Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ten Wonderful Things About Brazil

Part of me wishes I was still back on the boat, going down the Amazon, on our recent trip. (Part of me is loving the dryness of Colorado! 'Slimy' is not my favorite feeling.) The Amor Brazil people are now hosting a group from the Louisville area: http://www.amor-brazil.org/blog/default.aspx
And here's the general Amor Brazil website:
http://www.amor-brazil.org/

Ten things I will not forget about this trip:

1. The Amazon. It's much bigger than I ever thought -- sized more like the Missouri, or even the Mississippi. This is the main way to get around in Amazonia...roads, after Manaus, are dirt or nonexistent. Freighters plied their way up and down the river, hauling everything from cattle to concrete. We also saw ferry boats on occasion, as well as the usual fishing boats in every size and type.

2. The people. Brazilian women are some of the most beautiful in the world, with their long dark hair and eyes, and winsome ways. They are a good deal shorter than Americans -- in general, they seemed to tuck nicely under my chin, so about 4' 10" to 5' 2" or so. The last village, we met one teenager who must have been 6' 3"...but he was the only one to keep pace with our tall Coloradoan guys.
These people were shy, but intelligent. Very clever and amazingly good at making do and improvising. They spoke Portuguese. Period. We learned some Portuguese (wish I knew more), and we had interpreters. But smiling and hand gestures get you a long way. Just don't use the thumb-circle 'okay' sign -- it's 'doing the nasty' for the average Brazilian! (Use a 'thumbs up' sign instead -- also used to respond to "Commo vay," or 'how are you.')

3. The crew. The guys (and the 'laundry lady') were amazing. They went far out of our way to help, but also explain and interpret. We became very fond of some of the interpreters, including Silvio (who leaped out of the boat onto an alligator in the water!), Raymond (who helped ease many dental patients' minds) and Gillson (who explained many traditions, and told us a lot of stories). Gillson (pronounced "jillson") saved me from an innocent-looking bright green snake that fell into the boat from branches one day...his frantic brooming got it out pronto. ('Was that snake poisonous, Gillson?' He looked at me steadily. 'Yes, very.')

4. The strong sense that we were there for a reason. I was in the right place at the right time. It was clear. What was also strong was the sense that many people were praying for us. This really was God's trip, more than it was ours.

5. The ways we were able to help people in the dental clinic. Dave and I worked as dental 'technicians,' cleaning and sterilizing utensils, and holding the flashlight into people's mouths. And the teeth we helped with! These people just do not have access to dentists (or doctors, for that matter). One poor guy, in his thirties, had never been to a dentist. Thirteen of his teeth came out.
But their gratitude when these teeth, these sources of pain and misery were no longer tormenting them, was profound.

6. The ways we were able to help people -- period. Not just dental, but medical care. Toothbrushes, toothpaste, aspirin, antibiotics. Vacation Bible School, with photos of the kids. (Printing them off on the boat, using a portable printer, was a brilliant idea -- and the people loved having their own photos within a few hours of when they were taken!) Songs, lessons...toys, candy, hats and sunglasses. We had so many things donated that we were able to give out. Stores, except in the biggest cities, were pretty much nonexistent. We helped bring them things materially...but for their emotional and spiritual health, too. How often can you do that...

7. The villages. Wood shacks, a soccer field (de rigeur in every village), flowers, trees...and the most surprising, a satellite dish here and there behind a house. (They had a few hours of electricity every night, thanks to a generator some villages away. The power was wired in.) Spigots for running water (cold), but no window glass or screening (just shutters). We saw every kind of arrangement possible, some extremely clever. Not much, but what was available was used nicely. The houses (and people) generally very clean, in spite of dirt roads and dust.

8. The trip. To get to the villages (three of them, in the the Region of the Lakes), we had to travel on a much narrower creek. It was the end of the high water season, and our boat, small by American standards, barely got through. By the end, it took crewmen in the water, diving to clear the propeller of vegetation. Out front in 'john boats,' trying to pull the Amor Beatriz forward. On the sides, hacking back branches with machetes. (The branches smashed in anyways, bringing with them ants, greenery and a snake or two.) We eventually made it, but I thought of the African Queen movie more than once.

9. The silly guys who were shipmates. I've known these men, with only a few exceptions, since the girlies were in diapers. And the jokes, bragging and zany stories I heard on this trip! Having 15 men along (as well as us three women, and a family with parents and three teenagers) was an enlightening experience. When things got discouraging, the jokes started. Many times, we faced problems and obstacles. The first response, without exception, was decisive calm. The second was prayer.
The two men I had never met -- well, by trip's end, they had also become friends. I was proud to be with these crazy guys, in spite of their obsession over who had the biggest blow gun== and piranha!

10. The whole experience. The boat. The flowers, animals...the smells of growing things, spices. The people. The food. The time spent working (and joking!) The slow progression down the river, watching herons, counting cattle and talking about our lives. Writing in journals, reading the Word. Praying. Silly moments -- and serious ones.
Wonderful.

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