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SYLE in Brazil

May 25, 2024 6:56 AM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

Photo of Tasneem (on right) and friendby Yasmin Madmoune 

I grew up in Queens, NY: my mother is from Jamaica; I spent summers in Morocco where my fathers family is from. Last year I began traveling solo exploring what it means to travel intentionally, especially what it means to be Black wherever I travel. This is one reason I began to learn Portuguese. 56% of Brazilians identify as Black—the largest population of African descent outside of Africa. Brazil was often the first destination of Atlantic slave traders. Participating in SYLE during Carnival would be a dream come true. Visions of movies I’d seen danced through my head as did clips of Beyonce’s Renaissance tour, pictures of bikini-wearing people on the beach at Ipanema, and the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim.  

I flew into Salvador and immediately took a Blablacar (ride share) more than 350 kilometers to Aracaju, a place I knew nothing about. The ride was scenic, not just the mountains, but the advertisements seemingly etched into them, and long – it took nearly six hours to go less than 220 milesMy first hosts were Luisa and Raul. Luisa welcomed me into their apartment home with sweet coconut cake and cashew juice. While Ive no allergies,I’ve hated nuts my whole life. But I was raised to be a good guest, and once Luisa translated the name of Aracaju: Ara – for Land of the Parrots and Caju, for the nut, I knew I would have to try the yellowish, opaque juice. I liked it! In fact, I decided to reconsider my dislike of nuts  

When Luisa’s husband Raul came home from work, he went into the kitchen to fix himself some couscous. I didn’t understand how he could do that. Summers in Morocco we had couscous every Friday and preparing it was an all-day process for my aunt. Couscous has many ingredients and is served over semolina grains. Imagine my surprise on that night, when Luisa husband, Raul came home from work he went into the kitchen to fix himself some when Raul came out of the kitchen seven minutes later with a plate mixed with egg, sausage, cheese and couscous. I found out this version of couscous is popular in Brazil that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. II returned to Salvador which is home to the largest population of Black people outside of Africa. . Although I didn’t have a Servas host in Salvador, I was able to meet up with a day host, Everton, who took me around the Pelourinho neighborhood to experience my first night of carnival. In Brazil, Carnival means blocos or block parties. Different bands and samba schools use different blocks as their base where they play and sing and dance all hours of the day and night. People dress in all sorts of costumes shiny with different colors of glitter fill the street and dance away their inhibitions. Delicious food is also part of Carnival, but I struggled to find food to eat. I am Muslim and so don'eat pork. I quickly learned that Brazilians love pork. My three months of DuoLingo had only given me one word for pork, but Brazilians loved it by many names and did not consider things like bacon or ham pork! “Nao comoporcoor “I don’t eat pork,” was not enough. I soon realized that ordering seafood would be the safest way to avoid the ubiquitous ingredient. 

photo of Tasneem with friendsOverall, Salvador was beautiful. A place where I was surrounded by Black people who seemed a bit more in touch with their roots as evidenced by their traditional outfits and style. Flyers distributed throughout Carnival and comments from the stage declared that Salvador was not a place for “racism, homophobia or any kind of intolerance.” one of the things that surprised me the most, was seeing the Yaz symbol or the North African Amazigh symbol meaning “The Free People” etched into the base of a building in the old historic town of Pelorinho. My father's side of the family is Amazig and it really made me think about the effects of slavery and interconnectedness across the globe. Salvador is a blend of Africa and South America. It reminded me of home (Africa) in a way that I never experienced in South America before.  

Although I was sad to leave Salvador, I was super excited to go to Rio di Janeiro.  Although Sao Paolo is larger, people compare the liveliness and vibe of Rio to New York. I was particularly excited to see the Sambodrome, or Samba schools show. According to my research, the Sambodromeis one of the highlights of carnival. Samba schools each pick a theme, create floats, songs and costumes and battle for the best Samba school of the year. The elaborate costumes adorned in bright colors, feathers and sequins coupled with the live music reminded me a lot of Caribbean carnival. I was giddy to witness it for myself; it did not disappoint.  

As soon as I entered the stadium and heard the live, vibrant music I couldn’t help but move my body to the beat. I had never seen such an elaborate parade. Each samba school danced through the Sambodrome, shaking the stadium with their music -- you couldn’t help but sing along. Each school took about an hour to cross the Sambodrome. Six schools performed; the show didn’t end until 8 o'clock the next morning. Even though I got tired, I knew I had to stay and watch all the performances since it was the Winners Show with the top six schools competing to be the best of Carnival season. The stadium was still full as the sun rosekids of all ages were still running around, chasing each other, and their elders joyfully played their own tambourines to the beat of each song. I couldn’t believe it when I learned that the Sambodrome, a huge stadium right smack in the middle of the city, was only used at Carnival. As a businesswoman, and a New Yorker, whose city is known for hustling, I began to think of all the different ways the Sambodrome might be repurposed to maximize revenue throughout the year.  Click HERE to continue.


  • May 28, 2024 8:45 PM | Anonymous member
    Congratulations Yasmin!
    It sounds like you had an amazing experience.
    Thank you for participating in a SYLE and applying
    for the Mogerman SYLE Scholarship. I hope your
    story will inspire other youths to do the same.
    Link  •  Reply

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