So I turned 32 in the bed of a woman I only met the night before. (No, it’s not what you think.) Her name is Nena and she belongs to the ribeirinhos (“river people”) that lives on the Combu Island, half an hour boat journey from Belém. Her house was full as her other daughter was visiting with her family, hence we all had to share beds. She lives just by the river, and makes a living by selling chocolate at the organic market in Belém. The cocoa tree grows all around her house, and she prepares everything by hand, before folding the ready product in cocoa leaves and securing it with straws. Her husband died more than a year ago from snakebite, and now she lives with her youngest daughter that is studying to become a nurse. Yesterday I had a chance to help her prepare açai, so loved and revered in this country. It’s called a berry even though it grows high up in a tree. It is very hard and only the skin is used to make the açai juice. Later she filled baskets with packets of cocoa that she would use as traps for shrimps, securing them with ropes along the river.
Apparently there’s a lot of leprosy in the area, and there has been attempts to organise information events, but few turn up. You realise how important it is with education. As my friend Rielke observed: in Europe we learn a lot about the importance of preserving the rain forest, we’re pretty good at recycling and environmental thinking, but when you arrive here there’s trash everywhere, and people simply burn up their garbage as there´s no collection of it. Engines and waste pollute the river, and even here, in the middle of the jungle people are haunted by the sound pollution, this time loud speakers on boats instead of cars.
There’s no public transport to Belém, you simply have to wait for a boat to pass by and ask for a lift. The harbour is a very unsafe area, Nena´s daughter have been robbed seven times already. With some cautionary advice still ringing in my ears I disembarked, all the values I could fit inside my bra. There is a lot of crimes and violence here; only recently armed men robbed the Pastor´s nephew of his new motorcycle in broad daylight. Most houses have electric fences, and it’s unwise to go out after dark, especially if you’re blonde. There are also the small things, like the lights decorating the church in Augusto Corrêa, where the bulbs have been stolen. A church, for God’s (sorry…) sake!
At the same time, the Brazilians really have a zest for life; during my stay here there has been innumerable parties and celebrations.
People are so warm and welcoming and it’s clear that there aren’t a lot of foreigners coming here – Diego once noted, “It seems like they want to adopt you”. Maybe that would get me a VISA? I discussed my situation with the Padre and Deacon in Tracuateua and both of them agreed the best would be to fake a marriage. That or get pregnant (which apparently let´s you stay longer). Hmmm… Coming from the Catholic Church, I don’t really know what to think.