Stirred not Shaken

Santarem PA, May 31st, 2012 — my peers and I were sweating profusely and the time was about 2050 hours and our guide Nathan Darity informed us that we had just enough time to make it to the “candomble” or Voodoo temple ceremony. Our small group hopped into the van and made our way down the unlit road to a small house, which was behind a wall, decorated with pictures of what looked like African American versions of Catholic saints. This was going to be interesting. We cautiously entered the temple during what appeared to be mid service and noticed some things right off the bat. For one thing we were the only sweaty, Caucasian college students with a guide wearing a full Capoeria uniform in the building and this set us apart immediately and in all honesty gave me a feeling of unease. Nonetheless, the group sat down and the service continued, apparently we hadn’t bothered anyone and this made us all feel a little better. That is until the high priest, a gaunt man standing about 5’6” dressed in a blue, flowing robe, decorated in large cords of what appeared to be shells of all different colors, walked in and beckoned us to leave with him. It was at this point that I assumed we were getting booted for stinking up the church but the fact was to the contrary he was actually inviting us to observe the shrines of his temple. Our full group continued outside as we were introduced to a number of separate temples and rooms that were dedicate to the 14 gods of the Voodoo religion. Upon returning to our seats, after our tour we sat and observed quietly and respectfully. There were three drums played by three individuals while three men danced or rather stumbled around the main floor of the temple, drinking scotch and smoking cigarettes all the while. I found out later that this was due to the fact that the sound of the drums and singing allowed for them to channel the gods into themselves and if the gods wanted to drink and smoke, they were going to drink and smoke and they must have gone through at least a bottle of scotch and a pack of Dunhill’s a piece so I’m assuming the spirits were extra strong with them that night. The high priest stopped the service in order to tell the congregation that his was a welcoming temple and used Prado as a translator. The high priest told us that he was the embodiment of a warrior god so he had no fear and would always speak the truth. Throughout the course of the service the drumming, dancing, drinking and smoking continued for a total of 2 hours and finally concluded with the spirits leaving the bodies of the high priest and his subordinates.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Santarem PA, May 30th, 2012 – As the Kombi turned off the dirt road onto a dirtier road and stiffly bounced over bumps, rocks and pot holes our crew, consisting of the Amizade service volunteers from Roger Williams University, Assistant Professor Paula Prado, Dr. Jeremy Campbell, our guide Nathan Darity and myself knew that we were in for a genuine jungle experience.

Image

The plan today was to stage a press pack and report on an agriculturally sustainable, family run farm located deep in the Brazilian Rain Forest. After a terribly uncomfortable off road romp the crew arrived at the visual pinnacle of rural living. Wild looking chickens foraged for feed in the dirt around the farmers quaint domicile made of aged, red brick and a thatch roof, while mosquito’s made a meal of my camerawoman.

Image

Image

Image

Image

The owner of the farm came out of his home and humbly gave thanks to God for his bountiful harvest and thanked us for taking an interest in his farm and his way of life. He was an elderly man with kind eyes, working hands and skin that looked like tanned leather. He began the tour by bringing us around back and showing us his cash crop of small rooted fruits that look much like tiny pineapples when harvested, the leaves of which can be converted into a string like fabric using a loud, motorized machine which you slide them through. This fabric can be used to make clothes and car interiors and was the farms major crop at Market.

Image

Image

Image

The farmer then showed us his beehives, which he harvested honey from. This was a new venture to him and he approached the Endeavour with trepidation, after a few harvests however he expanded his crop to over 50 hives and told us that he plans to sell the honey in America internationally one day.

Image

After the bee hives the farmer introduced the group to his wife as well as his expansive collection of home made medication which he extracted naturally from the rainforest and firmly stood by each ones effectiveness.

Image

Image

After receiving a piece of home made honey candy as a parting gift the group bid farewell and made our way back to the guesthouse in our kombis.

Simplicity in motion

The Second Deadliest Sin

Santarem PA, May 29th, 2012 – Today the Amizade tour group consisting of the Roger Williams Students, Dr. Campbell and Assistant professor Paula Prado went on an expedition to the main plant of the largest soy exporter on the planet.

The companies name was Cargill and its business history was shrouded in controversy due to claims of severely negative environmental impact. These claims were based on the fact that Cargill practices unsustainable farming practices such as mechanized mono cropping. In simpler terms this is the practice of planting a single variety of crop in massive quantities over vast expanses of farmland. The crops are harvested after they mature and the soil is left barren on account of it being over utilized. The farmer is then forced to find fertile land and the process repeats. The company has also drawn criticism for its unfair business practices such as its lopsided distribution of profit only creating around 120 jobs in their Santarem plant and raking in an astounding 119.5 Billion dollars in revenue in the year 2007 alone, a number which rises annually. This consolidation of wealth paired with the relative poverty that the people in Santarem are forced to deal with due to a poor economy is a perfect example of how the rich get rich and the poor become poorer. Upon arriving at the plant after about a 20-minute drive from the guesthouse it became apparent that this place was a big deal. Enormous grain tanks and storage warehouses made of granite and full of soy stood tall over the Tapajos river in the depths of which stood a massive grain transporting device designed to spew tones of soy into cargo ships, with its massive leg supports forever anchoring it in the polluted waters.The site was homage to technical and agricultural engineering but somehow still cast an ominous feeling of hopeless inequality in its shadow. After a wait of about thirty minutes our crew was finally permitted to enter with a group of Brazilian students from IESPES, which was the university across the street from the guesthouse.

We were invited into a small, air-conditioned room with a projector and a few chairs, somewhat reminiscent of a classroom. I suppose they were going to teach us something. After waiting another 10 minutes professor Prado was told by an employee that her video camera was forbidden since we were not allowed to take video of the event, we were however allowed to take pictures. Finally a short, bald, cue ball of a man came in to greet our collective group and brief us on all the good that Cargill is doing for the Santarem and how the media has skewed their stellar image and slandered their ethical business. After this meeting which lasted around an hour the group continued outside for a tour of the plant where we saw a woman driving a truck full of soy and gave her a round of applause for being able to do something so masculine when prompted to do so by our tour guide.

We then continued to walk around the plant where we saw all the stations the soy went through and were explained their functions while being watched keenly by an armed guard in a full battle dress uniform, including a Kevlar vest and military issue .38 Taurus pistol. This led me to assume that his primary function was in fact not just keeping geese off the lawn. After about a total of two hours the tour concluded with a short debriefing after which the group headed back out to the Kombis and drove off.

Young Minds and Old Machines

Santarem PA, May 28th, 2012 — In a low income area of the city of Santarem in the sate of Para Brazil, dozens of school children between the ages of 9 and 11 flutter around theater actors dressed in colorful costumes. This is “Casa Brasil” where the children are learning something that is unexpected by “gringos” or foreigners such as myself which is taking computer classes. One would not assume that the shabby looking building, with paint eroding from it’s exterior would be full of computers, technology and willing, intelligent young minds, upon entering Casa Brasil however this opinion changes drastically.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

The interest in socialized computer education is not unprompted in Brazil but is in fact motivated by a recent technological boom which was generated by a governmental mandate stimulating the regional economy through socialized programs that would teach the middle and lower class to design freeware on Linux based programs. Their reasoning was that this would not only increase the technological savvy of communities such as Santarem but would also give those living in low income communities a chance to earn revenue through the internet and computer programming. Aside from basic classes on operating a personal computer the organization also offers more advanced classes in coding and repair.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Overall the report went very well and the people working and learning at Casa Brazil were surprisingly receptive to our presence and more than co-operative with us in our interviews. To say the least my camera woman (Jolyn Wiggin), translators (Nathan Darity and assistant professor Paula Prado) and I felt very invited and empowered by the excitement and infectious enthusiasm expressed by the teachers at Casa Brasil as they explained the different functions of the organization and the success stories that it had produced. It was even more surprising to hear that all the basic technology lessons taught at Casa Brasil were free and open to anyone the only catch being that individuals had to pay if they decided to take classes in advanced coding or graphic design. All things considered however the price was extremely modest. Once we finished up our interviews at Casa Brasil Wiggin, Darity, Prado and I went back to the guesthouse for a quick meal and class with Professor Campbell, which was conducted in the college across the street at “IESPES” before we concluded the day at around 2130-2200 hours.

Finding Serenity at Atter do Chao

Santarem PA, May 27, 2012 — Today the Amizade service group and I along with Doctor Jeremy Campbell, Nathan Darity and assistant professor Paula Prado had a beach day at “Atter do Chao”. Our convoy departed the guesthouse at around 0900 hours after a short class with Prado in regards to editing our media, after which it was off to the beach where we enjoyed a lunch of fresh fish, chicken and rice.

Image

Image

Image

Image

After this the group swam for a short while to cool off and relax since the temperature was around 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The group bought some glasses from vendors on the beach but would not buy the hats that the other vendors were selling at 20 Reals apiece. We then took a boat on charter to the base of a small mountain, which according to Darity did not have any official name so I decided to call it “mount serenity”.

Image

Image

Serenity however could not be considered the official name since a debate had arisen between “Angel Mountain” and the former. For the sake of my own self-righteousness I am going to continue to refer to it as mount serenity. At any rate, the group climbed to the top of the mountain/hill and after reaching the summit and taking pictures from the top of an Iron crucifix established as a monument we descended and boarded our chartered vessel back to the main shore where we departed for the guesthouse.

Image

Image

Image

Image

We were given a short time to shower and change before heading out to a catholic mass at “Igreja Sao Franscisco” down the street from where we were staying at around 1930 hours. The press pack was set up about 20 minutes before mass began and there was an interview done with a priest whom divulged that at one point in his life he had struggled with severe alcoholism but, with the help of God, had overcame it and was now an influential public figure. His story was very inspiring. Once the interview concluded the group left and went back to the guesthouse for dinner while I opted to stay and observe mass and although the mass was quite different from what was typical in the states the faith was all the same and the unity that I experienced that night was quite powerful and moving. Being a man who worships no particular dogma faith is a gift that I have yet to receive but as I left that night I had a new and ever growing appreciation for those who have, and do.

Empty Wallets and Sore Arms

Santarem PA, May 26th, 2012 — Today the Amizade group, Nathan Darity, Assistant Professors Jeremy Campbell and Paula Prado and I spent the majority of the day in the urban center/marketplace of Santarem Para, which we arrived to in Kombis, departing the guesthouse at approximately 0800 hours. The ride took about 20 minutes and once we arrived we were greeted by a bustling market place, reflected in the murky waters of the Tapajos River.

The group exited our Kombis and saw numerous vendors selling small bananas that looked like plantains.

Fellow Amizade explorer Elizabeth Garretson picks out her banana selection

The best things in this world only get better with time.

The entire marketplace smelled like the sea due to the fact that inside there were about 25 different stands selling all kinds of fresh fish from the river any one of which could easily be mistaken for monsters by a foreigner such as myself. One fish on the chopping block was at least 5 feet long with huge whiskers and a body type that was flat and shark like. Seeing this fish for the first time in my life I assumed that the water beast must be dead. I was corrected as the vendor picked it up for me to take a picture and it began to wiggle around and swish its tail from side to side. The swishing ended when the butcher finally buried a two-foot machete in its skull.

Ice grillin’

All of these factors, paired with the mixed chattering of foreign language and dusty heat created an environment reminiscent of a market, through which one might expect to see James Bond chasing an international deviant.

walk a mile in my moccasins…

There were also stores that were purely designed for tourists such as the group and myself who were visiting Santarem for whatever reason. These stores sold cheap sunglasses, jewelry and local artisan work, which included woodcuttings, hats and clothing. As one would assume my peers and I gladly helped these vendors pay their rent buy purchasing almost anything that we could get our hands on simply in order to amass an impressive show and tell back in the states. This growing collection of Brazilian memorabilia resulted in an array of large shopping bags being carried by myself, as there was apparently something very wrong with the women’s arms in the group. By the end of the day I was sporting at least 5 shopping bags full of gear as well as dawning the straw hat which I had purchased for myself as the Kombi’s rolled into the Brazilian sunset, ending yet another day in this tropical paradise known as the Amazon.

Of Academics and Politicians

Santarem PA, May 25,2012 – Today, after the Amizade service learning group and I returned from the Alvorada squatter community, having weathered a surprisingly heavy rainstorm with a number of photo opurtunities (all photo’s of the children of Alvorada were published with the spoken consent of their parents, as per the request of the Brazilian government),

we had a prestigious guest arrive at the Amizade guesthouse by the name of Edivaldo Bernardo whom team boa unfortunately encountered while looking sleep deprived, sun scorched and callused but none the less impressed with our professor’s ability to convince such an influential person to lend us his time.

Professor Bernardo comes off as somewhat of a renaissance man; a poet, a scientist and a politician and from his appearance it was clear that he was part of what could be called the Para elite class. Bernardo was around 5’ 6” with a balding crown on his head and a graying mustache. He wore a light yellow, short sleeve button up shirt, which seemed to convey his professional and well-articulated yet casual nature. He sat on a chair set up in the courtyard with his legs crossed and a slight smirk on his face reeking of overpriced cologne. My partner and camera operator, Joelyn Wiggin, met me in front of the scene just as the interview was about to begin. Our professors and cultural liaisons, assistant professor Paula Prado and Dr. Jeremy Campbell had both prepared questions for Bernardo, almost all of which were in regards to his recent campaign to annex the state of Para from Brazil. Due to the increase in Para’s number of representatives in the national senate, Bernardo believes that this is a great idea. The issue in regards to public opinion on his behalf comes down to Bernardo’s motivations, seeing as his critics say that the only reason he wishes to do this is for the benefit of the Para elite (like himself) and not, as he says, for the welfare of the state. Bernardo also mentioned in his interview that his plan to usher in an economic boom was to invest heavily in eco tourism, saying, “Just because we (Brazilians or more specifically citizens of Para) live in the Amazon does not mean we have to live like Indians (natives)”. (Translated by Dr. Campbell).

(Below: I am shown shaking hands with Bernardo)

(Below: Wiggin embraced by Bernardo)

Once the interview with Bernardo had finished (of which a full transcript will soon be available, courtesy of “Lee and Associates Certified Verbatim Court Reporters” upon my return to the states) the group enjoyed a warm meal and proceeded to get dressed for an “entrepreneurial expo” down the street from our temporary home.
The “expo” turned out to be more of a festival, marketplace and celebration than anything and I found this to be a pleasant surprise. There were a large number of vendors representing local businesses as well as cultural dancers in full traditional costume, on stage who, through some divine act of God, managed not to sweat a dot while my colleagues and I dragged our soaked  American and Kuwaiti selves around the expo, leaking and gasping for water as if we had been locked in mom’s Volvo for far to long on an August day while she went into stoppies for a solid 45 minutes shopping for groceries. If this analogy escapes your understanding than you either lived through a beautifully sheltered child hood or lived no where near the south shore of Massachusetts.

Due to this we stayed for only about an hour and a half and then slowly began making our way back to the guesthouse around midnight after which we ended our day and went to sleep.

Let’s Get Ready To Rubble

Santarem PA, May 23,2012 — Today my peers and I were deployed to assist in the construction of a multi-purpose community center/school in a squatter community in Santarem known locally as “Alvorada” or “Dawn” when translated to English.This is perhaps due to the fact that the squatters who live there are looking for hope and a new beginning, a new dawn if you will. (below: is the church outside of our work site in Alvorada)

ImageAlvorada is about 10 minutes from the guesthouse which my colleagues and I are living in. (below: our guesthouse and the girls taking a nap in the hammocks out front)

Image

The Amizade service/learning group accompanied by Dr. Jeremy Campbell and assistant professor Paula Prado departed the guesthouse at 1415 hours by way of a van or “Combi” driven by our guide Nathan Darity over an unpaved and for the most part largely unregulated road. From observation en route it could be determined that the most commonly utilized form of transportation in this region is by motorcycle and boxy looking diesel manual shifters.

Image

By American standards of driving it would appear that the vehicles are driven with blatant disregard for the life of the rider, pedestrians or other motorists. I could best describe the drive to and from different locations as “laughing at death” as the Brazilians seem to be, for the most part, an upbeat and cheerful people, even while flying past another vehicle and simultaneously running a “Pare” or stop sign. Upon our arrival to Alvorada the locals were exceedingly thankful for our help in constructing the building, which would eventually be a community center/school but at the moment was simply a tin roof propped on top of a few un-finished walls. (below: are some pictures of our work site)

Image

Image

At first it was determined that there was not much for us to do at the site but after a while the residents became motivated to work and gave my peers and I jobs to do. I was assigned to collecting barrels of soft, red sand to mix with concrete in order to shellac the inner walls of the building. The wild life, which inhabited the area, included a number of feral canines, horses and cows, which were all friendly and seemed to live homogeneously among the residents of the community. The group worked efficiently and quickly with high moral for approximately three and a half hours finishing two walls of the building.

Image

Image

Image

(Below: This is an image of one of the residents of Alvorada with here child, spoken consent to publish was received pre-blog)

Image

(Below: is a small store across the road where I bought my work ciggs once)

Image

After we finished working at the site and experienced a minor car accident into a flimsy telephone pole with no injury to personnel with the exception of the bludgeoning Darity’s ego would undergo from the women in the car. We then returned to the guesthouse and had a debriefing. Here we discussed the day’s events and how they affected us as well as our opinions on the people and the culture since first arriving in the country yesterday. The debriefing finished and the day was over at about 2000 hours.