Memories of CAIJ XMAS

My first experience of a youthful Corumbaense celebration in Brazil.

Photo memories of 2012 CAIJ Xmas.

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Dia de los Muertos, Puerto Quijarro, Bolivia

On Saturday 2nd November, I was invited to visit the neighbouring town of Puerto Quijarro in Bolivia to witness the rituals of  ´Dia de los Muertos´.  This day of remembrance is known in the Catholic tradition as All Souls Day but Central and South America celebrates it as Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead.  Starting the day before, families prepare a feast for their loved ones who have died.  This includes their favourite food, drink and fruits.  DSCF4198 DSCF4199 On the Day of  the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, families visit the graves and spread out the feast like a picnic, using the tomb as the table, leaving a place setting complete with a plate of food, drink and empty chair for the deceased, while waiting for the souls to arrive. The popular belief is that the deceased spirits or souls will arrive at noon and depart at the same time next day.  White tablecloths are used if the deceased is a child and darker colours for adults.  Graves are adorned with bread (tantawawas) made into various shapes.  The baking of tantawawas or bread babies in blankets, is another significant part of this tradition that brings communities and families together days before for giant bread-making occasion.  Sometimes a  ceramic mask may adorn the tantawawa to honour the soul of the deceased child or baby.  I was saddened and surprised to discover the high percentage of infant deaths evident at this cemetery in Puerto Quijarro. DSCF4183 DSCF4182 DSCF4190 DSCF4214Speaking with a Bolivian colleague earlier that day, I learned that Dia de los Muertos is actually a  mix of Bolivian culture with Catholic beliefs and that the tradition of baking tantawawas is not only indigenous to Bolivians of the Andes region but can be seen in Ecuador and Peru.  Walking from grave to grave to witness how each family honoured their loved ones, I noticed large numbers of children going from grave to grave, stopping to say a prayer, usually an Ave Maria.   I discovered later that children are encouraged to recite prayers at the graves and are rewarded with bags of sweets and pastries. DSCF4187 DSCF4180

Izulina Xavier Gomes

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DSCF1779DSCF1817DSCF1776DSCF1804The work of artisan Izulina Xavier Gomes is easily seen when you arrive in Corumba.  Your first encounter would most likely be ‘Christ the King of Pantanal (Cristo Rei do Pantanal) atop Morro do Cruzeiro, a hill that overlooks the city, giving spectacular views of the Pantanal and Paraguay river.

Highly acclaimed and recognised for many sculpted works made from stone, dust and wood and author of six novels, two books of poems and two plays, I was surprised to learn that Izulina had never attended school.  Writing, she says, was a way to tell her story and gain knowledge so that she could read and write properly.  Equally surprising, she has never touched a computer or a mobile phone and calls them ´addictions´.

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Cristo Rei do Pantanal – Christ, King of the Pantanal

Her first job was in wood, after which she went on to use other materials, creating pieces in concrete with stone dust.  She explains that before making any piece, she does not need to do preliminary sketches or studies.  She just closes her eyes,  breathes and sees the sculpture form from dust or ash, something like a cloud in the air.  Then she goes on to create what she sees.   Her artistic ability she claims started to come alive in 1982 after a religious promise.

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Dom Bosco and CAIJ anniversaries

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August is a month of special anniversaries for CAIJ.   In fact it was a double celebration, the anniversary of Dom Bosco and CAIJ’s 5th year of operation in Corumba, Brazil.  Follow this link to see how the young people honoured their patron saint celebrated his legacy – CAIJ continues to meet the needs of children and young people in a community where families are easily marginalised and live in poverty.   https://picasaweb.google.com/111166451295496640324/24DeAgostoDe201302?authuser=0&feat=directlink

Feast of Corpus Christi

In Brazil, the Feast of Corpus Christi is celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday with a mass and public procession when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed.   On this public holiday, it is customary to decorate the procession route  with tapetes or salt carpets honouring Christ and illustrating symbols of the Catholic church.   Unlike the flower and petal displays you would find in street processions in Europe, in Brazil, salt, sawdust, coffee and sand are used.

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Pantanal Adventure!

tuiuiu pantanaljacares pantanalcapybara pantanalanaconda pantanalFinally, it was my turn to go to the Pantanal.  I had missed two opportunities earlier in the year due primarily to my fractured tibia and ankle bone which rendered the journey unsafe and impractical.  So wait I did, patiently while other volunteers ventured out to see the largest wetlands in the world.  Yes, my time had come and I was ready to see if the Pantanal lived up to its reputation.  And it did, offering so much more.  I must confess that it is not for the tame at heart or those who go green at long. boat journeys.

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But then you may consider that to be a small price to pay when compared to spotting an alligator or two, catching a piranha for dinner, discovering birds so large you may think of Pterodactylus, and if you are lucky enough you might even get to see an anaconda.  In a nutshell, that is the Pantanal´s  wild side.

family pantanalpiranha dinner pantanalkitchen pantanalpantanalBut there is more, the human element.  I was so blessed to have spent two nights with a  local farming family whose pace and quality of life inspired me anew and resonated with my contemplative side which longs for a slower pace of life, simplicity and periods of  solitude.   On arriving,  I had joked about sleeping in a ´hede´ and to my surprised at bedtime, our hosts produced a hammock so I could sleep under the most magnificent starry sky I have ever seen.  While I consider myself to be a huge fan of nature, without doubt,  the highlight, actually that should be pluralised, the highlights of my experience in the Pantanal was the time spent with the farming community – playing guitar late into the night accompanying the host on the concertina, while throwing back rounds of  local pinga and capirinhas:  sitting around the fire at 5.30 next morning sharing in the communal cup of hot herbal mate tea;  joining in and providing music at the baptismal mass celebration of six babies; receiving the sacrament of reconciliation in this Garden of Eden;  being in fellowship with several other farming families who traveled for hours to join us in the mass celebration and festa.

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pilot pantanalflowering trees pantanalbird pantanalnarrow waterways pantanalwise old owl pantanalpiranha pantanal Yes I was genuinely surprised at how akin I felt during my short time in the Pantanal.   I look forward to my return.