Manaus, Brazil Day 1 Monte Salem Orphanage 1/23
If you have ever looked for the port of Manaus on a map (which most people probably haven’t) it is difficult to find because you have to go through what looks like a very narrow canal but is in fact the Amazon River. Coming down the Amazon into Manaus was truly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen and the photos unfortunately do not do it justice. The river is lined on both sides by the jungle. You can see the uncovered soil below the tall trees and the thick grass because the water level is currently low in parts of the river. The colors change throughout the day depending on how sunny or muggy or dark it is, and the sunset is breathtaking. That said, the actual docking in Manaus, is not so sensational.
Our view from the ship is of the rundown city. The building look like they were once painted bright and vibrant colors but they have become dull over the years. We can see a storage port further down the river where storage units filled with electronics are imported to, and right next to our ship are the riverboats which people use to travel from place to place in around Manaus and sleep on.
When we got off the dock we emerged into a city in action. As with most ports, there are cabs waiting to take you wherever you would like but what was out of the ordinary to me is that the people just hang out on the streets, if not in them. There is an island in the middle of the road where people sell drinks and are BBQing. Some people have their lounge chairs out and seem to socialize right there in the middle of the traffic and the bus stops. When we walked further into town it reminded me of Canal Street in NY. There are street vendors selling everything from notebooks with Justin Bieber’s face on them, to popcorn. There are shoe stores coming out of shoe stores that sell more Havaianas (a Brazilian made sandal that is popular in the US) than I have ever seen in one place and more little kid backpacks with sparkles and characters than I have never seen before.
My activity for the day was going to Monte Salem Orphanage. We loaded the bus and our guide took us through Manaus instead of going straight to our destination. A few facts about Brazil:
1) Private school is “expensive” 200-300 dollars a month
2) Government (public) schools you are required to wear a uniform but a lot of people cannot afford them so their kids can’t go to school
3) Girls start having babies are 11
4) 4:1 women to men
5) The government gives houses but you have to take classes to know how to live in them. The problem is that one they move in they don’t practice any of the things they learned. The people who are eligible for these houses are people who live in stilts houses and they can live there for five years then they have to sell it
6) There are HUGE problems with human trafficking in Brazil- When babies are born there are often people waiting in the hospital to steal them and on some occasions the mothers are already planning on selling their babies because they need money. The traffickers are between Brazil and Venezuela and according to our guide the traffickers buy them and then sell them into adoption.
We got to the orphanage and learned that there are currently 25 kids living there between the ages of 0 and 16. The way that this orphanage works is that the children are removed from their home because of various reasons but then when the parents have gotten their acts together, the children are returned to them. There is one building with a kitchen, bathrooms, one room for the boys, one for the girls, and one for the babies, and sitting with a couch and a TV, and on the grounds there is a play ground and a school.
We got to “work” entertaining the kids. People brought all sorts of toys: sticker books, face paints, bubbles, foam airplanes, etc. and the kids were loving it, especially the face paint. Trying to interact was a challenge because of the language barrier. The older kids were more patient and creative in trying to explain things to us by showing or pointing or hand motions, but the little ones had difficulty getting their point across because they didn’t know how to tell us what they wanted. Non the less, we made it work and it was clear that having visitors was an uplifting sentiment not only for the children but also for the staff at the orphanage.