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A New World

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‘’Would you like to translate for us at a quilombo community?’’ That is not the sort of invitation I get every day. I was invited to go to a quilombo community which is a community of runaway slaves during the slavery era in Brazil. Today, it’s just a community of African descents who live together. The missionaries, who invited me asked, me to help translate for a mission group coming from the United States of America. We would meet at the city Santarem and go to the communities. I could not wait.



When that day came thoughts were racing through my mind. Arriving in Santarem, I met with the families I was going to be with. After a short wait at the tiny airport, we met with the American group. We loaded up and went down to our floating hotel, the boat. I remember going through the roads and thinking, “Wow, these roads are really bumpy, and jungly.’’ Trees surrounded us everywhere we went, and I thought how “uncivilized’’ it looked. I was excited to see that in the boat we were not going to sleep in beds but in hammocks. Nothing better than being able to stretch out and rock in your adult cradle as the waves moved the boat up and down. In the boat it was impossible to keep my thoughts still, I thought about what was going to happen, were we going to be accepted by the community, what the American/Texan group would be like, would I be able to translate everything they said, will somebody going to fall off the boat and be eaten by piranhas? I always say the more I worry the better it’s going to be, so worry a lot so it will be the best. And it turned out to be true.



The following morning we woke up to a cool temperature and sun was climbing over the wide Amazon River. We set off early so we could get to the communities and get right to work. As I looked out of the boat, I noticed the water had two colors. I asked the crew member and he said it was because it was where the Tapajos River and the Amazon River meet. It was mesmerizing to see the dividing point; it looked like two great armies colliding against each other. Our plan was to visit three communities and spend two days in each one. Once there we would share stories, play with the kids, play soccer, visit with the families and give basic needs like clothes, food, sandals and soccer balls to the schools. Each family we were able to visit they all had similar stories. Some were fishermen and some worked in agriculture and that was about it. The houses on the communities all looked alike. Each one stood on stilts because of the water, each house had one or two bedrooms, and each house had a large family of about seven or eight. But each family had a remarkable gift of hospitality. Some showed us around their house, others showed off the fish of the day, while others offered us a cup of coffee, or even showed us their pets.



During out story time we shared simple stories of the Bible, like Adam and Eve, Abraham, Noah, then later on to Jesus. Watching the kid’s eyes in astonishment and interest is always amazing. One night while we were showing a movie I asked a boy, who was sitting right next to me, what his favorite part about us was being there. His eyes widened and said, “The stories that you tell!’’ This was amazing to me, because we had already done a lot with the kids, we gave out balloons and stickers, played soccer, and played room games but his favorite part was the part were everybody had to sit down and listen to a story?



On our free time, a lot of us slept and relaxed. One of my favorite things to do was sit at the back of the boat and fish. Fishing in the Amazon River is much different than fishing in a pond or a lake, the water is very brown so we never know what is underneath us, so every catch is a surprise. One of the favorite fish I caught was the piranhas. They were very easy to catch but very dangerous because of their extremely sharp teeth and their ability to play dead for many hours. They did not have enough meat to eat so we would just use them as more bait. One time we were fishing and we had been losing a lot of bait in a certain area. So we took a larger hook and casted it out where we normally would. Suddenly the American guy felt a very strong tug. He started to reel in the line but it was too strong. It soon became a battle, reel and let go, reel and let go until the line was right underneath the boat. We were not about to give up until we saw it come out of the dirty water. Everyone’s eyes widened and our mouths dropped while we started to yell, “Sting Ray!’’ We finally pulled it up onto the boat and cut its stinger off. Our lunch the next day was sting ray and we gobbled down each piece of meat like it was fillet.



Leaving the communities was a gratifying feeling. Leaving the arms of an elderly woman who said in Portuguese, “You are welcome whenever,’’ was heartwarming. I had been to a community that did not have electricity, phones, noise, or roads. Why have electricity during the night when the moon is shining and the billion stars over the skies are shining bright? Why have roads when the entire population is less than a mile apart? Leaving those communities and coming back into “civilization’’ was disappointing. A city that I thought of as being “uncivilized’’ was now a first world country. When we came back we watch on the news about wars, violence, and world problems. In places like the communities we are separated from the rest of the world so we are not in constant troubles. It is always nice taking a hot shower, or talking to a friend by phone that is far away, but I am always thankful for small things like electricity and phones because there are people in quilombo communities that do not have it.





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