Saturday, January 18, 2014

Of buckets, sand and rocks

SMC Amazon 2014: Day 10

We got the unfortunate (but not shocking) news today that the materials we need for the next phases of the nursery have not arrived (sound familiar, DIRT people?).  We had a few minutes of deflated “now what do we do?” conversations and then we did what DIRT people do best: we pivoted. 

We knew that there was a need for concrete at the new nursery and its surrounding components, especially the covered workspace that we expected to be our primary achievement here.  We carried up several 110-pound bags of cement on our first day here (ouch!) so we asked where the necessary sand and stone would come from to make it into concrete.  As it turns out, both would be “harvested” locally.  In other words, tons (literally) of sand needed to be carried up from the beach and approximately equal amounts of stone needed to be collected from a nearby uninhabited island, delivered by boat to our beach and then carried up the hill.  We took on those jobs. 

All of the old DIRT vets know that Shawny had an ecstatic day because it was a day full of bucket lines.  We distributed ourselves along the space from the starting pile of sand and rocks to the worksite.  At the piles, someone loads the buckets and then each person just touches each bucket once to get the entire pile to the top.  Of course, it takes the same amount of effort to do it this way as it does to just carry buckets (or push wheelbarrows) one by one.  Still, the fact that no one faced that daunting hill with a bucket of rocks or a bucket of sand all alone somehow makes it seem much, much easier. 

It’s a great learning experience in two ways.  First, it teaches us all that our Brazilian hosts had to go through to construct the lovely buildings in which we are living here, along with all of the other homes and buildings in this community.  Second, it teaches us about our role in the group.  That is, when the bucket lines first start, every person thinks that he or she has the worst job of all and that everyone else’s role is easier.  Then we do some shifting, changing and negotiating and everyone starts realizing that the entire line is pretty much equally difficult.  But also, we each start realizing that it’s all much better when we are together.  And suddenly, a huge pile of rocks that used to be far away down a bumpy hill is up where it needs to be for the project that the community is doing.  Nice. 

A couple of our group members also got approached with a distress call of sorts from a neighbor with a broken chainsaw.  Having seen that we all seemed to know about power tools, he approached us to see if we could help.  As it turns out, both Hoi and Lupe have Army training that helped them take on the job.  They got the chainsaw apart and saw what was stopping it from working but it might be difficult to fix it without any available parts.  Even so, we were happy to be able to offer our services to people other than our direct community partners. 

Our day today was all rocks, buckets and sand so we can tell you a little more about our lives here in Brazil.  We awaken at 5:50 if we are the breakfast crew so that we can back up the cooks here at the camp.  The rest of the group gets up at 6:10 for a 6:30 breakfast.  Breakfast is usually a sponge-y cake-y thing of one sort or another, mostly made from a root that in English would be called manioc.  They make lots of stuff out of what they call “mandioca,” including starchy little crepes that they call tapioca, donuts, a crumbly topping called farofa, and lots of other options.  We have eaten some version of it for almost every meal here. 

In fact, mandioca is one of the reasons that we could not continue on the tree nursery today, along with the absence of the materials.  The other really evident issue in the community today was that everyone was gone.  We didn’t notice at first and then we recognized how abandoned things seemed.  As it turns out, today was the perfect day to plant mandioca, due to rainfall and climate and a host of other issues.  Everyone made a run for the fields today and by the time we got up, we were just living in a ghost community, moving sand and rocks. 

We all start our days with healthy doses of sunscreen, insect repellent (Avon Skin-So-Soft has been working wonders for us here this trip) and malaria medicines.  Lots of us are also taking allergy meds, as we are pretty sneezy here.  A few people have needed Immodium but we haven’t had any serious scares just yet. 

One team joins the breakfast crew, as we already mentioned.  That teams backs up all of the meals.  Another starts filtering water, using our solar-powered water purification system.  Though the water here is already filtered, we re-filter it with ours anyway.  The water team takes care of all camp needs, including charging batteries for tools and reorganizing the first aid bags.  Another team has to take up the dishes after each meal and the last team is in charge of video.

We get to work at 7:00 a.m., mostly because it gets so hot so fast that we want as much work as possible to be done before the heat gets too oppressive.  We work until at least 11:30 (more like noon or later) and then walk home by way of the beach and jump in the river if we feel like it.  We eat lunch, take a sesta or swim, then go back to work pretty late in the afternoon (3:00 or 4:00).  We swim again on the way home, then shower off the river water before dinner.  There is always someone doing laundry at night, as we are completely dependent on hand washing.  We’re finally developing some skills at wringing things out. 

We aren’t having big problems with mosquitoes, but we have a few bites.  No one has gotten terribly sick but we feel like we are due.  No big injuries either, so we hope we can keep up that streak. 

We would love to take questions from the 3rd, 4th and 6th graders that are following us but we know that our technological issues will make it hard for us to be very responsive.  We’ll just keep showing pictures of big bugs and hope that those are what they want to see . . .

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