Though I have been on many adventures of many types, this weekend was my first of this nature. Traveling Buddy: Angela, an American girl my age who has been here for nine years. Plan of action: take a bus toward Tarija to an intersection about an hour away. Wait there for a bus coming from Tarija to take us down a different road. Enjoy the thousands of stars you usually can’t see. The next ride would be about two hours, depending on how many people the bus stops to pick up or drop off along the way. From there, visit the pastor’s wife, who provides an 11:00 pm dinner and the latest news on the town and church. Get the key to the church, sleep there. 2:30 am- a group from the church arrives, needing to get their instruments to take to the anniversary celebration of a different church in the circuit. 3:30 am-they are finally on their way. 6:30 am- lots of rain. 7:30 am –we walk. We encounter a truck that would take us as far as the river, which saves us an hour of walking. At the river we cross a suspended rope bridge, like those of the movies, complete with missing planks of wood. The only difference between us and the cartoons or Indiana Jones movies is that this time the bridge didn’t break. Walk another two hours up and around the wet, muddy hills. Cross about four creeks…or is it the same creek we are crossing four times? On the way there, we are able to step on rocks to cross the creeks. On the way back, more rain has caused the water to rise, and we wade across. No cars come where we are, as there is no bridge nor any real navigable road for cars. I love how that changes the atmosphere.
We make it to a house near Las Abras, our destination, where we stop to say hello, invite these friends to the church services of the weekend, and drink coffee. The coffee is the typical Bolivian style that I am used to receiving- black with lots of sugar. I will always remember my dear South American friends when I drink my coffee like this. We move on to the next house on the route, where we are greeted by Rosy, an eight year old girl, and her brother and sisters. Her grandmother is a dear friend of Angela’s and we stay there about two hours, eating an appetizer of freshly picked and boiled peanuts. Shortly after, we eat a giant lunch of noodle soup and a type of corn called moté. We finally move on after enjoying watching the one year old crawl all around enjoying the mud from the rains. We continue walking and inviting people to the children’s activities and church services. They are used to this schedule. They know Angela well after her monthly visits and enjoy seeing her. Many children and adults alike are shy around us…or is it just my new presence? Some won’t speak to me, others hide altogether. Nonetheless, they know puppets are coming, the highlight of their time with Angela. Adults ask for it, talking about how applicable the last puppet show was to their lives, and the kids run in so as not to miss their beloved friends. Angela is incredibly talented with the puppets, and each has their own voice and personality. She can do an entire improvised twenty minute puppet show with four or more puppets all on her own. I stand impressed.
Arriving at the church we drop off our bags and visit the lady next door. Like my grandmother, there are four or five things getting done at once. Laundry is being washed and hung by one, the peanut crop is drying, and mother and daughter are preparing the yarn for a new weaving project.
The children’s program is fun. My first time improving puppets in Spanish. I must admit I am completely dependent on Angela this weekend, as I don’t understand the Spanish of this region very well and my improv puppet skills in broken Spanish are not quite up to par. It’s ok. I like Angela, and I see that she is incredible at what she does. The people don’t seem to mind my part in the puppet show. The children are incredibly shy around me, won’t talk to me or sit by me, but I am patient. I have seen what a little time does to timidity.
We watch darkness fall as we wait for the adult service in the evening. There is a small oil lamp type thing we have borrowed, but otherwise there is little light. Everyone has their flashlight. Tonight the stars are not shining down on us, as the clouds and rain have taken over the sky and also kept some from coming to the church. I give a message in Spanish. It is my first message without index cards telling me what to say. I am not impressed with my Spanish nor the message, but pray that God uses it for good. As the small light shines in the window, we do puppets for the adults in the near dark. In this area where electricity has not intruded, a small candle in the window further announces our presence.
After the service, Angela calls us chickens and we go to bed. Here, being a chicken means that you go to bed early, like the chickens do. As we cuddle into Angela’s one man tent and settle down to bed, we hear an animal in the church. I wouldn’t say I am afraid of little animals, but I am uneasy when their presence invades my nighttime space. Here, I feel as though I am the invader, but nonetheless, don’t care for the animal’s presence. It moves throughout the night, and we are both awakened off and on by its movement. What is it?
Angela wakes up before me in the morning, and we are immediately invited to breakfast at the neighbors. She tells me on the way that the animal was merely a chicken sitting on its eggs on top of some bags that rustle noisily. All that discomfort for nothing! We enjoy bread and coffee, sweetened to perfection, and watch the next step in the weaving process. It has rained all night again, which will not be good for our walk back to the river this afternoon. After breakfast and a little waiting for a break in the rain, we walk back, sidestepping the animal poop along the path. Animals roam free here grazing on the grasses. Pigs, donkeys, chickens, dogs, a cow or two, sheep, and probably more. The sheep herd in the church’s lawn has one sheep wearing a bell, so I always know when they are moving. There are even many parrots here, who bother the crops, so children are set to the task of keeping them off the crops (mostly corn here).
Church this morning has more kids than adults, which is normal for this church. Some of our friends could not make it due to the mud and rain, which saddens me, as I know little Rosy adores Angela’s presence and couldn’t come. We wait for people to arrive and a child accidentally shoots his slingshot into a tree. A number of children throw rocks and sticks until it finally falls.
We sing songs, do another puppet show, tell a story about Paul and how his nephew had the courage to speak up about a plot to kill Paul (Acts 23). Many children there have parents who do not believe in Jesus, and the message was about having the courage to share your faith with those that are closest to us. That is so hard to do. As the children did a craft and worked on a memory verse, I pulled out my camera. And you know what? The children weren’t shy anymore! We took individual pictures, pictures with friends, pictures with all of the boys, most of the girls, and even pictures that almost look like some of the girls are holding some boys in the palms of their hands. As we played, we lost track of time. All of a sudden, we were running late and still had to go to a friend’s house for lunch before we left. I enjoyed the kittens and pet parrots as I scarfed down my soup, and then we ran off, walking as quickly as we could. We took the straighter path, a short cut back down to the river. It took us about two hours of steep climbing and steep descending, enjoying certain almost-flat parts, wading across the creek, and sweating a lot.
We got to the river at 3, the time when the bus was supposed to leave. The only thing is that with this bus you never know. It might leave at 3:00, or it might leave at 2:30. Or 3:30. Or whenever it feels like leaving. We crossed the hanging rope and plank bridge again, this time not stopping to take pictures, and started running as we heard the bus’ horn. If we missed this bus, we couldn’t leave until tomorrow, and would need to stay in the same town we stayed in on the first night, another hour’s walk away.
Luckily, the bus was coming toward us, not announcing its departure. We just barely made it to the bus! After the two hour go-as-fast-as-you-can hike, I was so glad to sit down. Two and a half hours in this bus, then another two hours waiting in the dark at the crossroads. Finally a bus came to take us back to Entre Rios. It was another hour and a half on this bus, with poor Angela sitting on the armrest of my seat. We got home and were locked out, but that was quickly resolved.
I was glad to be home in Entre Rios, but sad that the adventure was over. Will I get another chance to go out to the pueblos with these missionaries? That is yet to be known. Angela does this once or twice a week, along with the other missionaries that are here. There is a man from Germany, a man from Cochabamba Bolivia, a family from Caranavi, and a family from La Paz and Caranavi, along with Angela, who do this full time. Two years ago I could have done it too, but for now, I am happy with the kind of life we have with “Go Missions”.