I hope I can accurately document my experiences in Brazil and share my knowledge with other educators. The Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad Project offers an extremely unique opportunity for a special educator. The need for both leaders and educators in special education to develop a global perspective of their field and an international understanding for policies and procedures abroad is imperative. Opportunities to learn from educators, government officials and inhabitants of countries promoting large education initiatives, especially those targeting students with disabilities and individuals who require alternative teaching methods, offer invaluable information about the country’s perception of special education, the disabled population, and what role culture plays in educating individuals with disabilities. Mutual understanding and learning amongst educators in this field is critical to the development of programs that will meet the unique needs of diverse populations.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira Thursday, July 1, 2010

Swimming in the Rio Negro

Meeting with Indigenous Community

After dinner at ISA

A long, smoldering night in the Amazon with only the breeze from Rio Negro for comfort ended with a misty morning. The heat escalated with the rising of the sun. Another layer of mosquito spray and an even coating of sunscreen completed my wardrobe choice for the day. After a breakfast of native fruits, breads, and fruit juices we were brought to the market where the natives shopped for food and supplies. Small booths with vendors selling crafts, breads, fruits, fish, tapioca, and clothing filled the inside and outside areas of the market. People hustled about buying the goods they needed. We were then taken to a local indigenous community. When approaching the community, from the road small concrete houses could be seen. It was obvious that they were not fully constructed and around 10 lined the outside of the community. A walk through them revealed a large thatched roofed structure with many smaller ones surrounding it. We were led inside and welcomed. It was dark inside and the floors were made of packed dirt. Small children sat with their mothers on benches and people looked at us with curiosity. We were told that the community met in this center each day to eat with one another. They had not always lived on this land, the government had pushed them from their native land gave them this piece of land to live on. They were deeply saddened by the loss of their land and told us stories of burying ancient tools and instruments they longed to return to their tribe. We asked about the concrete houses built on the land and were told that the federal government began building, without consulting the families living in the tribe. These families were very large. It is customary for the indigenous to live with their extended family and these homes only accommodated a very few family members. They were saddened by the efforts and wished they were consulted. They admitted that they would never use these structures. They also told us that they were slowly being pushed from the land they were on, but would not leave.
They showed us their native headdresses and instruments, played music, and performed native dances. We clapped and cheered loudly as members of the tribe danced in the center of the building. We were then invited to eat and drink with them. It was a wonderful experience and a sense of sameness arose as we laughed and clapped together to the music.
I left the tribe overcome with simultaneous feelings both happiness and sadness. I was touched by the sincerity of the people, by the genuine concern for their entire community, and at the same time saddened by the circumstances they were reduced to live. Was this an effect of capitalism? The experience left me with so much to debate.
We were then taken by bus down the Rio Negro and loaded into boats. We took the small boats up the Rio Negro toward the Columbian border. We waived as small boats with fisherman passed. After a while I spotted a couple of make-shift tents, made from blue tarps, buried in the trees along the river. I asked our guide what they were. He laughed and explained that they were Columbians who were waiting until night to bring supplies of cocaine to dealers who would distribute the drugs. We docked and were told that we could swim if we wished. A few brave souls, including myself, couldn’t resist. When would I ever have the opportunity to swim in the Amazon? The water was dark, almost red, due to the decomposition of various leaves and foliage. We swam around the boat and laughed as one person’s foot brushed another’s leg while reassuring each other that it was not a Parana. Some made jokes about the urethra fish and others swam against the swift current. Small fish could be seen jumping out of the water in all directions. After around 30 minutes we climbed out on the bank and back into the boat.
We returned to ISA in time for a shower and awaited dinner cooked by the famous Dona Brazi. Dinner was served on the third floor, open, meeting area. It consisted of many typical dishes including a flat bread made of tapioca and a spicy sauce with ants. Some of us retired to hammocks and rested as the cool breeze blew in from the Rio Negro and others retired to their rooms.

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