Helen goes to Las Amalias
Well, here goes for a version of my trip to Las Amalias. The real version will come when you go there yourself!
My impression of Las Amalias was that it was a little village way back in the jungle, inhabited by jungle people who mostly ate rice and monkey. It was true, and yet it was a lot different than I thought it would be.
There were 12 people in our group, and the first challenge we encountered was stuff. There was too much stuff going with us to fit in the boat. There is a merchant that goes up and down the river selling things to the communities, and he offered to take some luggage. The merchant is a very kind man, and is much more in making and keeping friendships than making a deal. He has helped Cornelio and family many times.
So, in our group was Cornelio, Susie, Abigail, Clint, Mindy, Corrie, and myself as non Bolivians. Max and Franz, two of the students who just graduated, came along and were the pilots of the boat. Franz´s two sisters Nelva and Soledad also came, as well as another student named Daniela. The kids were all a lot of fun. The boys took on the responsibility of maning the boat and did very well taking us up and down the rivers. The girls were a hoot, always full of fun and questions about everything under the sun. There were nights we stayed up talking until late about life, geography, animals, Bible stories, you name it. It usually started with “Teacher, tell us a story”, and then I would ask what they wanted to hear. I discovered that they had never heard the story of Ruth, nor many of the other stories in the Bible. They knew little about Canada and the countries beyond Bolivia. It was fun sharing with them.
So Sunday we were headed out on the river, 4-5 days by boat to our destination. We camped along the river on sand bars and cooked as we could. Sometimes it was over a fire, sometimes it was on the propane burner on the front of the boat. The river is not nice and clear. It more resembles hot chocolate, and so we brought bottled water to drink. I had been wondering if it was worth bathing in the river, if it was possible to come out clean when the water is several shades browner than you are, but it wasn´t so bad! The only thing you have to watch is that at dusk on into the night the caiman, or the crocodiles and the anaconda come out. They say there are pirañas along certain parts of the river as well, but we never found them.
Rainy season is starting, so almost every night we were rained on. Some of our crew didn´t have tents that were real waterproof, so it was a water bed some nights. The sand from the sand bars got into everything from the food to the beds. Can you call it extra protein?
Life on the river is a little monotonous. All day in the boat, set up camp for the night, break camp the next day and then another day in the boat. Some of us sewed, some read books they brought, others tormented Georgie, the monkey, or Priscilla, the parrot, or watched them squabble and fight like two children. We finally made it there Thursday night, ready to finally be there. Somewhere I picked up giardia, a parasite, and so I wasn´t feeling so great and didn´t have much energy.
The community Las Amalias is an Indigenous people who have more modern conveniences than I thought they would have. They have a well of crystal clear water, and a pump and a holding tank. So long as they have diesel, they have running water. They are typical indigenous though in that they don´t think and plan ahead. The Government here has given them so much that they expect hand outs now. But they still have many of their old ways that are commendable. They share alike amongst themselves and the married couples go everywhere together. The couples work, rest, socialize, travel, everything, they do together. They get married very young, but it is for life.
There is one man who went and studied to be a teacher and he runs the school. His wife has learned many of the arts of the old people and knows how to weave hats, baskets, mats, almost anything I am tempted to say. I was able to get her to show me how to make two different kinds of baskets while I was there. I will have to try some more on my own until I can say I have mastered both kinds. It was very interesting though! It would be awesome to arrive at the day when you can walk into the jungle and make everything you need.
The village houses are all set out around a large square area. The space in the middle is occupied by the cows, the pigs, and the chickens. Animals run everywhere, and the manure and the worms (parasites) because of it is very sever. Until Cornelio built his outhouse, there had been no sanitary way of going to the bathroom. Everyone just went to the bathroom where they felt like it and the pigs came behind and cleaned up. Soon after Cornelio´s outhouse was built, some of the other villagers also built outhouses for themselves. This is just one example of how slow and tedious the work is with the people, and how loudly example speaks. Another story Susie told was that when they had been studying the Bible about the Sabbath, the people asked them “Do you eat on Sabbath then? We never see smoke from your fire on Sabbath.” Just the absence of smoke on Sabbath gave them the opportunity to share how God keeps their food from going bad from Friday over to Saturday night. God keeps His end of the bargain if we keep ours, and it turns out to be a strong testimony.
Susie´s house is a nice thatched roofed, wooden walled and floored house, complete with a little loft where Aby´s room is. They built a barbed wire fence around the whole yard to keep the pigs and the cows out. The pigs eat everything they can find, which is somewhat expected, but they will eat even things like soap! I tell you, we lost enough soap to pigs that they have got to be the cleanest creatures around! The cows too have an eating problem. Corrie hung up her hammock with mosquito net and the cows went and ate up the bottom of the mosquito net. Corrie had layed her wet and dirty long sleeved shirt out of the window and in the night the cows came and ate it up. They didn´t swallow it, only chewed it up good, to the point where there were no buttons left. Later a cow came by again and in its desperation for clothes, it put its head into my window and took my clean shirt from off the pile of folded clothes off the floor, and ate it too. So the fence around Susie´s house is quite nice. The cows would go right into the house if they could.
Sometimes there was no water, so we went down to the beach at the river (20 min walk) and washed our clothes there. It was upriver from where the trail to the village entered the jungle, so Susie, Corrie and I decided to float downriver with our washtubs of wet clothes, rather than have to walk and carry them the whole way. It was fun and uneventful, but it brought out the stories when we got back! Apparently there is a 3 meter crocodile that is living there in the river and that there has been some problems with them because they are making their nests right now. The mother makes a mound of leaves and lays her eggs on top. She then guards the eggs and will attack fearlessly. They said that the babies within the eggs can give a distress cry and the mother will come, and fast! The people like the eggs to eat, but they won´t risk the mother. Our days of floating downriver with the laundry are over. The people also said they had just caught a 20kg piraña. It is a wonder we didn´t get ourselves into trouble for plain ignorance.
A swarm of honey bees landed in the tree in front of the house. Clint and the boys made a box and after spending the afternoon trying to figure out how to get the bees into the box, the finally managed and the bees settled in. We were all dreaming of honey and sweets, but something about their new house didn´t suit them. Clint thinks they got too hot and so they swarmed again within a few days. There was a piece of beautiful wax, the beginning of a honey comb and it was so close and yet so far from having our own bees. They are still around somewhere, because we still see them flying around. I guess we will just have to raid their nest later when we find it.
A word about food. Everything we have we had to bring in with us. The staples like rice, pasta, popcorn, and beans, last well, but all the veggies and fresh things disappeared fast. We are only eating two meals a day to keep from using everything up so quickly. I didn´t have much appetite because of the extra wormies, but plain rice or pasta just doesn´t look too appetising unless you are starving or raised on the stuff. One lesson I had to learn was to quit complaining and shut up and eat. It was the best we had.
The last two weeks there we planed to go to two different villages giving health talks, Bible studies to those who were interested, and health consults. We went to Ingavi first, a village about an hour upriver where they have an airstrip. It was like walking into another world. People there dress, act, and look, like people from the city. They have electricity, water, the plane brings in the goods they need, they have a clinic and a nurse, and they don´t lack much. We really saw this in more ways than one. The first day many people came for free medical help, even though a doctor was visiting the village at the time, and a few came to the health talks in the evening. There were more than 50 children the first day at the children´s program we held. We were the new thing in the village, and so people came out of curiosity. The second day fewer came and by the third day no one was interested anymore. The TV and other entertainment was far more attractive. It was disappointing, but even Jesus told His disciples that if a town will not receive you or the message you bring, shake off the dirt off your feet and go on.
There were a few people, one family in particular, who was interested in what we had to share and who had a daughter who needed medical attention. We helped them as we could medically, and they invited us to their village “bien identro”, “well inside”. We were told that the tractor would be able to take us to within an hours walk of the village. That sounded ok to us, and so we prepared to go. The day before we were to head out, Clint, Aby and I, caught something and were very sick. I have not felt that bad since I was a little girl. We all were praying that the next day God would give us a miracle of health and we moved on and got ready in faith that God was going to answer our prayer. We packed up, Corrie and Cornelio taking the heaviest packs with the food, and the rest of us with our packs and medical supplies. I knew that every pound counts when you are packing, but I now know so much better what they meant. I am glad that I didn´t have many heavy things besides the medical books! The next day came and we were all feeling better. We piled onto the waggon behind the tractor and headed out. We went as far as the tractor could go and then we discovered that it was an hours walk into the village from the river. The river was a three hours walk from where the tractor dropped us off. Hmmm… minor detail, but we headed in anyways. God really did give us extra strength and energy. Along the trail we heard wild pigs, saw monkeys in the trees, and one man who came over the same trail a few hours after us came face to face with a big jaguar. All along we knew that the tractor wasn´t going to be coming for us to take us back, so the whole trip out was to be done on foot as well.
Four and a half hours later we made it to the “centro”, which is a center where people live during the Brazil nut season. From the first center there are centers about a half hour to two hours walk in every direction, all spreading out like a web. People come in and fill the jungle gathering the Brazil nuts. (It is a lucrative business, but very hard) Anyways, when we arrived at the center, the people were surprised. They didn´t think we would make it, or we would have understood just how far it was in, and decided not to go. These people were a lot different than the people at Ingavi. They were interested in learning everything we had to share, and were interested in talking and studying the Bible. People there had medical needs which would have gone unmet if we hadn´t have helped them because they often didn´t go out for six months at a time. The children were like sponges and kept coming back wanting more stories and songs. It was a rewarding time. We arrived there Thursday evening, and the following day turned the kitchen into the medical consult room. I was translator for Susie and Mindy worked with Corrie ( who is also a nurse). We helped as many as we could. I think there are plans on going back, but also to go in farther where there are more families.
One thing that really impressed me a lot was that the center was clean, and besides a few chickens and a wild “turkey”, there were no animals. There were also no mosquitoes and no biting insects. We didn´t need to wear repellent nor long clothing. It was so nice. One of the kids from Las Amalias said that they didn´t have the biting flies in their village until they got the cows. From what I have seen it is not worth having animals for all the sicknesses and the insects that animals bring, especially the pigs. Cows, when kept away from the house and living quarters, are not so bad, but they too bring pests.
We spent Sabbath resting there, and held a little worship. Most of the people continued on to where they lived, so there were few people during the day. Sunday morning we headed out on the trail heading back out. We walked 6 hours, and made it to a creek across the road and a little hut left by someone. The house and river was infested with honey bees though. It was like standing right beside their hive. We never did figure out where the hive was, but there were a lot of bees! Many of our group were stung, and thankfully no one reacted.
About this time was when I had the hardest time learning to be thankful for whatever food we had. For lack of space we hadn´t brought much more than staples and so for many of the meals it was plain white rice, or plain pasta with only enough tomato sauce to make it pink. There was no better fare and there was nothing to be done about it, but meal time was not something I looked forward to. Yet one had to eat because there was still a long ways to go and energy was needed. Many of us were fighting sickness still.
On we went the second day out and I think it was another 6 hours of actual walking when we finally made it out. The feet hurt, the back and legs hurt, but everyone was in fairly good spirits. I was proud of our group because there was very little complaining, only steady trudging on. We made it back to Las Amalias and spent the next day doing very little. The chest infection that had been trying to get me settled in, so I started taking antibiotics. The next day I was feeling a little better, but not great.
Corrie and I got this idea that it would be a lot of fun to raft down the river. We thought if we left Friday, we could travel as far as we could until the boat caught up to us on Sunday. Wednesday Max cut the balsa logs and I tried my best to haul some out. The energy wasn´t there. Corrie did some by herself. Thursday I was feeling better and only had to lay down once. Corrie´s determination carried me along, and we hauled all the logs down to the river and put things in order. Friday morning Franz showed us how to tie the raft together with bark and we set out. I tell you traveling by raft is SLOW! We traveled until the evening and then set up camp. The next day was Sabbath so we had a quiet morning there on the beach recovering from the sunburn from the day before, and then late in the morning headed out again. It is very peaceful traveling by raft. Many boats passed us and we realized that we would hear the motors coming, and then they would fade away for awhile before coming back. It was then that we would see the boat. The river was so windy that we would be able to hear the boat parallel to us, only two bends before us, and then we wouldn´t hear it as it went around the bend just before us. I am curious to know how far we have to travel by river verses how far it would be as the crow flies.
Sunday the boat picked us up and Tuesday we finally made it out. I must admit that one of the things that I missed more than I thought I would was Internet and being able to communicate with my special people. Not knowing what is going on in the lives of my family and close friends is not so easy.
So I have now spent a good portion of two days catching up on the internet and eating only fruit and vegetables. I feel so much better now. The antibiotics and good food has made such a difference. I wake up with ambition again. God is Good. He kept us safe and alive and gave us such experiences that has made unforgettable memories. I don´t regret going and if God one day calls me back out there, I would go.
So went the trip in a nutshell. If anyone is interested in going and helping, there is much to do and many adventures to have! Thank you all for your prayers and please keep praying for the work and people out there.