It's been a busy and rewarding few weeks - just Messy Church Christmas party tomorrow then thoughts turn to Sunday worship.
On Christmas Day there was worship at Acharacle then family time. It was lovely to slump into the settee and let others do the work (indulgent, I know) of preparing food and handing out presents. I think I managed to change channels on the TV and that was about all - oh, and walk the dog.
Taking time to simply be with those you love is part of Christmas - it's part of our whole lives too. God is with us all the time - how often do we stop and simply be with God? I know I don't do this often enough but I'll continue to try to do so - time with God and time with family.
I wish you all a very Happy Christmas - and the blessing of being with God, and those you love, at all times.
This morning at Strontian then Ardgour Primary Schools.
That's all five primaries across the greater peninsula (Ardnamurchan and Morven) and over 100 children experienced Bubblegum 'n' Fluff!
Thank you for your hospitality and for the fun - Happy Christmas to the pupils and staff.
After a few Peru posts it's time to get back to normal posts.
I don't quite know where November went but it's gone and now it's Advent. While clergy everywhere are encouraging those of faith to step back and take time to remember what we are going to celebrate at Christmas, clergy themselves are busy preparing regular and extra worship.
I now have a spreadsheet on the desk to help me with planning and preparations this month. I've posters to send out, an on-line church shopping order to put in and a presentation to finalise then off to a Presbytery meeting in Fort William (80 mile round trip and about 3 hours on the road). After that it's Acharacle Village Hall AGM and meeting where I'm the secretary. Oh, I need to get the agenda sorted for that....
Peru blog -
I realised I'd not ended the Peru blog!
For the last couple of days of the trip we motored back down the Ucayali to Iquitos. We'd been so far up-river that it really did take most of two days!
Was it worthwhile - oh yes!
Being able to share the God given gifts and talents we all have is part of faith. We do this for others - we are hands-on people of faith. It's not all one way. We were blessed by the smiles and attitudes of those we served. The villages are warm and friendly people. Caring is sharing, as a friend says!
It's not a duty or for self aggrandisement that those on the ship do this. The desire to help comes from something that connects each of us with each other. (Personally, and as you'd expect, I call that connection God.). The Vine Trust strap line is 'Connecting people to change lives.' So true - no-one comes back from these experiences unchanged.
Please, if you have enjoyed reading this and find yourself called to do more, do look at the Vine Trust website for more information. Thank you for reading to the end. God bless.
Weather, water and wildlife
Weather is a topic never far from the conversation of most in the UK; what’s it like on the Peruvian Amazon? There are two seasons, the dry and the wet season. This is the end of the dry season and it should have rained more by now than it has. Having said that, we have experienced some periods of sustained rainfall; the first of which was while we were still in Iquitos and it poured, gallons of rain, during our dinner. Umbrellas are necessary, not rain jackets as they are too warm but umbrellas that protect you from the vertical rain. It’s usually only windy as rain is coming in and dies down when the rain arrives.
On Thursday past there was a prolonged storm during which the wind did get up while there were patients still about. The ship was anchored in the middle of the river between villages on each bank and patients were coming and going in the little peca-peca canoes. They kept coming and going and we kept working. The captain ordered the engines started and the anchor raised - he then held the ship steady mid-river. He held the ship so steady that the dentist’s drill didn’t even slip - very steady indeed.
There is high humidity and the daily temperature is in mid-thirties so it’s hot and sweaty most of the time. The best times are dawn and dusk. 6 / 6.30 am and pm - all year round, the days are just about equal to the nights.
During the wet season the river levels rise considerably and floods; hence the houses being on stilts. At those times, river transport can more easily access the more remote villages.
While river levels have always been affected by the weather patterns of El Nino / Nina, climate change is now having a definite impact on the lives of villagers. General supplies don’t arrive when expected, people are not able to access places they used to be able to - and the Vine Trust finds it more difficult to access those who rely on health care from the charity. Challenging.
I don’t know how much the changing river levels impact on the dolphins but I’ve got to mention them. I mentioned that I became the washer woman for the gringas (UK team). Last year, one team of volunteers had clubbed together to finance a washing machine for the ship - what a great idea! Being able to wash clothes properly is a joy, honestly. I’d stuff the clothes into the machine which would then tell me when to return and hang the clothes out to dry. Drying took only a short time - in the sunshine the clothes would be dry in less than a couple of hours. Away from the bustle of clinics it was quiet hanging out the washing and gazing out over the river - and, best of all, there were often dolphins lazily surfacing and gliding in and out of the river. Grey and pink dolphins live in the river and it was greys that were around. A gentle breath of air and they were gone - but left some magic hanging over the river.
What do the villagers do to make a living? They work extremely hard and ii takes a toll on their bodies; it’s not easy. The villagers rely on the Amazon for the water for crops, drinking and all personal needs, and for transport, for everything.
Most are subsidence farmers who may sell fish, if they have any to spare. Fish are cleaned and gutted into the river. Barges deliver huge blocks of ice which are then broken down so the ice can be layered in ‘tubs’ with fish. The full ‘tubs’ (I don’t know what else to call the containers) are then slid down the banks onto the barges and boats that take the fish to larger villages or towns, like Requena, to be sold in markets.
Farms are on flat, regularly flooded, areas beside the river and on the banks. Most, if not all, of the fruit and veg eaten in villages comes from these ares. In the early evenings, we saw (mostly) men returning from these fields; some men would have agricultural tools over their shoulders but occasionally they would have guns and be carrying bags that bulged (here I speculate, but not unreasonably) of jungle food.
There is oil refining and also logging. It is convenient to have these on the banks of the river.
Finally, tourism is beginning. On my previous trip on the Amazon Hope II it was very disconcerting to spend time in one of the usual villages then go round a corner on the river and come across the entrance to a luxury spa resort. It can only be hoped that local villagers benefit from employment.
In Iquitos, much of the advertising for tourism emphasised the eco-friendly nature of the business. There does seem to be an ongoing and increasing awareness of the responsibility of environment, at least in tourism. Perhaps the oil and logging industries will become more aware of their responsibilities too. It’s a balance and people need to make a living. It’s easy to judge from the privileged view of someone from a developed country but it’s hard not to be aware of the potential damage these can cause to the environment. The Amazon is such an asset to the country and the world.
I digress and will be back on track with the next entry.
Local health care and challenges.
Photos are of a health clinic in a village. There may, or not, be a nurse. Bigger health clinics are in Iquitos and I’ll post photos of them tomorrow.
Getting on board the ship for treatment can be a challenge to those less able - but there are few who don’t manage. Families are made up of all ages groups - there are no care homes so the elder people are cared for by their families. Women are often still teenagers when they start having children. With large families and hard physical work most people are physically worn out by their late middle age.
Children may be a little malnourished, most people have anaemia and adults come weary and with many aches and pains. Most cases are fairly simple but there may be occasions when minor surgery is necessary. Children have been born on the ship.
Dental care is basic, extractions and fillings. One lady needed two teeth extracted, a moral and a front tooth - she decided not to have the extractions, even though she knew it would mean months of pain, because the front tooth would leave a gap and there was no way to get anything to fill the gap. The ship will next visit in about three or four month by when she’ll be in a lot more pain.
Seeing people in pain isn’t easy. The hardest times are when there are patients for whom nothing can be done. Two cases …
One elderly man came complaining of back ache. There was a massive tumour growing between his kidneys and his spine - you could easily see the lump through his tee-shirt. He was sent away with painkillers and warned the pain would get worse. His family brought him and would look after him.
One teenage girl went to the dentist; there was a problem with her tongue. She’d had cancer of her tongue and an operation of some sort (which was unusual in itself) - but now the cancer was back, with a vengeance. Even if she could have had further treatment, what quality of life would she have with no tongue? She was a teenager and would have been unable to speak or eat properly for the rest of her life.
For each of these, further treatment might, only might, have been available in Iquitos but probably Lima would have been better. There are no resources to get them to Lima. >All that can be done is to send them away with painkillers and prayers.
Knowing this, accepting this, processing this - that’s the hard bit.
Village life - After talking about the routine on the ship and mentioning the villages it seemed like a good idea to show some pictures of the villages.
Villages inevitably range in size and each has it’s own character. The closer you are to Iquitos the larger the village, much like in any country, the closer you are to a bigger town the larger the villages tend to be.
Access to the villages is by river only. There is usually some sort of canoe for basic transport, the speed boat and bigger barges. Steps are cut into the embankments for access; these can be recut after the floods. Much easier to replace than wooden steps. There are streets, some concrete and some well-trodden mud. Usually a communal sports area - as mentioned before, sport is part of most days, at least for the children. Mostly, now, there is electricity for light. I’m not sure but think the supply is from solar power of some sort. As far as we could see, cooking is done over open fires.
Houses in the remote and the poor areas were made of wood or wiggly tin (corrugated tin), built on stilts to be above the river when it floods and consist of one large room with a kitchen area (set a little back to minimise the fire risk). The poorest houses were simply a platform on stilts, that’s all. The better off houses had external walls and internal partitions to give privacy. Occasionally there were mattresses but often people slept in hammocks. Any possessions tended to be on open shelves, again to minimise the risk of damage from flooding.
Water is sometimes from a well but people are a bit suspicious of these and there is not always a supply of water. More often water is taken from the river: the river is saturated with silt, fish, dolphins and unknown numbers of bugs live in the water and the people wash themselves and their clothes, and to drink from. There is little or no sanitation in many villages so when the rains come the effluent goes into the river. No wonder each person registering on the ship needs a worm and anti-parasite pill.
In the larger settlements there may be concrete shacks and buildings that are more robust. There, however, are not that well built and soon fall into disrepair. Damp and humid conditions make it difficult to maintain buildings very well.
Usually there is a primary school (where most children start learning English at an early age!), occasionally a high school, a little shop of some sort and a health clinic. For more than basic health care people have to travel to Nauta or Iquitos; often even the facilities in towns are beyond the means of people who are unable to afford further treatment. I need to expand a little on this and will do so tomorrow.