Where are we now?

View Where are we now? in a larger map Jo, Annie, Miles and I are living in Northport, Alabama and working at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. We've been glad to be in one place for a bit after what appeared to be semi-permanently traveling (in actuality for a period of 2.5 years).We started this blog to catalogue some of the adventures when Jo and I were sequentially conducting our dissertation research in India and Brazil. While we've fallen off the blogging bandwagon somewhat during recent trips to Brazil, we're trying to pick it up again now that we're back in India!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ilha de Marajo: 1

There's something nice about returning to a place where you had a great vacation once before. Sure, visiting new places is always fun, but it's also exciting to go to a place when you know what's in store and you know that it's good. With this sentiment in mind, we decided to go to Ilha de Marajo as an early fifth wedding anniversary celebration. Dave had been here once before a couple of years ago; check out his blog post about his previous visit here

Ilha de Marajo is the world's largest fluvial island (roughly the size of Switzerland), situated at the mouth of the Amazon along the northern coast of Brazil. Just miles from the equator, it's tropical and lovely. We chose to stay in a secluded town called Joanes at a pousada on a cliff overlooking a beautiful beach on the river. It's so wide that it looks like the ocean.

Most of our days there consisted of a combination of the following:

hanging out in hammocks, enjoying the coastal breeze;

and I do mean a serious, continual breeze;

eating long, gigantic breakfasts so we wouldn't have to spring for both lunch and dinner later in the day (and also because the breakfast at the pousada was delicious, thanks in part to the fact that cake is a perfectly acceptable breakfast food in Brazil, hallelujah);

 getting up much earlier than intended (NO thanks Annie), but getting to enjoy the sunrise, no less;

playing for the first time in the sand on the beach;
 and occasionally eating some of it (mostly Annie, not us).

The pousada had a variety of nice tile floors, which Annie enjoyed immensely now that she's become a highly mobile creature. She used them to practice her new tricks, including crawling, standing up, and cruising along.

She's particularly fond of the lens cap for some reason, so I figured a little enticement never hurt, and next thing I knew she was cruising along!

She's also started clapping with abandon at completely unpredictable times. Actually, that's not true. It's predictable because she does it all the time, including in her sleep.

Other recent interests include looking at herself in the mirror, although strange artsy ones do seem to freak her out.

After all of this lazing about the pousada and doing pleasingly mundane things, we finally got our act together and went on a bike excursion one day. We were so glad we brought the baby backpack. We HIGHLY recommend one of these for people who want to travel and be active with little kids (ours is made by Osprey).
 The trip took us mostly down dirt roads and along the coast, but one section took us across this marshy area with a boardwalk.

Along the way, we stopped for ice cream and ate it in this tree (partially to steer clear of the ants, and partially because Annie had never climbed a tree before).

We also happened upon several mango trees so productive that people had just given up on collecting all the fruit. Needless to say, we took serious advantage of the locals' disinterest in them. Besides stuffing our faces along the way, we brought back about 4 kilos' worth.

...All of which just goes to show, whoever said that you can't have a relaxing vacation with a baby along was full of hooey.

Stay tuned for vacation installment number two, where the intrepid explorers frolic about in a mangrove forest and meet all kinds of local wildlife!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Not a whole lot has been going on here this week, at least in terms of family excitement. The exception would be the number of incredibly cute small animal moments. And, ostensibly in honor of Mother's day, here a bunch of pictures of some of our favorite small animals, and the banjo of course.

 Standing cat?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Primeiros Passos

Coming out of our experience at the encampment, which for me will be remembered for its sunburn, I was ready to settle into life in rural Brazil.

At least someone is smiling.

Ah, Brazil! An insect eat insect sort of world...

topsy-turvy seasons (here, they supposedly go winter-summer-spring-fall), and Avon ladies crawling out of the woodwork (who knew Avon was a big thing in rural Amazonia?). Many things about the land of Brazil were unexpected for me. Those are just a few.

I had a hard time imagining what our living situation would be like when Dave tried to describe it for me. “Wow, cool, they just got a town internet cloud,” he would tell me, then in the same breath comment that most people had no running water in their houses. That was accurate, as it turns out, and our situation is both more and less difficult than I thought it would be. Part of all of this adjusting is the opportunity for growth, such as this work-around for a desk.

Jo busy at work…on the stove

One thing that has been difficult is laundry, especially with doing cloth diapers which we both are fairly committed to given that there is no trash system and we have to burn our trash.

jo, washing machine, annie and papaya tree

Fluffy and Sheepy hanging out

Dave burning trash

On the work-around front, we’ve become fairly adept at cooking for ourselves and for Annie with the limited local ingredients, which are either rice, beans and a few veggies or packaged things masquerading as food, i.e. crackers. While there aren’t really any restaurants here, we frequently go down the street for some cheap BBQ, which we add to various foods.

Espetinhos (skewers) on top of a home-made salad

Jo has been very adventuresome, much to the amazement of our friends and neighbors, at making baby food for Annie and freezing it. Blended squash, kale, okra, you name it, if it’s natural, doesn’t contain sugar, salt or caffeine (all of which are given to babies here, frequently at essentially the same time) than it can be blended up.

A rainbow of frozen foods 

Our time here started out especially hard, as we moved into a house that had no bathroom and no running water. After a couple of weeks of construction, we now have both. This means our quality of life has improved significantly. Photos of bathroom/water tower/porch Now that the dust is settling (literally) from our construction project, we’ve decided that the next big task we could accomplish to improve our quality of life is something we like to call Project Vermin. As it so happens, we have many things in our house that end in “-at”. Dave is afraid of them, so I won’t mention them by name, but I’ll just say that two of them begin with “R” and “B”. They like to leave us little droppings every morning, and let me tell you, waking up and stepping in a pile of (b)at shit is not a great way to greet the day. Our first line of action against the “-at”s is to fight fire with fire. That is, we’ve introduced another “-at” species. Meet Boas and Mead, our intrepid future vermin hunters (right now, all they can manage is cockroaches and spiders, which I think is a pretty good start).

That's Mead.

 These adorable ladies belonged, until recently, to our friend Seu Maneu who sells us vegetables off his motorcycle every day.

We went to his house visit the kittens, which was pretty magical. The original well, still in use, is in middle of house (under the giant milk container, below). They grow and process their own rice and cook their meat on a clay stove behind their house.

I cooed over the kittens so much that the next day, Seu Maneu showed up as usual to sell us vegetables and pulled two kittens out of the storage compartment of his motorcycle (under the seat, poor things). They’re now getting fattened up on homemade yogurt, rice, and the occasional scrap of beef. Mead is the runt of the litter, so she looks like she’s only about 3 weeks old size-wise, even though she’s more than 6.
Jo with little Mead

Our next line of action in Project Vermin is going to involve fighting with more fire, again, literally. We are going to do as the locals do and set a broom attached to a very tall stick on fire, then run it across the rafters and the roof tiles to drive out the lovely creatures living there. There are all kinds of things up there after several years of no occupancy. Then we’ll put up some chicken wire around the periphery of our open eaves so that they can’t get back in. Wish us luck.

Incidentally, our friend Seu Maneu also runs a cacao plantation which will shortly help us solve the third big task we could accomplish to improve our quality of life, Project Chocolate. Believe it or not, no chocolate is available here. NONE, despite the fact that people grow cacao for sale. The taste of chocolate is much less favored here than the taste of sweetened condensed milk, which serves as the base for almost every dessert available in this area of the country. I’ve recently taken to putting it in my coffee. The cacao season is coming, though, and we’re hoping that good ol’ Seu Maneu is going to hook us up with some fresh cocoa powder before he sends it all off to be sold at market. So those are the things about life here that have been more difficult than I expected: the bathroom, the vermin, and the lack of chocolate. The heat is there, too, but it’s not intolerable.

Nap time

Now, for the good things. First is the house itself. As many of you know, dear readers, we started off here in a community-owned house that was very nice except that it faced a bar. There are several bars in town, but this is a new one, and the owner has decided that her way of beating out the competition is to offer something that the others don’t: rave-like parties.

Music photo

More than once we had to go sleep elsewhere because the music was so loud that it was vibrating our ribcages as we lay in bed. It was a relief to move to this other house, except for the bathroom issue, which had us becoming familiar with the backyard outhouse.


Dave and Annie enjoying the early morning cool air at our new house

Additionally, we have gone native in our usage of local work-arounds to replace expensive contraptions, like real locks on the windows/doors. Much easier and cheaper to just hammer a nail into the frame, bend it over, and then turn it when you want to lock the window, or close yourself in at night.

Lock "closed" on door

Lock "open" on door

For someone who has a little experience with home renovation projects (in Atlanta) this one in the rural Amazon was completely different. Mostly because of the sourcing of materials, all of which had to either be bartered for (I actually traded my soul for some sand), garnered using political favors, or bought in the nearest town an hour down the dirt road, tied to the top of the lumbering public truck and brought back. Luckily for us, much of the materials remained in the house for just such a project, so we had the wood for the beams already. The bricks the owner of the house had at her other house, and so I had the amazing experience of going over with Seu Maneu and his “truck”, this word is used in the loosest of terms. It’s called in Portuguese the Espanta Cao, which basically translates into the Devil-is-Scared-by-this-Dog-Car. This truck is built of scraps and is the first hand-crank vehicle I’ve ever seen.

One of our little friends in the Espanta Cao

Carrying left-over bricks dug up from the owner's backyard

The hand-crank in motion

While the building project was certainly a learning experience for me it was quite stressful as well, as every morning there seemed to be a list of materials that needed to be traded or scavenged for. I’m glad it’s over.

 Our new bathroom!

 Water pressure!
We can hear crickets at night now, and it’s lovely. What’s also lovely is the back yard, which has papaya trees, a large cupuacu tree, coffee bushes, acai palms, acerola shrubs, and a coconut palm, all of which produce fruit.

coffee beans drying

small mountain of happiness (cupuacu)

coffee beans with jo washing dishes in background


When we got the bathroom built, we had them add on a large roofed porch facing the back yard, where we now have a work table and a hammock set up. It never gets direct sun, so it stays cool even in the middle of the day and is proving to be a wonderful hangout spot.

Second among the lovely things about Brazil are the kittens. They deserve more mention than they received above, because they really bring so much joy to our lives. They scamper and caper about all the time. They especially love sleeping and playing in the frame backpack we use to carry Annie, which has lots of pockets and hiding places, and they sleep curled up together in a bowl at night.

In case you’re wondering, they’re named after Franz Boas, imminent anthropologist and one of the founders of the field, and his student, another imminent anthropologist, Margaret Mead. That they’re both female doesn’t really matter, in my opinion. Now, if only we could get some flea control medicine for them, we’d be set. They don’t have fleas yet, but we figure it’s just a matter of time, and Dave is highly allergic to them.

The third lovely thing about life here is the people. I mentioned this in a previous post, but it also deserves elaboration. I’ve never lived in a place where people are friendlier, and it’s a different kind of friendliness. It’s not simply that they’re welcoming and personable (which they are), but they also have a way of anticipating others’ needs that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. For instance, our across-the-street neighbors have a way of inviting us over for dinner when they know we’ve had a hard day and aren’t likely to be doing much cooking for ourselves. Our friends who stopped by recently to drop off an herbal remedy for Annie’s cold (so sweet in and of itself) saw the large pile of unprocessed cupuacu pods sitting in a corner and just started cutting them up for us because they could tell we hadn’t had the time to do it when Annie had been sick. These are small things, but incredibly considerate, and they really make us feel cared for. And what would a blog post be without a few gratuitous Annie photos?

Somebody loves watermelon.

Flying muffin

Sad muffin after flying muffin

Tasty foot