Saturday, January 16, 2016

Day Eight: Stephen’s Birthday!!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

It’s Stephen’s birthday!!  This year he is turning 22, after having his 21st birthday right here in this very place last year.  We also got to celebrate the return of Callan and Jesse, who came back with a clean bill of health for Callan.  We are thrilled to have our whole group together again. 

Our work today followed a special breakfast prepared by Team Ótimo (with Jenny replacing Steve, as it is his birthday and all . . .).  They made pancakes with mix we brought from home.  Some had M&Ms and all had big piles of Log Cabin syrup all over them.  The cleanup of the non-nonstick pans was no fun, but worth it. 

We then started working right on the grounds of the guest area where we are staying.  Any of you readers who have been here before will not even believe the change of this landscape today.  It’s hard to get perspective on it in any pictures or videos, but we cut into the rain forest and expanded the grounds by almost 50%.  We realize that cutting down rainforest doesn’t sound like a very noble pursuit, but we are in a forest preserve where the kinds of trees that can be cut are controlled so we were actually exercising great care.  There was one very valuable tree that was involved in this event (a jacaranda) and that wood got directed to a different place than the overall debris pile from the other trees and bushes. 

The expansion of the guest area is actually funded in part by a government grant to help rain forest communities establish sustainable enterprises that will improve their economic conditions without diminishing their culture or heritage. As we have noted before, Anã is a model for the surrounding area about how to skate this fine line. 

Our jobs, then, included everything from digging a septic tank to laying bricks on the new bathroom to preparing thatch for the roof.  We also felled trees (sometimes with axes, sometimes with machetes) and cleared debris.  We hired a contractor to oversee the bathroom project and lots of other locals showed up to help with everything. 

As always, we had too few tools to do everything we wanted to do, so we had to use ingenuity to keep projects moving even when the tool situation was not ideal.  We quickly organized rotations so that we could maximize productivity.  One of our jobs was to dig the pit for the septic system and we were instructed to make it as deep as our dear friend Tonico is tall.  That means that we were going for about five cubic feet of dirt removal.  Using all manual tools, that’s a big job.  As the job unfolded, the pit got bigger and deeper but we just kept going until they told us to stop.

We were tireless for some reason and our guys even kept box-jumping (leaping out with both feet using no hands) out of the pit, even as its depth reached the height of their heads.  We got machete lessons from the locals and the DIRT vets, but we never got anywhere near the skill level of the people who live here.  That’s probably for the better.  We’ll just be careful and slow and not mind that we can’t hack through a tree Game of Thrones style. 

Some of our women decided to take out one of the stumps unassisted and conquered it impressively in much less time than they expected.  Many of us learned new skills, including preparing thatch for installation as roofing material by tearing each individual frond in just the right way to make them all align properly to block water flow.  Others learned masonry as they mortared bricks into place on the new bathhouse. 

For lunch we had a new local delicacy: stingray.  It was delicious. After lunch one of our big jobs was to move the debris that we were creating out of the way of the plans that will unfold on the plot of land we prepared.  That job meant we had to drag big trees and their various smaller parts (branches, palm fronts, etc.) into one of two large piles on the site.  In some cases, we could line things up just right so that we could javelin a long piece from where it fell into the pile.  If we ever form a DIRT javelin team, Annie will be our captain. 

We also learned that we have a monkey among us and his name is Cole.  The locals were showing us the way they scale tree trunks using a ring of cloth.  Cole one-upped them by matching their performance without the cloth.  The locals were impressed and so were we. 

Overall, we got much farther than we might have imagined possible when our day began.  And we got the community much farther than they would have gotten if we weren’t here.  It is important to us that we follow the plans they already have in place and just speed up their time frame with our labor and other resources.  So far we have happily completed quite a few of the grunt jobs that no one loves to do but we have learned how to have a blast while we do them.  There’s not much more we could ask for. 

After dinner, we celebrated Steve’s birthday in much the same way as Marlina’s last night, though his gifts from us were a Flamengo jersey (it’s a famous Brazilian soccer team) and a fishbone knife.  We could never match the glory of his 21st birthday here so we let it be low-key and just let him know how much we admire him. 

We’re lucky to be here and we feel it every minute of every day (almost).  Tonight the bugs started buzzing all around us in a totally new way, which we attribute to the return of the rains.  Even then, we worked together to find a way through, first by wearing our mosquito nets as enormous veils at the table then by turning off all of the lights and doing whatever we were doing in the dark. We’re pretty good at this. 

As we consider our ability to adapt, we owe huge thanks to Jesse, as always, for helping hold everything together but we also owe gratitude to the students who have traveled here before us who established the systems and formed the relationships from which we constantly benefit.  And, of course, we owe thanks to our hosts, who have welcomed us warmly and have shown exceptional hospitality throughout our stay.  Thanks, also to all of you, whose presence and support we can feel from oh-so-far away . . .

Claudia learned how to pull apart thatch from the local women.

Claudia, Julia and Marlina bonding in their hammocks when they should have been taking naps. 

Dr. Stiek meets insect stick 

Cooper wacking at one of the more difficult tree stumps. We also learned that the handles for the tools were made by the locals out of materials found in the community.

Burning a termite nest so we can clear the land 

Aldaír cutting down trees to make space for a second Oca 

 Cole, the only American to get more than 3 feet off the ground

Jacaranda, one of the most beautiful hardwoods of the Amazon rainforest. Often used as home decor for its beautiful color. 

Cameron learning how to lay brick from the real pros

Marcia poses with two thumbs up. We are so blessed to be spending our time in Anã working alongside the community members of Anã.

Sharing smiles with Marcia 

The friends feed, teach, and take care of us. 

Ain’t no such thing as clean shoes on a typical DIRTy day.

Zé giving two thumbs up on all of our hard work!

1 comment:

  1. Labor of love, DIRTies! Great job for your hardwork! Am proud of you all! Nice to see everyone working and collaborating together with the community.