Denny, friend of Laura and Sebastian
Team West met up their host Denny, who is a professional linguist and a researcher in Amazonia in Belem, Brazil. Denny is good friends with previous host Laura and her mother, and joyfully recounts his first memory of their friendship. In the interview, he talks to the travelers about his research work and his friendship with Amazonian indigenous groups before sending them to their next host, Sebastian.
What is your superpower?
I'm not sure I have any. I'm fairly good at analyzing languages, I think. But I wouldn't say that's a superpower.
What would you change in your country if you were able to?
Well, there are a lot of poor people here, so it would be certainly better if there was a better standard of education and more prosperity for people. It's quite a poor region in the north. In the south, there's more economy, sound politics, more manufacturing. Here in the North, there is less of that.
What are you proud of?
Well, we've brought along a lot of scientific developments in the place where I work. We've trained a lot of good Brazilian students, people getting their PhDs from the United States, from Holland, from other countries and given good training in centers in Brazil. So that I'm very proud of, we've been able to get a lot of things done for that. We've also been able to do a number of things for indigenous groups. I work in Amazonia, and me and my colleagues do lot of documentation which I think is going to be very very important in the future, because these things are disappearing and it's good to have registers of this on video. With video, as you can see right now with this, that it's just like being there. So we can document a lot of things that are in the danger of disappearing, a lot of traditional things from the indigenous groups. I'm very proud about being involved in that. I think it's very worthwhile.
What is your spirit vegetable?
I'm extremely fond of Açaí, which is not exactly a vegetable. But it's a very interesting food, it looks like purple mud and it has a vegetable taste which I think is really delicious. And I think for my spirit, it's very me.
What do you expect from a friend?
That he be himself, that you have good relations with him and that you can count on each other. It's interesting across cultures because Yuujou is also dealing with this in their project. I started working with an indigenous group 40 years ago, and made a bunch of friends there. I still go back and we're still all friends. We're still talking about the old days and things that we did together, including the weird stuff. And everybody cares about each other. They follow my life, they're all happy that I'm going to have a son and they all like me and my wife. It's a great thing. Essentially it shows how this is possible even with tremendous differences - I mean this is an Amazonian indigenous group, and I'm from a farm in Michigan. But it is what Yuujou is also showing: That you can make friendships across all kinds of culture and you can become part of each other's lives.
How important are friends to you?
It's something that makes you feel good and it's important for your mental health, to have friends you care about and to have involvement with people and to do things together with them. Also helping people and contributing and interacting, I think that's really important for you and it makes you feel better and it gives you a really happy experience.
How often do you meet up with friends?
I have a number of friends where I work and they're great people so unfortunately I work with people who are cool. They're very smart and nobody has a big ego and everybody cooperates and that's very great. I have other friends, but a lot of people I meet are through work. Also my wife's Brazilian relatives, I have a lot of friends there, they are family.
Is it easy to become friends in your country?
Yes it's easy in Belem. Brazilians are very sociable, much more so than Americans. We were just standing here five minutes ago and someone just walked up introduced himself, asked about what we were doing and had all kinds of nice things to say. You never feel lonely here. You don't have that feeling that you have for example in United States.
Can women and men be friends?
Yes, we have lots of friends who are women and we've worked with people who are women. I have one woman who has worked with me for half of her life, for something like 25 years and we're good friends. It's perfectly possible.