In May of 2000 I went with my husband, James and daughter, Paloma (aged 2 years and 9 months) to the Amazon. It was an eye-opening experience in many ways. Some of my thoughts about the trip are presented here.
Click on any picture to see an enlarged version of it.
May 29, 2000
We are living in a house that belongs to a man named Mario, who is never here. [It] is big and fancy but has no refrigerator, only a freezer. Mario told us yesterday that there would be a refrigerator "tomorrow". It is not here, so I will not count on it for the rest of the stay. It will be hard to keep things here for Paloma to eat.
Outside of Mario's house. Mario's patio
Paloma takes a bath in the laundry tub.
May 30, 2000
I told Graca today that we had no refrigerator and she mananged to get one from her husband's office to use while we are here.
We have taken the bus a few times. The standard operating procedure is to enter on the back, pay, and go through a turnstyle, which is difficult with Paloma. We have to pass her over.
Paloma has been a great traveler and has not noticed that the kids she plays with here speak no English.
Paloma enjoying ice cream with her friend Daniel
May 31, 2000
Most of the streets here are a very dusty red dirt. All the dirt roads have puddles where sewage has leaked from underneath. On most streets it is running along where a curb might be, but on others it looks like a lake. Buying hammocks from a truck. Every family had a hammock in the house or on the patio.
Lixo (Trash) was put up on these pedestals to keep off dogs who wandered the streets.
Two nights ago we lost electricity. We had to open the window in our room. Paloma and I woke up with bites all over.
I bought a book for learning Portguese. I am impressed with my own ability and discipline to learn. I even answered the phone today and had a short conversation, but I really had to work at it.
June 1, 2000
Yesterday we saw the black strips of ash falling from the sky that reminded me of the sugar cane burning in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, but this was from burning trash. It is like a surreal precipitation and I am reminded once again about magic realism.
I was very proud of James yesterday. We went to UNIPEC to hear Miguel's talk about Amazon perceptions, and when we got there Graca asked James what he knew about the Internet. He answered "a lot" and she shuttled him off to a room full of people waiting to hear a talk about English for the Internet. He spoke for almost an hour in Portuguese without preparation.
[UNIPEC is a private college. No one we asked knew what the acronym stood for, even the people who worked there.]
I spent the morning today with Vera. Talking to her helped me a lot. She was very patient and tried to explain things when I didn't understand.I think my students next semester will appreciate this humbling experience I'm having of trying to learn a new language. I am also feeling humbled because of certain things I've had to do to get by here, especially regarding safety. When we lived in the Rio Grande Valley I often wondered why people didn't use car seats when they must have known they were safer. Paloma has almost never been in a car seat because it wasn't an option. There were either too many people in the car, or we simply didn't bring it with us, because we had been on the bus.
Bicylces were a common mode of transportation. Our water was delivered on this one with the front modified to carry a 5 liter jug.
June 2, 2000
The night we lost electricity some people (all women, I believe) began singging when the lights went out. They sang the whole two hours it seemed. It sounded soothing.
June 3, 2000
Diapers, tampons and sanitary napkins come only in packs of ten. It seems that anyone would have to buy more than one pack at a time, so I find this very odd. Baby wipes were very difficult to find. We finally found some Johnson's wipes in a pop-up canister of 70. When we opened it I mentioned to James that they were very small and thin. He responded with "well, at least they were expensive." It rained today and gave us some relief from the heat. We saw some frogs on Mario's porch afterwards.
June 5, 2000
I have seen three Brazilian television programs. I did not like any of them. One featured a woman whose sidekick was a parrot puppet. It was a sort of talk show format and the woman played off of the parrot. I thought it was dumb. Another was a game show format with several different games played. I think there was a quiz show, a wheel-of-fortune thing and a call-in section in which people tried to guess a picture by only seeing a part of it. It seemed like the callers won 100 reals regardless of how much of the picture was uncovered, and it was insultingly simple. The third program was the 6:00 news which was very sensationalized, plus the anchors did a lot of editorializing. We watched a story about a man who was accused of killing his niece and James explained that what the anchor said after was his own opinion about what the punishment should be. One other thing I noticed on telelvision was that the standard of beauty is the same as it is in the U.S. (skinny).
Murals on a wall surrounding a community in Porto Vehlo.
June 7, 2000
James had mentioned to me on several occasions that Brazilians have staples that they tend to eat several times a week. I have noticed that wherever we eat there is always an abundance of rice and beans. And people are cooking all morning for the noon meal. No matter how many people show up there is always plenty of food, even when unexpected guests show up.
Paloma is sick. We took her to the doctor and she got some antibiotics, which can be bought over the counter here. The doctor scared me with talk of malaria and meninghitis. She had a hell of a nice office. Nicer than any I've seen in the U.S.
Yesterday we went to talk to some English students at UNIR [Universidade de Rondonia] . They had questions about teaching in general and teaching language specifically. One student dominated with questions about why we don't teach pronunciation from the beginning and other more linguistic questions.
Rainbow over UNIR
June 10, 2000
We finally saw the rainforest. It is very green. We took a walk on a trail with Graca, Daniel, Dona Elena and Livia.
Today we went to the most wonderful place. It was a place on the rio (river) with a waterfall and hundreds of butterflies around. It was very much magic. The butterflies flew all around us in all colors. I've seen that many butterflies in one place before, but never of so many different species. I saw one of the big blue butterflies that James told me about when he was here before. There was a treacherous bridge that James kept wanting to take a picture of with a car on it. It was made of wood planks spaced wide enough apart for a car to drive on. Graca drove over it with us in the car so James could get a picture. I was somewhat freaked. The other day while we were at UNIR a tractor trailer overturned right outside the gate of the university. It was carrying fabric softener. We could still smell the fragrance when we drove by the spot today.
More Butterflies of Rôndonia
June 11, 2000
We got to ride the train today. It was quite remarkable how close people invaded [when squattors take over an area of land in Brazil it is called an invasion] to the railroad tracks. We were literally only few centimeters from the roofs of corrugated steel roofs. It was a cool ride, only a few kilometers there and back.
The train station
Two days ago James and I were at the bus stop and a man asked for some change. We refused and he asked us again. We refused again and he walked away. He came back a minute later and put 50 cents in Paloma's hand. Looked at us directly, scowled and walked away.
Downtown Porto Vehlo
The middle class houses here are remarkable in that they are essentially the same houses that our friends helped to build in the colonias of South Texas for Habitat for Humanity - a small common room with bedrooms off of it. There is usually a seperate kitchen though. Even Mario's house, by far the nicest house we've been in is only about the size of our house. The kitchen and living room are bigger than most, but there is no dining room. He has three bedrooms upstairs, two baths upstairs, one downstairs and one that I don't think works on the patio.
June 14, 2000
Once upon a time a James I didn't know was a fundamentalist Christian. He belonged to the Baptist Student Union and talked to people about the Bible and Jesus. That was the James who once wanted to be a Wycliffe translator.
We went to the Wycliffe village yesterday and spoke to some missionaries there. While I disagree with the work they do on some levels (i.e. why they think God really wants those people to have a Bible, considering it took 2000 years to get one written for them) they are doing some very interesting and scholarly work in linguistics.
We have only met four Americans here, including the two at the Wycliffe camp. One was on business, and the other was a Morman missionary. No wonder everyone here asks us if we're 'missionarios".
June 17, 200
Our second day in Recife. We took another red-eye special to get here. People in Brazil like to travel in the middle of the night. We are staying in a wonderfully charming hotel and bed and breakfast run by a small family. It is very inexpensive. We are very close to the beach, which makes me feel like I am on vacation, finally! We have seen cows, horses, chickens, dogs and cats on the beach so far.
Outside of our hotel before a festival
The courtyard of our hotel decorated for the festival.
These animated crabballs were for sale on the street. I guess people knew they were getting them fresh
I bought a pair of shorts today, mostly on my own (without James' help). I have done pretty well with my Portuguese. I've even helped James on a few occasions.
Before we left Porto Vehlo we gave Graca 30 reais to give to Mario for electricity. I have to say communication problems are universal. Mario asked Adulcimar to ask us to chip in and Adulcimar, in turn, asked Graca to speak to us. Talk about triangulation! When James spoke to Mario he insisted that we not pay him, so we had to give the money to Graca, to give to Adulcimar to give to Mario.
June 19, 2000
Prices in Pernambuco are much different than in the Amazon. Interestingly things are cheaper here in the resort. In Porto Vehlo things were priced at 1 or 2 reais. Cents were only used on things with higher prices than that. Here things are priced less than one real, sometimes considerably. Coco gelado (coconut juice) was 1 real in Porto Vehlo. Here we have seen it for as little as 30 cents. Food is cheaper here in general.
Enjoying coconut juice by the Rio Madero
I've noticed a different attitude about pets here than in Porto Vehlo, and in fact the rest of Latin America. Quite a few people have pure bred dogs, which is pretty uncommon in other areas. People are out walking their dogs on leashes instead of having them run around free. I wonder if they are allowed inside the houses?
Last night we went to the opening ceremonies of the BRASA [Brazilian Studies Association] conference. It was scheduled for 8:00, but they dropped us off at 7:00 with no plan for us otherwise. The University had a convention center that had a crepe restaurant which opened immediately, and filled with customers just as quickly. They were obviously not prepared for us although it was clear that they expected us. We waited an hour for our food. Following dinner there was a panel of speakers. I let Paloma run around the outer part of the center while they spoke. Apparently each person spoke for about 5 minutes until the last one who went on and on. Everyone was waiting for the main show to start. Some people who had other means to leave, other than the buses that brought us there, left. I was ready to go myself until the main show started - a wonderful music and dance exhibit. Paloma even enjoyed it, especially the dancing.
Yesterday I decided to be brave and get Paloma something to eat while James was attending a session. She told me she was hungry, and since she hadn't had breakfast I took her to the panificadora (sandwich shop) and ordered her an egg and cheese sandwich, in my best broken Portuguese. She took one bite and fell asleep. At least now I know I can manage on my own if I need to.
I was very surprized when I saw the UFPE [Universidade Federal de Pernambuco] campus, the campus here in Pernambuco that is run by the federal government, the same body that runs UNIR. There is no comparison between the two. At UNIR the classroom buildings look like they belong at a summer camp. UFPE is huge and modern. UNIR looked like a campus that one might picture as being in the jungle, although I would have to say that often I run into the same problems here at Bridgewater that they have there, like not having chalk in the classrooms. I had spoken to a Spanish class at UNIR about some of the similarities I saw between the two campuses (UNIR and Bridgewater). Especially about their governing bodies wanting to privatize them.They were very surprized to learn about our problems, and interested to know that things are the same all over. Of course UFPE also has the problem of the government wanting to privatize it, but otherwise it is a magnificent campus with more facilities than I've seen at any of the Universities I've attended or worked at in the United States. I questioned how the same government could be running both campuses, but I also question how the same government can be running the State Colleges and the University of Massachussetts system, since there are huge differences in facilites and salaries between the two.
June 23, 2000
There is something about being able to control your own environment that makes traveling stressful. I am looking forward to being able to do chores and housework, and working myself when we get back.
Two nights ago Christine, who runs our hotel, invited us to her daughter's school to see the quadrilho. Paloma really enjoyed it and got to do the door-prize drawing. It was charming to see all the kids dressed up, and all the parents with their cameras and camcorders.
Paloma picking the winner
Yesterday we went to a ceramic museum and to Olinda, a beautiful city nearby. Olinda has a lot of shops and the architecture is differnet than in other parts of Brazil. The houses don't have walls around them, and are painted in very bright colors. It is a much older city than Recife.
The Brennand factory.
This art museum in Olinda was converted from an old inquisition prison.
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Updated July 29, 2010