We woke to rain . . . a steady drizzle . . . The tucked away villagers waited near the inlet to welcome the morning visitors to the slippery grass and mud covered slopes. Children scrambled down to the dock, hands outstretched, grabbing elbows and arms of the foreigners who disembarked the ship’s tenders.
Most tourists voiced surprise and gratitude at the little ones’ help in keeping them out of the mud and also upright. A few visitors pulled their arms away, held their belonging close to themselves, and shifted their gaze to the countryside.
Then the canoes came. They came from obscure villages up and down this part of the Amazon River. They wanted to see, to be next to, the ship anchored off shore and perhaps to sell a few handmade wares. I expected but didn’t see a single palm held up–begging for a handout.
The next morning dressed in long sleeves, long pants, hats, and hiking boots, a group of us went up the Amazon River to an unknown destination. There we would dock on a beach and spend the day learning about jungle survival.
On the boat was a young girl. She looked like any child off to spend the day in her red, Minnie-Mouse shirt and shorts. Her dark curls were tamed by a pink flower barrette. To her, the world was a happy place.
She spoke only Portuguese. None of us knew her name, but her communication skills captivated each of us.
She held an assortment of duplos, big leggos for the younger set. She didn’t seem interested in building with them because her imagination took her somewhere else.
Soon the passengers were playing a riotous rendition of Jingle Bells while others without her plastic instruments sang. By the end of our boat ride she, too, chanted these repetitive English verses.
We didn’t know her father would be our jungle guide.
When we entered the jungle from the beach, we climbed forty-five, ant covered stairs. December is the dry season. In June the beach would be under water and the dock would be at the top of the stairway.
Before entering the jungle, one of the guide’s sons stood next to me creating something out of palm leaf. When he finished he handed it to me and smiled. His talents included making leaf snakes and crowns with feathers. His only reward seemed to be the delight he saw on my face.
At the end of the afternoon when we came back down the ant covered stairway, the two young boys and the girl from the boat ran to us, dropped on their knees, and picked ants off our boots and socks.
Still, not a single hand thrust out for even a coin. Later on, when we visited other villages, the children would wish us Bom dia or Boa tarde. How mysterious. What causes these smiling children to engage with strangers and the world around them with such happy innocence?
All I can say is, “I love your river and it’s people.” And to the children’s parents and their village elders, I say, “Obrigada.”