Saturday, January 24, 2009

Amazon 2009: Day Sixteen (Tuesday, January 20)

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Today’s slideshow was produced by the team Bota Fogo. (Still to come....)

We have returned from our boat trip and we are all intact! (Well, actually, we have lots of mosquito bites and lots of band-aids for a number of reasons, but we are NOT complaining). We’ll move backwards a bit to catch our readers up on all that has happened since we last wrote. By the way, because of our inability to charge our technology on the boat, we reduced our load by producing slideshows this week instead of videos. Today’s presentation by Bota Fogo preceded the boat trip, but they had to finish things later so we had them do a slide show too.

The group called Bota Fogo (named after a soccer team in Rio) got up very early this morning to join Jesse, our boat captain (Rionaldo), and our cook both on the boat and at camp (Louro) to purchase all of the food that we needed to move around out on the river for four days straight. Because we were to visit rather primitive communities, we knew that we could not acquire any extra goods along the way (there are no Safeways there), so we had to really be on top of things. The group went to a local market to buy fish and produce and then went to a large grocery store to get everything else. Among other fascinating purchases, they bought two fish that (combined) weighed 45 pounds.

Once they finished with the purchases of food for the boat, Bota Fogo and the team called As Onças both had some time to do some quick shopping, with their priority being the purchase of hammocks to use as beds on the boat. The riverfront is lined with boats that are strung with hammocks and such boats are the main mode of transportation between Santarém and other river towns. We were excited to join into this tradition and everyone got a big kick out of selecting his or her hammock and then bargaining over the price with the market vendors.

The other two teams, Dar Um Jeito and Paz, went straight to the worksite where they accomplished a huge amount of labor, far beyond what seemed possible for one morning. They hung the roof over the new deck, they installed a custom gate on the opening of the deck, and they finished painting everything on the deck and building. We thought there would be some finishwork to do after this morning’s shift, but these two strong teams (along with the hard work of the other two teams the evening before) guaranteed that there is no unfinished business on the job we set out to do.

In the afternoon, we followed up on an invitation from the local university to present some of our work to an audience there. Each team had selected photos and/or video to present and Jesse helped to translate things so that we could communicate with the sizable audience that showed up (maybe 50 people?). The audience was kind and attentive and their questions at the end indicated to us just how important U.S. foreign policy is to other parts of the world. We answered questions about the international interest in the Amazon, the state of the world under U.S. President George W. Bush, and the future prospects of the new U.S. President, Barack Obama, whose inauguration many of the audience members had just watched. (We, unfortunately, missed the inauguration because we couldn’t get access to a TV with the proper channel.)

After our speaking gig, we hit the basketball courts again and generated quite a bit of enthusiasm once more. A few people from the university even joined us down at the courts to see what was going on. We won a game and lost a game, again because of the refs’ tendency to call any physical contact a foul. Throughout the game, like most evenings here, there was lightning flashing in the sky out in the distance. This time, though, the clouds started looking a little more ominous close to us, so we all started gathering up our things and heading into cabs for rides home. The downpour that hit simultaneous to our departure was awesome. Never have we seen rain that was so . . . WET.

The streets started to flood and some cabs couldn’t make it down the lane where we stay. Some of us had to walk in through knee deep water, one of us lost a flip-flop forever (Shana), and all of us have a story of a tropical storm that we will never forget. Once we all got home we organized for our river trip, hoping that the weather would break soon.

As mentioned already, our purple biker today was Alec Tappin.

A Santarem license plate.

The poster put up advertising our presentation at the university.

Laundry drying in the side yard of a house.

A man selling fish on the street in Santarem.

Chickens that we saw on a porch on our walk through Santarem after our presentation at the university.

Sophie took a beautiful picture of the clouds, shortly before a monsoon-like storm.

Team Dar Um Jeito speaking to Santarem college students about their experiences thus far during the trip.

Joe helping Chris get the last pieces of wood on the veranda while the final touches are being applied.

Looking through the newly painted latis boards, we get a shot of the ladies finishing up the painting on the veranda.

Precious moments with the local children.

Nonverbal communication has become key for Lucas in communicating with us.

Walking through town.

The beautiful clouds of the storm that we later got stuck in. Looks can be deceiving. Later that evening, we were waste high in rain water, trying to get home.

We finally finished the construction on the boat house!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Out of the Office -- HA!

When you read this we will be on a boat on the Amazon, first going downriver a bit to visit a community there, then up into the tributaries of the Tapajós River, where we will visit other developing communities and go on a hike in the rain forest. Our website will be updated (we hope) on Saturday, January 24. Sorry we didn't finish whole blogposts for today yet. We will post them on Saturday.

Huge day today, including finishing our work on the construction site, to everyone's amazement (including ours). Speaking gig at the local university, more basketball on the banks of the Amazon, a HUGE tropical storm that flooded the streets and our camp (everyone's okay), and packing for our river voyage. Please forgive us for being out of touch.

Today's purple biker was Alec Tappin, who saved Shana Dhillon from an almost-painful fall off of a hammock. (Can you imagine after all we've done in the past few weeks if our biggest injury was from a hammock accident?) Alec's cat-like reflexes (maybe he's been watching his own beloved cat, Puma) saved the day, as Shana tipped toward a full flip, but he caught her and righted her before most people even realized anything was happening. Alec is a treat to have around no matter what, as he is about a foot taller than most Brazilians. He is quite a spectacle (and very handy when we are trying to put up a new roof!) He's also just a wonderful, lovable person, so we are blessed to have him among us.

Tomorrow's Purple Biker: Joey Cacciatore. He was AMAZING on the basketball court tonight! Everywhere the opponents let the ball fly, Joey was there to snatch it away. His great athleticism tonight makes him worthy of the Purple Bike, along with his overall good humor and his easy comfort when working with the kids. Thanks, Joey!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Amazon 2009: Day Fifteen (Monday, January 19)

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

Our morning began with a pouring rainstorm beating on our roofs even before we awoke. We called a thirty-minute delay and stayed in bed, then realized that the sky was clearing so it was time to get up to go to work. All of us went to the worksite this morning because we had construction work to finish and we had the kids to teach and entertain.

Our slightly late arrival meant that the kids were very antsy once we got there. They were so eager for us to appear that we could easily get them to gather around and repeat some lessons from other days, use our new “English phrases” flash cards, and then get them running around all over the sand without much persuasion.

At the same time, a smaller group of us separated off and helped our construction supervisor, Seu João, build a framework to drop roof tiling over the new deck. Once this new roof is installed, the kids will be able to gather outside but still out of the sun. Perfect!

The construction practices here have us all pretty stumped, as virtually every wood joint is accompanied by a hand-hewn notch. That is, every time two boards come together, they take this 19th-century-looking tool that is sort of a backwards-curved hatchet or something like that and they knock a divot out of it to make the two boards fit together like Lincoln Logs. Our new power saw doesn’t help all that much in this task, so we are all learning to use the strange new/old tool, along with chisels and hammers to make things go the way our hosts want them to go. Chris Verrips, our SMC-based construction expert, is pretty fascinated with it all. He’s taught João a thing or two, but he has learned much more than he has taught.

Along with today’s construction work, we needed to keep on painting to get this building looking as nice as it can before we leave. A small crew kept working its way around the building for the umpteenth time, as the paint really soaks into the wood and there is apparently no such thing as primer up here. The got a solid next coat all over the white part before we hurried off at lunch time to catch ourselves on Brazilian TV!

We hustled up to Georgete and Jaime’s house, where they had placed a TV in their entryway for us all to see. We all packed in there on the floor and eagerly awaited our big debut. When we first arrived, we were all sitting up and leaning forward, laughing and talking and trying to keep track of the news as it unfolded. As time went by, we began to lean back, then slump down, then lie down, then fall asleep as a full 56 minutes went by before our story hit. We all popped back to life and oohed and ahhed over the pictures they showed, but we really couldn’t tell what they were saying about us. By the time it ended about 4 minutes later, we were so tired and hungry that we just hurried back to camp to eat lunch (really great fried whole small fish) and we didn’t even talk about the TV program again. We still haven’t gotten the web address at which some of you might be able to watch it, but if we do, we will post it here.

After lunch most of us skipped siestas to get back to work. Two teams were sent into town to buy their hammocks for our upcoming boat trip and to do other shopping and errands that they need to do before we leave. The rest of us hit the worksite HARD and got more done in a four- (or so) hour period that we imagined possible. When we finally knocked off, it was almost dark and a rainstorm seemed to be bearing down on us (though it never caught us). Once we got back to camp, we realized that we had spent more energy than we actually possessed and that we were all REALLY tired, even though we were content with our accomplishments.

The work group came back and admired the new hammocks that the shoppers bought, along with some of the souvenirs and gifts that they had found. In the morning, the groups will trade places and today’s shoppers will work and the workers will shop. Even with these breaks, it seems likely that we will complete the parts of the job that we expected to finish before we leave on the boat.

We’ll tell more about our upcoming boat trip tomorrow, then we will “go dark” for a few days while we are incommunicado in the Amazon.

Our Purple Biker for today is: Marie Cacciatore! Based on how much she is doing for our group, we could easily have her ride the purple bike everyday. Marie is a fabulous contributor to everyone’s experience here. For today, though, it seemed clear that Marie is our most transformed group member of this trip. She has blossomed as our top visualist (not including Marcia) due to her excellent photography and her impressive art skills. She is also a great support person who is an informal therapist to many people along the way. Further, she has shown how gutsy she is on a number of occasions, most notably when she became our power saw expert a couple of days ago. We’ll all be interested to see if people back home notice a difference when she returns. For today, though, we’ll just let her enjoy the purple bike. Congratulations, Marie!

Work hard and play hard!

Making progress on the porch.

Margeaux teaches one of the children English.

Domiciano and Cassidy take a fall after spinning around in circles.

The kids are always enthusiastic to help with the painting whenever they can.

Diana found a grasshopper!

Shana uses the homemade flashcards to teach one of our youngest students English.

Seu Joao, perched atop the latticework, preparing the posts for the roof.

Finishing touches on the house.

Seu Joao measuring out the next balance beam for the roof extension.

kids enjoying a cooling snack during a hot day.

Josialda taught us some of her karate skills.

Enjoying downtime in between games and construction.

Dar Um Jeito relaxes in our newly purchased hammocks that we will use on the boat trip.

Amazon 2009: Day Fourteen (Sunday, January 18)

Today’s video was produced by the team Paz.

What a day! What a day! What a day! We experienced so many totally unique facets of Brazilian culture today that we can barely express what all happened. We started our day at the worksite, with a couple of us finishing the facing on the deck and most of us working with the kids out on the beach. The TV station came as planned and their presence made the kids pretty excited (us too!).

The television folks interviewed Jesse in Portuguese to get the whole lowdown on who we are and what we are doing. Then they talked to Ana and found out about our work with the kids and the agency. Then they talked to Shawny about why we would do a course like this one (even asking the loaded question: “Isn’t it the government’s job to help poor kids?”). All of our interviewees just gushed about how lucky we are to be here and what a privilege it is to work with these kids in this neighborhood. They took lots of footage of us doing our thing, so it will be interesting to find out what shows up on TV tomorrow at lunchtime.

After the TV crew left, a small group showed up to demonstrate the art of Capoeira ( a Brazilian martial art/dance with music and singing) for the kids and for us. We got to hear them play the berimbau (a one-stringed instrument that is hit with a small stone in different places to change the tone) and we got to see some of their moves. A few of us got to give it a try. All of us look forward to next Sunday, when an even bigger group will return.

Georgete let us know that she didn’t want to return to the worksite in the afternoon and that neither should we. We thought we might go into town and do some wandering and shopping, but we soon learned that few shops would be open and we wouldn’t be able to accomplish much. We had team meetings instead and did a bit of video shooting at our camp.

Then we went into town in the early evening to watch a karate demonstration by our teenage friend Josialda and the other students from her karate class. We waited on the steps overlooking the rivers for the event to begin and we all felt really happy that we had connected with someone in such a way that we were the guests she invited to see her show off her skills. We were like proud parents or older siblings in the audience, going particularly nuts whenever she was showing off her moves and whispering to each other that she was clearly the best of them all. She was giddy (and nervous) because we were there and we were thrilled to be a part of it.

We got an additional thrill when we realized we had a chance to hit up the highly competitive pickup basketball games that occur on a riverside court near where Josialda’s class performed. Five of our guys (Alec, Erik, Joe, Joey, and Rob) took on a very tough team of Brazilian players and lost the first game (they play short intervals until the first team scores 11 points, then they switch players) exclusively on foul shots. It turns out that they call almost any physical contact a foul (falta) and free throws are handed out rather liberally.

In the second game, though, our strong team caught on to the fact that they were spending all of their time trying to draw fouls from us. Once we had them figured out, we had them beat. We calmly avoided any reactions, we kept our distance, and we scored and scored. Joe was draining threes, Rob and Joey were hustling on defense, Alec was dominating in assists, and Erik scored the winning basket. The rest of us were hanging over the low fence surrounding the court screaming, cheering, and offering advice to our players.

We didn’t even notice at first that a pretty big crowd had gathered (compared to the numbers of people who are usually watching that court). We also didn’t notice how many people were taking pictures of us both on and off the court. Once we noticed all of these things, the whole game only got even more fun. We hooted and hollered, their fans hooted and hollered, and our players just kept smiling and avoiding fouls. It was a blast. And somehow, we succeeded in resisting any urge to start chanting “USA! USA! USA!”

As we cleared the court after a third game (a somewhat disappointing loss that seemed to be due to bad officiating, but, hey, we lost, so of course we’re going to say that) kids and others were coming up to shake our players’ hands and take their pictures. One guy took a whole series of pictures to post on his blog. For whatever reason, the chance to play a strong U.S. American team was a real thrill, even if people were only watching. We learned that those guys play each other every single day, so we’re not surprised now about how happy they were to see some new and interesting opponents.

While we were still thoroughly jazzed about the whole basketball experience, we decided to find a local samba school that we heard would be practicing for Carnaval. Though this Mardi Gras-like festival is identified with Rio de Janeiro, it happens all over the country, including here. Different groups of musicians practice for months in advance to lead parades through the city. We went looking for one of those groups and found them just as they were leaving their indoor practice area literally to take their show on the road. We met a big truck with a big amplifier on the street, being ridden by samba singers and musicians and followed by lots of dancers. No on was decked out in feathers or anything, they were just rocking out.

We followed the group for a couple of blocks, danced with them in the street where they stopped, then went on our merry way. Over and over we said: “Now THIS is Brazil!” What a day! What a day! What a day!

And before we sign off, we should let our readers know that the newest member of the Order of the Purple Bike is: Sophie Damerel! A few days ago, Sophie’s team was granted an afternoon off to run errands, rest, or do some shopping. Sophie (and Mercedes, whose group also had a break) decided to go to the worksite anyway. Not only did she work through a possible break, but also she stayed until the very last shift of that segment, helping to clean paintbrushes and put away materials. This set of actions is actually typical of Sophie, so it’s a bit weird to give her an award for doing what she does all the time anyway. Still, we are very lucky (and happy) to have her in our group and today we acknowledged how fortunate we are by asking her to ride the purple bike. Congratulations, Sophie!

This is one of the homemade kites that the children make themselves.

This was a demonstration for the group of a Brazilian traditional art.

Cassidy learning the basic moves of Capoiera.

Georete explaining the technique of using color sand to make art.
Ana being interviewed for the local tv station about our work here in Santarem.

Josialda, one of our students, warms up for her karate demonstration.

Volleyball is a favorite activity between lessons on the beach.

Sophie and Katie tried avocado ice cream popsicles for the first time. Though they sound strange, they are pretty much amazing.

Today, we used sand in our art with the kids.

even though words might fail us the fist pound is always a good way to make friends.

They might not know much English but Josialda knows how to let us know what she is feeling.

one of the capoiera performers in mid move… impressive.

one of the boys from our work site surveying the area from his lookout post.

the boys challenged some Brazilians to a game of B ball and were victorious.