Saturday, January 17, 2009

Amazon 2009: Day Thirteen (Saturday, January 17)

Today’s video was produced by the team Dar Um Jeito.

Today was our last big push at the worksite before our big TV appearance tomorrow. (Actually, we are supposed to appear on TV on Monday, but the filming will happen on Sunday.) We wanted the paint job on our building to be as far along as possible and we wanted to make the greatest possible progress on the covering for the deck. We succeeded on both fronts.

We split the group into two today, taking two teams to the worksite in the morning and leaving two teams at camp. The teams at camp had important work to do: prep some stills and video clips for a dvd that we will give to the TV station to use as they prepare their story about us and the organization with which we are affiliated. They want to incorporate some of our own impressions into the story that they prepare.

Those clips might also come in handy when we visit the main campus of the university who is providing our housing here in Santarém. We are speaking there on Tuesday in front of a mixed group of students, many of whom are specializing in education theory.

The groups that went to the worksite kicked things into high gear as they worked to finish the deck front and the paint job. The deck work is really frustrating, as the nails we use are a bit weak and the wood is really, really hard. Thus, it sometimes takes us ten or more nails to drive one all the way in. We are also having some serious logic problems on cutting the diagonal pieces that make the shape of the deck. Somehow, though, we overcame all of these obstacles and really made things change.

The paint crew overcame a pretty serious obstacle as well: rain. They started painting and it started raining. They toughed it out and kept painting, but the rain got tougher too. When they finally ran for cover, it seemed that painting might be off the agenda for the day. But just a few minutes later, the clouds parted, the hot Amazon sun broke through, and painting continued as planned.

Though we had gone to the site just to do construction work, our presence there meant that a whole lot of kids showed up wanting to play or learn. We offered both options. Marie headed up a crew that made some sweet little flashcards to help the kids learn conversations. They had notes about weather, emotions, food, etc. Pairs of us worked with three or four of them and they got really good at remembering and using their new English words.

Some of the rest of us decided to get in on their 2-liter cricket game, though none of us actually knew how to play. The language barrier did not prevent us from learning, though, and they were thrilled to yell and scream for us and at us to train us into following the rules. We went home late and exhausted but we were pleased with how much we had accomplished in one morning. We were also surprised to learn from the camp staff that another TV station had come by looking for us. We might have another day in front of the camera before we leave.

In the afternoon, the teams switched places and things continued. The afternoon construction and painting crews really got into a groove and took those jobs almost to completion. The paint crew had the heart-breaking experience of watching some of their fresh new paint peel when the tape was pulled, but some touchups tomorrow should solve that problem easily. The deck crew also found some new brain synapses and somehow overcame the difficulties that have stymied the crews before them. They almost finished that job too.

One difference in the afternoon crews’ experience was that the team called Dar Um Jeito (To Make a Way) did a follow up interview with the museum director that we met on Monday, Lourimar Leal. That team has decided to do one of its multimedia projects about Lourimar. (Special Note: one multimedia project per team will premier at our special presentation night on the SMC campus once we return. The date of that event is Tuesday, February 17. The event will be held in the Soda Center on the Saint Mary’s College campus at 7:00 in the evening. The event is free and open to the public.) Lourimar talked about his ancestors’ experiences with slavery, his own attempts to express his sense of liberation, and his dreams for Santarém’s future. He also offered the great favor of singing some of the songs that had been passed down through his family for generations. For those that were there it really seemed like the past itself was singing to us right in the courtyard of the museum.

We ended the night with another special treat: Brazilian ice cream. We picked only the funkiest flavors, like cupuaçú, açaí, coconut, tapioca, maracujá, graviola, and castanha. We won’t try to describe each one, but we will offer our hope that each of you gets to taste something nearly as good as that ice cream during your travels this week.

And today’s Purple Biker is: Rob Silva! As we noted a few days ago, Rob is a profuse projectile sweater and that distinction alone could have earned him purple bike status. Despite all of his perspiration, Rob still got a heat rash in the last few days and rather than opting out of work, he instead braved the hot Amazon days in long-sleeved shirts to protect himself. That, too, might have earned him the PB. As it turns out, though, he is also our bravest new speaker of Portuguese. He boldly carries on conversations that most of us wouldn’t attempt. Even though he doesn’t always have things quite right, our hosts and we appreciate his impressive efforts. Congratulations, Rob!

Working hard.

Someone gave Joe a baby.

Joe tearin it up.

Cassidy and Erik playing some sort of game that involved 2 bottles, 2 sticks and a ball.

Cassidy with all of her new friends.

The thinking spot on our porch. One of the best places to reflect on the day's happenings.
The fence near our worksite where some kids stand and observe us from afar.

Sleepy Zilly keeping the hammock warm for the next person.

Dona Maria sweeping the walkway in the afternoon sun.

This chair has become the chair where one waits to pounce on the hammock as soon as it is free.

Amazon 2009: Day Twelve (Friday, January 16)

Today’s video was produced by the team Bota Fogo.

Note: Our internet connection has been so slow for the last two days that we got timed out every time we attempted to post pics, videos, and blog entries. Thanks for your patience. Thus, we are a bit behind as we post these on Saturday night in Brazil. (By the way, the name of the country in which we are working is actually spelled with an “s”: Brasil. Don’t be surprised if we get so used to seeing that “s” instead of a “z” that we seem to be misspelling it here or elsewhere once we return.) Anyway, back to the blog:

Today is Cassidy’s birthday! Even though we had a night away from camp playing pool yesterday, we still looked forward to having a nice dinner out tonight to celebrate that Cassidy has turned 22. Happy birthday, Cass!

In general, we eat in camp for just about every meal. (One exception was the recent lunch on the beach that included the fish with the big teeth. And for those of you who wrote in about our “joke,” those teeth were the REAL teeth of the fish itself. That picture was NOT a prank!) We are all very happy with our food here. We have fresh-squeezed juice from exotic fruits every morning, noon, and night, and nothing that we eat is processed (except for the Coca-Cola that a few people are sneaking in every once in awhile). Our cooks, Dona Maria and Louro, really have managed to tap all of our taste buds pretty well. We’re so happy with our food that we have asked Louro to accompany us on our boat trip so that we don’t have to be away from his cooking.

Our breakfasts usually consist of sliced meats and cheese, bread, juice, and some kind of homemade cake or donut. Sometimes we have eggs. We always have lots of fruit, including watermelon and papaya every day and then other things when they are available at the local market. One of our favorites is called “cupuaçú” (pronounced “coop-oo-wah-SOO”). It and manioc seem to be cooked into something at virtually every meal.

For the big meal of the day, lunch, we have fried chicken or fresh fish, along with beans and rice every day. We have beets or broccoli or squash almost every day. We also have dessert every lunch, whether it is cake, flan, or pudding made from cupuaçú. We also sprinkle everything with this crunchy yellow stuff called “farofa.” It is made from manioc flour and it adds a nice flavor and texture to everything we eat.

Dinner is usually a little lighter, sometimes including leftovers from lunch, sometimes incorporating some new facet like a special new bread or soup. Tonight, however, we went to dinner at one of the nicest restaurants in town in honor of Cassidy’s birthday. We tasted really interesting appetizers made of shrimp and fish, then had entrees that included slow-cooked beef, fish, chicken, or shrimp. We shipped in a chocolate birthday cake for Cass and the restaurant came up with trick candles (two “2s”) that wouldn’t stay blown out no matter how hard she tried. The restaurant owner was really happy to have us and even took our picture to post somewhere to show what a great place his restaurant is.

In general, the place counted as pretty posh compared to everything else we’ve seen in Santarém. We keep exclaiming over the fact that we see almost no one wearing business attire or seeming to worry about perfect hairstyles. There are no luxury cars to speak of and we even learned today that less that 10% of the population owns a car or motorcycle. The people who cook for us (Dona Maria, Louro, and another woman named Leinda) all come to work on the same motorcycle, owned by Louro. He brings Dona Maria to work then goes back to get Leinda.

There is no fancy part of town, according to a cab driver who drove us today. He says that most parts of Santarém are pretty much like the places we’ve already been, but that there is a section that will jump up quickly if the city becomes the capital of the state, as planned.

The section of the city where we work, Liberdade (lee-bair-DODGE-ee), is more rundown than most parts. Few people have telephones, most of them walk wherever they go, and the children with whom we work play games using found objects (like two-liter bottles and sticks for cricket) rather than any store-bought items. When one team handed out stickers to the kids the other day, they went crazy, sticking them all over their clothes and faces and saving some to take home to their siblings or parents.

We’re starting to think that we’d like to stay in touch with the kids after we leave. A few people are thinking of starting up a clothing drive to send some new things their way. We’d also like to get some pictures printed so they can have copies of some of the shots we’ve taken of them and us together. We know that those pictures will be precious to us so we think that they might appreciate them too. We’re not quite ready to think about leaving yet, though, so we’ll put off all of these plans until later.

On to purple bike news: today’s rider of the bicicleta roxa is Katie Leonard! Katie is our unofficial nurse (she’s a nursing student) and she has been very careful about making our first aid kit get to where it belongs every day. When she sat out a stint on the worksite the other day because she was a bit under the weather (she’s fine now), a couple of the rest of us found out what a pain it is to ride a bike with that big fat purple duffle bag on the back. She’s also a great team member all the way around, so we are happy to award her a ride in the purple seat. Congratulations, Katie!

Our pet cat taking a nap.

Alyssandra was excited to help with the work, and Tara was fine with that.

They were fascinated with the technology.

Celebrating Cassidy’s 22nd birthday.

The kids were eager to help us paint the boathouse.

Robert does laundry??? This is questionable.

Boy flying kite at the worksite.

Horses on the side of the road walking outside our camp roaming freely and eating grass.

Birthday Girl, Cassidy blows out her candles…at least tries to because little did she know, Jesse bought trick candles!

The gals with the birthday hats on posing for a picture.

Sophie trying to perfect her hammering.

Marie protecting her face from the harmful paint fumes. Safety first!

Joe and Joey practicing their hammering. They made up a game of who could hit the nail in quicker.
Jaime with the kids fresh out of the Tapajos River.

Day two of painting the boathouse. Cassidy, Sophie, and Shana are doing a great job with the messy blue.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Amazon 2009: Day Eleven (Thursday, January 15)

Today’s video was produced by the team As Onças.

Let’s start by talking weather and bugs. Those two areas seem to be the ones generating the most questions in our emails, so let’s see how to address them to help our readers understand. The first issue, weather, seems to center around the question of how hot it really is. As it turns out, the answer in “degrees Fahrenheit” is “not THAT hot.” We never really check the temperature during the day, but it probably never tops over 100 degrees, staying closer to 90 or so on most days. That’s hot, but in the U.S., that temperature is rarely an excruciating experience. At night, the temperature is usually about 80 or so degrees.

Apparently, though, that old phrase “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” really proves itself true in the Amazon. The air here is so thick and dense that sometimes it seems hard to use it to breathe. Once we’ve showered, we step back out onto our porch (where we REALLY live here) and we are immediately covered with a layer of heat and sweat and oiliness. Then we layer on insect repellant and sunscreen and the scumminess just increases. There is almost never a full five-minute period where our skin is just dry and feeling normal. Strangely, that basic greasy state of being IS now normal for us and we really don’t even complain about it anymore.

Today, though, we had a still, hot morning that broke into a siesta-time rain shower. After that, during our afternoon work time, the heat seemed more unbearable than ever. Our teammate Rob was actually, literally projectile sweating. He would bend over to measure a piece of lumber and his whole hatband would run like a waterfall. He says that he is “a sweater,” but this was crazy. We would work for ten minutes or so, head into the shade and guzzle water, then Rob would shoot it out of his pores and continue to work.

As for bugs, we are not nearly as grossed out as we expected to be by the somewhat enormous spiders, grasshoppers, and mosquitoes that we are encountering. We still gasp and run more than is reasonable when a big fat spider appears out from under a board or through a window. Our Brazilian hosts, though, are totally unperturbed and they just reach for the spiders and throw them out of the way. The mosquitoes, too, are not as intimidating as we thought they would be. They are sure everywhere, but we are so slathered with repellant that we don’t really have all that many bites considering how many of us there are and how long we’ve been here.

Anyway, our morning job today was split into two parts: working with the kids on English and recreation and working on the new deck of the building we’ve been working on. As for the kids, they got a huge kick out of doing the “Hokey Pokey,” and they didn’t even notice that we were substituting the English words that they had learned in “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” for the regular words of the song. We also did a few English lessons, including fruits and animals. They are still loving the idea of learning English, though they have really only mastered “Hello,” and “How are you?”

We, of course, want to help them learn English (as they have requested) because we want to help them learn and grow, but we also have particular interest in their progress because on Sunday we are all going to be on Brazilian TV. The local station has heard about us and about the program that Georgete runs, so they are spending the day with us on Sunday for a story that will run on Monday. We’re excited, especially because we think that the kids will love the idea of being on TV. We understand that the story will be posted online, so we will forward the link when we know it. Please be aware that if you click on it you will find it only in Portuguese.

The group that wasn’t playing with the kids worked on the deck of the building all day or else repainted the building. Georgete decided she wanted to put a lattice-type facing on the rail, maybe for safety reasons, maybe to discourage people from hanging out and sitting on the deck. The comedy of errors that came from mixing English and metric measuring systems with 45 degree angles was quite entertaining.

Beyond this comedic part of the construction, our awe for Jaime’s skills grew even more. We all struggled to make the small nails go through the hard wood as we hoped they would, but Jaime seemed like a zen master as he seemed to use the force of his will to make the nails obey him. More often than not, they did. As if we weren’t already impressed enough with Jaime’s greatness, we got another dose of it when, at the end of the day, he literally took the shirt off his back and tore it into rags for us to use to clean the messy paint off of ourselves with turpentine.

In the evening we decided to eat early and head down the street to play pool at a place that has been recommended by several of our local acquaintances. When we arrived just after 8:00 p.m., the place was pretty quiet, but it turned into a pretty happy, hopping spot not long after. We played pool with each other then took friendly challenges from the locals. It was all very calm and low-key, but really fun. We even learned that Marie and Joey are MAJOR pool sharks, as they spent a good deal of their youths perfecting their games. Most of us stayed up until just after midnight, so Shawny and Jesse worked it out for us to go to work a little later than usual on Friday, this time arriving at 9:00 a.m. instead of 8:00.

And as for the purple bike, the newest inductee into the “Ordem da Bicicleta Roxa” is Mercedes Matthews! She wins a day on the purple bike partially because she got locked in the bathroom of the boat on Tuesday, but more because she is always watching out for what work needs to be done (and, of course, she does it). One of our mottos is “Every job is everybody’s job,” and Mercedes exemplifies that spirit well. Congratulations, Mercedes!

Red light green light was one of the games we taught the kids.

An example of the giant bugs we live with here in Brazil.

Jaime teaches the older kids at the camp how to kayak.

Hokey Pokey was one of the other games we played with the kids.

The kids loves teaching us different Brazilian clapping games.

Shana learning quickly how to saw.

Our team, minus Katie, beginning the first half of the white paint on the new and improved boathouse.

The biggest spider we’ve ever seen. It was significantly bigger than a tube of chapstick.

Alesandra, one of our students, took our camera and capture this shot of the Tapajos River.

The kids are getting ready for their daily lessons. Today, we started with the Hokey Pokey.

The kids happily wait for our lesson to start.

Ana uses this downtime to hang out and relax on the hammock.

The girls smile for a picture during our night out taking a break after a hard day’s work.

The kids are so excited and full of energy that they tackle Erik full force.

Happy Birthday Cassidy! Zilly gives Cassidy a birthday kiss!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Amazon 2009: Day Ten (Wednesday, January 14)

Today’s video was produced by the team Paz.

We quickly got back into the swing of things by getting to work on time this morning (we decided to get up 15 minutes earlier to help make this happen). Though our hosts weren’t quite ready to begin when we arrived, we were. We started going around to different kids and checking out their recollection of the English we had taught them. We mostly focused on greetings and the question: “How are you?” Little clumps of them picked it up quickly while others needed phonetics lessons on the words “thank you.”

When Georgete was ready to get started, we separated into two groups. Most of us went out onto the beach to build the tents and get ready to deliver our lesson plans. Today we planned to do two songs (The Counting Song and The Hokey Pokey) and two lessons in English (colors and clothing). Partway through The Counting Song, we could already tell that our students were pretty hyped up. Then we moved into our English lessons instead of going on to our next song. We managed to keep them together and focused on our lessons, but it was clear that they wanted to RUN!

So, Team Paz came to the rescue by setting up its calisthenics obstacle course. The kids had to run in pairs (representing the two teams into which we had divided them) and stop at different stations to do pushups and jumping jacks, among other things. Perhaps more than any other lesson we’ve done, this one was PERFECT for its moment. The kids were patient and courteous, they were really excited about the game, they ran really hard from station to station, and they cheered madly as each person returned to home base. We all cheered almost as hard.

We played Duck, Duck, Goose, and a game called Cat and Mouse. They taught us Portuguese words for all of the English in the game but we still had them play the games in English. (Of course, this decision meant that as we rode off for lunch, we heard calls of “Duck! Duck! Goose!” from the kids lining the dirt road.) We have all gotten a kick out of spending some of our college lives playing children’s games again.

Another group of the older kids separated off with Georgete to plant açai trees around the storage building. Açai is the fruit that is the basis of some new diet fads in the U.S., but here it is just a common fruit that people eat often. The main way to eat it is to smash it up into a substance somewhat like melting ice cream, sweeten it, then eat it a bowlful of it from a spoon. It is a great source of iron and other nutrients, so it will be nice for the kids and the program to have access to a steady supply of açai once the seedlings mature. We didn’t find out today how long it will take for the plants to bear fruit.

The rest of our group got busy with the building itself, demolishing the back wall in short order (carefully, though, so we could salvage as much wood as possible) and then rebuilding it. A few of the students who were on the construction job had never knocked a wall out of a building before (no matter how sturdy), so doing it for the first time was quite a rush.

Equally fun was rebuilding the wall using hand tools almost exclusively. The one exception was the small power saw that we bought to help cut the wood. It is of a familiar brand name, Makita, but it is so small that it looks like a toy. It saves us lots of work, though, so we don’t mind. Chris trained a couple of people on how to use the saw and they became a virtual lumber mill. We had two different sizes of boards that all had to be cut at 45 degree angles, so we would measure and yell out “Fat 310” and the crew would know just what to do. By the end of the day, the wall we knocked out was rebuilt much better than before.

As for that “310” up there, it is a metric measurement, which has been a constant source of confusion for us. We keep saying the number on the tape, then asking, “is that centimeters or millimeters or what?” Of course our Brazilian hosts always use the metric system, but few of us have ever gotten the hang of it. We keep switching back and forth: “Bring me an 8 inch board cut to 291 centimeters.” Maybe by February we will catch on.

Speaking of the metric system, we are guessing that a certain subset of our readership out there might be better versed in the metric system than we are. More specifically, we could probably use some of Miss Anderson’s (Shawny’s sister’s) sixth graders from Happy Hollow Elementary School in West Lafayette, Indiana, on our measuring team. They probably know their way around the metric system better than we do. Each of the Happy Hollow students wrote letters to each of our students before the trip began. We just got our letters when we were out on the boat yesterday.

The Happy Hollow students have some questions for us, so we will answer them here:

Q: How big was the anaconda?
A: Happily, we didn’t see an anaconda. We hear that they can be 18 feet long.

Q: Please introduce yourselves in each video so we can get to know you.
A: It takes a long time to put together our short videos. We probably won’t remember to do this. Sorry.

Q: How does it feel to be compared to Barack Obama??
A: Joe is not in the room right now, so we can’t answer. Maybe he will say it in tomorrow’s video.

Q: More Zilly! What kind of cat is she? What will happen to her when you leave?
A: What kind of cat is Zilly? A SKINNY cat! Did you see her bones? She seems much fatter already since we’ve been here. Another guy here seems to like her too, so hopefully he will give her attention when we go back to the U.S. Several of us have contemplated smuggling her back with us, but we think we will leave her to hunt bugs in the bushes around our camp.

Q: We love the "Order of the Purple Bike!"
A: We love it too! All day every day people praise each other’s work by saying, “That might be worth a ride on the purple bike!”

And speaking of the purple bike, the newest inductee into the “Ordem da Bicicleta Roxa” is Shana Dhillon! Shana jumped up and ran around collecting laundry off the line when the rain started a couple of days ago, and we had such a back-up of worthy recipients that we are only getting around to recognizing Shana now. She is always a person who is trying to see what others need. She offers to get first aid items when someone is tending to a blister or sunburn and she does more than her share of work on-site. The Purple Bike belonged to her today! Congratulations, Shana!

Ana helps us get the kids ready to start the day.

The building across from our work site shows the general condition of the riverfront in the neighborhood where we work.

The children taught us how to play “Cat and Mouse.”

Marcia chases Joe around the circle in the game of “Duck, Duck, Goose.” Even with a camera around her neck, she can still catch him.

Alec takes a break from the hand-saw to help one of the kids practice his English.

After playing around in the hot sun, the kids needed some water to refresh their body and mind.

Shana and Margeaux repaint the side wall of the new and improved boathouse.

Chris trained Marie on how to use the power-saw and she became a real expert today.

The two boys relaxing in the shade from the hot sun.

The two boys again, smiling (we think), for the camera. They came to watch and observe the hard work everyone had put in on the building.

Mercedes, Shawny and Alec working together to put up the boards on the building.

Here's a picture of the wall replacement job mid-morning.

A fantastic group puts on the finishing touches of the wall. It was ripped down and built up ten times better in one day.

Jaime standing tall on the reinforced building, proud of all the work that has been done.