Friday, December 9, 2016

Meet our 2017 Teams!

We've spent the fall getting ready for our January adventure and now we have completed our third overnight retreat, complete with original videos introducing our teams.  Bookmark this spot to keep track of us as we make our way to and through the Brazilian Amazon in 2017!

Canarinho de Ouro:


Chuva Roxa:


Monday, February 15, 2016

Final Videos

Here you will find the final video projects from all of the teams.  We will start with the ones we showed at the final presentation night on February 10, 2016, and include the others that weren't shown that night below.  Enjoy!

Overview of Community Transformation Model: MUSA

The community where we spend most of our time is called Anã.  Only about ten years ago, that community had no electricity and serious water problems.  A number of factors have combined to change the circumstances there but one important force that has figured into the transformation is an organization called MUSA (Mulheres Sonhadores em Ação -- Women Who Dream in Action).  This video introduces MUSA and some of its leaders. 

Ecotourism in Anã

MUSA and others have helped to establish ecotourism as one revenue stream for the community.  The people of Anã are eager to showcase their unique way of life but also want to preserve the heritage and traditions that make their community what it is.  This video discusses ecotourism and its impact.

Ecotourism in Atodí

Other local communities have partnered with a public health agency called Saúde e Alegria (Health and Happiness) to produce sustainable economic growth that will raise the quality of life of their residents.  Like Anã, the community of Atodí has developed an ecotourism enterprise.  One of the leaders of the community discusses their approach to ecotourism and its effects. 

The Fish Farm

In Anã, one of MUSA's first projects was development of a fish farm to help them combat the problem of their overfished "lake" (really an inlet of the Arapiuns River).  This video shows the fish farm and the visionary thinking that creating it involved. 

The Chicken Coop

Our newest project during this trip was to expand the community enterprises by helping to establish a large chicken coop that will eventually hold as many as 500 laying hens.  We worked with community organizers to locate and clear a spot, then design a flexible space that can be expanded as needed.  This video shows some of the collaboration involved in this new venture.

Our Team

Though most of our videos rightly focus on our community partners in the Amazon, we also know that we experience quite a personal and collective transformation as our group forms a unique subculture. Here we show the group experience and celebrate the unique individuals we are.


We learned that one way of establishing connections across cultures and language barriers was through games.  This video examines some of the games that helped us to "bridge the gap."


The main game that is the center of Brazilian culture and community is soccer (futebol).  We played soccer with and against the community and made deep connections by doing so. 

Community Engagement: Reginalva

Our course helped us meet the "community engagement" requirement of the Core Curriculum at SMC.  This video features Reginalva, one of our primary partners in Anã, and her role in helping us to engage with the community in meaningful ways.


Another of our primary partners is Diorlando, who worked at the guesthouse where we stayed and was our constant companion.  This video helps you to meet Diorlando.

Another unforgettable figure in our Anã community is Jose Martine (Zé).  This video introduces Zé.

Chicken Coop #2

We were so in love with the chicken coop project that two groups made videos about it.  Here's the second one, which shares some footage from the one above but also adds some new elements.  

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Presentation Night!!

Please join us on Wednesday, February 10, at 7pm in Galileo Hall Room 201 on the Saint Mary's College campus for the public presentation of some of our final videos from our 2016 Jan Term trip to the Brazilian Amazon.  For those unable to attend, we are going to try to do a live stream at this link:

We hope to see you there!!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Day Twenty:Tying up Loose Ends

Monday, January 25, 2016

We had a blast at samba school last night.  We arrived late and got there just in time for the major percussion arrangements, which is always the best part of these evenings.  We knew we only had an hour so we maximized our time by going right to the front and dancing from the minute we arrived.  The musicians onstage immediately recognized that we were from out of town (not many tourists here!) and then quickly remembered that we must be those same Californians from last year and the year before.  They called out to us and a big cheer went up through the crowd.  We probably cheered loudest of all.  We were having a fantastic time but we knew an early morning was ahead of us so we packed it in and headed home.  We slept hard after our long emotional roller coaster of a day. 

This morning we headed out first thing to an animal hospital/preserve for forest creatures that have been injured or trafficked or orphaned or whatever.  The place is called ZooFit and it has become a favorite stop of DIRT groups in recent years.  We can safely get really close to animals and see them play and watch us back.  It wasn’t actually open today but they opened it to us because we have been going there for the last few years.

We started at the manatee tanks and learned a lot about river manatees and how they differ from saltwater manatees.  There are 19 of them under care here, including a 2.5-month-old one that was a real cutie.  We got kind of mesmerized by watching them surface in the sometimes murky water just enough to get a breath through their nostrils. 

We saw lots of different kinds of monkeys, including one zogzog like the ones that lived outside our oca in Anã.  It just roams freely around the compound because it was raised by humans as a pet so it is more comfortable with humans than with its animal peers.  It followed us around and made its crazy zogzog sounds while we were getting a tour.  We loved it. 

There were lots of other monkeys too, and some big cats (pumas), some alligators (including one that was about 14 feet long!), a boa constrictor, some beautiful birds (including parrots and macaws) and some other weird animals that we don’t even have names for in English.  We were especially into the monkeys and found ourselves talking to them through their cages, making eye contact and really believing that we were connecting to them in some weird way. 

We bid farewell to the animals and to our friendly guides and headed into the city to do some shopping.  We made two stops (TWO!) to get machetes, because we wiped out one store’s supply before we accumulated our 25 or so big knives.  They are not yet sharpened but we still looked like maniacs carrying that many blades through the streets.  Some of us got leather sheaths for them so we really looked like serious machete users.

We then headed home for lunch and quickly turned it around for more shopping.  We got lots of local souvenirs, some soccer jerseys, and more Havaianas (sandals).  Then we hit one of our most popular stops of all: a self service ice cream store.  We piled on flavor after flavor, compared and sampled them all, then got some more.  In all we had 5.5 kilos of ice cream, which computes to about 12 pounds.  There were 22 of us eating, but that’s still a lot to consume!

We came home from there and started a mad push to get everything packed and finish all of our pictures and videos up to this point.  We hope to get everything posted so that you can catch up with our adventures as we travel back to California.  We have a long layover in Manaus and we are going to visit an authentic churrascaria, which is a meat-lover’s paradise.  (They have things for vegetarians too!)  If we get a chance we will post from there but sometimes it is difficult to get a signal so we might fail in that endeavor.  If we get stranded like we did last year (for almost two days!) we will let you know. 

It’s hard to imagine that we will be on our way out of Brazil tomorrow, as we have grown accustomed to the heat, the sounds, the bugs, the language, the music, the personalities and each other.  But we know we will be able to remind each other of all that we have experienced together, especially because we will hole up in a computer lab for the first three days that we are home to finish our final projects. 

You may have trouble recognizing us when you see us.  We are all really tan.  We have really dirty feet and somewhat smelly laundry.  Our standards for what counts as an appropriate bathroom have really slipped.  We are used to the feeling of sunscreen melting off our faces all day every day.  We’ve been eating a lot of flan.  Some of us have lost weight due to the rigorous schedule and healthy diet we’ve been maintaining.  Some of us haven’t.  We don’t really depend on our cellphones the way we used to.  We have Portuguese words at the front of our minds now and they come out of our mouths as sensible responses to everyday situations. 

We’ll try not to be obnoxious, but we have had a wonderful month here together and we are going to miss it dearly.  Please be patient with us.  Even after we have landed in the US, it may take us awhile before we are all the way back in California.  Part of our hearts, lots of our tears and a good bit of our labor have been left in the deepest Amazon.  We will move on soon, but we’re not in a hurry . . .  

Still, we promise that we look forward to seeing you and telling you even more!


Here are some zoguezogue videos for your entertainment.  Imagine waking up in a hammock to this sound:

 Our new monkey friend (a ZogueZogue) listening in on the Manatee presentation. Originally a house pet, this monkey roams around the him brave enough to approach our group. 

 A wild, angry hawk caught looking upon the SMC DIRTies. 

 These silly monkeys (Macaco Prego’s) may look cute and cuddly but they are extremely smart and will out wit you. Although healthy, these monkeys will not be released into the Amazon until further studies are done to ensure that they will be safe in the wild.

Although these macaw’s have majestic colors, these feisty  birds kept trying to nibble at our toes. 

A majestic puma striking a pose while we visit her home. This is one of the four family members living in the cage at the animal hospital/preserve. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Day Nineteen: Leaving Our Amazon Home

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Daily Video part 1

Daily Video part 2

We had decided to get up at 6am to finish packing but when 6am rolled around, it was still dark out.  Getting up at that hour didn’t make sense if we couldn’t make progress.  So we stayed asleep for another 45 minutes or so and were awakened by the sounds of the zogzogs (a kind of monkey) outside the oca.  Shawny pointed out that this was our last wakeup in the hammock hut and told us to look at the thatched roof one more time then wind up our hammocks.  We got moving pretty quickly from there and got control of our individual bags.  The shared bags didn’t go quite as smoothly but we worked things out. 

The locals started to arrive to help us carry our bags down to the beach but we were surprised when one group that arrived early this morning included a full-on film crew with boom microphones and everything.  They are doing a documentary on the communities of the Amazon and, of course, Anã will be one of the featured ones.  They filmed us some as we said our goodbyes at the top of the hill but they stayed up there as we made our way with all of our luggage down to the beach. 

Dona Odila needed to stay with the film crew, so she couldn’t do her usual beachfront goodbyes.  The newcomers got a small taste of the emotion that was to come when they saw the veterans and Shawny sobbing over their farewells with Odila. 

At the beach the focus was on bags at first but then when the luggage seemed to be under control, the focus was on sadness.  We intended to go back to the garden and do a little ceremony there but we were already getting a late start so we did it on the beach. 

We gathered all of us and all of the locals and stood in a big circle in the sand.  Shawny asked each of us to say what our hopes and dreams for this community are.  We tearfully expressed our wishes for their health and happiness and for their pride in their community to continue to grow.  We then reached our hands toward the garden and sent our best energy toward all of the facets of the garden, including the new chicken coop.  Next we reached our hands toward the pousada and sent our best energy toward it.  We finally reached for each other and embraced each other in deep gratitude for all that we have learned and experienced here, both about Anã and about ourselves. 

The hugs and tears went on and on as we went in small boatloads of five out to the big boat docked offshore.  We all waved madly on the way to the big boat and all congregated on top to wave and get our last glimpses of our dear friends as we pulled away.  They waved madly too and eventually we were out of sight. 

The boat captain lightened the mood by cranking some Brazilian music and moving the tables on the first floor so we could dance.  The people on the first floor started dancing right away and the others started to overhear what was going on and joined in one by one.  Some remained on the second floor to rest, play cards or play chess. 

While our dance party was commencing, the crew was cooking huge tambaqui (fish – the same kind that are in the fish cages in Anã) on a charcoal grill right on the deck of the boat.  They made farofa with bananas in it and the combination of the fish and the bananas was exquisite.  We ate and ate and then entered our last Amazon community for this trip: Urucureá. 

Urucureá is famous for its crafts, especially baskets and other goods made from young fronds of the tucumá palm tree.  They call their collective Tucumarte (pronounced like too-coo-MARCH), which is a lovely Portuguese pun.  As it turns out, that particular tree is the one we have been calling the faca (knife) tree, as its trunk is covered with sharp spikes that make it a horrible surprise if you bump up against one in the forest.  We are pleased to see that this tree we’ve struggled against is the source of great beauty by those who know how to appreciate it. 

The artisans’ work is beautiful and so tightly woven by hand that the pieces are very sturdy.  (Some of you will see for yourselves pretty soon, we suspect . . .!)  Several of the women from the collective were there to introduce themselves.  The group is made up of 27 people, 3 of whom are men.  Each piece is labeled with its maker’s name, so it is treated very much like fine art.  We started to notice that we had affinities for certain people’s pieces and their design choices and we made our selections accordingly.  We are all very happy with the pieces that we purchased.  For those of you lucky enough to receive them as gifts, we hope you will be happy too. 

From Urucureá, we motored (FAST!) to a popular beach area called Alter do Chão.  We stayed away from the public areas and docked by some other recreational boats on the other side of the point that forms the beach.  The ride was pretty rocky but pretty fun.  It’s hard not to feel like you are on the ocean when the waves are crashing and you can’t see land in most directions. 

We arrived at Alter do Chão earlier than expected and got to play in the waves as dusk began to fall.  Our captain cranked up the carimbo tunes again and we just had a private little beach party on a sandbar in the river.   Right now we are waiting for the sun to set and then we will hop onto our vans and head back into the city.  If the timing is right, we will visit a rehearsal for a samba school that is preparing for Carnival.  We also hope to grab some more excellent ice cream now that we are in range again.  Our plan is to go to a self serve place that lets you scoop your own and pay by the kilo.  We look forward to reporting back on our choices (and collective bowl weights!). 

We will likely post again on Monday night but we will be in a major packing frenzy by then and Tuesday will be the beginning of our travel time.  We got stuck in Manaus last year trying to get home so be ready for us to experience travel delays.  We just learned about the blizzards in the northeast so we wonder if those issues will persist into the middle of the week.  We’ll be fine whether we get home on time or not but we miss all of you and look forward to seeing you as soon as we can.  Thanks again for following us and for posting comments.  We love to hear from you; we hope you love hearing from us almost as much.

A closer look at the intricate designs of naturally dyed palms. These crafts are hand woven by a group of locals at Urucurea.  

Approaching Alter do Chão, to relax and enjoy the water.  

 Looking back at the sunset after unloading all of our luggage from the boat. 

The DIRT crew preparing to say goodbye to Anã. One of the hardest moments of the trip.

 Natalie and Arianna enjoying their last moments on the beach of Anã by taking a selfie.

Tonico and Reginalva are two of the most influential people that we met on our trip to Anã. We were blessed with the opportunity to work alongside these two while in Anã.

Saying goodbye to our amazing friends of Anã was a very moving and emotional experience for all of us. We hope to continue the relationships we have formed here and take them with us for the rest of our lives.

We arrived in Alter do Chão just in time to witness the beautiful sunset.

Before heading back to Santarém we stopped in Alter do Chão where we took the opportunity to swim in the river.

We had the opportunity to visit a women’s cooperative where they weave beautiful baskets, purses, coasters, hot plate holders, and vases. These pieces of art can take up to an entire week to produce. 

An average day on the boat. Everyone is resting since we had an emotional time saying goodbye to the locals of Anã.

Quick stop at the sandbar in Alter do Chão. It was great to reminisce on our time we spent here in Brazil so far, and discuss our future adventures that we will create once we get back to the States. 

The last boat ride before docking on land and heading back to Santarém.  

Rob and Cooper helping to move luggage into our vans. 

One of the communities we visited called Urucurea has a group of 27 members who weave different crafts with their own style. They are growing popular and sold around the world. 

Day Eighteen: Jesse’s Birthday and Closing Ceremonies

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Update: Steve is MUCH better already and has some meds to keep him on the upswing.  He was dancing on the boat on the way out of Anã so we might have to rein him in a bit.  He’s not at 100% yet, but he is well on his way. 

As for the rest of us, we had a volunteer workday once Steve went off to the clinic. That is, if people needed to rest for the soccer game (or out of sheer exhaustion), they could.  Or if they wanted to work, there were plenty of jobs to do.  Almost everyone went for the jobs.  

We went back to the chicken coop and continued two jobs that we have been doing the last couple of days: stretching chicken wire and digging more postholes for the perimeter of the chicken run.  We also had new wood available to make two more sets of roosts, meaning that we have provided “dormitory” space for almost 250 chickens.  Our goal was 125.  Not bad. 

Lunchtime was approaching just before we finished the roosts but we decided to soldier on and not only finish them but deliver them to the back of the garden so they will be ready to set on posts as soon as someone can cut more of the jacaranda stands for them.  We were very satisfied with our level of achievement even though we were hot and tired when we headed home to the pousada.

We made two executive decisions over lunch regarding the soccer games: 1) no game would start before 5 because it was just too hot and 2) the women’s halves would be 20 minutes each and the men’s would be 30.  We knew that dragging things out any longer would not likely make much difference in the outcomes of the games.  Knowing that things were a bit reduced made it easier to drag ourselves out of our hammocks and head for the field. 

As it turned out, though, we weren’t as ready as we thought.  Phil went out without stretching, kicked one ball and felt like he had pulled his hamstring (he hadn’t).  He didn’t play. Steve sat out due to his recuperation, as did Cole (who was ready to play but forbidden to do so by Shawny).  Cooper opted out too due to some intestinal inconsistencies.  So, the USA team was made up of five US Americans and six Brazilians.  Our five guys – Matt, Carlos, Daniel, Cameron and Robert – hustled hard, but couldn’t hold back the strong Brazilian team. 

Our dear friend Zé served as goalkeeper until Tonico kicked him out after letting too many goals get through.  Our team actually scored this time (yay!) but it was a Brazilian team member – Diorlando – who did the honors.  Despite some great shots on goal, we lost 5-1.  We didn’t mind. 

The women were up next but we were down a few of those too.  Leah was sleeping off some minor illness that was slowing her down today and right at the last second, Annie decided that she should be a spectator rather than a player.  We started with the rest of our women and a couple of our best Brazilian friends. 

Within the first few minutes, we saw another one of our women go down on the field: Jenny.  We all ran to her to see what was wrong and found her in total agony with a severe leg cramp.  We carried her off the field and started working on her leg but the game carried on.  Another Brazilian went in for Jenny but we still had a mostly US American team. 

Like last week, Suzanne ran madly and unreservedly for the ball, as did Claudia.  Callan, Marlina, Ari and Natalie were fierce defenders who kept cutting off the Brazilians mid-kick and reclaiming the ball as our own.  They would get it out to our new power duo, Julia and our visiting friend Jani (pronounced like Johnny almost), who were quick and nimble and able to walk right through the Brazilian defenders dribbling back and forth to each other.  Our Brazilian goalkeeper, Marcia, was out grabbing the ball and preventing her friends and neighbors from taking shots they might have hit. 

Sadly, despite all of this hustle and commitment, we watched a couple of kicks find their way into the net despite our best efforts and we lost the game 2-0.  We had strategized about how to capitalize on penalty kicks in case of a tie but we didn’t get a chance to test our plan.  By the time the game ended, dusk had fallen and we needed flashlights to hurry home and clean ourselves up for the much-talked-about Cultural Night. 

We showered quickly and most of us changed into our nice clothes (just light dresses for the women and collared shirts for most of the men) and walked down to the school where they had a PA system set up in the auditorium.  The leaders of the community all gathered at the front of the room and gave short speeches about the pride and beauty of Anã and their gratitude for our efforts there. 

There was music (including three songs by our friend/goalkeeper Marcia) and they had planned a dance but once they saw our disabled list at the soccer game, they nixed that idea.  They also cancelled the part of the evening that always made us squirm in past years: the selection of the most beautiful woman and most handsome man among our group.  Awkward. 

After they spoke about their community and their affection for us, they had us all get up in front and introduce ourselves.  They then had us present our tourist guide to Anã (a product of the efforts of both last year’s and this year’s students, with enormous support by Suzanne).  It works like those binders in hotel rooms that help visitors find the local attractions and learn more about them.   We also made a visual dictionary, with little cards on rings that have pictures on both sides that help people understand both the English and Portuguese words for those things.  We also included useful phrases and questions.  Suzanne led our presentation of these items to the community. 

We then had a chance to express our appreciation to them for the warm welcome they have given us.  Carlos began by talking about how they made us feel at home.  Marlina continued by describing the sense of community that she experienced in Anã and how it was different than anything she has ever experienced in the US.  Julia talked about her great respect for the individuals who worked with us directly and for the rest of the community members who serve as models for us all.  Matt talked about how inspired he was by all he saw in Anã and Annie told them that the impact we have experienced there will stay with us for the rest of our lives.  The local audience applauded loudly for each message once translated by Jesse. 

Once the Cultural Night came to a close, we all walked the length of the community to return to our Amazon home.  Surprisingly, almost all of the community walked with us.  It was a quiet but still festive parade, with little children running alongside us and different pairs and groups of us in conversation with different pairs and groups of the people of Anã.  The kids were fascinated by our flashlights, especially the weird ones like headlamps or lanterns.  We handed them over and they escorted us home with our own lights leading the way. 

As soon as we got to the pousada, we found it dark.  People still entered and crowded around and three of us – Jesse, Marlina and Steve – were ushered to the front of the room.  When the lights came up, there were three HUGE fancy cakes waiting for all three of our January birthday celebrants and the locals sang Happy Birthday to them in English (they’ve been practicing all week).  A big sign wished them Happy Birthday in English and we all joined in a big party with the locals.  There were so many people that we had to eat in shifts because we didn’t have enough plates/bowls.  Our teams jumped into action and washed furiously to keep the cake going until everyone was served.  We played music and talked and laughed but then let the party wind down with the understanding that we have an early morning coming and we have to pack everything we own and walk away for good this time. 

We only left ourselves about five hours of sleep time so we are going to have to count on sleeping on the boat tomorrow as we head back to Santarém.  We know the morning will be full of tears but it will be full of tasks as well, so maybe those tasks will distract us from our sorrow at leaving this place we love so much.  We’ll see . . .

Marlina, Claudia, and Phil worked as a team to construct two more chicken roosts for the Anã nursery. These chicken coops will each house 24 chickens. 

The crowd watching the men’s game. The intensity soared after the US team scored a goal! 

The girls take the field! Coach Jesse hops in to the picture unannounced. 

While at the cultural night, community members performed three different regional songs. 

Suze showing her skills on the saw. The group put in some morning work on the chicken coop before the soccer games. 

Students presenting the Anã visitors guide and visual dictionaries at the cultural night. Students from JanTerm 2015 and 2016 worked on this project and hope it will serve as a living document for the community. 

Shawny helping to clear the path to make way for the new chicken coop grazing area.

Ari and Carlos working on constructing another chicken roost in the Anã nursery.

The women cheer on the men’s Estados Unidos team!

The night ended with a celebration — of the soccer games, our time in Anã coming to a close, and especially the birthdays of 3 DIRTies. Happy Birthday month Jesse, Marlina, and Steve!