Monday, January 11, 2016

Day Five: Like a Ton of Bricks

Sunday, January 10, 2016

We headed to church this morning to catch a Catholic mass in the Amazon.  We were surprised to find a newly-fallen (huge!) tree in our path along the river but we easily made our way around it.  We suspect the unusually dry weather figures into the tree’s demise, but we don’t know enough about the subject to speculate. 

Church felt familiar even if little of the language used in it was.  There were a few welcoming references to “the Americans,” and during the Sign of Peace part of the service, every single person in the congregation came and greeted us in one way or another.  As we might have expected, the music – though simple – was extraordinary. There were a few female voices in the space that served as stunning leads to take the whole congregation to a transcendent place.  The percussion accompaniment (in the form of a conga, a tambourine and a triangle) added a samba-like rhythm to the hymns, and kept us all clapping and swaying, whether we were sitting or standing. 

After church the work began.  Our task for the day was to load the materials for the extension of the guest area from wherever they were in the community to the other side of our pousada.  In particular, we needed to move huge (and heavy!) loads of bricks from their delivery point on the beach to an uphill spot about ¾ of a mile away.  We could use our famous bucket brigade method to get them up the hill, then stack them on an “ox cart” (but without the ox) and then pull them ourselves through a narrow rainforest path. 

As it turned out, the best path turned out to be the one where the tree had fallen.  So, we had to get some of the locals (and their machetes) to come clear the way.  We then gathered at the pile and realized that two bucket lines would be the fastest way to get the whole pile up the hill.  The cart wasn’t exactly equipped for hauling bricks, but we figured out a way to make things happen.  We worked out ways for everyone to work but also for everyone to rest.  There were lifters, loaders, unloaders and pushers.  We rotated jobs so that no one’s burden was too difficult to bear. 

We were joined by many of our local friends, including Aldanira, whose thirtieth birthday is today.  As Jesse said, she chose to spend her day with us rather than, say, at the salon, thereby risking a broken nail instead of ensuring beautiful ones.  There is no salon here anyway, so it might not be such a big sacrifice after all. 

We had a late lunch after a hot and tiring work session and spent much of it singing each other’s praises about how well we worked together and what good ideas everyone had to solve the problems we faced.  We also praised each other’s excellent attitudes and overall fun demeanors.  We encouraged each other to pace ourselves, as our zeal sometimes tricks us into overperforming.  No matter what evaluative standards might have been used, we did a great job this morning.

And we continued to do a great job in the afternoon, especially after we acquired three wheelbarrows along with the ox cart.  Our friend Diorlando (pronounced like Jorlando) also made a strange carrying device that was like a litter to carry more bricks than any two of us might otherwise be able to carry without it.  It was quite a crazy assortment, but it all contributed to us moving a huge pile of bricks that seemed like an even bigger chore than it turned out to be. 

We spent some time tonight reviewing our now-longstanding group agreements about how we are going to conduct ourselves to maximize our success.  We were thrilled to learn that we are pretty clearly following most of them and that a few more tweaks need to be made to make our charming but crowded hammock situation even better. 

We went down to the river in the evening to cool off, kick the soccer ball around and even wash a little laundry.  We ate fish (called tambaquí) from the fish farm  and lots of other great Brazilian dishes for dinner tonight, then worked to catch up on journals, finish videos and gather pictures that will eventually be attached to this post. 

Shawny is going to ride a motorcycle through the rain forest to a different bank of the river where cellphone signals reach.  If all goes well, three more days of blog posts will go up, along with as many pictures and videos as we can upload.  We know you want to hear what’s going on over here and we will do our best to keep you informed.  Thanks for following us!!


Late-breaking news
Monday, January 11, after midnight

We are adding to today's blog post because we had some scary excitement in the night.  When our beloved teammate Callan headed into her hammock after midnight (she was up catching up on journal entries), she just plain missed the whole thing, going over it and coming down on her head.  She was shocked and surprised, as were all of the rest of us.  Fortunately, we have a licensed EMT as one of our group, along with three pre-med students and several student athletes who have tangled with head injuries before.  With this collection of experts available to us, we let the EMT lead the way and do the same evaluation he would do if he were arriving in an ambulance in Moraga.  

Despite the rather pronounced bump on her head, it turned out that everything was okay, as all of her responses were good, her pupils were reacting properly, her sensations were normal and her memory of the immediate incident and other things seemed fine.  We managed to find some ice in the community and it served to bring the lump way down very quickly.  

We moved her onto two stacked air mattresses to avoid another hammock mishap and she woke up this morning feeling a little shaken but otherwise fine.  The community medic checked her out today and everyone in the community is aware of the incident, so all are offering their stories and experiences of bumps on the head, as well as their natural remedies for overcoming their injuries.  

Callan is staying off the worksite today, as is the EMT.  They will notify us immediately if anything changes in a negative direction but we are all confident that everything is -- and will remain -- okay.  Whew.

Local pets of Anã. We were all very excited to play with this dog during our down time at the worksite.

Leah collecting cashews! Cashews in Brazil look pretty huge compared to what we are used to seeing in the United States.

Locals who came together with us to transport hundreds of bricks to the posada. The bricks will eventually be used for the completion of the new dormitory.

Natalie taking a breather and building relationships with local community members and animals after loading bricks onto the ox cart to transport to the future work site.
Reflection point — a beautiful spot to look back, think, and get ready for the day. 
Diorlando is one of our best buds in Anã! You will constantly see him joking and laughing with the DIRTies. 
The wildlife here is amazing. Each day we find species new to our eyes. 
Riding bikes through the streets of Anã, the streets we’re slowly learning. 
Marlina enjoying a dip in the river, (It’s ALMOST her birthday!)

Steve, Matt and Daniel playing dominos with Dorlindo and Aldaír before dinner. Spending nights playing games between community members and SMC DIRT allows us building relationships with the community of Anã. 


  1. I love the teamwork and brain power used to get those heavy bricks up the hill! Love the monkey spider images that came to me while reading!!! So very sorry for Callan and I hope she is headache free today! Praying for more rain for the forest, but less mosquitos for you all. Power to the bracelets and anklets to last till the end of the trip. Can't wait to see the team videos and pictures. Thank you Shawny for such detailed posts. They make us feel like we are there with you all. Many kisses and hugs to our baby Leah.

  2. Hi bubbas!
    Thank you for the email! It's so good to hear from you! I don't know if Shawny read the email I send back, but in case she didn't, I miss you so much too!
    I'm glad to hear you're having a good time tho! Take as many pictures as you can, as I want to see all of the cool things you did and saw! Make the best out of this trip Leah! And try to keep everyone bugsafe lol!
    Ik hou van je

  3. You are all amazing! We love your spirit of adventure and we are really enjoying the great blog! Aunts, cousins, etc. are sharing your journey. Hope Callan is feeling better. Also, we loved getting email! We look forward to your next post.

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  5. Sorry to hear about the Callan's unexpected incident. Hope she is feeling better. I am also proud of everyone's commitment to the community and working together as a team. Keep up the good work, Gaels! Go DIRT 2016! Hugs and prayers from Cali!

  6. Great blog, great info...keep it coming. I feel like I'm there with all.!

  7. Things seem to be going smoothly, even though not as you expected. Stay healthy Callan! Ask Shawny about the gummy worms.

  8. Feel better Callan! Great picturesque!