Thursday, May 21, 2009

Return from the jungle.

We returned from the jungle today about 3 hours ago. Great flight both ways. Not much to see on the way there as there were low clouds. On the way back was mostly clear and beautiful terrain. I would love to say we saw cool critters and bugs but the critters were all on vacation. We did see cockroaches - although not any bigger than in Florida- we also saw a walking stick the size of Eric's hand and spiders the size of my hand -also a locust that was 3 inches long.

We saw plenty of snakes but that was because the missionaries who lived in the village collected them to educate the people on snake bites.

I will start from the beginning though.

Monday - Up early for breakfast and walked across the street to the airport. Arrived at the airport at 7.30 and ended up waiting until 11.00 to fly out. Hurry and wait like all airports. Could not see the airstrip so the pilot thought we may have to turn back however there was a small opening in the clouds so we landed in the rain. Adrianne and I got wet and muddy from the water coming in the windows when we landed. In Macuma there is a 50 year old missionary complex that is only partially used today. 2 families still live in Macuma and have for 42 years and 23 years respectively. There is another house used for guests that we stayed in. Considering it is not used much it was in decent condition. The kids all had there own bedroom for the first time ever. They were a little hesitant as we found several cock roaches. Adrianne stood on the kitchen chair while Kevin tried to kill them with a fly swatter. It was rather humorous. Of course cock roaches fly which threw Adrianne off a little. She was not sure where to hide then. After settling in a bit we walked to the center of the village. Not much to see except for mud, mud and more mud. The government had just completed a large covered cemented area though for community activities. The ceiling of which was covered with hand sized spiders. It was very hot and muggy plus due to ankle deep - if not knee deep- mud everywhere you wear rubber knee boots. That makes the heat worse but keeps your feet dry. ladies wear skirts so the pictures of Adrianne and I are real attractive!! We stopped at a little store for something to drink. The stores are not open for customers to walk into - you ask for what you need by going up some steps to the order window. Anyway the lady had 2 cold cokes - it never tasted so good! Visited the missionary couple who had lived there for 23 years and learned the language of the village *Schwa*. He collected snakes to learn from and teach the Indians about so we learned all about them and held a few - non-poisonous- of course. Electricity went out around 6.00 so we cooked dinner by candlelight - on a propane stove. Just enough water in the tank to wash a few dishes and had a couple of cups of filtered water to brush our teeth and wash our faces. Bed early since it was raining and had no electricity.

The boys fell asleep right away - Adrianne was so concerned about bugs that she kept turning her flashlight on and off, on and off. I had a candle burning in our room so the kids could find the bathroom if they needed to without falling down the stairs so I finally put the candle in her room and she fell asleep within a few minutes however I was then concerned about the candle so I was wide awake most of the night. There were also bats living in the attic of the house and they seemed to fly in and out above our room. Initially they sounded like raindrops but then one or two of them would have hard landings and make a loud crash noise and then all the bats would squeak. If I weren't so tired, hot and dirty I would have found it humorous.

Tuesday - Interesting night. Bats in the attic kept Sunshine awake and the baby Benjamin was awake at 3:00 am and screaming. Unfortunately he did that alot. Hard to sleep in such an unfamiliar location with all the racket. Boys and I slept fine. Girls very very little.

We were supposed to leave at 7:30 am for Amazonas -a nearby village- but it was raining. The people here were praying for rain. It had been dry for 4 days and the rivers were getting low. It usually rains everyday at least once but usually twice a day and sometimes all day. Alfredo and I walked to Amazonas (about 40 minutes) and worked on a water tower connecting 4 quantity 550 liter tanks together. Usually it would be nice to place one large tank, but the largest tank you can get in the airplane is a 550 liter, so you use multiple ones. The PVC connections here are all threaded. You can barely buy glue fittings and the people won't use them anyway. Turns out the people cannot get them connected properly without leaking and they are not as strong as the threaded ones. I have to admit, the threaded ones are stronger, but they are as slow as metal steel threaded connections. Project took all day, although it could have been done in 1/2 day if I were at home. Alfredo said that if I were not along it would have taken two days. The people are smart, hard working and clever, but they have little experience with modern tools and methods. They find very clever ways to do something that works with what they have.

I - Renee - stayed back to get the kids ready. It takes a long time as they need to be thoroughly rubbed in with bug repellant and sun screen, have long socks on and their boots, rain gear and hats and umbrellas. With my three kids plus Alex's son it took quite some time. Also Joshua had to be carried for part of the way to Amazonas as the mud was too deep for his boots. I got stuck once and lost my boot but was able to recover it without sticking my foot in the mud.

Renee - When I arrived I went to the school to teach hygiene. The teachers had stopped teaching before we arrived so half of the kids had left already. We still had
40 kids though. Due to the fact that we did not have any idea if we were expected to teach or not I only brought 2 lessons which I dragged out to 3 and still did some games with them. The teachers wanted me to keep going but I was out of energy as all the kids were chasing me and it was Hot!!! Alex explained that the schools are really poor and the teachers let the kids out early every day becasue theri hearts are not in teaching. The kids are also expected to sit and write at their desks and do not think that school is fun at all so the kids had a blast playing the games and participating in the training. I wished I had brought more material although it would have been hard to carry more with having to carry Joshua part way.

Eric- For lunch the village cooked us Yuka, bananas, Papachina- roots that taste like potatoes and sardine soup with a boiled banana base. The bananas are not the ones for export that are in American stores, they are native ones. They need to be cooked to be eaten and although they taste OK they are tough. Turns out there are 8 kinds of bananas here. Needless to say you need to eat them within 2 days as they rot while you are looking at them. I had packed sandwiches for the kids although Adrianne at the soup.

Eric -The lunch was served by 10 women who all cooked over a fire in a common pot, like the old west. Each lady put her stuff in it and everyone ate off a table of banana leaves. Soup was OK, but the rest of the food was so high in starch, that you had to work hard to wash it off after lunch. They have a different sort of community than America, they all work together, live together and eat together. You can see that they are happy. They laughed as they worked all the time and it kept the day pleasant. This community runs close knit though, if you did not build into the community, you are very excluded. Each small group tends to keep to themselves and is very protective of the food, land, water and power. They are not very good at working with other close communities, even when their neighbors live 1/2 mile down the road and have been there for 100 years.

Renee- Alex and I then taught the woman of the village about parasites and malaria. They all speak Schwa so Alex translated in Spanish and then another lady translated into Schwa. It took quite awhile to get through 2 lessons. Initially the ladies said that they did not have those problems but after going over the symptoms they all started talking very fast to each other. They just assume that all children have diarrhea and have bloated stomachs because all of their children do. We left with the kids -who were very bored - around 4.30 to walk back. The power was on - then off - then on again -then off so it made for interesting washing up. I wash able to wash my hair with 5 cups of water though which felt great!! Each kid got washed from the waist up and by the time Eric arrived home there was enough water for him to take a shower.

Eric - Alfredo and I worked in the rain all afternoon to finish the project. By the time we were done, we still needed to walk home another 40 minutes in the rain and try to get there before dark. It's not like there are street lights. When its dark, you stop. We made it home just before dark and had convinced ourselves that the rain was our imagination. I can see that its much easier to just get wet, otherwise you spend 1/2 your time trying not to get wet and you are functionally useless.

It was nice that the electricity was on, the rain raised the river level and allowed the dam to produce power. Took a warm shower, ate better food and chatted till bed by 9:00 pm. Everyone went to bed without complaining today. Kids are whooped. Joshua lost his boot a time or two, Adrianne fell in the mud, most everyone was wet and muddy - but not cold. Day was fun, I am getting used to the Jungle. Mud, rain, 90 degrees and high humidity are just part of daily living. This place would be really nice it it were not for the constant mud.

On a personal note: It was very hard to communicate with the people here. I speak some Spanish and Alfredo and Alex are fluent, but the people here speak little Spanish, they speak Schwa. I can see that if you want to make an impact above humanitarian aid, you must learn the local language. I can see that one year of intense language school is a must if we are going to another language group.

I can see that you need to work with the people over a very long period of time to demonstrate how hygiene is done and how they can alter daily life in a way that is clean, but is still culturally appropriate. You can tell they understand, but how that understanding affects daily life is another thing entirely.

Will post more later about Wednesday and Thursday later.

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