Monday, January 11, 2016

Day Four: Settling In

Saturday, January 9, 2016

After a breakfast that included four variations of manioc (the dietary staple here that – along with fish – serves as the core of most meals), we headed off to learn more about the community.  We walked the forest path past Dona Odila’s house, and past the community garden established by the community with the help of SMC students in 2014 then expanded by more SMC students in 2015. 

We didn’t stop at either of these sites at first, as we went right to another project from last year: the newly constructed fish food factory.  It’s not quite finished but it is close and it is very impressive.  Also, it is huge.  We had no idea how grand their plans were when we left last year.  If you scroll back on this blog near the end of the last trips, you can see where we left it.  And if we are lucky, attached to this entry, you will see where it is now.  It is a large, multiroom building, complete with bathrooms and a roofed work area in the back.  Most of it has been covered with stucco and the roof is almost complete.  It is much taller and much larger in every way than what we expected. 

Because the community ran out of money, they have been unable to complete the factory.  They need to pour concrete floors, finish the roof and install the bathrooms. We think we will be able to help them make progress but there are other jobs that might take precedence over this one. 

We learned a lot standing in that almost-finished factory about how small changes in the community have big impacts.  The need for the factory emerged after the women’s group mentioned in an earlier post decided to start a fish farm. They were buying a soy-based product from the city but there were three marks against that plan: 1) it was expensive 2) the timing of acquiring the store-bought food was out of their control and 3) they didn’t like the taste of the fish that had eaten the soy-based food. 

So, they brought a researcher out to the community and learned what components of their natural environment could be combined to make an appropriate food for their fish.  They began to cook it into pellets in an outdoor workshop and have gotten good enough at doing it to justify building the new “factory.”  When the leaders of the fish farm project proposed the factory to the community, they heard lots of skepticism about the viability of the factory project.  But as the building emerged in a small area that used to be a dense thicket, many people changed their tunes and now there is great enthusiasm for the project’s potential.

The efficacy of the factory depends entirely on the other strengths of the community, which include some social/personal issues like visionary leadership and community organization and some infrastructural issues like a safe water supply and an overall commitment to public health.  By using these strengths, the community has been able to secure some government and non-profit grants that help them to work on their overall quality of life.  This particular community has maximized these options even better than many of their surrounding neighbors.  We hope that we find some time to help them reach the next steps on the fish food factory. 

As we returned to our guest area, we made a stop at the garden/nursery mentioned above and learned that the lack of rain has diminished but not destroyed the plan there.  We have a set of students who might be able to rig a system by which we can pull water up from the river in the absence of rain.  We have all sat together and tried to think of ideas about how to make it work, so this undertaking might be another contribution that we make before we leave. 

As for the garden, we checked out the trees that we planted there last year, both in the ground and in portable sacks.  Many of “our” trees have already been distributed throughout the community but two are standing tall: Shawny’s banana tree and Jesse’s banana tree. 

We went back home and got quick laundry lessons (hand-washing) from our friend Reginalva.  Last year’s trip was plagued with so much rain that they never quite experienced the phenomenon of clean, dry laundry.  Thanks to Reginalva, our current group should have clean laundry more often than not. 

We got a chance for a short nap (called a sesta here rather than a siesta) but some of us decided to check out our new laundry skills while others journaled or talked. Others had long conversations with some visitors from São Paolo, all of whom spoke English.  We learned about different parts of Brazil and what they are known for, along with some historical information that we didn’t already know.

We paused all of our post-lunch activities then went back out to visit the fish farm itself.  We never made it.  We got distracted by the sounds of loud music and an announcer and discovered a soccer kick-off tournament near the main community field.  They were doing a paired competition, where one person from each pair would kick and one person would defend and whoever succeeded at both tasks moved on. 

Matt decided he wanted to enter and he asked Julia (our SMC goalkeeper) to be his partner.  When they went to register, there was much discussion among the Brazilians about whether a woman should be allowed to compete, especially because their men “kick the ball so hard.” She declared herself up for it and they entered.  We couldn’t quite figure out the rotation but every once in awhile, our pair did its thing. 

The first time Julia got up to kick, every person in range of the field stopped talking, stood up, and joined the large ring around the competition zone.  In particular, all of the little Brazilian girls ran to the front to get a good view.  Julia hit the top of the goal but it bounced in rather than over.  The place went nuts.  The US team (Matt and Julia) stayed alive in the tournament to the round of 8 but each of them missed on a duty at that stage so we were out. 

In the meantime, Claudia had been pulled over into a hastily organized women’s version of the same competition.  Her experience was as confusing as Matt and Julia’s was in the men’s competition.  Suddenly the competition had ended and we learned that Claudia’s team had come in second!  Wow. 

We all decided to cool off by taking a swim in the river.  It’s very warm and pretty clear where it’s shallow. We frolicked and played, took pictures and talked.  The sun started to set and we worked hard to get a great picture with it behind all of us.  We failed.  Must try again.

We ended the day with Shawny and Jesse having a long meeting with the local council right in our dining hall.  They said that they were going around and around about the project order/timing, as the priorities kept changing as the conversation went on.  Along with the factory and the irrigation idea, we expect to contribute to four other plans: 1) assemble and install a new fish cage at the fish farm, 2) help the tourism group complete an extension of the guest area that will allow for more hammocks and showers/toilets, 3) build a chicken coop to provide eggs (and chicken?) for guests and for community members and 4) help the transportation committee do further improvements on the community boat.  Because we have only about 16 days out here (and a few of those are going to be spent on a boat excursion to see other communities) we have our work cut out for us. 

One other dormant idea that we thought was at the top of the list is the establishment of a “living pharmacy” to propagate and promote traditional medicinals in the forms of teas, herbs, seeds and nuts.  They still want this project to happen but it is clearly on the back burner right now.

We ended the evening working on videos, photos and journals, but we drained the batteries of the solar-powered system so we had to knock off early when all of our computers and cameras were rendered unusable.  It was still later than we intended to stay up, so we didn’t exactly mind being forced to go to bed. 

Before we slept we had one moment of extreme excitement in the pousada, where we witnessed a natural event unlike any we had ever seen before: a spider (which has now been identified as a “monkey spider”) flew from the thatched roof without a web and perfectly matched the trajectory of a fluttering moth, grabbing it midair, pinching it in a death grip and subduing then (presumably) eating it.  The kinds of screaming that came out of our group should have disrupted this whole display of the natural food chain, but that spider was determined (and highly skilled). 

We are surrounded by spiders all of the time, but so far they have stayed a great distance away from us so we aren’t terribly worried about them.  Even the large (hand-sized!) crab spiders that live on the thatched ceilings around us don’t seem particularly alarming.  But watching that spider fly through the air like a hawk to snag its prey might have us feeling a little bit jumpier (no pun intended) than we were before.  Our hosts assure us that those spiders have no interest in flying our way and are not venomous anyway.  We still expect to see that display a few more times, if only in our dreams/nightmares. 

By the way, we haven’t yet had any measurable problems with other bugs and insects either.  We are using multiple strategies to reduce mosquito bites.  Perhaps you have noticed that most of us wear yellow coil bracelets.  Several people on last year’s trip swore by their mosquito-repelling effectiveness so we got enough for everyone to use.  Some wear two at a time, some wear four.  We aren’t yet ready to endorse them but we assume that they are not hurting us in any way so they are worth a try. 

We are safe and happy where we are, and we are eager to get to work.  Keep an eye out, as our main project work begins tomorrow. 

“Hi!” The first time we heard members of Anã speaking English.

We might be in over our heads for the upcoming soccer game

One of Anã’s most loyal companions

A small celebration after a scored goal.
Natália has just announced that her brother will soon become the community leader.
Ingrid (Nataália) taught all of us how to play bolei bolei, a local game played amongst young children using mucajá pits. 
Zé’s house in Anã. The architecture in Anã compliments the environment around it. They have built a fully functioning community without detracting from the natural beauty around them. The other communities surrounding Anã are also working on growing and developing similarly. Anã is leading the way for these other communities.

Matt attempting to move Team Ótimo to the semifinals with a thunderous kick to the bottom right, only to be blocked by a player from Anã’s team. Dashing his hopes at winning the one hundred Reais and the hearts of millions around the world. 
 The returning DIRTies visiting the fish food factory they began building last year. They left it at about two bricks high and came back to see it almost finished. Money for the project has run out and the people of Anã are working on raising funds to complete the project.

The Anã nursery, started in 2014 by DIRTies and community members, houses thousands of plants in bags of dirt that can be easily be transported to family gardens outside various homes to promote plant life and growth.
Time Ótimo’s first night on dish duty, spending time with the kitchen crew practicing our Portuguese. From left to right, 
(Julia, Iziete, Marlon, Alessandra, Arianna, Audenira, Matt, Steve.)

Leah holding a sucuba. “He was very squishy but very cute!"
Julia in goal facing the captain of the best futbol club in Anã. There were one hundred Reais (pronounced hay-eyes, Brazilian currency.) on the line as well as the pride of America (and Canada). 

The fish food factory was started last year by SMC DIRT working alongside community members. Today the building stands ten feet high and organized into three main rooms.

The girls having a blast at sunset. We ended our first full day in Anã by jumping in the river.


  1. Glad everyone has reached Ana safely. Nice pictures. Happy to read the fish factory progress from the returning DIRTies. Looking forward to read more interesting and developing stories from the group.

  2. Great pics! It's good to see you all have arrived safely and have not been eaten alive by flying spiders 😁 My worst nightmare 😜
    Looking forward to reading more on this incredible adventure...

  3. Ze's house is totally rockin'! Please tell him hello for me! Cannot wait to hear what else you all have in store for the trip. Tudo Bem!

  4. Ze's house is totally rockin'! Please tell him hello for me! Cannot wait to hear what else you all have in store for the trip. Tudo Bem!

  5. WOW!! look at the factory! it looks great, I cannot believe what a difference a year makes! Did the picture dictionary ever get completed? Are they using it?

  6. PS. Carlos, looks like your gonna have to go visit your buddy for a hair cut lol