of the class of 2018.  I hail from Poughkeepsie, New York, and I am currently considering an Independently Designed Major in Architectural Theory, followed by two years’ undergraduate education in engineering through the 3-2 Plan.  My academic experience insofar with Colorado College has been in Film, Physics, Theatre, Philosophy, Anthropology and Art History, and like many freshmen, I was originally so taken aback by the passionate and engaged atmosphere of Colorado College that I could hardly imagine committing to a single major!  Fortunately, my interests have evolved thanks to my peers and advisors, and as a result I am much more confident in my current plan of action.  Outside of the classroom, I am heavily involved with student theatre, and I work for the Theatre Department in the scenic shop.  In addition, I am passionate about photography and film, plus I’m an avid skier (when in season).  I chose CC for its unique approach to segmented learning (much akin to my education in progressive private schools) and its options to pursue engineering along the line.

My current block, AH200: Modern Architecture, will prove to be one of many determining factors in choosing a major over the course of this year.  Returning to campus at the start of this year, I was excited to get back to work and enjoy CC’s unique campus atmosphere, but I knew that this year was overshadowed by the dreaded lull to which many of my friends from back home had already fallen victim.  However, I knew that something else lay ahead for me: the unique and supportive educational atmosphere and my expansive involvement with on-campus activities was bound to ensure that my mind would not go idle, and my time at work was never too overwhelming.  This block has proved just that: in the midst of field trips, class discussions and engaging reading and writing assignments, my time on campus has been far from a lull.

This first week and a half of class has been utterly fantastic.  Our class of nineteen has delved headlong into an exploration of modern architecture that is an art history course in its finest form: in addition to reading into elaborate backgrounds of social movements and events that influenced architects of the last century and a half, our class has also participated in two open discussions of upcoming structures on campus that embody many modernist principles and the evolution of design.  In addition, our class examined and gave presentations on existing modernist buildings on our campus, to shed light on the evolving principles and ideologies that influenced their designs.  To cap it all off, yesterday was our first of three day-long field trips off-campus to experience modern design outside of the CC world: on our class excursion, we roamed the streets of the beautiful business district of Denver, taking notes on many of the structures in the area, including the State Capitol Building, the Civic Center and Union Station.  I could ramble for paragraphs upon paragraphs about being able to witness first-hand the aesthetic pleasure of these structures, but I figure this post is getting long enough!  I suppose I’ll write a follow-up to cover the rest of this past week in detail.  The most important thing I have taken from these last few weeks, to be brief, is that CC always has a way of making learning fascinating.

I look forward to keeping track of my progress through this block via this blog…  I’ve never written one of these before, so please excuse the discombobulated, rambling language.  The next one will be much more concise, I promise.

Also, feel free to comment on this post if you wish!  I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.  Fodder for the next post is always appreciated.

Until then, readers.

Sincerely, Sam Dahnert

Studying Genetics with Context

End of Week 1

Often times, I feel as if we forget that science is often closely flanked by social issues. So far in the course, the ethics of science and in particular, genetics has come up again and again. Professor Ralph Bertrand constantly reminds us to think of the bigger picture and that science should not be studied in a vacuum. He often asks “Why is this important? Why are we teaching this material in the first place?”  The answer to these why questions are quite selfish. After all, we live in an anthropocentric society. Studying genetics allow us to better understand how living organisms thrive and propagate, how to mitigate or solve genetic disorders, and how to better the human condition.

On the second day, we had a discussion on genetic mutations and genetic modification. As you all know, the discourse on genetically modified organisms(GMOs) in popular media is not particularly informative nor helpful. A classmate had brought up the question of where you would draw the line in calling something a GMO, afterall nothing is inherently “natural” about the food we eat. Is artificial selection or selective breeding consider part of creating a GMO? Because for a lot of the foods that we eat – corn, almonds, tomatoes and etc, were inedible before selective breeding. Almonds contained a level of cyanide that would have killed us. The precursor to modern corn is a tiny grain called Teosinte, but after years of selective breeding, had finally become domesticated around 6,000 years ago. Is the line drawn at DNA splicing, DNA insertion, or DNA deletion? Is the backlash on GMOs due to the “unnatural” way humans have intervene with “nature”?

In addition to discussing genetics and its role in society, we’ve review the basic tools necessary to study genetics. Things like Western Blots, Northern Blots, Southern Blots, DNA microarrays, and DNA hybridization are all techniques to studying molecular genetics.

A little side note: Whoever said scientists don’t have senses of humor is very wrong. The name of Northern, Southern, and Western blots started because a man name Edwin Southern developed the Southern Blot.  The Northern and Western Blots came afterwards as a joke created by other scientists about the cardinal directions and Edwin Southern’s name.

These techniques help study changes in DNA sequences. Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), short tandem repeats (STRs), and copy number variants (CNVs) can all be detected by these techniques.  These different types of differences are helped to differentiate individuals from one another as well differentiate populations. They’re also used to detect defects such as genetic diseases that may be associated with the changes in nucleotide sequences.

Examples brought up in class were about how STRs are used for identification of suspects as well as paternity testing.

There are about 13 core loci looked at by the FBI to check for identity. The way STRs are used for the identification of suspects is to compare unique combinations of STR found in the recovered DNA and the suspect’s DNA. An STR – standing for “short tandem repeat” is a 2 – 6 nucleotide sequence that repeats at least twice in tandem. For example, if the short sequence is “atg” then STR of “atgatgatgatg” has 4 repeats. The number of repeats are unique and are pass down from parent to child. We all have a copy from our dad and from our mom. In this identification, the suspect may have a 4 and 6 copy at STR # 1 and the recovered DNA may have a 4 and 6 copy at STR # 1. This information can not correctly match the suspect to the DNA because many people may have that combination of 4 and 6 at STR # 1. Thus many STRs must be used. The chances of a mistaken identification decreases as the number of STRs increase.

Another usage of STRs is in day time television shows. The Maury Show has been running for over 20 years. One of the big motifs of the show is paternity testing. So if you have ever turned on the TV in the early afternoons, you might have heard the line“YOU are NOT the FATHER” or  ”YOU ARE the father!” Well paternity testing works very much the same way  as the suspect identification mentioned in the above paragraph. However, with paternity testing you need DNA from both parents. The child’s STRs combination is some sort of amalgation of the parent’s STRs combinations.

It’ be a fascinating week thus far. Please continue to follow the progress of our class!

Dirty Hands, Clear Head

It’s 11:30 P.M. I’m at the press, having just finished a group project in which my partner and I had to print a blue A onto a piece of paper, directly upon a red A which was previously printed there.

This, like the projects that have come before, is a long and detail-oriented task requiring setting the type, printing, measuring, realigning, printing, more measuring, more realigning, a long process of trial and error.

The first trials were way off.


But as we adjusted and readjusted, we managed to get closer.


And then suddenly, miraculously,


We got a perfect 24 pt. blue Garamond a eclipsing a red 24 pt. Garamond a.

What a feeling of accomplishment. What a beautiful little letter.



When my partner pulled our last available trial sheet from the press and said “We’ve done it” I really understood the satisfaction of printing – the hard work that creates a job well done. Instant gratification. A beautiful end product ready in a matter of moments. Perfect little letters.


After that completed project, I took to my tray full of type, left over from a previous project. I set a paragraph describing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing process. A randomly selected passage, a set of words on a page that became disassociated from their meaning as I sought to recreate them with the delicate pieces of lead type.

F Scott

However, what is made must come apart, and it isn’t as simple as tearing the type apart and leaving it in a jumbled mess. Each letter, each character, each space has it’s rightful slot in it’s rightful drawer. It is our duty as responsible novice printers to make sure those letters get to their respective homes, so that those who come after us will have the same (relative) ease we’ve had in setting the text in the first place.

So I got to work, putting each letter in each slot. Slow. Careful.

I got into a rhythm. A sense of calm, where I had but one focus in the world – get the type in the right place.

By the end of it all, my hands were dirty, covered with the marks of lead and ink that had stained them previously. But I was surrounded by a calm I’d missed for a long while.


With that, I’m off for a well-deserved sleep. Thanks for reading. 




Oi Gente!

Our group recently just returned from a wonderful experience in Lençóis, Bahia! The trip started on Friday morning, bright and early as it takes 7 hours to get to Lençóis from Salvador. I was asleep for most of the bus ride, but when I woke up, I realized for the first time since I entered Brazil, I wasn’t in the city. The country side of Bahia (the state I’m in) is absolutely stunning. Imagine long stretches of  dry land with the occasional small town brushing the edge of the main highway or the occasional cattle ranch.

Before we arrived in Lençóis, we stopped at the bottom of the mountain O Morro do Pai Inácio. We had a short, but surprisingly hard, hike to the top of the mountain. It was was absolutely stunning. The mountain had once been at the bottom of an ocean, so the landscape on the top was like nothing I’ve ever seen. The top of the mountain overlooks an entire valley and other mountains. The area used to produce diamonds (the same kind found in Africa), so its history is full of mining with slaves (which is connected to the the name Pai Inacio if you want to look it up).

Texture from the Ocean

CC Student Walking Over the Unique Texture from the Ocean

University of Texas, Colorado College, and University of Hawaii Students ontop the Mountain

University of Texas, Colorado College, and University of Hawaii Students ontop the Mountain

Author Taking a Flying Shot

Author Taking a Flying Shot

View From the Top of Morro Do Pai Inacio

View From the Top of Morro Do Pai Inacio

After this, we loaded up and headed to our hotel. Before we actually checked in, we visited an NGO located in Lençóis. The leaders there mostly had us dancing and connecting with music. After we had our fun, they sat us down to talk about what they really do. The NGO focuses on running workshops for children and people in different communities. The workshops for the kids focus on different things like dance, theater, music, but also things like  accounting  and programs to encourage students to go to college. The programs for the community focus on going into the community and empowering the community to become able to provide for itself. It was a great experience and almost all of us students were moved by it.

After this we finally got to our hotel and were free to explore. The next day, Saturday, we started the day off by heading to a cave! The entire experience was so incredible, especially for me, because I’ve never been to one. I was honestly just so struck by how huge it was. The entrance was huge, and inside was somehow even bigger. The deeper we went into the cave, the darker it became, until it was pitch black, with nothing buy our flash lights lighting the way. For a moment, I panicked because I felt trapped underground in the dark. The our guide had us turn off all our flashlights and stand completely silent. You would think that this would cause my fear to spike, but it was strangely calming. It was if all the pressure from the world above had been wiped away by the overwhelming darkness. It was beautiful.

Colorado College Students Entering the Cave

Colorado College Students Entering the Cave


Exiting the Cave

Exiting the Cave

After the cave, we visited a river so rich in iron, that it looked like it was black. Some students climbed up the small cliff next to it so that they could jump into the water, but I honestly think they were crazy as it was freezing. We then hiked up behind the river to Poço do Diabo, an amazing waterfall. I honestly can’t describe how great that was, so I’ll just post the photos.

Small River

The Black River

Poco do Diabo

Poço do Diabo

Poco do Diabo

Poço do Diabo

Then, after dinner some capoeiristas came and performed Caporeira for us. Some of them were adult masters, but most of the capoeiristas that came were actually children, around the ages of 5-12. That was a great experience to see all the different skill levels and the joy and the confidence the Brazilian children get from it. One interesting thing that the master said was that he is sad when his students leave the group after becoming a master at Caporiera, but he would much rather lose them to doing great things due to Caporiera, than to lose them drugs or violence. Caporiera is obviously so much more than a type of dance.

Another fun part of the night was that one of the capoeiristas that performed for us was Ailton Carmo, the lead actor in a capoeirista movie called Besouro that we had watched on the bus ride. We all took pictures with him and he was such a great sport about our fangirling.

University of Hawaii Students with Caporistas

University of Hawaii Students with Capoeiristas

Author, Ailton Carmo, and Another CC Student

Author, Ailton Carmo, and Another CC Student

The next day, Sunday, we took a trip to a waterfall. On the hike there, we passed a series of natural pools that pocketed a thin layer of rock over a river. We also passed the sandstone that is famous for making the different colored sand in souvenirs. We hiked through a small forest, and eventually came to a small natural waterfall. Like the cave, this waterfall was also a first for me. The water was freezing, but I still made the slippery journey to stand underneath it. I can’t explain the feeling that I had while there. Moments like those remind me of how far I’ve come, from a poor little girl being raised in Los Angeles, to a powerful college student with the entire world at my fingertips and endless opportunities. Moments like those humble me and remind me to remember the people who have made everything on this trip possible: my parents and all their sacrifices, my teachers in elementary school who never even hinted at the fact that statistically I was less likely to achieve than pretty much any other child, my high school teachers who pushed me to be better and also supported me through hard times, my scholarship program to helping me get into my college, and finally Colorado College (especially the financial aid office who has worked with me every step of the way). To all these people and more, I am eternally grateful.


Author Standing Beneath the Waterfall

Festa Junina

Oi Gente!
Here in Brazil, Festa Junina is in full swing. There are two different explanations for the term Festa Junina. The first explication is that it is named Festa Junina because the festival takes place in June. The other version says that the festival was created to pay homage to Sao Joao do Porto (St. John of Porto). Either way, Sao Joao plays a huge part in this festival and is celebrated specifically on June 24th. There is also a special celebration for Sao Pedro on June 29th and Santo Antonio on June 13th. Currently here in Salvador, there is a huge celebration for Sao Joao! I’ve went to Pelourinho two nights in a row for this celebration. Pelourinho is the historical center of Salvador, and is absolutely stunning on a normal day. During Sao Joao, Pelourinho is too amazing to put into words. Hundreds of people come together to eat, drink, and dance under the colorful lights strung around the main square. Live musicians play, and people dance traditional dances such as forro (pronounced: foho). All sorts of people dress up in their best festival clothes, but with a hint of a country theme as Sao Joao is a country themed holiday.

The best part of the holiday is to the see the unity and diversity of the people. Salvador has the highest population of Afro-Brazilians in Brazil, so the festival was full of Afro-Brazilians, of course. But they all had a beautiful and unique combination of features: dark skin with hazel eyes, light skin with dark, curly hair, or caramel skin with freckles and dark eyes. They also had a range of styles. Some people where what I would call, ‘hipsters’, some people went for a more hip hop look, some people were more into a mainstream look. And of course there were different levels of socioeconomic wealth represented there. Some people spent the night collecting discarded beer cans from the floor, while others flashed expensive phones while they took selfies. There were so many different kinds of people, but when the band played the right song, everyone would let out a call of approval, and would immediately begin singing and dancing. I love the way people dance here. In the U.S., dancing is from the hips, but here, dancing is all in the feet. Everyone knows the complex dance movements that has stumped most of the Americans that are on my trip. Being surrounded by these Brazilians was such a beautiful experience.

Pelourino before São João

Pelourinho before São João

Pelourinho before São João

Pelourinho before São João

Pelourinho before Sao Joao

Pelourinho before São João

Pelourinho During Sao Joao

Pelourinho During São João

Morro de Sao Paulo

Oi Gente!

We recently got back from an amazing trip to Morro de São Paulo. The trip started at 7am at ACBEU (the school we are studying at). The Colorado College students, along with students from the University of Texas – Austin, and the University of Hawaii, loaded up on two vans and drove to a port. The port had electricity in the air. Dogs and cats chased each other and people called to each other in Portuguese. Meanwhile, I couldn’t stop myself from bouncing up and down. We were about to get on a ferry and it would be my first time on a boat. When we got on, I couldn’t help but to feel a little dizzy and the ocean gently rocked below my feet, but I didn’t let that stop my excitement. After the hour and a half boat ride, we had a three-hour drive through a beautiful, tropical forest, dotted with tiny towns. After this trip, we boarded a large speed boat, and 30 minutes later, we arrived on the beautiful island of Morro de São Paulo. Morro de São Paulo is a small village of around 1,500 people. There are no cars in Morra de São Paulo, and the only way to get to various beaches and food places is by boat or by hiking. The first day that we were there, we hiked to an old fortress where the Dutch tried to invade Brazil. From there, we hiked up to a cliff that we were able to go zip lining  into the ocean. It was such a rush! For me personally, the first few seconds were the scariest. You run and jump off a cliff, and for a second you’re free-falling, with nothing but jagged rocks below you. Then the line catches you, and you realize you’re soaring past a beautiful city on a beautiful beach. For me, moments like these make me realize how beautiful the world is and how lucky I am to experience it. After I landed in the ocean, I swam to shore and watched the other students come down the mountain. After zip lining, I went to the pool our hotel had, then we had dinner, and afterwards went to explore the tiny tourist based town.

Author and Friend on the Ferry to Morro de São Paulo

Author (right) and a Fellow CC Student (left) on the Ferry to Morro de São Paulo

Morro De São Paulo

Morro De São Paulo

View From Our Hotel

View From Our Hotel

CC Students at the Fort Morro de São Paulo Built in 1630

CC Students at the Fort in Morro


University of Texas - Austin Student Zip Lining on the Beach

University of Texas – Austin Student Zip Lining into the Ocean

The next day officially started at 9am when we boarded what we dubbed, “The Party Boat,” to head to a clay beach. On the way, we saw dolphins catching fish and swimming around. Our boat stopped on a small beach, and we unloaded, slightly confused as to what we were actually doing on this strip of beach. Our guide, Samuel, lead us past the sandy shore and to base of a sharp cliff. Here the sand was coated with pink clay. We were shy to the clay at first, but soon, all of us students were bathing and rolling in clay. We were acting like three-year olds in mud. After we were thoroughly coated, we rinsed off in the ocean. We thought that was the end of the exfoliation, but Samuel called out to us. He was making a rougher batch. He promised “Quinze minutos, voces tem um novo corpo!” We scrubbed his gritty clay all over our bodies then waddled back to the boat while we waited for it to dry. We sure were a sight to see, people were actually taking pictures! We rinsed and everyone agreed our skin was baby smooth. After this we got back on the boat and took off to a sand bar where a river and the ocean met. This sand bar was littered with beautiful seashells and sand dollars. I spent nearly the entire time searching for them while other students played soccer, frisbee, or swam. After this, we boated over to another beach, where we had lunch. Our meat was served on sizzling platters and the rice and beans served in huge clay bowls. The evening was free for us, so I mostly shopped and slept. Some students went to a foam party! They said it was a blast, but it started at 3am, and I needed to sleep.

Students from Colorado College, University of Texas - Austin, and University of Hawaii, Enjoying the Clay

Students from Colorado College, University of Texas – Austin, and University of Hawaii, Enjoying the Clay

Sight of Clay Beach

Sight of Clay Beach

Our last day on Morro de São Paulo started with large amounts of rain. I went into the town to buy a disposable camera and most of the other students just stayed in the hotel and read. After I bought my camera, I went down to the beach and other places to take photos with my little camera. The rest of the time it rained, so not much else happened, until we loaded all our stuff back up, and started our trip home. I’m so grateful that I got to go on such an experience!

Misc Photo of Morro de São Paulo

Misc Photo of Morro de São Paulo


Misc Photo of Morro de São Paulo


Oi Gente!

Today marks my 10th day in Brazil. I can’t believe we have been here for so long.

A lot has happened since my last post. First of all, I went to a Candomblé celebration. My host family asked me, “Do you want to see Candomblé?” I agreed, because honestly I didn’t want to be alone in the house for several hours. I was told not to wear any black, brown or dark colors. I couldn’t wear anything above my knees but I was supposed to get dressed up a bit. When we got to the Candomblé house, I saw that everyone was wearing the essentially the same colors: blue and white. Dress ranged from what I would say traditional African to modern dresses. People were literally spilling out of the Candomblé house. They crowded the door and leaned in on the windows. My host family kept trying to push me through the thick crowd but for a long time all I could here were the pounding of drums and hollers from inside the house. Eventually we pushed past the hoards and into the house, and what I saw was beautiful. A group of women dressed in the traditional Candomblé outfit. Some stood off to the side, but then others, and a man, danced wildly in a circle of spectators. While they danced they shouted and some actually collapsed to the ground. I didn’t know what any of it meant until the next day when we had a class about Afro-Brazilian culture. The people of Candomblé recognize thousands of spirits called Orishas. When they dance, they can get possessed by these Orishas and let the Orishas dance around here on earth. Candomblé is an interesting religion because for years it was viewed as witchcraft and people were persecuted for following it. Even today many Christian churches try to convert those of Candomblé and view it as a lessor religion. Many people believe that people who are members of  Candomblé also fully believe in Catholicism and practice it side by side. This is because when the African slaves first came to Brazil, they were forced to disguise their religion under Catholic practices, so that they would be able to continue to practice in secret. This did eventually lead to a blend of religions for some people, but the current leader of Candomblé is advising her people to stop pretending to practice Candomblé under the guise of Catholicism. One isn’t allowed to take photos of  Candomblé, and therefore I don’t feel comfortable inserting any pictures of Candomblé into this post, but of you google Candomblé, there are some photos that will help you to understand better.

We also took a trip to Ilê Axé Opó Afonjá. Here their were several houses given to the Orisha. Each person on Earth has an Orisha. You can only go into the house of a certain Orisha if that Orisha is connected with you. Also an interesting fact is that these houses are legally registered under the names of the Orisha. The people that belong to that Orisha make donations to be able to pay for the houses bills like gas or lighting.

Here in Salvador, Candomblé is everywhere. It permeates almost every aspect of life in Salvador and the people are very proud of their religion. Candomble has created a unique culture here in Salvador. It connects the Afro-Brazilian people here to their brothers in Africa, that still practice the same religion, just in slightly different forms. As a African-American student, I am slightly jealous of the Afro-Brazilian people because of this. Their culture is so rich and fresh, while many of the slaves in America converted to Christianity and many lost their roots to Africa. I regret this.

Muito Prazer – Nice To Meet You

When most students decide to study abroad they usually chose places like Italy, France, or Spain. While these places are obviously full of culture and history, I am beyond satisfied with my choice to not travel the beaten path and travel to Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.                         IMG_5724                                 IMG_5737

I’ve only been in Salvador for four days, but in that time, I feel like I have a new understanding of the world.For the first time in my life, I was the foreigner, struggling to understand  another language. As a butchered words, received blank stares from everyone around me, and sometimes was forced to just sit silently, I was reminded of all the immigrants in the United States. Speaking a new language is indefinitely hard. Languages are not just a new set of words, but also a new way of thinking. The people in the United States who are from another country yet can understand what I’m saying and respond in “broken” English have accomplished something I and many American’s still can’t do. This brought me to a new realization. I am stupid. I, a straight A high school student on an full ride academic scholarship to a great private college, with an A- average in college, am stupid. In Brazil, when someone says, “I speak a little English,” essentially they can understand most of what I am saying and respond coherently. When I say, “I speak a little Portuguese,” I mean I know a tiny bit of scattered vocabulary and a few grammar constructions. So many people around the world can speak more than one language, and I struggle to learn one. Most Americans don’t even give other languages that much dignity. Most Americans push through their required two years of language in high school while they’re 14 and 15 years old. After that they forget about this language unless they’re required to push through more years of language in college, but like me they learn only scattered vocabulary and few grammar forms. Living with my host family, watching them talk and laugh, and not being able to communicate with them, is hard. I want to laugh and joke, but instead I sit quietly and watch. When Americans travel, we go into new countries without knowing a word of the country’s language and expect to be accommodated. When students from other countries come to America, they come fully speaking English or something close to it.
Of course, this isn’t the only thing I’ve learned in Brazil. Salvador is so alive and full of culture. The people here are proud of their African heritage and their culture is a mix of African and European roots. Catholicism and Candomble (an African religion), stand hand and hand in the city. There is no conflict, no or struggle between the two. We went on a city tour and saw many of shrines and churches of both religions.

Salvador also has huge communities called Favelas.
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These favelas have been compared to slums. People come to the city from the countryside looking for a better way of life, and while they try to find a job, they find or build a ‘temporary’ home in a favela. Once they are here, they are usually stuck here, in an unplanned community. Not all favelas are dangerous, but some are and have drugs running through them. The favelas are mixed in with the rich neighborhoods. There is no separation or distance between the rich or the poor. One favela we saw overlooked the soccer stadium built for the world cup, a beautiful lake, and a beautiful neighborhood for the rich. As my professor put it, Brazil is a rick country, but it has a corrupted government, so that the money stays in the hands of the politicians and a select elite, and doesn’t ever reach the hands of the people. For me, the hardest part is to see people sleeping in tents on some of most beautiful beaches or graffiti on beautiful churches or historical landmarks. Of course there is no way to make this better or justify what’s happening, but when I open the window to my room and hear the thriving city below me and all the people rushing in their car to be somewhere, I know that this city is still fighting for it’s equality, and I have hope.