Flying into Santarem, Brazil the plane breaks out of the cloud cover into the midst of green, vegetation covered mountains. It buzzes what appears to be the ocean, but with streaks of blue, green and brown water. Dotted with what seems to be floating vegetation, but in reality are small islands covered with thick green vines, this is where the Amazon and the Tapajos rivers meet. One flows green and blue, like jewels, sparkling in the sun. The other is brown, muddy and all business, with river barges, huge military ships and ferryboats. Both refuse to merge, like two people on opposite sides of an argument. They say even hundreds of miles down river and out to sea the streaks of brown and blue-green water can still be seen. Scientifically this phenomena is explained by specific gravity, easily understood, but when you fly over or float by, the spirit of the two rivers convinces you it is magic, tropical jungle magic.
The airport is dry, dusty and almost desert-like, except for the head tall periwinkle trees. Dark green foliage with small white flowers and bright pink centers. The kinds that grow only in small round clumps at home. The taxis to the hotel, an old van with wooden benches for seats and a small pick-up truck with blankets in the back for seats allow you a choice of seating arrangements.
The hotel, a four-star weekend getaway for wealthy Brazilians, has dark mahogany stairs and halls. Each room has two matching mahogany beds and dressers, all polished to a mirror shine. The floor and bath tiles perfectly match the blue-green Amazon. With a bright white pool reflecting the sun so that you can’t look without shading your eyes, the hotel is as elegant outside as inside. Bougainvillaeas, bottle trees, banana trees, periwinkles and other flowering plants we couldn’t name surrounded the grounds. Parrots and parakeets perch in the trees. It is everything you can imagine of a tropical paradise.
The missionary told us we could tell stories at the school the next morning. As a teacher I knew we needed visuals. I took someone’s panty hose; they weren’t going to wear them in the hundred -degree heat and ninety-percent humidity anyway. I made Jonah and the Whale puppets with the panty hose, cardboard and a hanger. Quite proud of myself, I decided I would tell the story and my sister could be in charge of the visual aids. The next morning in front of hundreds of Brazilian school children gathered in the auditorium I told the story, someone translated and everyone watched my sister. I think they got the story, I know they enjoyed the visuals. My sister made faces, swam the puppet all over the stage, and flipped Jonah out of the mouth of the whale with such force he flew into the audience. At this, all the students applauded long and loudly and the translator and I decided story time was over.
After story time a van was summoned and some of our group took off to set up sewing machines for a class later in the week. I went, however, my sister stayed at the school. All the streets were dirt with huge potholes. We drove a constant forty miles per hour, top speed of the van, around corners, up and down hills and through potholes. We quickly learned a shout from our driver meant grab hold and try to stay in your seat. A miracle occurred and we arrived with no serious head and spinal injuries. What we refer to as a covered porch, the Brazilian’s call a room, recall the hundred-degree heat and humidity. We moved tables, chairs, sewing machines and portable generators to prepare for about fifty women. The classroom ready and sweat pouring from our bodies, we climbed back into our transportation to repeat the amusement ride back to the hotel. Dragging my hot, tired, dust-covered body up three flights of stairs, all I could think of was a shower. I entered our room and my sister was resting on the bed.
“What did you do this afternoon?” I managed to utter.
“Signed autographs. All the school kids wanted to talk to me and get my autograph,” she responded brightly.
“As the older sister I think I need to help you make the most of this trip,” I replied. “Tomorrow you need to come see what I did.” And I thought to myself, no more visual aids for her.