Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Day 5 - New Frontiers

The morning service on the fifth day saw the first of our groups testimonies to the village church. Todd Campbell and Jonathan Dunn both shared. Both were nervous about speaking, but they both did an amazing job telling personal and emotional stories of God's power in their lives. Matt Richardson gave a message on Daniel and the Lions' Den and was kind enough to use several of us as characters. Good laughs were had by all.

We spent the next few hours putting the finishing touches on the previous day's projects. I helped attach the roof to the well structure. Another mid morning break came with yucca, plantains, and aji. This time the tea was made from boiled lemongrass and quite fragrant and soothing. The real excitement for the day would come next though.

Umberto's (one of the local pastors) brothers came down from their village, Tin Tenti, in two more canoes. We didn't have all of our gear, but having to fit all of us in to just two canoes proved to be a bit of a squeeze. When we were still within arms reach of the shore, water started gushing out one of the seams in our boat as we settled in to the water. We were a little concerned that this 6 inch vertical fountain might not bode well for the boats structural integrity, but the locals didn't seem to mind. A few hand fulls of the muddy clay were grabbed from the river bank and tossed to us. Nick Serban IV then had to just plug the gap. It took a few hand fulls, but eventually the leak stopped. The sun would dry it out in a few hours and boat would just be the stronger for it. Our boats on the trip in had been close enough that it was easy to reach our hands down and touch the water. This time the water was at most 3 inches from the side at all times. Anyone just casually gripping the side would be leaving their fingertips in the water.

The 45 minute trip upstream was fairly uneventful. The river continued to narrow slightly, but was still quite substantial. Every so often we would pass a gold panning raft, one of the few income producing activities in the region, though it was highly illegal. Every sharp turn and shallow spot was still an adventure, but the rain the previous day had alleviated some of the water level problems. We reached Ten Tenti without incident.

This village was a bit further off the river than Nueva Israel. A small group of huts was fairly close to the water and that's as far as Joil, or any foreigner for that matter, had ever gone in to the village. We would be the first non Ecuadorean people ever welcomed in to the village (and I'm still incredibly humbled by that). The village proper centered around a large, grassy hilltop that carried a nice breeze. Aside from the meager government constructed buildings, the houses were all large sticks and thatched roofs. We were taken to a large pavilion at the far edge of the clearing and seated on the benches that ran around the outside. All of the villagers came after us and greeted each of us. Two different batches of chicha made the rounds several times. Both of these were a little more pungent and chunkier than Nueva Israel's. This was not helped by me us noticing one of the women cutting her batch with unfiltered well water.

We were officially greeted by a presentation from the village chief, one of Umberto's brothers. During this the believers in the village (of which he was not one) were brought in front of the assembly and praised, which was a curious thing to say the least. Joil and a few others spoke for a while, but I couldn't tell you what was said at all. Afterwards Jonathan Burkett, Nick III, and Joil set up in a corner with all of the medical supplies we'd brought to treat the minor things we were able to and to give council and prayer to the things we weren't. The rest of us were taken over for our welcome feast.

The handful of Christians in the village were primarily from one family. At some point last year a little girl, about 7 years old, fell out of a tree and was impaled on a stick. She needed medical attention desperately. Someone in the village directed her to Joil's missionary network which was able to get her to a hospital and treated. Through the process her family heard (and saw) the Gospel. When she returned to the village (Still was a colostomy bag for at least 6 months) they started meeting regularly and a few other villagers began to believe. There are still only about 6 or 7 believers in the village, but they have been gifted some land for a future church. We were at the edge of Christendom in more ways than one.

Our lunch was incredible. Our appetizer was a platter of raw sugar cane. It is too fibrous to swallow, but a sweet nectar rewarded anyone who chewed on it a bit. Of course, we had yucca and plantains. The aji wasn't quite as finely ground there, so the bites could be a bit more dramatic if we weren't careful. The first course was a mixture of chicken and hearts of palm wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked on a fire, served with a boiled egg. While we were eating this, the live grub worms were brought out. A few of the Ecuadorans travelling with us took them as is, but kindly asked them to cook them a bit for us. Johnny Rocket sat his beside his food while eating and it crawled around the banana leaf until he was ready for it.

These grubs are quite the delicacy. Along with the hearts of palm, they can only be harvested by chopping down an entire Chonta tree. Apparently, it is the thing most craved by pregnant Shuar women, as we were told several times.

The second course was armadillo in broth. This was probably the best thing we ate while we were in the jungle. It had the flavor and texture of a good, moist smoked pork. After a while the grub worms came back. They looked a bit deflated now. Nearly all of us ate one and everyone but Lukas Serban kept it down. The flavor was actually quite nice. It tasted pretty similar to any grilled protein, but the texture was...unpleasant. The outside was almost a bit chewy, but, at some point in the bite, the yogurty innards would just squirt in your mouth. Fortunately the head, which was crunchy like a half popped popcorn kernel, helped keep that from being the last sensation of the worm.

Before long we needed to return to Nueva Israel. We headed back to the canoes. Most of the village came and saw us off as they were heading to spray pesticides around the village perimeter. Once they disappeared only two small children were left on the beach smashing what appeared to be an old car battery against the rocks for fun.

We all rested when we returned to the village. Most of us bathed or chatted among our selves. Dinner was yucca, plantains, aji, rice, and wanta (a large rodent thing). The evening service provided some time for the rest of  us to share a testimony, along with more song and dance. It was a great service and the people have an earnest heart for God in that village. Fortunately the kinks were worked out the night before and the lights worked splendidly the second evening we were there. We were all eager to get some rest before our long day back on the river afterwards.

For me, each subsequent night's sleep got worse and worse. The chiggers were really irritating me at the this point and I didn't have anything to really treat them. The hammock just became more and more uncomfortable with time. At one point I woke up hyperventilating and feeling claustrophobic in my mosquito net for no apparent reason. I've never had an issue in small spaces before, even on the several spelunking trips I've taken. My rest would have to wait for Sucua.

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