Monday, March 3, 2014

Day 4 - America's Game

Our mornings in the village started around daybreak, not that any of us wanted to spend any more time than we had to in our hammocks. While we'd be eating whatever breakfast we'd packed (trail mix and a bite or two of beef jerky for me), Alberto (Nueva Israel's pastor) would blow on his version of a shofar to call the village to morning prayer. By the time most of us made our way up to the church, most of the local children were already sitting on the wooden benches listening to their Proclaimer.

The Proclaimer is a small black box with an audio version of the bible in the Shuar language. Most of the Shuar only have a basic level of literacy, even in spanish. The adults are generally all bilingual, but the children primarily speak Shuar. With no written form of Shuar, the Proclaimer is the only way that the Word can be delivered to these children. For many of the unreached Shuar villages, their first contact with the Gospel is through one of these little black boxes. A village is given one as a gift and asked to listen to it twice daily. The novelty of having something spoken in their own tongue usually is enough to persuade them to try it out. After a while, the people from the unreached village begin to seek out their neighboring believers to ask questions about the stories they hear. Matt Richardson had some part in the translation of the bible into Shuar, but I'm not sure of the details.

After a few minutes' morning lesson at the church, we surveyed the work for the day. A few people would start on the church's new solar panel, a couple would work on the pump, and Jonathan Burkett and I would start decking the bridge. Francisco was cutting the large boards we'd carried the day before in to manageable pieces about 3 ft wide. Segundo got us started and Jonathan and I would take turns holding the board and straddling the metal struts to drill the self tapping screws. Bosco, a local villager, was our faithful third hand. We got along well enough despite none of us speaking the other's language. As we progressed, he learned our process enough to take one of the drills for himself.

What we didn't realize at the time was that Bosco was the leader of the village. We were aware that the chief and the pastor, though brothers, didn't always see eye to eye when it came to the affairs of the village. Jonathan and I were humbled to later learn that this man who was so eager to get his hands dirty and contribute to the work was also the man we least expected him to be.

A little while after work began, we were all called over to the dining tables for breakfast. As you might guess, this consisted of yucca and plantains with a little aji to season. A delicious tea of sorts was provided by boiling Guayusa (I believe anyway, I couldn't find anything online spelled like my notes and pages like this seemed to match my experience). I would be just as happy, if not happier, drinking that than most any herbal tea I've had. We had a pleasant break, but work was still to be done.

The decking was finished without a problem. Segundo and Francisco made some steps to access the bridge and Jonathan and I moved on to other things. The solar panel pole was assembled on the ground and had to be hoisted up by several of us, but went up without a hitch. The well proved a little more problematic. After testing the water at the first site, it was decided that the dense clay might not refill as quickly as some more porous soil. There were two other previous wells at other points in the village. Most of the team and several of the locals all pulled the pump and piping assembly out of the ground and hauled it up to each of the other sites only to eventually determine the first had been the best after all.

All the while children played around us. They were always curious as to what was going on and parts and pieces of the projects provided new and unexplored playing surfaces. A few team members had brought along some small toy cars and foam balls that the kids would be racing up and down half sawed planks or tossing back and forth. We couldn't help but stop and play with them every so often.

Lunch came and was no surprise. Yucca, plantains, aji, rice, and chicken greeted us again. All in all it was much better than we expected, though the chicken was always especially lean compared to the genetic giants we're used to. We could easily understand why Joil would always bring along a little hot sauce or seasoning though. Years of this meal would start to grate on a pallet. I should probably mention that chicha was still present, though it rarely made it down to our end of the table after the first few meals.

After lunch, almost everyone decided to break from the work for a few minutes. A few of the guys had fashioned four bases out of our extra wood planks and one crude baseball bat from a scrap piece of wood. A few of the foam balls Todd had brought were commissioned as baseballs. No one in the village (or, to my knowledge, any of the Ecuadorans at all) had ever seen or played a game of baseball. Joil and Matt did their best to give very basic instructions and we divided in to a couple of teams. Needless to say, hilarity ensued.

I think we expected the children to struggle a bit as even our own children do. Everyone helped the smaller ones hit and I don't think anyone was actually held to any semblance of three strikes. The grown men that were struggling with the basics that we take for granted were probably the oddest sight for me. Most of these guys were stronger and better athletes than I would ever hope to be, but that wouldn't stop them from standing on top of home plate when they went up to bat or hitting off handed. It was such a delight to see them start to understand or to passionately chase after a fly ball only to crash and hop back up laughing. We were all out there to have a good time. Nobody cared that somebody ran to the wrong base or if the rules weren't closely followed. We could share in a communal moment of joy and laughter with no expectation of anything beyond it.

Eventually more work needed to be done. A few of us worked on staining the church, some set the well structure in new footers, others wired the church for new lights from the newly established solar panels. The lights needed a ladder and that meant that the rough tool made of about 8 planks nailed together had to be held perfectly vertically by Jonathan Burkett and Steve while Todd clamored up it as carefully balanced as he could. We didn't have any sort of mixer, so the aggregate and dry cement were piled in to a volcano shape and water was added in the caldera to be folded in. The work was always done and with a smile by all of us.

At one point a brief rainstorm came upon us. Several of the children had been playing soccer with a nerf football that someone had brought. They played for a few minutes in spite of the rain, but Maria stayed out for several minutes longer. I'm not sure that anyone noticed, but there was something about her standing alone in the rain with her head sunk down that broke my heart. A slight darkness always seemed to hang over her and, I don't know her story at all, but for me, hers is the face when I think of what generations of abuse, abandonment, and poverty can do to a generation.

The day finished with my first bath in the river. I had discovered at some point that day that chiggers had found their way onto my ankles, shins, and thighs at an alarming level. In addition to my incredibly sun burnt knees, I now had incredibly itchy, swollen, irritated bites all over my legs. The river water was cool, having started as mountain runoff, and soothed them a bit. I probably could have stayed floating there for hours if the thoughts of whatever parasites and unforgiving bacteria might live in the water hadn't gotten the better of me after a while.

The dinner that followed consisted of chicken noodle soup, yucca, plantains, and aji. That evening we attempted to have the villages first after dark service with the new solar powered lights. However, the batteries ran out before the service even began in earnest due to some unforeseen electrical issues. Fortunately having this trouble that night allowed us to repair, improve, and test some of the systems before we left. The rest of the evening was lit by a variety of headlamps and obnoxiously bright flashlights.

Each service the children of the village would sing for us and we provided a couple of songs in return. I'm not even positive what we sang that first night, but it didn't much matter. They couldn't really understand us and we couldn't really understand each other. Our musical ability about matched our Spanish language skills and a joyful noise was all that was made.

I was tired enough when we went to bed, but couldn't fall asleep. After my second trip to visit a particular tree behind our lodging, I was attempting to navigate our crowded room, undress, and slip back into my hammock as inauspiciously as I could. This was made more difficult first by my decision to turn off my headlamp so as not to disturb the others and secondly by my inability to actually set my bottom on my hammock. I managed to sit just a little too far back and tumbled over the hammock, in to the mosquito net, and ended up squarely on the floor. I had to turn my headlamp on at that point, not that there was any keeping subtle, and untangle the mess I'd made. It was quite a stressful affair in my tired and disheveled state. I do think it provided at least some mild amusement for the other guys though.

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