Imagine a guy barely 5 feet tall, 110 pounds soaking wet, carrying a 120-pound sack of Brazil Nuts for an hour through the jungle to get them to a canoe, then paddle with 7 of these for another hour through the flooded forest to get to the main river and then travel with 50 sacks total for a day in a homemade village boat to get back to home. He gets there to take care of his son, Felipe who at the age of 11 can’t walk or speak, so he needs to be carried around all the time. See, his son has Cerebral Palsy that was caused from lack of oxygen to the brain at birth (more on that in Felipe’s story). Then he has to collect bananas, manioc, watermelons and clean his boat. You’d think a guy like that would spend his days gloomy and doomy, complaining about how hard life is for him. That is exactly the opposite of the reality. Meet Doca, the owner of the most cheerful smile in the Amazon. This story is about a way of life that could never be outdone.
Terra Preta, Doca’s home is an interesting village. There are 35 families living there. It sits on the lower part of the Xeruini River, 6 hours away in a village liveaboard boat from the meeting of the Rio Branco and Rio Negro. Add another 22 hour ride on a three story commercial passenger boat with no sleeping quarters and 350 people aboard in hammocks and you’re in Manaus, the most developed city in Brazilian Amazon. It’s a long, complicated trip with many variables, so, would you do it if you lived in a place like Terra Preta? Well, if not for his son’s health condition, Doca wouldn’t – just like the rest of his family. Doca actually was 15 years old when he made his first trip to Caracarai, a municipality on the Rio Branco a day away in a liveaboard boat and was his first trip from the village.
Doca was born in 1985 and he’s got 3 sisters and 5 brothers. He is married to his wife and they have 2 kids, Gabriel and Felipe. His father, Paulo Miranda de Vasconcelos is 70 now. Paulo has barely been to town himself and never saw a hospital or taken a vaccine. The family have always been farmers called “plantadores” – growing food wherever they could. Doca, like his father before, has to feed his family. The Xeruini River doesn’t let you starve if you’re ready for some hard work. Fish are abundant, the water is clean, forests are full of game and the soil is rich, so it’s not hard to plant. Well, maybe planting is not a big deal in the Amazon, harvesting, though, has always been a challenge: pulling manioc from hard soil is a tough job, in the middle of a banana grove you can face scorpions, spiders and venomous snakes and to get açaí, a wonderful fruit that provides energetic juice, you need to climb a dozen 50-foot-tall palm trees using “peconha” – a palm leaf knot around the ankles invented by indigenous people of the Amazon. Doca’s father still does it all at the age of 70. It is a 4 day process of making manioc flour that results in a number of products of their daily life: farinha (manioc flour), tapioca, tucupi and more. Like most of the women in the area, Laura, Doca’s mom is used to taking care of numerous kids and the house, but she is also good with a gun and fishing gear. It was with his mom that Doca learned to swim, how to fish and to paddle a canoe which was his favorite thing to do as a child. Sneaking out of school and going around Xandoca island in front of the village in a canoe, used to be the greatest thing on Earth.