For Children, about Prainha and Brazil

This is an edited version of an assembly I gave to 350 children from Brookfield Primary School in North London where I had worked prior to coming to live in Prainha in 2004. The children were a wonderful audience and a credit to the school, sitting still, listening intently for the full 45 minutes of the assembly and then asking me some fantastic questions at the end. It was a thoroughly enjoyable morning.

My name is Claire and I live in a small fishing village called Prainha do Canto Verde on the North East coast of Brazil in the state of Ceará.

I used to live in England. I grew up in London where I trained to be a Montessori teacher. I worked in nursery schools and a North London Primary school (Brookfield)  before coming to live here in 2004.

Prainha do Canto Verde is very different to London. I hope I can show you some thing of our life here.

Screen shot 2013-11-01 at 14.04.21As you know Brazil is in South America, it’s a very long way away from England, just over 7000 Km (for adults reading this who still think in old money, nearly 4,500 miles away).

When I was in Primary school in London, I went on holiday to France, I thought that was quite a long way away but the South of France is only 1000Km, so as you can see Brazil is 7 times further away than the South of France.

I’m sure you also know they speak Portuguese in Brazil. We had to learn to speak a new language, my children had to go into a school where no one spoke English and had to learn to do all their lessons in Portuguese, it wasn’t easy for them but now they can speak the language as well as those people born here. Its been a bit harder for me because I’m older and it gets harder to learn new things when you are older, but its important that I keep trying and my children help me, isn’t that funny, they are teaching me!

The Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral landed in Brazil on April 22, 1500 and claimed it for Portugal (though we must remember that the native Indians are really the first inhabitants of Brazil). Brazil remained a colony (under Portuguese rule) for 3 centuries, receiving independance on September 7,1822.

Screen shot 2013-11-01 at 15.40.51Brazil is a very, very big country, 8,514,877 square kilometers, the biggest country in South America.  I’ve been told that the United Kingdom, that’s England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, could fit into Brazil 35 times, WOW THAT’S A BIG COUNTRY!

States and regions

Being so big, Brazil has many regions, with very different climates. In the south of Brazil it can be very cold in the winter, they even get a little snow. In the North there is the huge Amazon forest. I expect you have all heard a lot about the Amazon and how its important that people stop cutting down the trees there. There is another area of forest that is as equally important as the Amazon, it runs down part of the coast line of Brazil and is known as the Mata Atlantica. Unfortunately people are cutting down this forest too.

Brazil has a population of about 203,429,773 divided between 26 states + 1 federal district, these are the states (in alphabetical order) and their capitals.

    • Acre – Rio Branco
    • Alagoas – Maceió
    • Amapa – Macapá
    • Amazonas – Manaus
    • Bahia – Salvador
    • Ceara – Fortaleza
    • Distrito Federal – Brasilia – Also the capital of the country.
    • Espirito Santo – Vitória
    • Goias – Goiânia
    • Maranhao – São Luís
    • Mato Grosso – Cuiabá
    • Mato Grosso do Sul – Campo Grande
    • Minas Gerais – Belo Horizonte
    • Pará – Belém
    • Paraiba – João Pessoa
    • Parana – Curitiba
    • Pernambuco – Recife
    • Piaui – Teresina
    • Rio de Janeiro – Rio de Janeiro
    • Rio Grande do Norte – Natal
    • Rio Grand do Sul – Porto Alegre
    • Rondonia – Porto Velho
    • Roraima – Boa Vista
    • Santa Catarina – Florianópolis
    • São Paulo – São Paulo
    • Sergipe – Aracuju
    • Tocantins – Palmas
Showing the Equator, though it's not really a red line, just an imaginary one

Showing the Equator, though it’s not really a red line, just an imaginary one

You might know of an imaginary line that runs right round the middle of the earth, if you’ve heard of it you’ll know it’s called the Equator and all the places that are near this line have very hot weather. Prainha do Canto Verde where I live, is only 4 degrees south of the equator (that’s really not very far) and we have hot weather pretty much all the year round.

Screen shot 2013-11-01 at 14.13.14Prainha do Canto verde is in the state of Ceará, which is famous for it’s wonderful white sand beaches. We are in the municipality of Beberibe, 123km from Fortaleza the capital of Ceará, Canto Verde means Green Corner and that is what Canto Verde is, there are lots and lots of coconut trees so Canto Verde is beautifully green and surrounded by white sand dunes.

Screen shot 2013-11-01 at 14.24.30

The sun rises every day at 5, by 7 its warm enough to feel comfortable in a T shirt and shorts, by 1 o clock in the afternoon the sand is too hot to walk on in bare feet and you can’t stay outside for too long. It doesn’t really start to cool down again until after 3 and the sun goes down at 6, every night. The temperature is usually between 30 and 37 degrees, though often it feels a lot more and we have to be very careful that we don’t get sunburnt

In the North-East of Brazil there are only two seasons, summer and winter but they are not like summer or winter in England. Winter starts in November when it’s the rainy season, it never really gets cold but we get periods of very heavy rain and thunder storms, with the heaviest rains coming in March and April.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen it rains it really rains, it pours and pours and then the sun comes out again. Lagoons spring up all over the place and plants begin to grow all over the sand dunes. Unfortunately in some areas it rains too much and then we have flooding, there have been some very serious floods in both the North and South of Brazil, with huge areas of land underwater and this means people’s homes too. Sadly there have been some terrible landslides which have resulted in a lot of deaths.

Summer begins in May, it is very hot and if there hasn’t been enough rain in the winter, we can have periods of drought, this sometimes effects the same areas that were effected by the flooding which doesn’t seem at all fair. Drought is a very serious problem in the North-East and the Central-West, causing crops to fail and cattle to die as the rivers and reservoirs dry up. People have to get their water from tankers which drive out to the towns and villages, the people only get a little water and have to be very careful how they use it. We are lucky because Prainha sits on top of natural water reservoirs, each house has a pump in the garden which is used to draw the water up but we still need to be careful about how we use the water, everyone, no matter where they live, should be careful about how much water they use and try not to waste it.

My son enjoying a pool on the beach

My son enjoying a pool on the beach

We have a huge, beautiful beach and the sea is lovely and warm for swimming in, though you must always be careful when swimming in the sea. At certain times of the year we get large pools of sea water on the beach and the children love to play in these as the water in them is very warm, just like a bath, good for learning to swim in.

Fishermen preparing for sea. Prainha do Canto Verde Feb 2002

Fishermen preparing for sea.

Most of the families here earn their living from fishing, the men (and some women) go to sea on sail boats called jangadas. They can be quite small, when they are used for short fishing trips, just going out for the day, or they can be quite big.  Larger jangadas, up to about 6 meters in length (though in some other places the jangadas are bigger than this) are used for deep sea fishing trips lasting up to 5 days at sea, they have a space inside where the fishers can sleep, often during the day to get out of the sun and then fishing all night. The sleeping space is very small, once inside you can only lie down on your back, there isn’t room to turn over and as the hatch has to be closed to keep the inside water tight (incase the jangada gets turned over by a big wave) it is completely dark and gets very hot.

The small space inside the jangada

The small space inside the jangada

How the men sleep inside the jangadas

How the men sleep inside the jangadas

My husband, like many others here, first went fishing when he was 9 years old, he went with his older brothers, they didn’t have any life jackets or safety equipment which was very dangerous, he said he was very scared the first night but he had to get used to it. Children are not allowed to go to sea now, though some still do.
When I first met my husband, he explained to me how he uses the wind, stars and the sound of the sea hitting the side of his boat to find his way. Imagine being so far from land that you cannot see it, yet knowing how to reach a particular spot in the sea where the fishing is good and then being able to find your way back to the same beach you left from, with NO technological aids, that really is incredible. Nowadays many of the fishers here use GPS units but I hope that the young fishers will still be taught how to navigate without them, it is very important that we don’t lose this special knowledge and the skills.

Some people in Brazil say the fishermen are lazy and ignorant, this is because people see the fishers coming back to the beach in the afternoon, not realising that the men left for fishing at 4 in the morning and have already been fishing for hours and because many of the fishers have not had a very good education (how can you have a good education if you leave school aged 9 to go fishing?). The work is extremely hard and very dangerous (did you know that fishing is said to be the most dangerous job you can do!) the fishers are very brave and have an incredible knowledge and understanding of the sea. It is very wrong for us to say someone is ignorant simply because we don’t understand what they know, that would make us the ignorant ones.

Surrounding the village are big white sand dunes and then a little further inland is the strip of forest, its not the Mata Atlantica that I mentioned earlier, its called Catinga and is mostly low level trees with some coconuts and cashew trees that you get cashew nuts from. There are lots of birds and animals that live in the Catinga, opossums, armadillos, marmosets, monkeys, foxes, skunks, raccoons, deer, wild pigs and wild cats such as oncillas, pumas and jaguarundis. It is not easy to see any of these animals because usually hear people coming and disappear into the forest long before we get a chance to see them but at dawn and dusk the birdsong is wonderful.

Juicy cashews

Juicy cashews

Before I came to Brazil, I didn’t know that the cashew tree also produces a fruit, they look a bit like a pepper and can be red, orange or yellow. They are very fleshy and juicy and are used in all sorts of ways, to eat just as they are, to make a refreshing juice drink, cooked in savoury dishes and made into sweet dishes too. Some of the fruits can be very sweet but some can burn your throat and the nut casings contain an acid which would burn your fingers if you tried to get the nut out, they have to be boiled or roasted first.

rsz_p1050637I found out that sand dunes can move! The wind blows the sand from the top down the front and little by little they move forward, it’s the same way a wave is formed in the sea but it happens very much more slowly on the sand dunes.  We have coconut trees with only their very tops sticking out of the sand, slowly the dune is moving into the forest and covering it over. In several places on the dunes, you can see where there once was forest, the sand dunes have moved over it and killed all the trees, now the sand is moving away, leaving all the dead dried out tree stumps, sticking up all over the place blackened and brittle, people dig them up and use them for fuel because the wood burns very well being full of the natural oils from the tree. As the sand moves on, new plants begin to grow and one day (hopefully) the forest will return.

Sadly there are places where man has intervened, causing problems that nature can’t repair. There is a very beautiful lagoon near to Canto Verde, it’s called Lagoa Salgado, which means Salt Lagoon, it gets it’s name because the water comes in from the sea and mixes with the fresh water so is slightly salty. The lagoon was surrounded by mangrove swamps, which kept the water clean and stopped the sand dunes from moving too quickly.

Lagoa Salgado

Lagoa Salgado

A very wealthy man bought the land around the lagoon and built a big house there. He wanted to have an uninterrupted view of the sea, so he cut down all the forest and the mangrove swamp on the opposite side of the lagoon from his house. Within a very short time the sand dunes built up and now they are filling up the lagoon. Now the man can’t see the sea because of the sand dune. It takes time for mangrove swamps to become established, I don’t know if it will be possible to re-establish them at Lagoa Salgado, but if not we may well lose the lagoon, that would be very sad.
There is only one road into Canto Verde and there is a very big dune that runs down one side of it. Every now and then the dune moves right over the road and no cars can get past it, the council have to send a big digger to clear the road or no one can get in or out. Two years ago there was a problem with the digger, it couldn’t come and we couldn’t leave the village except on foot, for over a week!

The problem became so serious that another solution had to be found. It was a bit of an experiment because no one could be sure what would work. A local coconut grower donated thousands of fronds from his trees*, then a team of men worked for about a week, covering the dunes. We hope that other plants will begin to grow in between the fronds and stabilise the dunes further. So far it seems to have worked, we haven’t had to call the digger back.

*The coconuts shed their fronds just like other trees lose their leaves but while the trees are still small people cut the fronds off, when the trees grow too tall they are just left to fall off. It can be very dangerous to stand under a coconut tree, the fronds are very heavy and would hurt if they fell on you. If a coconut were to fall on your head, it could kill you.

Our village isn’t very big, there’s about 1200 people in the village making up about 200 families, that might sound a lot but its not really. We live right on the edge of the village and we have an unusual shaped house, if you imagine a square with two half circles on opposite sides, a sort of lozenge, that’s the shape of our house. In the garden we grow bananas, mangos, avocados, pineapples,  melons, watermelons, guavas, coconuts, acerola berries, pumpkins, beans, tomatoes and I am hoping to grow more fruit and vegetables in the future.

P9234535

A baby snake found in the kitchen

We have had lots of animals: A donkey, a goat, several chickens, a duck, lots of cats and lots of dogs. We don’t have the donkey, the goat or the chickens and duck any more but we still have cats and lots of dogs. We get visited by other creatures, some more welcome than others, we’ve had snakes in the kitchen and giant toads hopping about in the bathroom but thankfully they are not dangerous so we put them in the garden and off they go.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this, if you know someone else who would like it, please pass it on using the like and share buttons and if you have any questions, please send them to me and I will do my best to answer.

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