Sacks of oranges and tucumá landed near me as the disembarking passengers swarmed off the large double decked boat; a woman carrying a very much alive chicken, another with a white kid goat on a blue string, men are carrying loads of cargo, a thin mother carries a little girl with cerebral palsy in her arms… and I wonder where she is going.
Paulo has negotiated a price for our passage across the river and he motions me to enter the little boat nearby. We are traveling with two of his friends across the Rio Negro to a small community where they have done evangelism in the past. The metal bottom smacks the choppy water as we cut our way between the sea going vessels anchored near the middle of the river and the busy port shrinks behind us into the horizon. Entering a connecting waterway, we cruise for about twenty minutes past little farms with saggy-necked cows on marshy flatlands that will soon be conquered by the rising river.
Abruptly, the driver slows, turns, and nudges the nose of the boat directly into the soft clay bank. Following the others past the patch of cucumbers, down a little dirt trail, and past a couple wooden houses, we come to a pretty school on stilts. It is on stilts like all the other buildings because the river will soon overflow to meet the lake on the other side of this stretch of land. After chatting with a few of the teachers there we set out to visit the families and invite them to a special program Thursday evening.
We wind our way through the maze of little dirt trails that crisscross between wooden houses, and the raised rows of cové, cucumbers, and green onions that are planted in mass quantities in the loamy soil. The wooden houses are clustered in by banana, cupuaçu, açerola, and cacao trees. Around some of the houses pretty flowering bushes have been cultivated, and small plants bloom out of old plastic bottles tacked to the side of the house.
Nearly every family invites us with the simple hospitiality of the ribeirinho culture, but in order to invite as manyas possible we just chit-chat and invite them to the meeting. There is a plastic fuel container at the steps to every home, the top has been cut away and it is filled with river water for washing muddy feet before entering the house. This is my assumption due to the flock of flip-flops that gathers outside. The work boots, muddy from field work, get turned upside down on sticks in the mud.
“Are you the Adventists?” A woman calls out as we pass along side her house, “The ones with a doctor?”“Yes, is someone sick?”After ascertaining that it wasn’t an emergency we promised to try to bring a doctor and medical supplies with us on Thursday when we returned.
Further down, we came along a group of kids playing an odd game involving two broken boards used like base ball bats, a ball, and two empty Guaraná bottles… maybe an amalgamation of baseball and kick the can? Sitting down near a young girl with dangly earrings and a pretty smile, I watched the game with curious interest and listened as Antonio explained about the meetings. When he asked her what topics she would be interested in hearing about she told him that she wanted to know about the end of the world. Another boy walks up dangling a baby alligator by a string tied behind his front legs. The poor thing is tired and angry from being jerked about so much, the wry thought of ‘I would grow up hating humans too’ flicks across my mind.
The next house is the home of an elderly couple bronzed skin and silvery hair, warmly insisting that we enter and visit because the husband can´t attend meetings at the school - it is to far for him to walk. Leaving my flip-flops on the wooden steps, I climb up to greet them. As we talk, I can feel my heart glowing.
My dusty feet belong here - barefooted on the wooden floor beside theirs... at home.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
9 months ago