"I can't believe it!" Sam said as he, his girlfriend Abby, and I walked back to our canoe after visiting the home of Francisco, Selina, and their 14 children. The family lives in a cluster of buildings along the Rio Negro, about 40 minutes by canoe from the Ariau Jungle Towers.
"That woman is the happiest, most content person I've ever met!" Sam declared. He'd just spent the last hour chatting with Selina as they sat together at the table beneath this grass roof over the family's kitchen and dining area.
Sam is the son of an international businessman. He grew up riding around in armored cars with his father, and moving from country to country as their family followed his father's career. As a result, he never felt a connection to any one place...never felt like anyplace was home.
"I've never met a person so content" he continued. "That's why people like my dad strive so much...they're never happy, they can never get enough, and so they acquire more and more, climbing higher and higher on the career ladder, trying to get what that lady who lives a simple life in the jungle already has: contentment!"
Sam had asked Selina if she'd ever thought about trading in her house on stilts (built that way to provide ventilation and keep the people above the scorpions, tarantulas, and seasonal water) for a house in the city.
Selina replied that she had been offered a free house in Manaus, but turned it down, because she enjoyed the peace and quiet of the jungle. I also enjoyed visiting their peaceful home, and was grateful I had the chance to visit them three times during my trip.
Here's Selina with her 7-year old son at the shop where they sell handicrafts they make:
The young boy was more than happy to show us how to shoot blow darts at the little styrofoam target Selina had setup for that purpose.
Each time I went to their house, Selina used her enormous cooking pan over the fire to make us some delicious bread made of manioc flour, which she created by processing the cassava root that grew in her garden. She served the bread with cashew juice and pineapple juice. Here's Rui in front of the pan:
And what's left of the delicious bread (she covered it with lots of butter, making it especially yummy):
Here are two of Selina and Francisco's children enjoying the leftover bread.
The little two-year-old boy was stark naked. (But I must admit that I've known little American 2-year-olds who like to run around stark naked too, so there's probably nothing out of the ordinary about that!)
Here's Francisco, Selina's husband, working to fix the dock where we always left our canoe.
One time when I visited, several representatives from the electric company were there, and they were having a discussion about where to put in the power lines. I was interested to watch Francisco casually tap his machete against his leg as he was visiting with the men. I wondered if holding a machete while having a discussion might put a damper on openness...I certainly wouldn't want to argue with the man with the machete! Here's a little video of that:
Francisco was very, very nice, and kindly led us on a hike through the jungle near his house. Here he's using his machete to scrape some of the fragrant bark off of a tree so we could savor its scent. They say that Brazil exports the Amazon rosewood tree to France, and then re-imports it back in the form of the Chanel 5 fragrance.
One time, after I had stopped to take this picture of the grasses and canoes in front of the family home, I heard someone call my name.
I turned and saw one of my guides, so I walked back towards him. He asked me to hold out my hand, and then presented me with a ring made out of a nut's shell, telling me how beautiful I was, and that if he were a younger man, he would fall in love with me. I wasn't quite sure how to respond to that, so I just said "Thank you". Later, a few weeks after I arrived home, I received a letter from him expressing his love for me and asking if I would marry him.
That was, of course, very flattering, but I immediately thought of the expression "A fish could marry a bird, but where would they live?" Life in the Amazon is a totally different world than my life in the United States. While I'm not ready to trade in my U.S. life for one in the Amazon, I was very grateful for the opportunity to glimpse a contented life in that world.