Thursday, January 7, 2010

Day One: Thursday, January 7, 2010 – Manaus


After a smooth trip to the airport in San Francisco, an easy flight to Atlanta, and an equally easy flight to Manaus, we are happily in Brazil. Our 4:30 arrival (local time) left us in a weird position as we tried to imagine how our day would unfold. We headed straight for a hotel in the city center and some of us decided to nap while others couldn’t help but explore the area around our hotel, no matter how strange the hour.

For those who slept, re-awakening before noon was a highly disorienting experience. For those who explored, being an obvious stranger in a foreign land was a slightly disorienting – but also invigorating – experience. The explorers broke out a Frisbee on the plaza of the Teatro Amazonas (see below) and seemed to mystify a few Brazilians who apparently hadn’t seen this particular piece of sporting equipment in action before. If the disk took a wrong turn and landed near a local, that person would pick it up and walk it back to us rather than attempting to throw it “correctly.”

Either way, we all gathered at 11:30 and took a quick tour of the Teatro Amazonas, a very impressive local landmark that was built during the rubber boom of the nineteenth century. Though it looks entirely European (and therefore somewhat out of place in the region in which it stands), it is understandably a point of pride for the locals and therefore a necessary stop when passing through Manaus.

Once we finished our tour, we hurried down into the town center to catch a city bus toward a distant neighborhood in which our new friend Moises runs an environmental education program for children (and adults) of the Amazon. Our fabulous translator/co-instructor, Jesse Wheeler, connected with Moises before the rest of us arrived and arranged a meeting during which we might begin a new partnership.

When we showed up at the house at which Moises’ group runs its program, we were met with an unbelievable spread of home-cooked food, including local fish, an excellent rice dish, farinha (a manioc flour topping to sprinkle on food), a dish of minced vegetables that seemed very similar to pico de gallo, a bowl of homemade pepper sauce, and a freshly-made dessert from the unique local fruit called cupuaçú (pronounced coo-poo-ah-SUE).

We hadn’t yet gotten to know our hosts at all, but they offered us their fullest dose of Brazilian hospitality nonetheless. The fish just kept coming and coming, freshly prepared by our gracious hosts. We were eager to meet the kids who were swarming all around the building, along with their parents and/or program leaders. We talked to each child individually to try to learn their names, though we definitely lost track of the mental list of new names pretty quickly. Still, we were happy to be able to connect at all, especially with our generally poor Portuguese language skills. The kids were sweet and warm and welcoming, as were the adults that surrounded them.

Most of the adults then organized themselves to give a brief presentation of who they are as an organization and what they aspire to do. They told us about a recent scavenger hunt/competition that they held, during which the kids were assigned to find discarded 2-liter bottles in the four blocks immediately surrounding their meeting space. Surprisingly, the searchers were able to gather more than 800 such bottles in less than three hours!

The tendency to throw litter (if not outright garbage) into the canals that run throughout the city is one of the problems that Moises’ organization is trying to solve. They know that children will eventually be the ones to address growing concerns about environmental stewardship in the Amazon basin, so they are hoping to raise environmental consciousness among young people in order to improve the practices of future generations.

Thus, the kids collect the bottles, learn about the problems caused by an abundance of such castoffs in public spaces (including massive flooding when the clogged-up canals overflow), re-purpose them into art projects or for other uses, and then talk about the need to contain the pollution problem in the near future to maintain current ways of living.

After presentations by the adults in the program, the children asked to hear from us. We talked about what we are doing in Brazil this January and then we asked to see some of the art projects that had come out of the pile of 2-liter litter. From the moment the actual products came out, things took a turn for the silly.

The kids asked all of the women in our group to compete in a singing contest to “win” a purse fashioned out of discarded 2-liter bottles and pull-tab rings. After a rousing chorus of “You Are My Sunshine” sung in unison, Quincy won. They then set up other games by which our female students could win earrings that had been made from seeds and stems from the rain forest. Four different people won those.

From there the men in our group were called forward for a dance-off. Quickly, the group of ten narrowed to two finalists: Jared and Neil. Both men truly gave the contest all that they had, but an adult female in the “audience” broke the double-overtime tie with an enthusiastic (and loud!) vote for Jared as the champ. He won a truck made of 2-litter bottles, which were even used to construct the wheels. The laughter and joy that accompanied those games brought our two groups together remarkably quickly. Though we had to leave to beat the coming dusk, we agreed that on our long layover in Manaus when we leave the country at the end of the month, we will meet again. We look forward to it.

We fly out of Manaus at 3:30 Friday morning to arrive in Santarém (our primary destination for this trip) just in time to acknowledge our teammate Ciara’s birthday. Sleep isn’t going to stabilize until at least Saturday. Oh well.

We have all commented on how remarkable our journey has already been. Seamless. Problem-free. Safe. Easy. Invigorating. Empowering. Heart-warming. And we’ve only been gone from California for 30 hours.

We recognize that we might be due for some trouble spots, but we are ready and willing to meet them if/when they come. Something magical seems to be happening here, so we are open to let it unfold however it may.

Thanks to all of you out there who have helped to get us to where we are right now: parents, colleagues, friends, significant others, veterans of SMC Amazon 2009, the January Term office, the Business Office, and many others. Extra thanks to Renee Egan.  We can tell that we are in for something special here . . .

The boys had a dance off to see who would win a prize the kids made of recycled two liter bottles.

The delicious fish that was made for us in Manaus.

When we met a conservation group in Manaus, they served us an amazing lunch of
fish, rice, and a desert made of local fruit called cupuacu.

Quincy in front of the statue in the plaza in Manaus. 

View from the balcony of the opera house overlooking the plaza in Manaus. 

These are the kids we met in Manaus who collected 800 2 liters bottles in 3 hours. Because they are a green organization they will be reusing these plastic bottles such as toys and crafts.
Quincy and Jared received these prizes after a sing and dance off  a few hours after being welcomed into their family.

Locals on the right, foreigners on the left.

A ceiling mural of the Eiffel Tower in the Opera House of Manaus

Our fearless leader connecting with the local children of Manaus.

On our first day in Manaus, Brazil, this statue was across the street from our hotel in front of the opera house we toured.

Neil makes a new friend while playing with toys made out of recycled bottles.

Dani is holding Bruno, the 4 month old son of a member of the community group in Manaus.

  Ana explaining a Portuguese game to us to play with the kids. 

We were generously taken in by a community group in Manuas and offered us hospitality and this delicious fish for lunch.


  1. Wow -it all sounds awesome! We are thinking of you and praying for you. God bless you! Dan and Lynn Lucier

  2. Ana- you're back and taking charge! These fish bring back memories! Have a great trip all- Ill be following. But remember, "Keep your hearts and minds open and good things will happen"!

  3. It's funny seeing how this year's Brazil students are taking pictures of the exact same things we did last year! Looks like you all had a blast in Manaus!

  4. hey guys- looks like your having a great trip! after reading about the pen pals, i got to thinking... i teach elementary school and was wondering if you have or could perk your ears for some Brazilian folktales. my creative writing and reading students are very adventurous and would love a new story-particularly ones involving animals or anything that could make loud noises when imitated. :) Best, Jami (Ms. Frush, Adda Clevenger Junior Prep) Hey Sky-don't get sick. :)