Peter Lourie

At eight every night on the river, after we tied our little boat to a stake embedded in the sand or to a tree branch in among the reeds, Moreno, our pilot, turned on his short wave radio. Without fail, for a month of nights, he listened to a program just for Amazon travelers. Personal news was read out loud over the air for all the people in the millions of square miles of Amazon tributaries. This was like jungle Email--the only communication link to home.

The crackling radio voice faded in and out through the static. It was a light-hearted voice, the voice of a radio person who knew how many people scattered over such a watery expanse depended on the program. All messages were repeated half an hour later in case someone had not got his or her radio in time.

The messages went like this:

"To Jure Ignacio. Your family is worried about your extended silence. Please contact. Repeat-- please contact them immediately."

"To Hernan Suarez on Seringal Arara. (A seringal is a wild rubber plantation, and a seringueiro is a rubber tapper--more about this later.) Your brother Mario was murdered yesterday. Come home to the funeral..."

"To Dona Maria on Seringal Macaw. I am sick and hospitalized and have no idea when I will be able to travel."

"Hello, hello, to Elsno on Igarape Jivari. Regret that your son has died, mother's leg amputated. Contact. Urgent Urgent."

Moreno listened patiently for the bad news. Twice in nine days he received only "all fine" from his wife, but one night she sent the bad news he was dreading. The message was that their oldest daughter was sick with fever and was heading to the hospital. For the next two days, our usually jovial pilot was beyond comfort. He lived for his family, and to be so far away from his ailing daughter was almost unbearable.

A few days later she got better, thank God, but I started to dread the eight o'clock message hour. Listening to that quavering voice rising over the jungle was like listening to the voice of doom. I was glad that my own family in the United States would not know how to send me a message if something went wrong so many thousands of miles away.

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