Novelist Edward Docx had to know what it feels like to be lost—truly lost—in the Amazon. So he went to Brazil and hired some men to leave him in the jungleby Edward Docx / April 20, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
Our troubles began with the translator. Undeniably, José was a well-meaning man with a great many characteristics that the guide, Abi, and I both admired. It was a matter of regret to all concerned, therefore, that proficiency in Portuguese or English turned out not to be among them. A native Spanish speaker, he had arrived on the busy quay in Manaus accompanied by numerous madrigals of endorsement from the various agents, boatmen and interested parties involved in our little expedition. Indeed, so exceptionally fluent had he seemed in his acknowledgement of his own abilities that it had also appeared certain that they must extend far beyond the scope of the mere three advertised languages. But now here we were—standing deep in the Amazon jungle and, if anything, his linguistic facility seemed to be receding.
“So, let’s say just one hour,” I said.
José looked at both of us, nodded with childish enthusiasm and said nothing.
I tried again: “I need to understand what it’s like—to be alone here. In the rainforest. For my book. You leave me here for one hour and then we meet at exactly this spot.”
Abi, an ex-soldier with the odd double manner of a ticket tout—solicitous and yet scornful—raised his hands to enquire of José. But José resisted the entreaty and instead translated into Spanish—of which I understood just enough to know that he had not translated at all, and Abi knew just enough to think that he had.
“The snake—yes?” José concluded, in English, holding out his hand in front of his groin to indicate a man urinating carelessly. “The poison snake.”
Abi, now convinced he understood, spoke at length in Portuguese, pointing carefully up at a particular section of the dense canopy with one hand while seeming to indicate falling masonry with the other.
José laughed. “Is 13, his daughter,” he said. “Always pee pee.”
The heat hung heavily about us, suffocating, and the humidity was so thick that to breathe was almost to drink. Of all the requests I might make in such circumstances, the privacy to urinate was surely low among them. Worse still, Abi, an ex-soldier, must now think me a peculiarly prudish fellow.