How I Became the Village Idiot
The weight of the baby sitting on my hip grew more uncomfortable. I turned and looked towards the path leading from the grass air strip into the jungle. I could still see the two bright heads of my son and daughter bobbing along amidst a crowd of dark haired Indians as they excitedly followed the villagers to the river bank.
My eyes returned to the child in my arms and to my oldest daughter, Jackie, as she stood loyally by my side, holding the diaper bag and other baby supplies, she was slapping at the gnats buzzing around her neck and arms, standing upon one small foot at a time so that the other was free to rub away the annoying gnats biting on her ankles. I blew light puffs of air on to my sleeping baby’s face, trying to keep the gnats from waking her.
My husband was half in, half out, of the small Cessna MAF aircraft which had brought us here. I could hear his conversation with the American missionary pilot, Steve Robinson, arranging the date for our next flight, our next contact with the outside world. He grabbed a few bulky bags from the ground and herded us to the side of the air strip as the plane taxied off to return to its base in Puerto Ayacucho. My husband never looked back at the plane, but began trotting off down the path to join the others. With one last look, I saw the pilot dip his wings in a salutary wave to us as he flew off.
The dirt path led us towards the rim of jungle on the bank of the Chajura River where a dugout canoe awaited us. It was surprisingly cooler, though still humid, under the jungle trees. I could hear the sound of the river, the sound of rapids above the quiet voices of the Ye’kwana Indians. I could hear my own children speaking in English to one another. The closer we came to the bank, I saw that it was muddy from a recent rain, how was I going to climb down this bank with a baby in my arms?
I must have looked perplexed as I tried to locate my husband for help. He was already in the canoe stowing supplies so as to keep them safe and dry. I took my first halting step down the slippery, red mud and looked into the face of an elderly Ye’kwana grandma meeting me with up stretched arms ready to receive my baby. She gave me a slow, timid smile, revealing no teeth and bright eyes. I gladly passed the one year old baby to her and she nimbly scampered down the bank and into the canoe. I still had to figure out how to maneuver myself down the muddy slope, but eventually I managed to arrive in one piece…my sandals had not fared as well!
My husband had already seated the children and ushered me to my place of honor, a small spot left available on a branch limb which had been jammed and wedged into the dugout canoe.
And we were off.
This was exciting. The roar of the motor attached to the back of the canoe had awakened Baby Jayde and she was wide eyed as she took in the shore line. The water was a dark, murky, greenish grey and the air smelled moldy. The jungle smells were new and exciting and would soon permeate everything, including our skin. But in this moment it was a novelty to be enjoyed.
The canoe was brought to port and the Indians light-footedly disembarked barely causing the canoe to tip one way or the other. I looked up to see that yet another muddy bank awaited me. Oh well, get ‘er done! This bank was not just muddy, it was scummy! We walked and slid along a stretch of jungle mud that was green with an algae growth. It felt like the skin that used to form on my mother’s home made chocolate pudding as it cooled. The children and I had taken our shoes off and were walking along, using our toes as grappling hooks in an attempt to stay aright. Of course, they loved it. Granny still had my baby. We followed our Indian friends into the center of the village~ the soccer field. Upon entering the clearing we saw that we were to be greeted by all the villagers, young and old. . They were lined up single file, the entire length of the soccer field. Indians with outstretched hands waiting t meet us and take us into the round house situated in the very heart of the village. The round house, or churuata, is the geographical as well as philosophical heart of each Ye’kwana village and to be invited in is no small thing!
I had been to Indian villages in the Amazon of Venezuela before. I had even spent several weeks at a time in different villages among different tribes, but this was different. This was not a visit. No, this was permanent. We were moving to this village and planned to spend the rest of our lives here. Raising our family of four, building a Christian community of believers, this was a lifelong commitment.