Saturday, January 11, 2014

Monkeys in the Morning, Dolphins in the Day

SMC Amazon 2014: Day Two 

We woke up this morning to a special treat: a monkey family frolicking in a tree near the corner of our camp.  Dylan noticed the monkeys first, and then each of us stood at the corner of our dorm building and watched the baby monkeys (with their tiny little faces) scramble and dart around the limbs, cautiously following each other on leaps of faith from branch to branch.  The bigger monkeys stayed close by and risked even bigger leaps, all of which we found to be very entertaining.   For the veterans of SMC Amazon 2010, it turns out that we can, in fact, just say “monkey.” 

We ate a standard Brazilian breakfast of lunchmeat, sliced cheese and fruit (apples and some unknown melon today).  A few people added in a bit of peanut butter and bread to make sure it would hold them over to lunch.  We all packed a few of our numerous Clif bars into our packs just in case. 

We hopped the bus to town and found Louro still waiting for us (despite our very late arrival) outside the huge public market.  We had missed the peak of the market, where piles of fruit seem stories high and baskets of grain are heaped to overflowing.  Still, the range of offerings was completely fascinating, especially when we went through the meat and fish areas. 

We knew that we were having fish for dinner so we concentrated on the huge Amazon fish that were abundant throughout the space.   We went on a special search for piranhas but got distracted by a fabulous special show just off the edge of the pier.

One of the great experiences of time in the Amazon is to see the fascinating (but elusive) pink dolphin.  Though most people don’t identify dolphins as river dwellers (and certainly not PINK dolphins), they are an interesting peculiarity of life in Santarém.  All of us were aware of the pink dolphins from our readings during our on-campus retreats and we knew that there was a good chance (but not a certainty) that we would see some eventually.  Instead of “eventually,” we got the full experience today. 

It turns out that the “botos rosas” sometimes hang around the edge of the fish market in hopes that the vendors will throw fish parts (or whole fish) over the rail.  Upon seeing us, one industrious vendor went into full performance mode and started dragging whole small fish along the surface of the water to lure the dolphins in.  The dolphins cooperated fully, as three of them arrived and started looping and jumping all over the place to grab the fish from his string.  We even got photos of the pink dolphins – for the first time in SMC Amazon history!  (Let’s hope we manage to post pictures sometime soon . . .)

From there we headed to the sites of prior SMC DIRT projects to visit old friends and see how things have changed.  Some of the kids who worked with SMC students in 2009 and 2010 came out of their houses with puzzled looks about where they had seen people like us before and then gave big hugs to Shawny and Ana, both of whom were on both of those trips. 

We then headed off to meet our main work partners at the headquarters of a community group called “Saude e Alegría” (Health and Happiness).  They have the happy dilemma of being almost out of the public health business, not because they failed at their undertakings but because they succeeded so well that the government and many local communities have taken up their practices and are seeing enormous gains in public health issues. 

Because of their change in focus they are now pursuing issues that might be seen as “community health” instead.  At the top of the list is improving people’s understanding about, stewardship of and power over the resources in their environments.  And at the top of the list of issues related to these matters in the Amazon is the subject of deforestation/reforestation.  Many communities are rich with natural resources but because those resources have been exploited (or decimated) for the benefit of others, those resources do not help to enrich their own lives either financially or otherwise.  

Saude e Alegría is out to change things for these local communities.  And happily, we get to help.  We heard from several of their representatives about projects they have already done and we got some details about the project that we will undertake starting next week.  We’ll wait to give you the details, as it will be more fun for you to watch it as it unfolds. 

While at S&A, we got an excellent opportunity from one of the staffers: she invited us to join their team tomorrow at a protected federal forest.  We will get to watch how a local cooperative helps manage the land in cooperation with federal authorities to improve the sustainable use of the land.  Even though we have to get up at 5:30 a.m. to capitalize on this opportunity, we are very excited . . .

Luck was on our side as we were lucky enough to see pink dolphins at the fish market.

 Local fisherman prepares his latest catch.

Beautiful clouds and a big boat on the Tapajos River.

Samira dancing and singing at the fish market.

 Fresh fish straight from the Tapajos river.

Beautiful flowers at Saude e Alegria. (This picture is dedicated to Penny and Renee)

 The market in town where we purchased some of our fruit, including some pineapple. (abacaxi!)

A brave man about to gut a giant fish at the local fish market.

 Clear skies were everywhere in Josie’s neighborhood as we arrived on our second day.
 The remnants of the storage shelter built over four years ago by another Jan Term
 class to travel to Brazil.

 After much anticipation, we got an up close look at the pink dolphins over
the ledge of the fish market.

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