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Amazonian Woman

A Vague Understanding of my Thoughts while in the Amazon by Linda Gaida ’16

During a serendipitous phone conversation with a good friend, I related how palpable and invigorating the energy of the Amazon rainforest felt: “Everything here seems to be alive and breathing; I feel like the universe has been conspiring in my favor every single day.” He animatedly responded: “There’s a word for that! I just learned it a couple days ago—pronoia. It’s that idea that the world conspires in your favor; it’s the opposite of paranoia.”

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I can’t eloquently or rightly articulate the experiences I’ve had within the lowlands of the Amazon basin over the course of four months (in one blog post). Unfortunately, we can only live within the context of our own semantics, of our own world and our own limited language (and grand as it may be, it often leaves me fumbling for more). Nevertheless, if I were to choose one theme that does well to represent my semester spent in the Edenic and Hellish Amazon[1], it would be pronoia.

The past four months were spent nearly constantly outside. Even within the classroom, dormitory or dining hall, we were only semi-enclosed, as walls were just screens stretched between wooden beams. It was very hot most always. The humidity didn’t as much seep into skin as it did just fall over me, creating sweat-streams down arms, legs, and back. I’d smell of something I’ve never before smelled, something elusive and sourly musty (just not good). Life after 5:00pm necessitated more precautions and sharpened awareness with each step. (What would the Amazon be without its significant share of snakes, spiders, bats, and leishmaniasis-spreading sandflies)? Despite the challenges, no one in my program, neither student nor staff member, ever complained about any of it. Some days were easier, some were harder, but each one felt sincerely present and fundamentally good.

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I found my sense of place in a part of the world that is so wildly stimulating, so unreachable, and wholly liberating in size. Often I’d feel strangely disembodied, energized so impressively by all the soundscapes surrounding me that I’d leave my corporeal form, like it couldn’t contain whatever it is about me that wants to be and see more. And in these moments, I couldn’t t afford to be anything but present; I could not afford to make my life into a memorial for my past or safe-box for my future (an exhaustive bad habit, at which I’ve formerly excelled). While I experienced vast ranges of emotion, it was learning to live beyond unfounded fears, learning to live each minute as it happened, that ultimately allowed me to appreciate, learn, and flourish at speeds perhaps only possible within a rainforest. To let myself feel completely dwarfed by trees, to walk in the jungle at night and be ashamed that I used to  consider myself a surefooted human, and to consistently feel like I’ve won an extra breath of life every time I’d see a Blue Morpho butterfly are enough reasons to validate pronoia.

While being outside is only one vein through which you may breathe a bit more deeply and dream a bit more madly, it is for me the most fulfilling and centering. It makes my life intense, and it’s important to me that I never renounce the intensity with which I can experience life. Whether planting a garden, researching the flight patterns of hummingbirds, chasing lions in Ethiopia, or running across a field just to feel yourself move, I encourage anyone to pass more time outside.

 

[1] Inspired by Candace Slater’s paper “Amazonia as Edenic Narrative,” used in reference to explore the duality of the Amazon

 

Lynda was a Romance Languages major with interests primarily in environmental studies. She was very active in the Outing Club, having lived several years in the OC House, as well as having been a member of the CRUX climbing team. She also spent a lot of her college days traveling, having been to Lisbon, Portugal and the Peruvian Amazon.

 

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