‘Dom Phillips was natural storyteller – for us, he was always Uncle Dom’ – The Guardian

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‘Dom Phillips was natural storyteller – for us, he was always Uncle Dom’

Nieces of journalist killed in the Amazon pay tribute to their uncle, who sent frequent and funny emails about life in Brazil

D om Phillips was a storyteller. Through his career as a journalist, he told the stories of those who were unable to speak out and whose views were overlooked. His second book, How to Save the Amazon, aimed to do exactly this – to speak the story of the Amazon . com and the Indigenous people within it, and provide solutions to preserve their culture in conjunction with current Brazilian society.

For us, however , he has been always Uncle Dom. He has been present in our lives since we had been born and was very much involved with our upbringing when we were small children. He remained a positive influence, even when this individual moved to Brazil in 2007.

We have lots of happy memories with him. So many, within fact, that when we were thinking about what to write in this piece, we weren’t sure how to capture them. How do you find the words in order to explain how someone has been a consistently kind presence throughout your entire life? Which memories do you choose to share?

In the end, we realised that the best reminiscences we could pass on are the ones that he shared with us through his regular emails about his life in Brazil. These emails, often accompanied with pictures, or links to articles, were full of stories and anecdotes – about what he was working on, about going to Carnival, about adopting his first cat (and eventually the second), about visits to the Amazon, and regarding meeting Alê, who he or she later married.

One of the first emails that he sent to us had been on 22 March 2008. At the time, all of us were nine and 11, and Dom wrote in order to convey his new existence in a way all of us could understand as children.

He told us: “Things are good here. People are really friendly and I possess a lot of friends to hang out with. There is a lot of music too, always something to listen to or to go and see. Brazilians are very sociable, they like in order to go out, be together with their friends, be within a big group associated with people. I have been lucky to get lots of invitations. ”

Dom had been to carnival in Rio for the particular second time and had begun to establish himself, and build connections and friendships in Brazil. He had also got to grips with Portuguese a bit more, “not fluently. But enough to talk, read a newspaper, understand the news on TV. ” Dom described the language as “very musical plus fluid – a bit like the people. ” Rereading his words 14 years later, we felt that this sentence summed up Brazilian for Dom, and encapsulates his love for it.

Dom included some details about his swimming lessons in an open-air pool: “I have got almost learnt crawl. Trouble is, my legs want to do breaststroke because they’ve been doing this for so long. So my arms are doing crawl and my legs spinning round like I’m on a bike. Then my teacher shouts from the side of the pool: ‘Leave the bicycle at home! You’re pedalling again. ’ Oh well, just keep trying. ”

Just keep trying. Very Dom. He quietly persevered with everything he did, no matter the scale of the challenge.

On 23 September 2015, we were 17 and 19, quite the bit older than the first email. Dom had regularly kept in touch all through this time, and we often met up when this individual visited the UK. By this time, he had begun to explore and get to know the Amazon . com and the Indigenous communities who live there.

He wrote in detail about the people that lived on those isolated reserves, who even then were “fighting loggers” with regard to their land: “Among the particular nuts things I saw was a logging truck, laden along with huge trees, totally illegal, no number plate – these trucks look like something out of Mad Max – rumbling late afternoon out of the reserve, broad daylight. ”

Dom’s astonishment at the treatment of the Amazon is clear. Environmental destruction was taking place in broad daylight, before his eyes.

During this three-week trip, Dom spent time with a tribe called the particular Awá, who, he wrote, lived “very traditional lives, some still in the forest, very threatened”.

Dom depicted in detail how the tribespeople shared a hut between seven people: “I could see a tortoise tethered, two noisy little birds on a string, a large forest rodent and the little ant-eater thing. There were two monkeys squealing on a shelf. Then I saw a little hammock, and thought, ‘Crikey, there must be a baby in there. ’

“Another monkey, one of those with huge, round, surprised eyes, lifted its head up plus looked at me. There was a baby, but it slept somewhere else. As for his [Dom’s guide’s] aunt and mother, they got tuberculosis and while recovering are still sick. Just shows how dangerous ‘contact’, as they call this, can be. ”

Dom’s vivid description does not go without concerns about the safety of the particular Indigenous peoples and awareness of the risks, even those posed by his own presence on the book. Dom was very aware that this was not his land. His respect and consciousness grew as he discovered more about Indigenous tribes and his work shifted towards environmental journalism.

Dom’s last email to us was on 27 April this year. Things had changed the bit – one of us was just about in order to start a PhD/master’s within criminology and the other part way through a PhD in environmental humanities. Rhiannon experienced sent Dom her 1st co-authored article, and Dem replied: “Very impressive how all your academic careers are flourishing, I’m going to feel really uneducated next time we meet trying to keep up along with you all! ”

Even in these short sentences, Dom’s sense associated with humour comes through – of course, he was anything but uneducated. This individual taught us a great deal over the years and we’re really lucky to have had him in our life. It’s impossible to comprehend that there won’t be a next time that we meet.

Over the last few weeks, Dom has become one of his tales. We, along with many others, will ensure that their narrative continues.

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