Science - May 6, 2004

‘You don’t have to play squash to enjoy De Bongerd’

“You shouldn’t drink more than two glasses,” warns Isabella Nougalli, “It’s a poisonous drink.” Isabella, a PhD student at Plant Research International, fills plastic cups with caipirinha, a traditional Brazilian drink made from aguardiente containing 39% alcohol, ice, lime juice and several spoons of sugar. It’s sweet as lemonade, and the guests at the PhD graduation party of Antonio Chalfun junior on 21 April seemed to like it too, judging by the number of empty glasses.

In what has become a kind of Brazilian tradition, Antonio celebrated the successful defence of his thesis in the canteen of the university sports centre. The tradition started several years ago with a few Brazilians who went to the sports centre every Friday night to play squash. The word spread that they had so much fun in the canteen after training that even Brazilians who didn’t play squash started coming for a beer. Antonio is no stranger to De Bongerd on a Friday evening. “Since the first Friday night I came to play squash, I’ve been here every week. We liked the canteen so much we even gave them a Brazilian t-shirt,” says Chalfun junior. He has a pin with the Brazilian flag pinned to his lapel. “Today is also my farewell party. We have been here for four and a half years for my research, and we return to Brazil on 30 April.” The ‘we’ he’s referring to are his wife and three-month-old son. The baby is sound asleep in his pram, a dummy in his mouth.

The Brazilians also like De Bongerd because it’s easy to use the kitchen of the canteen, important as food is an essential part of a Brazilian party. In the kitchen PhD student Simone Ribeiro is stirring pans of soup. One contains a thick maize soup, canjiquinha from Minas Gerais, made by Antonio. The other, a black bean soup, Simone made herself. Simone is also a regular Friday night visitor to De Bongerd. “But I don’t play squash, I drink,” she laughingly admits. Nilvanirta Tebaldi is squeezing out limes for the cachaça. “We are all Brazilians, and we help each other,” says the red-haired PhD student explaining her presence. Today the Brazilian community in Wageningen is not as large as it was few years ago, when there were about one hundred students here. Most have now finished their PhDs and gone home. Antonio’s parents were not present at the party either, having just returned to Brazil after a three-month stay for the birth of their grandson. Nevertheless Antonio’s mother’s presence is felt. For the occasion she made kibe and cigarette, small tasty rolls filled with meat and cheese, which were kept in the freezer. Isabella likes them very much: “They taste like home,” she says blowing on one fresh out of the deep fryer.

Yvonne de Hilster

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