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  )

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