Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Amazon 2009: Day Two (Tuesday, January 6)
Today’s video post was prepared by Team Paz (peace in Portuguese), which consists of Erik Coloma, Joe Arnold, Cassidy Gunter, and Shana Dhillon.
After our thrilling (and THRILLED) arrival in Santarém, we got the added boost of moving into our new January home. We are staying at Campus II of the local university, UFPA (which, translated, stands for Federal University of Pará). SMC groups have stayed here twice before, and Shawny, Jesse, and Marcia, were all very surprised about how much the area has grown since their last visit in 2005. Still, the beautiful coziness of the UFPA cabins and bunks remained.
We were greeted by the person that we now all appreciate the most: Dona Maria, our cook and housemother. She was happy to see us return, and when we told her how happy we were to be here, she explained that the camp was almost destroyed a couple of years ago. Strangely, she said that our group’s multiple trips to the region helped to save the camp, as they used us as an example of the great global outreach that the camp provides. We were pleased to hear that we had helped them, but we were even more pleased to settle in and make the camp start to feel like home.
We loaded gear and sorted first aid equipment. We staked claims on our favorite bunks and hoisted mosquito nets above them. And we made friends with our first visitor, a skinny-bone-jones cat that we have named Zilly (a shortened form of Brazil). We also looked for the monkeys that hang out in the trees outside our cabin, but we haven’t seen them yet.
Some of us took our weekly dose of malaria medicine, while others took their daily doses. We aren’t really in an area with a high risk of malaria, but we’d rather be safe than sorry. We also had several immunizations before we came, including Yellow Fever, Hepatitis, and Typhoid. Despite our knowledge of all of these (very low) threats around us, the whole world around us seemed too beautiful to be anything but benign. We’ll continue to enjoy the beauty, but we’ll also take every available precaution.
We took a siesta in the afternoon, but Shawny didn’t let it go on nearly as long as it would have if we had been left to our own devices. She knew that if we slept too long in the afternoon, we would have trouble sleeping at night and our body clocks would not adjust properly to our new time zone. When we reluctantly awoke, we took a walk into the town. We doused ourselves with sunscreen (50 spf) and mosquito repellant (with DEET) and ventured out into the stifling heat.
The heat here is difficult to describe, as it is so thick and heavy that it seems possible to measure its mass and density. It is often only about 90 degrees, but the humidity weighs down on us in a way that is really oppressive. Also, a constant trickle of sweat is running somewhere down each of our bodies at all times. Because we are surrounded by spiders, mosquitoes, gnats, ants, and other crawling things, it is not hard to imagine that the trickle of sweat might actually be some living creature. We are adjusting quickly, though, and soon we can stop flinching over every drop.
Our walk into town was actually quite taxing due to the heat, but our excitement at everything that we were seeing definitely overrode our discomfort. We walked along the banks of the conjoined Amazon and Tapajós Rivers, following the “orla” (kind of like an embarcadero?) along the edge of the town.
People who noticed us were incredibly friendly, meaning that we learned a whole new range of Portuguese greetings that had not been included in our recorded language lessons. We caught on quickly to the greetings, but we are not necessarily catching on quite as quickly to longer phrases and sentences that are coming our way. Jesse is helping us to develop our understanding quickly and we are all pretty equally committed to really improving our language skills.
At night we had a visit from our work partners from the Associão Amazónica, Georgete and Jaime. Their organization serves local children by teaching them about sustainability through art, recreation, and education. They run a day-camp-like program on the banks of the Tapajós not too far from our UFPA home. They invited a few of us to visit their site tomorrow morning to get a better feel for what our service work will be.
Before we sign off, we want to announce that we are eating wonderful, fabulous food for every meal. Everything is home-cooked and the exotic and interesting juices that we are tasting for the first time are all freshly-squeezed. Even familiar items like chicken (called “frango” here) seem especially tasty. Some of us even managed to find fresh coconuts in town so that we could drink the “coconut water” right from the coconut itself. There are still lots of things that we need to try, though, so we are eager to keep discovering new dining delights.
Along with our great food, we are seeing some fascinating images. Marcia is particularly talented at capturing them and she is posting some of her photos at this site: Marciainbrasil.blogspot.com. Visit there too, if you’d like to see some beautiful work.