Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Amazon 2009: Day Twenty-One (Sunday, January 25)

Shawny woke us up at 5:45 today so that we could finally make our way to mass at the beautiful church in the center of town. The last two Sundays, we missed mass, one because we (she) overslept and one because we had to help facilitate the television interviews that would highlight Jaime and Georgete’s program. On our last Sunday in town, then, we were determined to get ourselves to mass.

Brazil is more than 80% Catholic, so even for those of us who are not Catholics, attending mass is an important part of our cultural understanding of the place we have lived. Thus, some of us were eager to go so that we could get spiritual enrichment while others’ interests were more anthropological. In either case, we must report that – once again – we missed mass. For some reason, the regular 7:00 a.m. service did not occur at 7:00 a.m. today. In fact, some other church several blocks away got the 7:00 timeslot for today. We waited on the church steps until others came along and told us that today’s mass would be at a different time (though no one knew when that hour would be).

We weren’t terribly disturbed by this news, as the weather on this particular morning was perhaps the most beautiful temperature that we had experienced in our whole trip. There was a light river breeze blowing, the sun was shining (but not beating down on us), and the morning was clear and quiet.

At Cassidy’s suggestion, we decided to start our own service. We recognize that no matter what our religious affiliations might be, we feel blessed by our experiences here. We also feel thankful. Thus, we opened up a conversation about blessedness and thankfulness, in which different ones of us expressed our gratitude about our time in the Amazon, about each other, about the people we’ve met, and about the experiences that we’ve shared.

Just as we were reaching the end of our session, a woman appeared from around the corner wearing a big smile. She leaned down toward us from the top of the steps and started singing a lovely hymn that Jesse said predicted that we would all go to heaven. We recognized this woman from our first day in Santarém; that day, she also approached us out of nowhere and sang us a song about her love for Jesus and his blessings upon us. We hadn’t seen her again until this moment on the church steps, but it seemed like the perfect bookend to our trip.

Once she sang her first song, she began to speak in a voice that sounded sermonic and she delivered a message that Jesse flash-translated about hope and goodness in the world, overcoming sadness, and rising to new challenges. She sang another song. We clapped for her then Erik delivered a prayer for all of us. It was one of the most beautiful and moving “services” that any of us had ever attended.

We thus decided to head back toward home to eat breakfast and change clothes for our last morning of working with the kids. Before we were anywhere near the worksite, some of us already had tears in our eyes. We hadn’t even seen the kids yet today and we could tell that we were about to miss them desperately.
As we headed down into the beach area where we work and play with the kids, they started streaming out of every house and pathway to head down to meet us. They were hugging us and telling us they missed us because we had been gone for only four days. We started taking pictures of us with them, either individually or in small groups, and they quickly took over our cameras and showed us what to shoot.

We played lots of games, sat and painted, danced and sang. The capoeira group returned for a further demonstration and training session and a HUGE volleyball broke out on the beach. A different TV station showed up and followed us around to understand what had happened for us and for the kids in the last month.

As the end of the morning approached, we all gathered on the newly-roofed new deck on the boathouse for a big group picture. The kids all stood on the deck and we all stood below while Marcia and Shawny took pictures on about 20 different cameras. Then one of our favorites of all the kids, Luis Felipe, took over Marcia’s big camera and took the definitive final picture of all of us. (Luis Felipe, by the way, had a stunning day on the volleyball court today, where he managed a few saves that would have seemed impossible a couple of weeks ago. His euphoria over his achievements was contagious, so he was the hero of our day.)

As we walked away from the beach for the last time, the kids each took one of our bikes and pushed it up the hill for us. They followed us out to the main paved road where we ride and we told them that this was the place where they should probably turn back. They cried, we cried, everyone hugged and we parted ways waving back to each other until we were out of sight.

A few of our hosts joined us for lunch back at our camp. Jaime and Georgete were there with two visiting friends and Seu João came with his daughter, Josialda. We ate together, then Seu João delivered a tribute to us that brought us all to tears again. The women of our group presented a backpack full of clothes and other belongings to Josialda, who loved every item.

Once they all headed home, we kicked into full-fledged packing mode so that we could be ready to head for the airport tonight. Everyone got one more spin on the internet to let their people back home know when to expect them. We cleaned and cleared out the camp and then just gathered on the porch one last time to play cards, listen to music, and reflect on our lovely Amazon home.

Just before we left, Jaime returned one more time with a big box of mysterious goodies for us to take home and with another tribute to our group. In his tribute, Jaime named each one of us individually and reflected on the character traits that revealed themselves during the course of our stay. We were amazed by how well he knew us – each of us – and, of course, we were all brought to tears again.

We left the camp by saying goodbye to Zilly one by one. Our departure was a bit delayed leaving the Santarém airport, but none of us really minded. We may have left Santarém today, but we know that it will never, never leave us.
Special note:

We have some questions that have been posted by another set of elementary school students in Indiana, this time from third graders at Southwestern Elementary School (taught by Shawny’s other sister, Shelly). Here are their questions and some brief answers:

Dear Shawny and Class,

Mrs. Anderson Hamilton's third graders in Hanover, Indiana, have a few questions...

1. How did you keep the camera dry when it rained? Jade (cousin to Larry Bird)

--Jade, you are smart to think of this problem. You are right that we had to think about rain every day, even when it was not raining in the morning. Here in the rain forest, rain just comes and goes constantly, so it is a problem that we always have to think about. We have waterproof cases for all of our equipment, so we usually keep the cameras in those. When we need to carry it in a smaller form, we sometimes wrap the camera in a towel and put it inside a backpack or we even sometimes put them inside our shirts and rainjackets.

2. Why is there white paint around the trees? MiKaela

--We asked this question too, but we still aren’t sure about the answer. We think that the paint fights off some kind of fungus that would infect the trees if they weren’t painted.

3. Why were you painting the building blue? Jacob

--We painted the building the same colors that it had had been before: blue and white. Those are the colors that our hosts wanted.

4. How are the college students doing? Briann

--Everyone is okay. Almost every person got a little bit sick somewhere along the line, but when that happened, that person just sat out for half a day, slept, and then got better. We were lucky that no one got hurt or got really, really sick.

5. Which side of the river was salt water and which was fresh water? Nate

--Both sides of the river are fresh water. They stay separate because they move at different speeds and therefore they stir up different levels of silt and mud. The Amazon, the brown one, is the faster one, so it stirs up more stuff.

6. What kind of fish is the one in the market? It was giant! Triston

--The fish have really weird names (to us, anyway). The one you are thinking of us probably called tucunaré (too-coo-nah-RAY).

7. What's been your favorite activity so far? Katelin

--Each person would say something different. For most of us, though, it has been working with the kids because they are so warm and loving. We will miss them terribly.

FYI - We had a two hour delay today for weather, and probably won't be here tomorrow, so we spent some time watching your videos for each day. We will continue to check them for the rest of your trip. This is very strange for 8,9, and 10 year-olds to understand! Also, they'd like to know why some of the video sound is not as good - they couldn't hear everything that was being said!

--Sorry about our sound problems. Sometimes they are due to bad microphone placement, sometimes due to background noise, and sometimes because we forget to turn up the volume when editing.

We'll check back later!
Shelly and the class.

--Thanks for writing!

This was the beautiful inside of the church.

The children made these toys and Mercedes was eager to play along.

On our last day these boys wanted more pictures taken.

The children playing in the water.

It was very early when we arrived for morning mass.

This is a picture of the finished deck on the boat house.

Seu Joao at the worksite on the last day poses for the camera!

Jaime, Georgete, Seu Joao, the kids, SMC, and the Capoeira Crew get together for one final picture.

Shawny taking a brief time out from her hard work to learn a local dance.

Shanna giving a big smile as she says goodbye to the kids.

Jesse and Josy showing that goodbyes don’t always have to be sad.

Erik and Josy saying goodbye after an unforgettable trip.

A bittersweet end to an amazing trip.

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