When we woke up in the boat after the storm, everything was soaked. My mom said that there had been a leak in the roof above her the whole night, and she lifted up her hammock with a huge wet stain on it. I jokingly asked her if it truly was a leak, or she got scared during the night and had an accident.
While everything was laid over the edge of the boat to dry in the sun, I decided to go for a swim in the river. A small boy saw me swimming and ran to jump off the wooden dock, splashing into the water next to me, excited to have someone to play with. I was weary where I put my feet as we waded deeper into the water. The mushy Amazon mud was foreign to me, and I didn’t want to step on anything else foreign that might bite back. My playmate didn’t seem to share this worry; he was splashing and playing and trying to taunt me into racing him.
I swam with him to a giant floating log, happy to grasp onto it and get a short break from swimming. But he had other ideas; he hopped onto the floating log and started walking in place. The log began to spin in the water – the. Soon he began running on the log. As soon as he felt a little off balance, he jumped into the river and resurfaced laughing at the game he created.
He began to climb up the log again, and looked back at me wondering why I wasn’t joining him. He had made it look easy, so I figured I would give it a try. I pulled myself up on the log. Lying on my stomach, it wasn’t hard at all to balance. So now to the next step: I pulled my legs underneath me, and began to slowly stand up. To my surprise, I was balancing. My playmate looked very proud of me, so I decided to test my skills and begin walking in place as he had.
I fell hard, and I fell fast. The only thing that slowed my fall was the impact of my shins smacking against the log before I splashed head first into the river. As I sank down into the mucky water, my legs were throbbing in such pain that I didn’t know if it would be possible to start kicking to get me back to the surface. But at that moment I felt the scales of a huge fish rub against my thigh, and that was plenty of motivation to start kicking. I broke the surface of the water with a gasp and swam slowly back to the dock. As I climbed up I saw bruises already forming. This was a lesson learned the hard way: I can’t do all the things children of the Amazon seem to be able to do. This was disheartening, because I had become inspired by the children’s daily routines and how they play in the forest.
The children of the Amazon truly amaze me. At times I feel as if they have no fear. They wake up every morning and have the entire Amazon rainforest as their playground. I have seen children as young as 5 climbing trees 30 feet in the air, walking around with machetes half their size, wading in river waters known to have piranhas and snakes lurking just below the muddy water.
I believe their lack of fear comes from generations of wisdom passed to them by their parents and grandparents about the dangers of the jungle. And their wisdom to stay away from certain areas of the water, from certain plants, allows them to grow up in one of the most free childhood cultures. Imagine as a child being able to wake up, hop into your own canoe and race your brothers or sisters, or explore various creeks off of the Amazon River. Instead of grabbing a pack of sugar loaded Gushers you just climb the nearest tree and snack on a fresh mango. There is no need for video games to entertain yourself; you can create your own obstacle course over fallen trees and broken branches, all the while chopping a path through the forest with your own machete. Later you could grab some fishing line and a hook and sit with your siblings at the edge of your wooden dock to see who can catch the biggest fish. And as for bathing, your mother only has to tell you once, because you look forward to running off the dock and jumping head first into the river.
Later that day I was again astonished by the children. We were hiking through the jungle on a search for a site the archeologists had found. Three young boys had seen us disappear into the forest, and were curious as to what we were up to. They had begun following us and made a game out of running ahead of us, climbing trees, and running back to show us different tropical fruits. During this hike while I was getting various cuts and scrapes, they were running through the forest without shirts and barefoot. When they would walk in front of me, they’d make sure to turn around and point to different plants to warn me if they were poisonous or caused rashes. I couldn’t believe how much they knew about the forest.
After just 20 minutes of hiking, we were all feeling the wrath of the Amazon sun and the swarms of mosquitos that made it hard to even breathe. Our legs were sore from climbing over overgrown plants. I was looking at my feet wondering how they were continuing to move forward, when a glance up caused me to stop in my tracks. Ahead of me, there was a fallen tree. Under the tree, about eight feet down, was a swamp of dark water, the surface chaotically covered with plants and sharp branches. The only way to get across was to balance on the log and walk over the swamp.
The three boys scampered over the log with ease, laughing all the way. I took a deep breath, very aware of the bruises still on my leg from the last time I tried this, and stepped up onto the uneven log. This time, with an eight-pound camera strapped to my neck, I didn’t test my skills. By some miracle I made it across.
In so many ways I am no match for these amazing children. But I had an incredible time playing with them, and most of all, learning from them.
Through My Lens from Annie Pace on Vimeo.