Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Journal of Naná our Brazilian volunteer

Three months ago I bought a book on construction, as almost always related to bio-construction, permaculture and vernacular architecture, wanting to update my collection and knowledge. This time it was the book "Architecture of the Amazon Indians," by Johan van Lengen. One thing that always happens to those who read a very good book, very interesting and written well, is that while you are reading, you feel an absurd need to have that experience, to live it. The same happens when someone tells us something, or sees a movie or hears a song. Anyway, while reading this book endless scenes of construction and reconstruction were in my imagination, but not worth being described. While each page portion and fragment was read, the more the horizons of my mind were reached. Johan says "The Inuit of the snow, as well as several indigenous peoples in the jungle were able to adjust and create environments where they could live. However, to learn about the purpose and details of the construction of these people, you must be in touch with them ". As soon as I picked up the message that the universe announced, I started my search for this experience.

At first I sought contact with FUNAI (a government agency), but as is typical and well known of Brazilian government culture, everything is abundantly bureaucratic. Looking for other means to the same end I tried to find programs already established with the kind of experience that I sought. After having done much research done and having found many captivating designs, I identified one called Amazon Pueblo. It is a small project that is constantly improving and developing, founded by Benjamin Angulo. The project seeks volunteers who want to help the Colombian indigenous community of La Libertad in any way that they want. It is a Yagua tribe, originally from Peru. In this project you work autonomously with the village in a way that feels safe, with their schedules and their techniques, provided they are made with love and attention.

I initiated the first contact with Ben in the second week of May. I reported my journey to search and find a volunteer program to my sister and brother-like nephew, Joao. They were very supportive. This time Joao became interested and joined me on the pilgrimage. From that moment, we shared the anxiety, the plans and the promise of an exciting experience. With July ended the semi-annual tests taking all our time with studies and work. My sister Vanessa and my brother helped with the preparation. This year the month of June was not easy for me and a lot has happened uncontrollably beyond what was expected in college. I certainly could not have managed without this help.

The ticket was purchased for the July 2 to Tabatinga, a city in the state of the Brazilian Amazon. We crossed the Brazilian border in a taxi without any kind of checkpoint. We only realized that we were in Colombia because the "arrocha" music that plays in the Brazilian city was suddenly replaced by the contagious rhythm of reggaeton music played constantly in the city of Leticia, Colombia. We organized everything at the hostel. We visited the city that was in the holiday of St. Peter. The city was celebrating throughout that weekend. There were many of street parties with marching bands, dances of Spanish settlers clothing, flags, cheap beer, no trash on the ground and bagged drinking water. The last moments in the city were in the vicinity of the harbor, where we ate, bought groceries, and some things suggested by Ben. Here we took the fast boat that brought us to the community, a one-hour drive, but also stopping in other indigenous villages in Colombia and in Peru.

From that moment we had no more contact with family and friends. Even if I have purchased a local cell phone chip, there was no signal and the phone was only present as camera.

When we arrived in the village we were welcomed and guided to Gustavo (our host who helped us in everything) by Thomas, Gustavo's younger brother. Gustavo expressed his joy to see us with a smile that could not be beat. After settling in our house, many curious little eyes were watching us from the cracks in the walls of wooden slats. The house of the volunteers, while very simple, still stood out among the others. After being empty for 5 months it was opened with our coming. Gustavo advised us about some things related to home and then began our orientation. He really could not hide his eagerness and smile.

The first week of work was the most intense. We did the construction of the compost bin, we taught adults to write their names and that of their children and grandchildren, we helped the teachers during lessons and in later in the week we taught some yoga movements to the children.
At first Gustavo needed to introduce us to others, for all the villagers were very shy. Gradually, while things were happening, we were autonomous and that gave us the freedom of no longer needing Gustavo for most things.

The afternoon was more relaxing. I was always with the children. No matter where and what I was doing ... they were always there. We had a lot of fun. I have more photo of children than anything else on my phone. In a little hill that was behind the school, which we named the "little hill of beautiful sight," I taught some yoga moves. Just because it always ended in happiness. There I also connected to my network and could read or sense the amount of mosquitoes that had bitten me. It was relaxing.

During the night we almost never had dinner. Me and Joao, while we grew up together, we have never had much time only with each other. We learned about our differences, and we did not care much about our defects. We valued more our qualities. Joao told me some cool and funny things about his life and the likes that we share.

We went to bed early. At around 8 pm I was already in my fifth dream. Before bed, I always analyzed the mosquitoes trying to get to their evening meal of my blood. The mosquito net certainly saved me from an allergic reaction. When I awoke, religiously and involuntarily at 6:30 am, several of those mosquitoes were dead at the top of the net. I do not know why, but it just happened in my bed. Every morning I always had many dead mosquitoes. The breakfast was uniform all mornings: an orange cookie, two milk biscuits, and packets of powdered milk with chocolate.

On Sunday we went for a trip with Gustavo to Puerto Nariño. This is a village that is extremely and incredibly clean and green. Even though its population is indigenous, the streets are paved, and it has a relevant trade of restaurants and various classes of hotels and hostels, with some strategic points so that they have mobile cellphone signals. In the village we could enjoy the view from an observation deck 40 meters high. It was possible to see the Amazon River, the Rio Tarapoto, the village and the forest. Beautiful! After the visit to the city that was a 40-minute walk, we went to a lake following the antifluxo Rio Tarapoto. In this lake you can see, swim and be enchanted by porpoises. This trip cost us 7 hours of boat ride in the hot sun. Quiet. Only not.

On Monday we did a hike of about five hours in the forest. We learned about some medicinal plants used in Indian culture, trees, fruits and seeds used in crafts and body painting, the making of a net to harvest fruits and fish with the sheet of palm, many monkeys, birds, and some curiosities of the sights and the sounds of the jungle.

On that same day came another volunteer, Julio. He is a Colombian from Bogota, a very nice person who teaches art classes in a bilingual school. He was there to teach arts and photography. The kids loved it. He brought very complete teaching material and even I had could use it. At the end of the course that lasted a week, he also gave me a certificate of completion. O dear!

Already our second week was mainly marked by the maintenance we made to the village raft and a follow-up of children who are sponsored by some friends and colleagues of the project. This week, I also tried to understand more about the methods of construction of houses and the longhouse. One of our neighbors was building a house for their mother. In one of the evenings another neighbor was making cassava flour in a huge cauldron. She taught me and showed me their family secrets for the production of a food that is consumed by the entire village.

The third trip began with a ride on a cebrada (a local name for small rivers) to fish. We fished for some local species, but I do not remember the name. One of the fish that Joao caught possessed external spines for defense attacks. I and the fisherman who was teaching us the art of fishing was stung by them. But the difference is that fish Joao caught stung my right leg. At the time, it hurt so damn much! The damn pain of hell! But after half an hour, the pain went to a state of numbness. The fisherman was also stung, but he told us fortunately, it did not enter the skin enough to be something serious. Unfortunately, that day we were without power, which by the way was very common, and I could not charge my cell phone to take pictures.

On Wednesday Bried, the fourth volunteer, arrived. She is Irish, with a little more than half a century of life, a mother, a grandmother and a traveler. She is still there in the village and will stay for a month, teaching all who want to learn English. Bried is a very interesting woman. One of the first things I did when I got home was to tell my mother about her. She has been traveling alone since the beginning of the year and has gone through several countries. On her laptop she showed us her records that did not seem to be real because they were so awesome.

On Thursday, after our work in the morning, we visited Monkey Island, which as the name suggests, possess many monkeys and has a very intriguing history.

Almost every afternoon I was in the river, with children and friends I made to swim, have fun, to be refreshed and to admire the sunset. I feel that those were the best moments of the entire pilgrimage. After those moments when we sat on the raft, watching the sunset, I could feel numbed by all that sunlight that dissipated drops of Amazon water from my skin and blinded me. I took focus as I contemplated the flamboyance of La Libertad.

We left La Libertad on Saturday. But I do not feel that I have gone. You cannot just go to a place that you now feel part of. I do not know how to describe this feeling I'm having right now. I think this is the first time I have ever felt like this. It would be more like a state of grace, charm, of complete fullness. I have the feeling that my visit has made a big difference in the lives of the villagers, but they have no idea what it all meant to me. Many concepts within me were restored, rebuilt, rethought and cured. I still want to say in another publication about this new light that my eyes can now see. Thank you to the whole universe that gave me everything.

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