By Kátia Moraes
I’m originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and always loved poetry, singing, dancing, and the Arts. My mom knew that very well and she gave me an acoustic guitar for Christmas in 1983 when she was very sick. In February 1984 she passed away due to a neuropathy similar to Multiple Sclerosis that had also taken her mom and brothers’ life. I was devastated but relieved after eight years of suffering.
Around that time I got a call inviting me to join a musical band. The person on line had already called my house and my auntie had suggested to call me back in a month. She did the right thing. At that time I felt I had no reason to be alive. So, when the man called me again, I accepted the invitation. That week, my godfather’s wife had said something I never forgot: “Your life will blossom beautifully from now on. Believe me.” And I did.
I joined a theatrical rock group called “O Espírito da Coisa” that literally means “The Spirit of the Thing.” My nickname was Katita, a term of endearment. Around 1986, the band flew to Manaus, the capital of the Amazon state. I was so excited I bought a camera to make sure I’d remember that trip!
I recall getting off the plane and feeling the pores of my skin filling with water from the extreme humidity. I had never sweat so much in my life. At the entrance of the airport there was a man made lake with turtles and alligators. Snap! Snap! Humidity was 86% plus. It’s like Florida if you’ve been there. I was amazed that the air conditioner of the hotel was always on.
Our show was part of a political party campaign and was scheduled to start in the afternoon at a place where the Solimões and Negro rivers meet, forming the Amazon river. Wow! Snap! Snap! Snap! I was surprised to see so many people and motorboats at that place. The day before the presentation we had the opportunity to tour the area and see the clear line dividing the pale-sandy color of the Solimões from the Rio Negro (Black river.)
It was there that I saw a pink dolphin for the first time. Snap! They are called “Boto” and are the largest river dolphins in the world. What a magical site. From the black waters I saw that shining pink skin jump out of the river and play. Snap! Snap! I also saw some piranha fish, and learned they are not as scary as we think they are, even though their teeth make you think they are. Snap!
When the show time arrived we went on in our bikinis and trunks. Around 5pm the rain came down, strongly refreshing us all. “Show is over,” we said to ourselves when the sound engineer and assistants quickly covered the speakers and equipment with pieces of plastic. But the tropical rains during December and May come and go quickly and in less that ten minutes we were back playing and singing.
It was an incredible trip to me. Not only because the place was so amazingly lush and beautiful, but also because I was visiting part of my mom’s history. You see, she was born in Portugal and her father and brothers worked as fishermen. The fishing boats used to come close to the coast of Brazil, and when my grandma died, my granddad moved the family to Manaus to try a better life. Yes, the immigrant blood is in my veins.
My mom went to a Catholic boarding school until she was 18 years old, and even thought to become a nun. But, eventually she moved to the South to live with one of her brothers in Rio de Janeiro. It was there that she met my dad in the late 1950’s, married, and my sister and I were born.
But, going back to the Amazon, the next day of that show we went for a trip through the “igarapés.” Igarapé” is a route navigable only by canoe. If I remember well, we were using two canoes with guides. The noise of the motor was an endless distraction while navigating through the wide portion of the river, but as soon as we entered the narrow passageways the guides turned off the engine, and that’s when the magic started. I heard the silence of the jungle and we stopped chatting. The canoe kept moving among the trees rooted in the river water and time stood still… birds singing, frogs croaking, the water moving, the call of animals here and there, the air touching my sweaty body… I couldn’t explain what I was experiencing. Had I been there before? Snap.
After awhile our guide brought us to a small tree house where a family lived in the middle of nowhere. We were introduced to a “preguiça,” a sloth that was hanging on a tree trunk. She was climbing the tree but her movements were sooo slow I couldn’t see it. Snap! Snap!
Then, a little girl showed me the pet of the house: a very small monkey that was chained to a wood pole. OMG, why was it chained in the middle of that vast jungle? He was a tinny creature that moved me very deeply. He looked into my eyes like a human being would, and suddenly I saw myself. Snap! His piercing eyes stayed with me all these years.
When I went back to Rio and opened my luggage I realized the camera was gone. But I found out later that my biggest camera was my mind and my heart.
* Katia Moraes is a singer, songwriter, and artist from Rio de Janeiro. She is a long-time Soul Brasil magazine contributor and lives in Los Angeles since 1990. To know more about her, visit: www.katiamoraes.com