Monthly Archives: May 2021

A Dreadful Night

I once spent a rather miserable night on an island in the Amazon. It was in the 1990s, and my husband and I (perhaps not yet married?) were having an adventurous trip on Maraj├│ Island, at the mouth of the Amazon river. On this day we had arrived by boat in a tiny village of no particular importance, using it as a stop-over on the way to the next larger town where we could catch the ferry back to the mainland. We arrived with our standard issue enormous backpacks and set out to find a hotel. Hotels were not to be found.

We asked a bemused local for advice and he suggested we ask the priest if we could use the guest house. The priest, a fat, lame and possibly excommunicated Jesuit, handed us off to a local teenager who cheerfully led us to the guest house. On the way he offered to shoot various wild animals, such as a vulture soaring overhead, just so we could see them. We asked him not to.

We arrived at the house, a cute clapboard cottage raised up on stilts to avoid tidal flooding. The young man hopped up the wooden steps and flung open the front door. Dozens of enormous spiders scattered into the darkness. A handful of large wasps buzzed in the now-sun-filled entry hall, annoyed at the sudden change of scenery. “A lady will come clean in a few minutes,” chirped the boy. “Just leave your bags inside. But don’t put them on the floor, so they don’t get bugs in them.” I looked desperately at my husband. I could not bring myself to set foot in a house filled with giant spiders, let alone angry wasps and mysterious floor-bugs. No amount of some lady waving a broom around was going to fix that situation. Fortunately he had sympathy for my panic and found a polite way to suggest perhaps another option could be found?

The boy pondered a bit, then suggested perhaps we could stay at the community center. We trekked back to the priest’s house, got a different set of keys, and walked over to an ample rectangular building of weathered board. Inside was a large space for community meetings, women’s sewing projects, and other group activities. It was simple, with only the plain board floors and walls, a few windows with single wooden shutters, and a small toilet room in one corner. The wooden posts supporting the roof provided a place to tie our hammocks. Hammocks were a nice way to avoid floor-bugs and spiders, so we happily accepted the new offer.

A bit later in the evening the boy returned, inviting us to go to the only bar to hear some local music. We had a beer and probably some fried snack foods while enjoying some local folk songs and guitar. Midway through the meal a gentle old woman came in, decided I was a long lost friend or relative, and sat next to me, clutching my hand and chatting happily. I was slightly unnerved, but sympathetic, and spent the next hour or two smiling back at her and nodding dumbly while she chattered.

When we were too tired to see straight the teenager walked us back to the community center. He passed the time telling us the local stories of the headless mule one sees at the cross-roads, the phantom black dog that appears when someone is going to die, and other ghostly tales. By the time we reached the community center I was terrified. I lay in my hammock sweating from the heat as well as nerves. Finally, too nervous to stay alone in the total darkness I begged my husband to let me sleep in his hammock with him. To fend off mosquitos, I draped a sheet over the two of us. Two people pressed together by a hammock while covered with a sheet in an equatorial climate was misery. Between the fear, the heat, and the endless unfamiliar noises I didn’t sleep a wink.

When I finally heard a cock crow I leapt from the hammock, ran to the bathroom, and then ran outside to enjoy some cool fresh air. I’ve never been so happy to see a day arrive.

The internet didn’t exist when we were there, but the little museum the Jesuit had built in this village is still there, and has a website!! Check it out!

Great Geeky Girls

Here are some of my favorite geeky girls who have fun YouTube channels:

Sam van Fleet: This girl picks out wild mustangs, trains them from zero, and shows and sells them. When I was that age I don’t think I was doing anything useful. I love watching her attentive, careful training and listening to her thoughtful analysis of what’s going on with her horses. I used to have horses and did some training, so it’s a rabbit hole I’m thrilled to re-experience vicariously. Also impressive: Camille’s Mustangs. Really lovely to watch these young women working.

Karolina ┼╗ebrowska: Karolina has quirky interests mostly involving the history of clothing. She’s a funny story teller and I love watching her walk through her careful research on oddball subjects like “What would Snow White really have worn?” Since I do some sewing and embroidery (at a very basic level!) it’s inspiring to watch Karolina work with sewing projects, too.

Bernadette Banner: Another expert in historical costume, and also a great story-teller. My favorite so far is when she bought a Chinese knock-off of one of her own dresses to compare to the original. Her projects are always exotic and entertaining.

Nicola White: Apparently people in England go hunting for lost treasures in the tidal mud of the river Thames. This is somewhat gross, but also adventurous and rewarding. They find dead people, lost jewelry, strange artifacts…after all, the area has been inhabited for centuries, and the inhabitants have spent those centuries chucking stuff in the river… In any case, Nicola has a particular knack for story telling and her videos are intriguing and fun.

Musical Notation is Beautiful: The lovely woman who does this video series (Elba, if I caught her name correctly in the video?) gives fascinating accounts of different kinds of musical notation. If you like early music, calligraphy, medieval arts, or any related subject, check this out!

Caitlin Doughty: Widely known for her video series about death. Caitlin is a mortician and has all kinds of interesting stories to tell about modern and historic deaths, the biology of death, weird and interesting facts about dying and funerals. She’s also a good story teller and her videos are very engaging.

Speaking of death, I must add a fun watch, Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, who has written a book of religious meditations on death and appeared on several television programs and podcasts to talk about it. Sister Aletheia doesn’t have her own channel, but you can see several of the interviews here.