Sunday, April 20, 2014

jungle trek (or- i left my heart in tumpaim)

two weeks ago, i had the experience that i've been long-awaiting. a three day trek to the jungle to preach in shuar communities. i'd been told emphatically of all the things i would need - 'boots! you can't go in anything less than tall rainboots!' water purifier, food, mosquito net, change of clothes, bug repellant, sleeping bag, flashlight.

'simple enough' i thought, as i packed up my big backpack 'just like camping'. one improvement... hammock :)

so the morning arrived, and our groups met and piled into the back of a brothers transport van. we bumped down the road to makuma. some of us caught up on sleep, the rest of us watched the view unfolding in the dust behind the truck. hills, thickening trees, mist floating above. a waterfall tucked into the rocks.

we stopped at a town before makuma to fuel up with a big breakfast, and talk plans, invite the woman who ran the restaurant to the memorial. then we were off again.
when you get to makuma (almost 1 1/2 hours from macas by car) you have hit the end of the track. no more driving, it's all walking from here.  
in town i went with a brother to find some last minute internet and we approached a porchful of men. (a little intimidating, no?) they were all relaxed and friendly, took a few tracts and invitation in shuar, and listened to the scripture about the memorial. arrangements had been made to hold one in shuar in the town next to makuma, for the convenience of the people living in the surrounding villages. Jehovah looks after everyone!

after that we pulled on our backpacks and started our journey, sun beating down, already feeling the weight. at this point i was still optimistic about what i had decided to bring, but half an hour later i was cursing every single item as i struggled up a steep hill full of mud. eventually i had to stop because of a splitting headache and a sort of fuzzy/weak feeling. another brother kindly helped me with my load for a while and we made it to the first town, about an hour later, where we all sat on the front porch of a lovely shuar family to eat lunch. they gave us chicha, and thankfully i was too thirsty to realize what it was right away, basically chicha is fermented spit, with a few other things. yummy! but it was actually super refreshing. this was my first glimpse of the the beautiful welcoming spirit of the shuar, their quiet hospitality. 
and i'm sure they were thrilled to have people from all parts of ecuador sitting on their porch trying to speak their language. they all had big smiles on their faces, and freely let us fill up our bottles with water.

at this point our group divided and set off for different towns. ours was a few hours of walking away. we 'hired' a little shuar boy to guide us on the road. 

i need to take a moment to describe these trails. i've hiked a lot of places, and never seen anything like this. every square inch is full of deep mud, usually felled trees or branches placed in the middle to keep you from sinking. even on the hills, the mud can be over a foot deep. we had to stop and rescue one of the sisters boots at some point. i was understanding the necessity of rainboots.... you couldn't function with anything less. a good walking stick to keep you from toppling off the logs into the mud is also quite useful.

but the value of our efforts quickly became apparent as we met with shuar jogging (literally, i don't know how they do it) down the trail in the opposite direction. we took advantage to converse with each one and leave them an invitation. all conversations basically took this form, you greet each other 'penkerak pujam' (equivelent to how are you) and they ask where you've been, what you were doing, where you are headed. then you part with warm smiles and handshakes. (shiir weeta - have a beautiful journey.)
thanks to the groundwork laid by the previous witnessing treks here, a lot of people know who we are, and are thrilled that we have returned. 

a few hours down the trail we met with a shuar couple who lived in the village we were going to, and who had travelled all the way to macas for a special assembly day a few months ago!!! they helped us with our loads, and took off ahead of us. when we met up for break, we shared our snacks with them. we talked about the trail, trying to find out how much more we could expect to walk. we learned the hard way that shuar evaluation of travel time is about triple what we could expect for our jungle-newby legs ;)

eventually we arrived at our town, a small plateau above the trees. i collapsed on the porch of the school we would be sleeping in (a one-room wooden building with corrugated iron roof) and thanked Jehovah for getting us there in one piece.

and then the beauty started to sink in. as we sat there waiting for the sisters (who still miraculously had energy to finish leaving invitations at a few of the homes.) we sang a couple kingdom songs, watching the sun set over the forest we'd just emerged from. 

the next day we woke with the sun, and quickly washed in the river below the village. it was just cool and fast enough to revive us for the day. winding, green, overhung with trees and huge ferns, orchids peeking through the foliage. perfection.

we spent some time in the kitchen (see picture) making breakfast, and decided that since we were all tired, we would preach in the next village, 40 minutes walking distance, and return here for the night. at that moment we had to rush back to the schoolhouse, because we'd forgotten that there were classes that morning. we met a group of wide-eyed uniformed children standing in front of the door, staring at us as we ran around in a slight panic, putting the classroom back together.
then we were ready.
it was raining buckets, so we made our next little shuar guide get his rainboots, and wrapped him up in a rain-poncho. 

this time the going was much easier. we'd grown accustomed to navigating the mud and logs, and even managed to not be too far behind our guide! the path finally opened onto a large dirt air-strip, that the village is built around. we started preaching right away, and left the brother to conduct a study with a boy who had met us before. 
when you approach a shuar house you yell out well before 'winiajai! (i'm here) and 'pujamek!' (are you there?) and then wait for someone to come out. i was taught to say 'ipiajme' which is 'i invite you' or 'ipiajrume' (if there's more than one person) and then sort of read a bit out of the invitation... of course a lot of shuar speak spanish as well, so there's something to fall back on.

while i was sitting on a bank waiting for the sisters to finish a call, i found myself surrounded by a group of shy little girls. we had a fun chat, they taught me some shuar words, and i got to show them pictures of paradise and teach them Jehovah's name. in the meantime lots of people from the village passed by on their way home, and came to say hi. everyone was so welcoming and happy to see us.

at lunchtime we went back to a kitchen with an even larger group of kids and one of the men, pablo, and before eating gave him a really good witness, and showed everyone one of the video's from the website. we shared our instant soups and tuna, and ate out of huge leaves with our fingers :) happiest point of the day. after we played a little soccer with the boys (they are good!!) and finished the territory. 

we walked back (almost shuar-speed!) to our base-town, using a rather shaky hand-operated cable-car to cross one of the rivers :D when we arrived we discovered as well that another group had just finished blitzing some of the farther out villages, and would be spending the night with us.

that night the moon was strong and bright as we went to the river. everything glowed. fireflies blinked on and off. i remember thinking... is there anything better than this.

we gathered around the fire in the kitchen and talked. 'how many times have you done this trip?' for a few of the brothers it was their 6, 7th time. i can understand why they come back.

the next day we breakfasted with the shuar family, said our goodbye's and thank-you's (thank you in shuar is 'yuminsajme').

we were a little more on the ball this time with getting our things out of the school, and got out on the trail in good time. backpacks much lighter by now ;)

the other group headed out first, and i found myself a good half hour distance between the two groups, enjoying having a few hours alone to soak in the silent beauty of the jungle. broken only by the occasional birdsong and rustling of leaves, and greeting a few people heading back to their villages. one guy caught up with me, asked where i was going, and on discovering we were headed to the same town, said 'vamos!' (lets go). i laughed, because clearly there was no way i would be able to keep up with him, and said 'ciao' as he sprinted off through the mud. 

i think how you feel about a place when you leave is a good indicator of how much of an impression it leaves on you. if there's a pull at your heart. a good twinge as you move away from it.
i felt that. 
it was like finding paradise. the simplest life imaginable, in one of the most beautiful places i have been.
where life grows so thickly... where the vapid busyness of city life fades away... and it's just you. in the setting we were created to live in. with all that visible evidence of Jehovah's love, not only in the nature around, but in the people that we meet and reach with the kingdom message, way out in the middle of nowhere. 

we made it back in a few hours to makuma, left more invitations and had a couple nice conversations, and then caught a bus back to macas.
as we pulled away all the scenes from the past few days flashed in my mind. the lushness of the trees, the muddy trails, the rivers carving their way to hidden places, the tiny villages, the quiet and pensive shuar, greeting us with such warmth, and all the people back there who still needed to get to know Jehovah.

all i could think was 'i have to go back'.

and i will. 

(and no, we didn't see any dangerous animals. apparently there is 'uunt yawa' shuar for tiger, in the jungle, and a good amount of 'napi' -snake. but aside from a possible snake sighting waaaaayyyy up in one of the trees... nada. ah well, next time :D  )

Saturday, March 15, 2014

homage and parallels

i've been stuck inside the house this week with yet another bad cold (rainy season, will you just give it UP already?), with little energy but to do endless youtube digging for some new additions to my already oversized music collection. of course i found my way back to one of my favorite songwriters, neil finn, and was rewarded with discovering a few tracks from an album he put together with his brother tim. they have a musical chemistry that is so well-honed over the years... happiness for the ears.

this song especially stood out for me, i immediately tabbed it and added it to my list of cover songs. it's got such a lovely hopeful vibe, the joy of embracing uncertainty.

anyways, i've been on a neil finn/crowded house kick again lately. some music speaks to you more at certain times of your life than others. oddly enough it was reminding me of a time a few years ago (6ish already, eek) before i moved to scotland. i was imagining what my future would look like, and it came out in a drawing of me being driven away in a black car waving a handkerchief out the window, with a pile of tiny hearts blowing away behind. the next picture was of me standing happily beside my home, which was a mud hut with a thatched roof.
maybe something like this? this is shuar by the way.

at the time i was visualizing africa, but at the core there are enough similarities in environment and culture to say that now i'm very close to living out that visualization here in ecuador. who knows, in a couple years if i learn shuar and move into the jungle even the hut thing might become reality... how cool would that be!

anyways, i digress. so i was listening a lot to crowded house that year. the expansive imagery of the lyrics, music, and the intimacy of it as well was something that more and more was hitting me. and when i found the album 'together alone'... heaven.

so the other day i pulled it out again. it had been lost somewhere in the shuffle and mostly forgotten. but with the first notes of 'kare kare' (the name of the beach in new zealand where they based the recording of this album) i was back there. the feeling of space, possibilities, reflection. a profound connection with your surroundings.

all the things i was looking for then, and in fact did find when i went to scotland (which made it incredibly hard to leave) and now, years later, am beginning to find here.

there is music that offers a certain atmosphere for a passing mood. but there is also music that goes deeper, that calls to the very essence of who you are, to all the differing elements that weave you together.
crowded house is one of the bands that does that for me.

and when you're in the middle of life-rethinking, adapting, energy-healing and brain-rewiring, that is a beautiful thing to have. a little reassurance that you are still you. and some things don't change at all.

here is one of my favorite tracks off that album, played live.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


so i have a new little monster in my life. her name is alexie. or lexi for short.

she's a kitten... well... more or less half-grown now, which explains why she's somewhat delinquent at the moment. apparently cats have a rebellious teenage phase too. but for all that she is a lovely little being to have around. and when she's all done with her sneak attacks and frantic galloping through the apartment, she's quite content to climb into my lap and curl up for a good long nap. i think that bodes well for the future. (may those days come soon!)

once in a while she decides to try her hand at climbing things, and will very intently start up my leg. yeowch. and her favorite game in the morning is to hide in the kitchen near my feet and leap out at them, in full battle gear from behind the curtain. tremendous fun for her! especially as i leap around trying not to drop hot tea on her head, and shout 'lexi NO' in a desperate attempt to let her know who's boss. i wonder what the neighbours think... and those cat-training manuals don't seem to be working either.

it was love at first sight though. i saw her in a friends photo as a kitten in december, squealed and said 'where can i get one of those!'. she replied 'you can have this one.' so a month later i brought her home, small, wide-eyed, starting at every sound, curled into my chest as we bounced along in the bus.

she's a humanizing (animalizing?) element in my home, something warm to come home to. always entertaining, sometimes frustrating, loving and smart, challenging, a ball of energy one minute, a happy puddle of purring contentment the next. like right now. all lady-like and stretching out her toes like she's getting a pedicure.

i've always been more of a dog person, but over the years (and a LOT of catsitting) i've really started to like the feline species. it's another layer of personality and intelligence. and i love that you can let them just get on with things, without too much bother. alexie is somewhere in-between. part dog (following me around the house, yowling when i leave the house) part tiger (her moth-killing rate is 100%).

the downside to having a cat in the house full-time is loads of allergens. but the desire to avoid living in abject allergic misery is forcing me to keep my house pretty darn clean. points for domesticity. (silver linings)

anyhow, i wish i could philosophize about all this more eloquently, but what can i say. we're made to look after things. it brings out the best and worst in us, takes us out of ourselves, and we get so much love back in return. i'm a happier and more content person for having her here. simple as that.

(fleet foxes white winter hymnal is her theme song by the way. give it a listen.)

j and lexi out.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

the wonders of a vacation (did i never take one of these before?)

when i had the freedom (ie - dinero) to take a holiday a couple weeks ago, i quickly leapt at the chance. a few phone calls and a stop at the bus station later, i was on the road. destination, quito.  
even in those first few minutes, as we pulled out of the terminal, my head started to clear.
only three months before i had arrived in macas, totally unsure of what was in store.
and now, here i was. seasoned traveller, a few more words of spanish under my belt, navigating ecuadorian life with much more ease. not doing so badly after all. 

in any endeavor, it's easy to become engulfed in the details and struggles. but taking a breath and looking at the big picture can give so much confidence to keep going...

we arrived in quito at 6am. after crossing the city on various buses and trolleys (enjoying lovely glimpses of colonial architecture on the way) i finally got to my friends apartment. showering and napping never felt so good. (those night journeys are quite... something)

the week was refreshing in so many ways. i heard an english talk for the first time in months, (one of those life-changing, re-prioritizing talks. amazing timing.) got to speak a ton of english and connect with friends, go shopping at the artisan market (bargaining until blue in the face...), have an artsy painting day, sleep, read a nice fat book all the way through, start journalling again. it was all exactly what i needed. everything that had become overwhelming started to shrink down to a managable size. and i started feeling more like my old self. 

at the end of the week i travelled back home via the road that runs down the 'avenue of volcanoes'. the high bare mountains gradually got greener and more lush. the thought of soaking into oblivion in the thermals was just too tempting, so i got off in banos and checked into a hostel. the courtyard was overgrown with trees and flowers.
the next two days were completely lovely. great food, hotsprings at night, the lights of the town strung up and down the hills, and the gentle sound of the waterfall above. banos has a way of folding you in and spoiling your senses. its hard to leave.

but sunday came, and it was time to wrap things up and head back to macas. i was anxious, it was the first time returning after officially moving in. how i felt on arrival would be an indicator of how much i could let myself settle in. 

as we sunk further down into the oriente, i slowly relaxed. finally, when we pulled into macas a few hours later, i was happy and relieved. and home. 

there is a point when it becomes ok to give in. to stop holding back. to accept where you're at. a point when you stop struggling and everything becomes aligned. life flows a little more easily. 

(to keep mine flowing, i bought one of these fantastic things. hours of bliss and relaxation at home for only $13.

if it's not raining.)