Boat Passengers’ Warm Welcome on the Amazon
It’s mid-afternoon, and after seven hours on a boat tour of the Amazon River in Manaus, all forty or so passengers head towards the “Sharlotte II” on our way back to the city port, where the captain will find our small dock in between a giant British cruise ship and other commercial vessels.
Despite my being alone and not speaking Portuguese, I’ve felt a warm welcome from everyone today. Ana Paula, who is visiting Manaus from São Paulo, kindly translates noteworthy parts of the boat tour. I meet the two Patricias, one of whom is excited to practice the little English she knows. The tour guide looks directly at me and smiles every so often when he speaks a few words of English. Between the pleasant company, the volunteer translators, and some Portuguese comprehension by way of Spanish, I’m having a good time and and confident that I’m not missing any essentials.
As we all board the boat for our return voyage, too many passengers sit on the port side, causing the boat to lean left. The tour guide asks over the intercom for some people to move to the starboard side to balance the boat’s weight (I understand this largely based on the boat’s tilt and the passengers’ response). I move to the back of the boat and Ana Paula and the two Patricias join me briefly, but they leave shortly thereafter due to the wind and a few splashes of water that welcome us.
With my friendly translators gone, I can’t really speak with anyone. When the boat hits some brief turbulence, I playfully reach for the stowed life vest above, which gets a giggle from the young girl seated across from me. Eventually I’m joined on the cushioned bench by a young teenage boy and his mother, who both seem to be enjoying themselves. After a few minutes, she asks me in Portuguese where I’m from. I pull out a Chicago Bulls logo from my pocket. She understands immediately and enlists her teenager’s middle-school-level English to translate our conversation. Despite the language barrier, the three of us are immediately having a great time communicating.
Her name is Guaraciara Lobato, and she and I share a small victory when I pronounce her name correctly on the first try. José Messiah, the thirteen-year-old translator with shiny braces on his teeth, is keeping up like a champ. Guaraciara asks me about myself, about my trip, and also if I’m going to Rio de Janeiro where they live (I’m not, but she gives me their information just in case). It’s a fun intercultural exchange, the three of us navigate the conversation as best as we can and reassure each other with smiles throughout. We finish the boat ride together and I applaud José Messiah’s English and tell him that he’s speaks very well for his age. As we dock, contact info exchanged, the three of us say goodbye and head our separate ways.
These are the moments that make me feel so encouraged, so optimistic, and so grateful. The welcoming Brazilian woman who isn’t afraid to engage someone who doesn’t speak her language; the teenage boy who rises to the occasion as an amateur translator rather than telling his mom not to bother this guy; the fellow travelers who value you for being yourself so long as you’re genuine; the people who meet you in middle across languages if they see you’re giving an honest effort.
I know that I can’t expect everyone to be this friendly, this hospitable, and this understanding, all of the time. Yet just having a few of these genuinely positive exchanges is enough to remind me that people are generally goodhearted, that cultural differences are superficial, and maybe most importantly to remember to return the favor when I see someone on their own who might appreciate a kind gesture.