22 May

Bless me, please!

“bença”, seu moço!

Bless me, please

Invited to participate in a project among riparian communities for a certain company, I had to go to the Bom Jesus Community of the Mariaí River with some other friends. Seven hours on a motor boat, passing by the Moura River, the Hole of the Tucunaré Island, the Aranaí River and other rivers whose names I don’t remember, we entered the little Mariaí River. Similarly to many riparian communities that are spread through a few hundreds of meters by the banks of Amazon region rivers: one home here, another one there, and another one a little further, another within a small creek. As the boat entered the river, the captain blew his whistle to announce its arrival. But that was not really necessary because the boat was perceived by its big noise echoing through the silent creek. The people, mainly children, appeared at the windows and doors of their homes with their curious and happy little faces, and waved at us.

In the evening, at the start of a thin and cold rain, almost night, we docked at the residence of the community leader. Four old and unpainted wood houses, united by a small bridge measuring a little over a half-meter wide and fifty meters long: two of the buildings were residences and in them, without a shadow of doubt, judging by the number of kids, lived more than one family; the other building, a church and, the last one that served as a school and was falling into pieces: a lot of gutters, wood boards missing on the walls, the windows showed evidence of having been of the shutter type, the rotten floor with some wood boards covering the holes, and I heard that the teacher and the children had already fallen in those holes. It was almost night and the dwellers were already retreated. We said hello to the “adults” and set a community meeting for Sunday, at the church, right after “mass”. It was not really “mass”. The community is so distant from everything that – of course – they had no priest: a member of the community reads and comments some Bible passages and repeats Hail-Mary prayers.

I don’t know if it was the breeze, the green of the forest or if I was hypnotized by the river streams, but I slept deeply. I also don’t know if there were any gnats. I think there weren’t, because until I fell asleep I wasn’t bothered by any insect. But I know there were midges, and a lot of them! I got up early and as soon as I left my hammock I was beaten by the midges, but in no time they disappeared.

Soon after we had our coffee and crackers, the dwellers started to arrive for “mass”. Each family in a canoe: husband, wife and a bunch of children. They tied the canoe, rolled their simple clothing to avoid wetting them and climbed the stairs of the little pier.

My travelling companions and I waited for the “mass” to end to enter the church and start the meeting. We remained in front of the church in a type of yard that extended to the location where our boat had docked. I took advantage of the sunny and fresh day to take pictures of everything I could and as I had not yet seen the inside of the small temple, I left my friends talking and went to the main door to better observe its simplicity of new and clean wood boards. He church was well arranged and a lot more preserved than the residences. “Mass” was about to start and the more distant or late dwellers continued to arrive in a sort of hurry. As I was standing at the church entrance I started to be greeted with good-mornings and hand-shakes from adults and the expression “bênças!” (bless me) from the children. A little awkward, I shook hands with the adults and blessed the little heads that approached me. Soon there was a line of people in front of the church: adults to greet me and the little ones to ask me to bless them!

My friend, from a distance, smiling discretely, signed for me to get away from the church door, which I managed to do with a certain difficulty by cutting and undoing the line.

The way for those adults and children to express respect and consideration for any unknown person made me feel very emotional.

I remembered that in my childhood I also acted that way: I asked my parents to bless me (“bênça”) when I went to bed and woke up, when I went to or returned from any place; I asked the priest, my godfathers and godmothers, aunts and uncles or anyone unknown who came to our home or whom we visited to bless me.

Things of the last century…

I wondered: Don’t you dare to make city youngsters understand how and why to ask for blessing. To them, a blessing is only a symbol of authority to those who give it and of submission of those who get it. Inadmissible for such democratic and hasty times…

Soon after the meeting we returned home. A calm trip. No shaking! Only the breeze!

We still had about two hours to arrive when we caught sight, from a distance, of the city lights reflecting on the waters of the river. I ran to get my mobile phone and made my first call after 36 hours away from Macapá.

After a few attempts, the call was put through.

A real bless from heaven!

Luiz Porto

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