Monday, January 20, 2014

Fish, Bees, Turtles and the World Cup Preview

SMC Amazon 2014: Day 12

Sundays in the Amazon usually involve lower amounts of manual labor and this one was no exception.  We heard that church was at 8:00pm so we spent the morning touring some of the other projects going on in this community.  One is a fish farm out in a lake on the river that consists of cages on stilts that hold between 600 and 1000 fish.  There are ten or so of these cages in the lake and we went along with our awesome primary host, Dona Odila (pronounced “oh-ZHEE-luh) to feed the fish in the cages. 

Not only does Dona Odila stock and feed the fish with a collective of other local women but also she makes the fish food herself.  The food looks kind of like dog food pellets and we have no idea how she makes it.  We do know, however, that she aspires to start a fish food manufacturing plant of some sort here and that she hopes to produce the food she is currently producing on a larger scale. 

In any case, we took Dona Odila’s homemade fish food out on boats and paddled to the cages, opened up the tops, and watched the fish go crazy to eat the stuff as soon as it hit the water.  Dona Odila told us that this whole project is the result of the determination of a subset of very strong and determined women, all of whom persevered way beyond the rest of the community to be sure that this important food supply would be stabilized.  The need for the fish farm is a result of the rather acidic water in this particular tributary of the Amazon; Dona Odila’s fish food makes it possible for fish to live there even if they couldn’t find a natural food source in this water. 

After the fish farm we went to get a look at another local enterprise: beekeeping.  One of the community members who has worked with us since our arrival here, Alvaier, has taken up his father’s dream of keeping bees in the community.  He has dozens and dozens of unusual structures that hold different colonies and their corresponding queens.   The bees themselves do not have stingers, so this particular form of beekeeping does not involve crazy suits and headgear and smokers, etc., etc., etc.  The honey that the bees create is very thin and runny and tastes slightly sour to some of our palates.  We are investigating whether it is possible for us to bring any of it home for some of you to taste, as we think it is one of the things that customs forms list as forbidden to import . . .

The other fascinating thing at the same house as the bees was a set of pet turtles that the family has collected out of the forest.  We watched the turtles and fed them and heard the family talk about their affection for them.  It was a lovely distraction from our usual manual labor. 

We went home for lunch and sesta and then rallied for the biggest challenge of the day: the U.S. v. Brazil women’s soccer match.  The locals had invited us to play soccer on Sunday several days ago and we took it as a casual invitation like the one we got on our first day here to play soccer on the beach.  Over the course of the week, though, we learned that this was no casual issue.  People that we newly met would mention their excitement about the upcoming match and some of the women who work here at our camp would make little comments (talking smack?) about seeing us on Sunday. 

When we headed out at the appointed time, we noticed many more people on the paths than usual and we saw quite a few of them all the way down at the end of the community near the soccer field.  When we arrived on the field, the other team was nowhere in sight, but there were still lots of people clearly waiting for something to happen. 

Our women got organized and started warming up and psyching themselves up for the match.  A little observation tower at the field suddenly became the focal point of everything when we learned that a radio announcer was setting up to broadcast.  The radio guy was also the public address guy so suddenly things really cranked up with some serious volume and that unmistakable sports announcer cadence, even when the language is unfamiliar.

Finally, the other team arrived.  They had matching shirts!  Like real soccer jerseys!  The goalkeeper had cleats but most of the rest of the women played barefoot.  We already knew we were way out of our league just because we were playing soccer against Brazilians, but we got even more convinced of it when we learned that this is an actual team and not just a random group like ours. 

The announcer introduced each player by name and the match began.  We knew we had a ringer in Ali, who played college soccer before she transferred to Saint Mary’s.  We also knew we had a couple of other pretty serious athletes in Kaylia (captain of club volleyball at SMC) and Jenny T.  We also had some seriously game folks in Kristina and Megan V., who are willing to try anything, and then we had some reluctant participants who knew we had to step up and meet this challenge: Samira, Victoria, Lupe, Marisol, Jenny L., and Jaclyn. 

When the game got started, though, all of these categories fell away and we all looked like we pretty much knew what we were doing.  Victoria in particular came out of nowhere and turned out to be a fierce competitor and a pretty adept soccer player, having only done so before at ages 5-6.  Samira brought her poise and grace to the field and did some footwork that she didn’t even know she could do.  Jaclyn made three excellent saves at goal before switching out with substitute Ana.  Megan made an excellent armpit play that was a stunner to everyone (including her).  Once Ana got sick of the ants in the goalkeeper’s box, Benjamin jumped in and made four or more saves of his own.  And our obvious stars proved to be just as fabulous as we expected.  Everyone showed a ton of spirit, heart and drive.  Our team did our country and our school proud. 

We lost, of course.  We didn’t even score.  (Though Kaylia had three heartbreaking shots on goal that should have gone in.  All went over the top.).  The final score was a contested 3-0, as the second goal involved and off sides situation and the third goal was scored when a Brazilian had temporarily taken over as our goalkeeper.  We think that one shouldn’t count. 

At the end of the game, the announcer interviewed Ali and she spoke eloquently about connecting through sports even through language barriers.  The Brazilian captain spoke graciously about her team’s familiarity with the field and the advantage that they had because of it.  A rematch had already been set for Tuesday and she predicted that our knowledge of the field would give us the victory next time. 

Throughout the match, the announcer used the presence of the crowd to help promote the community projects that we are doing and to invite more community members out to join us.  We learned lots of new names, got lots of very sincere hugs and high fives, and really feel like the situation – that could have been a totally humiliating waste of time – invigorated all of us and the community too.  Nice. 

We came home and scrambled to get ready for church, only to find that they had decided not to hold a service tonight and that they held it this morning instead.  In lieu of church, then, we sat together in a circle and talked about the blessings that we have felt on this trip.  We spoke of the people that we’ve met, the warm welcomes we have felt everywhere we’ve gone, the insights we have gained about our own lives and the lives of our Brazilian friends, the things we’ve always taken for granted in our lives in the U.S. (like constantly flowing safe clean water), and how lucky we all are to be here in this incredible place together. 

We feel truly blessed, even though we miss all of you out there reading these words and we are surprised to be as disconnected from all of you (technologically) as we have turned out to be.  We hope you can forgive our jumpy correspondence and we assure you that we have many more things to tell you than you will ever have time (or interest) to hear . . .

Jorlando, one of our community hosts, was swimming with the fish that are farmed in a lake from a community project that started by some of the women of Ana.
 This picture shows the crafts that are hand made by some of the community members of Ana. The project is used to support the families that are involved  financially.

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