One week from today, my newest adventure will be underway, and I couldn’t be more excited!
On Friday, I will leave with eleven other members of my church to go to a village tucked away in the jungle. We will fly in to Iquitos, Peru, the largest city in the world not accessible by road. It is only accessible by air and water. From there, we will take a 90-minute bus ride to the town of Nauta, which sits at the mouth of the Amazon River.
We will then travel by boat on the Rio Marañon, a tributary of the Amazon, to the Cocama village.
When we arrive at the village, our boat will dock here.
Depending on the height of the river, we may or may not be trekking through the mud to get to the stairs where we climb a hill to the village. Of all the parts of the trip, this is the part that scares me the most. I would really rather not travel all that way with eleven other friends just to fall on my face in the mud, but my teammates have assured me they will not leave me behind!
Of the twelve people going, three have been there before, and a different three (including me) are fluent in Spanish and will serve as interpreters. One of my team members shared these pictures with me and gave me permission to share them with all of you.
I have gone back and forth about writing about this trip on my blog because this adventure feels so personal and so intimate that I was hesitant to share it publicly. However, for those who have been around me for the last week, you know I haven’t been able to stop talking about Peru. I am also very cognizant of the fact that I am only able to go because of the very generous donations of so many of you – family, friends, and strangers alike. I couldn’t leave for this exciting trip without thanking all of you collectively and sharing the details.
Soliciting donations is not in my nature, especially for trips like these. Up until a couple of weeks ago, I continued to struggle with the idea of going. I do not believe in short-term trips – especially international – for the purpose of projects that are not sustainable or for reasons that invade or belittle a culture in any way.
Sending a group of twelve (mostly white) middle-class Americans to a village in the jungles of Peru first seemed more like an opportunity to feel better about my life of privilege than an opportunity to serve. However, we are going not to build a building, paint a wall, or teach a way of life, things that are either unnecessary or ego-centric. We are going to meet with a group of believers who share the same faith that we do, and to teach and equip pastors coming from all parts of the jungle to be educated on the Word of God, so that they can then continue to teach and lead in their own communities.
Our team will lead a four-day Bible conference for local pastors during the day, with some members teaching, others interpreting for those teaching, and still others going through the routines of daily life with the women and children of the village. I have been told that pastors travel as far as 4-5 days from the most remote parts of the jungle to receive training they cannot receive anywhere else.
As an educator, a Spanish speaker, and a Christian, I can’t think of a better opportunity to use the gifts I have been given to serve others. I also know that, like all situations in which I find myself teaching, I will learn more from my “students” than they can ever learn from me.
At school, my third graders are going through a unit on Louisiana history, the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, and the age of exploration. They are learning about explorers who heard of a distant place, and left looking for something specific, mostly gold and other lucrative resources. Not all explorers ended up where they wanted to go, and many did not find what they were looking for. A good number of them went for the worst of reasons and devastated cultures along the way.
I like to think of this trip as an exploration and myself as an explorer, but in a much different light. I know very little about where I am going – most of what I know I have shared with you in this blog post, and while I hope this is just the beginning of many trips to Peru, I do not plan on permanently settling there. But I am seeking after a hidden treasure, and I do fully expect to find exactly what I am looking for: stories.
As Chimamanda Adichie said, “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malgin, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity” (from the TedTalk “The Danger of the Single Story). In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). In Ephesians 4:25, Paul says, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.”
I am looking forward to speaking truth with the Cocama people. I am looking forward to immersing myself in their way of life, and learning a new culture. I am looking forward to the stories I will hear, the privilege I will have of dispelling any harmful stereotypes or single stories I might unknowingly hold, and to meet and know new people. As Adichie says, “When we realize that there is never a single story about any kind of place, we regain a kind of paradise.”
To all of the family members, friends, and strangers who have supported me in this endeavor by buying Christmas ornaments, donating financially, praying, or simply being willing to hear and share in my excitement, thank you. This trip would not be possible without each of you individually and collectively, and for that reason alone I wanted to share this experience with you in this way. I look forward to sharing with all of you the treasure I find and will bring home with me, the stories of the people of Cocama.
P.S. Here is a link to my church, a most wonderful community of believers who not only hear and listen but also go and do.
P.P.S. Here is a link to Lost with Purpose, the blog of one of my favorite international travelers – Alex – who goes to the most remote places to find the most interesting stories. She has a post titled “27 Ways to Travel Like a Human Being” that is a great resource for those interested in international travel.
If you were an explorer, where would you go? What would you hope to find?