September/October 2014: I am so excited for this trip, especially because I get to go with one of my favorite students of all time, Ellen Avoletta. After two months of anticipation, we have the official dates for the Project Amazon trip—November 15-25, 2014! We can finally start the Visa application process, which we’ve heard can be onerous. We decided to use a Visa walkthrough service in Chicago just to help everything move as seamlessly as possible (and I’m happy to report that it all went fine!). While we waited for our passports/Visas to come back, we went and got our immunizations for yellow fever and typhoid. Man, the lecture the doc has to give before the yellow fever vaccine is SCARY! We both went through with it anyway, and thankfully developed no side effects from the vaccinations. We were happy to have our passports returned to us by the end of October, in plenty of time for the trip.
November 9-14, 2014: The week leading up to the trip was a flurry of preparations—finalizing arrangements to cover my classes at work; meeting with the babysitter who would be taking care of my three-year-old son while I was gone; and packing/planning for the trip. Ellen and I went shopping over the weekend to buy some gifts for the people we’d be working with. It was hard to figure out some things that would travel well, and represent where we had come from, AND be enjoyed by people we hadn’t yet met, but (based on some suggestions from a few of my clever graduate students) we finally settled on good old American snacks– Oreos, pretzels, M&M’s, etc. Everyone likes snacks, right? Also, my university (Illinois State University—Go Redbirds!) was kind enough to donate some t-shirts, pens, and notepads to bring along as well.
The equipment from the Oticon Foundation arrived on Friday 11/14, and included a computer with a wi-fi hotspot so we could update the blog in real time (spoiler alert: internet connectivity in Parintins was so spotty that we weren’t able to use the wi-fi hotspot), goodies for the patients (t-shirts, pencils, etc.), boxes of hearing aid batteries, and most importantly—HEARING AIDS!
Packing everything up was quite a challenge. I filled an enormous suitcase with all of the gifts, the equipment/supplies from Oticon, some additional equipment from my research lab (otoscopes, a Dremel drill, etc.), and then I tried to squeeze my clothes in around everything. I could barely get it closed, and it weighed a TON. But finally, by midnight, I was finished packing and ready for the trip.
November 15-16, 2014: We got up at 5am on Saturday to make it to the airport in time for our 7am flight. We went from Bloomington-Normal, to Dallas-Ft.Worth, to Miami, and then on to Manaus, Brazil. It was a loooong day of flying, but we were happy to see the sweetest face at the Manaus airport—the face of our wonderful translator, Davison. He helped us get our luggage wrestled into a car, and got us to our hotel (I think it was around 1:30 a.m. by the time we arrived at the hotel). Hardly any time to sleep—up at 8am on Sunday to head back to the airport for our flight to Parintins!
The flight to Parintins was uneventful—Davison was a godsend in helping us get through the process smoothly. We grabbed our stuff (by this time, I had nicknamed my suitcase “the Beast” because it was just comically huge and heavy) and were on our way to the clinic.
It was fantastic to arrive at the clinic and finally put our stuff down and meet everyone, including Vanessa (the clinic on-site administrator, who handled all of the day-to-day details and our itinerary) and Lu (I’m not sure of her exact job title, but as best I could tell, she was in charge of making us feel like we were loved and well-cared-for). We changed out of our sweaty clothes and headed to a hotel to sit by the pool and try to just take it all in. We enjoyed some Brazilian food, drinks, and music, and then headed back to the clinic for a quick tour and then we grabbed some food and went to bed. We were exhausted, but SO HAPPY to be in Parintins—at last, after talking about this trip and this opportunity for almost a year and a half, Ellen and I were finally ready to start Project Amazon 2014!