Saturday, January 14, 2017

Day Four: Wowed By Our New World

Saturday, January 14, 2017

It rained in the night but we were too tired to be bothered by it. We all found some level of peace in our hammocks, even though the circle was a bit tight and the oca was a bit stuffy.  We have snorers, lots of them, though they shall remain unnamed.  We have snore strips too, so we hope everyone gets really good at using them. 

BUT WHO CARES?  BECAUSE WE ARE IN THE AMAZON!!!  We are really, really, really in the Amazon and we can feel it.  We ate a breakfast of about five varieties of manioc, which is the main food staple here, primarily because it can grow in the rather shallow topsoil here.  Though you might presume that the Amazon is some of the richest soil in the world, that’s not exactly the case.  Manioc is a root vegetable that takes tons of work to prepare but the people here have developed dozens (hundreds?) of creative ways to use it.  We also had eggs to complement the multiple forms of starch featured in our morning meal.

Our friends Vicente, Neusa, and Madalena met us at the pousada to take us on a tour of the community.  Though some tourists might have different tastes, our focus was on the community projects that might become a part of our schedule for the next couple of weeks.  As it turned out, all of them were projects that students from 2014, 2015 and 2016 will find quite familiar.

We started at the garden, where the saplings are HUGE now and ready to be distributed.  There are onions, tomatoes and herbs growing there, along with the many trees we planted in 2015, including two banana trees named after Shawny and Jesse, who planted them.  We tasted a sweet little fruit called pitomba, which has a slightly hard shell that has to be removed to get to the pulpy membrane around the large seed that makes up the bulk of the fruit.  They were sweet and tasty, with the added bonus that you get to spit the pit as far as you can and no one will condemn you. 

We then ventured out to the now-empty chicken coop, to survey the damage done by the big cat, called a maracajá (not to be confused with the fruit -- maracujá -- after which one of our teams is named.)  The damage wasn’t nearly as bad as we expected (if you don’t count all of the dead chickens), as it turns out the 40 or 50 pound cat entered the enclosure through a tiny space under the fence back in November, then through another smallish hole it made in the roof (just last week!) to kill the rest of the chickens that had survived the first attack. 

When we were still in the city, we described the problem with the big cat and the chicken coop to the people from whom we bought the chicken wire and they were surprised that the cat had gotten through it.  They showed us their one and only roll of heavier fence wire and we bought it to help us repair the coop in the community.  Our plan is to double this heavy wire over the existing wire, though it is not as tall as the existing wire is.  To fill the gap at the bottom, we are going to make a low brick wall – only about four bricks high – to prevent the cat from getting under the edge.  We all stood together with our community reps, including our dear friend Zé Martin, and worked out the plan. 

Once we had a handle on the chicken coop, we walked the length of the community (stopping to pull some just ripened mangoes from the tree to eat) to visit the fish farm, which now consists of 19 cages, each of which holds up to 800 mature fish or – supposedly – as many as 10,000 baby fish.  The farm is thriving and we got to do our usual swim in the cage (for the brave volunteers), taking pictures of the fish that we could catch with our bare hands.  Sort of.

We left the fish farm to visit the not-quite-finished fish food “factory.”  It’s a brick building that the group from 2015 started and the community almost finished by the time we returned in 2016.  We didn’t get to work on that project last January but since we were here, much more work has been done.  There is still some labor to put in to make the space fully functional, so we hope to be able to carve out some time to bring that project to fruition.  If we do, we’ll tell you more about why they would focus their energies on making their own fish food. 

We left the fish food factory and visited one of our favorite local enterprises: the production of honey made by local stingless bees.  These bees live in the forest and the locals have figured out how to lure them out and domesticate them in a way, capitalizing on the honey they produce to use it for mostly medicinal purposes.  Our friend Auvair is the prime beekeeper, so he gave us the rundown on the bees and how he and others learned to manage them.  We got to taste the honey, which is sort of thin and sour (and GOOD!) and we got to taste the pollen, which is really sour.  We also got an assurance that there would be enough honey available for each of us to take some honey home.  We can’t promise that there will be enough for us to share . . .

As we left the bees, we realized that we had been out for more than five hours checking out the highlights of the community.  We headed back to the pousada and enjoyed a lunch of a local fish, pirarucú.  Thinking of that local word made us start thinking of other Portuguese words that could apply to us.  Pretty quickly, we started coming up with nicknames.  We don’t have them for everyone yet, but we have a few.  We’ll let you in on them over time. 

We took the afternoon to get things organized a little better, by hanging clotheslines, starting laundry, finding all of the Clif bars we brought with us and generally putting things in places where we can find them when we need them.  Some people swam in the river a bit, some practiced shooting video with our new drone (!), some lolled about in their hammocks, some worked on journal entries and others worked on speaking Portuguese with Zé. 

After dinner (more fish, chicken lasagna, mashed potatoes, and lots of shredded vegetables as salad), we had a little ceremony that harkened back to the 2009 SMC trip to the Amazon.  That year, we bought bikes to get around in Santarém, where we stayed for our whole trip.  We had all red bikes, except for one, which was purple.  We decided to make the riding of the purple bike a specially-earned reward and established the fictional Order of the Purple Bike (Ordem da Bicicleta Violeta), inducting in a new member each day. 

We decided before our trip that we wanted to bring back the spirit of the Purple Bike, meaning that even though we are a highly unified group, we are also unique and exceptional individuals whose achievements deserve to be acknowledged.  So, whether or not the award comes with membership in the Order, we are going to point out the contributions of one special team member each day. 

For today, we decided to recognize someone who always makes us smile, who demonstrates special skills and who brings us together through unique contributions.  Colleen (now called Pipa, the word for kite) clearly meets all of these criteria.  Colleen has a joyous and happy way about her and she is loved by every member of our team.  She showed off her special talent of speaking to dolphins by FIVE TIMES IN A ROW making a dolphin call toward the river that immediately resulted in a dolphin surfacing.  (We are going to ignore the sixth, seventh and eighth attempts, as the first five were impressive enough for us.)  And today she casually brought up a ball game called “Head Catch,” wherein someone throws a ball and calls out one of those two words.  The person on the other end of the throw is supposed to do the opposite of what the word says, so that if the thrower says “catch,” the receiver should hit the ball with his/her head; if the thrower says “head,” the receiver should catch the ball.  It is hilariously hard to keep a string of correct moves going.  We were all gathered around laughing and having a blast watching each other play “Head Catch,” and we are grateful to Pipa for bringing it to us. 

Now why is she called “Pipa?”  Because Brazilian children are avid kite-flyers and kites are sources of joy both for those holding the string and for those who look to the sky and see a flying kite.  The same smile that a kite brings to its observers is the smile we all show when Colleen/Pipa is around.  Congratulations to Pipa!

After her induction ceremony (she won a frilly headband), we had today’s camp team (each team does daily chores, one of which is taking care of our living space) lead us in a reflection to help us notice what we are experiencing and to feel the connections between all of the work we did to prepare for our trip and all that we experience here.  Today we talked about our expectations before the trip, how they have been met (or not, or exceeded), and what the sources of those expectations were.  We won’t include you in all of the details of our discussions, but we thought you might be interested in how the “class” part of this incredible experience works. 

Tonico shows us the fish farm in progress and pulls out a turtle out of the cage!

Here Leandro and some of the DIRTies are trying to learn each other’s languages with flashcards that we brought to help communicate with community members.

Zé, a key member of the eco-tourism group who works with us, shared a native fruit pitomba. Pitomba is a small almond shaped, shelled fruit with a lining of sweet slime coated around a seed.

If you are ever wondering what it looks like walking through Anã, this is one of the many paths you can take through the community. This photo captures the essence of our group.

Rainforest Clearing – Walking through a clearing in the rainforest with the crew to take our first look at the fish food factory ;)

Pitomba in the garden- The group got a sweet treat during our tour of Anã when Vicente gave us some pitomba fruit to snack on.

Ride to fish farm- Headed out to the community fish farm where there are a total of 19 fish cages that help feed and provide income in Anã.

Vets with chicken coop- Vets from last year with members of the community standing in front of the chicken coop they collaborated on almost exactly a year ago. Plus Julius being a chicken in the back. 

Auvaír, the beekeeper, explained to us how stingless bees produce honey. Not only do they use it on their food, it is used for medicinal purposes and a large source of their ecotourism income. We were also able to try some of the sweet, tangy honey and the very bitter pollen.

Tonico, an important member of MUSA (Women Who Dream in Action), showed us a key part to their dietary needs and economy. This fish farm is an efficient way to produce numerous amounts of fish. Another key factor is providing daily nutrients to the local school.

Honey Syringe – Trying fresh honey (mel) straight out of the Meliponis beehive.    

Today, Pablo’s boat came with food for the community and wire for the chicken coop. Also, seen is our daily duty of filtering water in front of the Oca (where we sleep) and a sneak peak of our drone.

Taking “shots” of honey that Auvair extracted from the honeycombs.

Tonico shows us the fish farm in progress and pulls a turtle out of the cage!

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