Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Day Seven: Happy Birthday, Steve!

Day Seven, Tuesday, January 13: Happy Birthday, Steve!

Okay, we feel like we are rolling now (we sure hope so!) and we are going to make the bold move of trying to backfill pictures.  If that works, we will go really crazy and try to post the videos that we have been making for every day.  Please click back occasionally to see if new content has appeared. 

When we say “we” will post things, we really mean that we are going to dump it all on our dear friend Bryan Navarro and when he gets the chance, he will get our blog posts up.  Many, many thanks to Bryan!


And for today, we are happily preparing for Steve’s birthday!  He is turning 21 and, needless to say, his celebration is going to be nothing like it might have been if he had observed it back in California.  Still, we hope to make it special.  Even more, the staff at the pousada is going NUTS trying to do cool things for Steve.  They were eagerly asking how to make a frosted layer cake, something one would never see in these parts.  We are very interested to see what they produce.  They are making a special meal and put up new decorations (all greenery and flowers from the forest) in our dining hall. 

As for our work today, we focused on the garden again, with the stated goal of stuffing 2000 small plastic bags to hold new saplings that have grown in the raised boxes we built last year.  They now need to be individuated so they can grow root systems that will eventually establish themselves in the ground of Anã and other surrounding communities.  We are having trouble keeping track of exactly how many we did (500 or so?), but it was a much lower number than it would have been if we were all locals.  One of the “technicians” who runs the garden can properly stuff about two bags per minute.  It takes each of us about five minutes to do one and ours are not quite matching his.  In fact, we carry them to their place in the garden in milk crates and even when we put the same number of sleeves in the crates, those packed by the technician actually weigh about twice as much as ours do.  We’ll keep trying. 

To stuff the bags, we need to free up “black dirt” that is in the back of the garden space.  Thus, we have to “bust sod” and then shovel out dirt first into a sifter and then a wheelbarrow so that we can take it to the shaded workspace.   We have two or more people on shovels, two or more sifting, and at least one moving wheelbarrows of sifted soil to the workspace.  This work would be difficult no matter what, but in the Amazon sun the whole things is taken to a new level.  We toughed it out, though (and rotated jobs quite a bit). 

Even the apparently simple task of stuffing bags has a “back-breaking” quality, as we either need to squat on the ground, sit on bricks or logs, or bend over to do the task.  After ten or so bags, these positions get very uncomfortable but we just keep going, as we are supposed to make our way to 2000 bags.  Ouch. 

Our local hosts were playing music today and we were stoked to hear some great Brazilian sounds.  Instead, we heard the Bee Gees and Bruno Mars and other strange combos of U.S. American music.   Sometimes the Brazilians burst out singing, which is a very strange occurrence NOT because there is anything wrong with their singing but because they are singing in English without quite understanding the words.  The songs take on all kinds of new meanings under these circumstances. 

The big thrill of the day was the arrival of the boat from Santarém (the same one we used to get here).  On it were some supplies that we need to get started on two of our major projects: building a fish food factory (more on this later) and painting the buildings at the guesthouse where we are staying.  The building supplies included 30 110-pound bags of cement that needed to be carried first onto the beach and then about 60 feet or so to a slope that led to an oxcart-like thing that people around here use to carry heavy loads (like our baggage) from place to place.  (Let’s be clear here that the “ox” in this case is a person, including our own birthday boy Steve and our soccer star Jorden.)  The painting supplies were all of the things you would expect. 

Another important item that was on the boat for us is perhaps one of our most urgent needs: more snore strips for our two loud honkers in the night.  We held overnight retreats in the fall and learned that some of us snore, but we never guessed how much louder things would be when we are sleeping in hammocks and all in one big round room.  One of our snorers is already on an air mattress trying to help us out; the other one is going to try that plan tonight.  Either way, we are plastering their faces with our new snore strip supply. 

We’ll report in on birthday festivities later or tomorrow.  Turning 21 is a big thing no matter where you are; turning 21 in the Amazon is really something else . . .


Awww.  The birthday party was very cute.  Our main staff liaison, Diorlando (pronounced pretty much like Jorlando) lured Steve away on some pretense and the rest of the staff lit some candles on the table, brought out a very intricate cake (made out of manioc, like everything here) and hung a sign that they had woven out of palm fronds that said “Happy Birthday, Stephen!”  We all know that it would have been a big challenge for the locals to make that sign and get all of the English right, so it is especially appreciated by all of us. 

Just before the birthday, we got overtaken at our big dinner table by a swarm of bugs.  Every once in awhile this happens in Brazil but this was an especially annoying variation of this occasional experience.  Our hands were flying in every direction and we all abandoned whatever food was left on our plates.  We still had work to do (and we knew that a birthday party was coming) so people started to innovate to control the bugs. 

First Connor got out his mosquito net and just walked around holding the ring over his head.  Then others joined in and huddled around computers under shared nets.  Some people put on their raincoats and hoods even though it was too hot to survive that decision.  The whole thing looked pretty funny but saved us from running screaming for our hammocks.

When it came time to set up the birthday surprise, we dropped a net over the huge cake to protect it from bugs and then turned off all of the lights.  We all stood around the cake to wait for Steve to return, some of us under nets, some not.  One creative foursome decided to call themselves “The Net Quartet” and practiced ringing in some chords (sort of) to warm up for “Happy Birthday.” 

Say what you will about our decisions about how to spend our January, but no one can dispute that this is one birthday that Steve will definitely remember . . .

Daily Photos

One of the many clever ingenuities of Anã: a simple radio. 

Stephen, Michael, and Marissa striking a pose after a long day's work. 

The lookout outside our pousada. 

Happy 21st to the Birthday Boy, Stephen.

The product of our labor today: 500 mini planters for the tree nursery. 

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