Where I Have Been Map

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My Amazon Town

I have been on the move for 10 months now. From Brazil to Mexico to Florida and now back to Brazil. I have not stood still since I graduated. Because of this constant movement, I haven’t experienced the feeling of relaxation that comes with being home again. Even in Tampa, I was living out of my suitcase, sleeping on my sister’s couch until the next trip began. But today was an amazing day. Today I felt the closest to being at home.

You know that feeling you get during the holidays, when the whole family is in town visiting and you can just stretch out on the couch wearing those awful candy-cane pajamas because you are comfortable with every single person in your house? The moment when you can walk into the kitchen to join your cousins’ card games, go by the fireplace to chat with your grandparents, or relax on the couch and let all the little kids come to you with toys and board games eager to play. That moment where you realize so many meaningful people are all under the same roof? That is the same feeling I get when I come to Gurupa. Only instead of my whole family in a single house, my whole Gurupa family is all together in this six-street Amazon town. 

Dock of Gurupa along Amazon River at 5 AM

As we – my parents and I – sailed toward Gurupa, it was only the fifth time in my life I had seen the distant lights of the town reflect off the river, which meant our boat was about to arrive. I couldn’t help but smile as I looked out at the town, realizing this place was my little escape from reality, another life that no one back home really knows about. I would love to bring each and every one of my friends and family to this place, and I would love to show my Gurupa family my life back home, but there is something enchanting about keeping these two lives separate. And every time I step off the boat and onto the dock, I feel like I am stepping into my own secret world. Like a secret garden, only this garden consists of miles upon miles of rainforest. 

Walking around in the streets of Gurupa gives me so much energy, even at the scorching hot hours of the day where the brutal sun makes it clear you are walking along the equator.  But as we are walking, so many people come up to greet us and give us big hugs, telling us that they remember us from last summer, two years ago, or even (for my parents) 30 years ago. When we visit our oldest family friends in Gurupa, it doesn’t even faze me that they only speak Portuguese or that they live in a tiny wooden house and would be considered in the United States a family in poverty. It doesn’t faze me, because when we walk through the doors, they give us gifts. They make us coffee and cakes and treat us like members of their family. My parents and I haven’t lived our entire lives in the tiny six-street town, we don’t own our own canoe to go out to fish and catch dinner for our family. We haven’t harvested crops in the forest or tapped rubber trees or gathered tropical fruits for breakfast.  We are not Gurupaencies. However, the families there treat us as if we’ve just lived in the next wooden house over for the entirety of our lives. That is something I truly appreciate, and every visit it amazes me. 

On this day arriving to Gurupa, my mother, father, and I set off down the road to visit the first family that became dear to our hearts. We sat outside covered by the shade of the palm trees and listened to the legends of Gurupa being told while chickens walked between our legs and the parrots gave their sporadic squawks, making themselves known to the returning Paces. The little girls of that family had gotten so big since the last I had seen them. They were all talking now, and tried to teach me a form of “patty cake” in Portuguese. They got so frazzled with me when I failed every single time, and giggled because the youngest, 3-year-old Emily, could do it with ease. 
Playing "Patty-Cake" with the girls

Then we walked down the road to my other family, the couple who have been married for more than 50 years, who always greet us with a warm smile, a fresh cup of Cupuacu, and a story.  We sat on their porch and talked for hours as their grandchildren walked by to say hello, which happened often because Izabel and Edegar are related to what seems like half the town. Edegar brought his guitar out and serenaded us with a song he wrote about Gurupa, and Izabel took me behind the house to show me how she makes medicine from the plants in the tropical forest that is her backyard. 
Edgar playing his guitar outside his house

Izabel showing her plants in the backyard
Finally the cool breeze and setting sun brought us to our last family. The beat from the music playing in the techno club across the street brought back so many memories of living with this family, my first Gurupa family. I could recall so vividly sitting on the porch and watching my Brazilian sister rocked to sleep to the beats of the techno music when she was only 2 years old. We walked up to the house and Eduarda, now 5, ran up to me and squeezed me as tight as she could. We held hands as we walked with my mom to get ice cream at the shop down the street. Everything was down the street. Everything was within walking distance. And everything was perfect now that I was finally home… my Amazon town.  

Eduarda, her brother, and cousins


John Duke said...

Wow ! What beautiful photos and writing. Olga, is this your daughter. Are you from Brazil ? I'm a little confused, but I loved the stories and photos. John Duke

Anonymous said...

Annie, as I've said before and I'll say it again, you have a gift of conveying the warmness of your experiences to the reader. And, I think it is such an amazing thing to be able to do. A lot of people will benefit from your writing. Great job Pace!

Randolph Brown (Superman),