Monday, October 12, 2009

sometimes you backbpack, sometimes you are the backpack...

Sometimes you backpack, sometimes you are the backpack
Here in Pimampiro there is a hike you can go on that is quite famous. There is a “secret” lagoon that you can go to that is way up in the mountains, 3440 meters high. Its called Puruanta and if you are crazy enough you can hike there. My family wanted to go and I thought it would be quite fun. The problem was that when you tried to find out how difficult it was there was so much conflicting information. Some said it would take 3 hours for a guide who knew it well to get there, others said it would take 10-12 hours hiking. Most said you could get there in about 6 or 7. I was guessing it would be about a 7 hour hike. The said you go through swamps and a lot of mud which is sometimes up to your knee. Everyone said it was really difficult. Its not that I didn’t believe them. I was ready for difficult. I was not read for this though. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what I was about to do.
I went on this “little” adventure with Carlos, my dad who is around 50, Carlos, my brother who is 17, his friend who is also 17 (I don’t remember his name), Katy and Carlita, my sisters who are 13 and 15 and Don Jose who is 35 and goes every other weekend to fish. Don jose said he got there in 3 hours once when a tourist got sick. He was our guide and I would have quite possibly died without him.
We were up at 3 am and out the door by 3:30. I began to wonder, after my 2 and a half hours of sleep, what I had gotten myself into. You know the journey will be rough when you haven’t started it yet and already cant wait till you get to the destination so you can crawl into your sleeping bag. We drove an hour to Don Jose’s and had some bread and coffee for breakfast. We then drove to his “hacienda” loaded up the horses got ready to leave.
We started our journey on horseback at 6 am and the horses were able to accompany us for the first two hours, until the trail became to hard for them. Carlita and katty were both afraid to ride alone as they have only been on a horse a few times. Since no one wanted to ride I excitedly jumped at the offer. One horse was mounted up with all of the backpacks to make the first two hours easier on everyone and the other horse I got to ride. This first two hours was an adventure in and of itself. I have never been so thankful for the horseback riding lessons I had when I was younger. Had I not known how to ride a horse I definitely would have been on the ground a few times. Two hours of bear back riding is quite hard on your legs and you can most definitely expect to end up with a bruised tailbone. Its hard enough when you are on even ground but this was more like scaling tall mountains on very narrow paths with steep drop offs on the other side of the mountain. And I thought driving cars here was scarry! The horses definitely know there way though. They have gone on this path many times but it doesn’t make it any less terrifying when they are slipping and sliding all over the rocks. You just hear their horseshoes scraping and sliding on the rocks under them and all you can do is hold on and pray you don’t fall off to you right or you will be tumbling down the cliff. It was not all uphill either. Going down the steep inclines was just as scary because the horses don’t just leisurely walk down… they slide down. I would have one hand on the reigns and a good grip on the main and the other hand I would use to just try and hold myself back on the horse so I wasn’t sliding onto its neck. Jose was in front of me with his machete which he uses to smack the horse (with the flat side) when its not listening. Every time he would raise the machete to cut a tree branch the horse would freak out and jump. We would go through trees that were so low that I would have to lay flat against the horses neck going down hill (which is quite scary) so I wouldn’t get clotheslined by the trees that were scratching over my whole back. I held on so tight with my legs that by the time we reached where we needed to begin walking my legs were already shaking and felt like jello. For the most part I wasn’t scared of the crazy ride (with a few exceptions of thinking I was going to go over the clif) but I was definitely in a lot of pain from holding on so tight and from my tailbone repeatedly hitting the horses spine.
Throughout this time, however, there was a tension between being in pain from the ride and being completely blown away by Gods glory. I was horseback riding through a rain forest with a light misty rain falling and the view was honestly breathtaking. Minus the pain, I felt like I was in paradise and I could not help but worship the God who created it all. My prayers were something like this “God you are so incredible for creating this and I am blown away by your glory and love you so much…please don’t let me die.” Haha. I have since decided that I will take this part of the journey and file it under “most amazing memories in my life” and simply separate it from the rest of the trip lol.
Now I knew that the hike would be hard but when they said mud up to your knees I was thinking maybe an hour or two would be that way. I was not expecting 8 hours of mud up to your knees. I can not even begin to tell you how exhausting it is to walk in the mud. The first time I got stuck my boot came off! You quickly learn how to walk without losing your shoes but the energy that is required is unbelievable. The mud is deeper than your boots and at points is above your knees. My boots were full of mud and water and I desperately would try and find roots or stones that I could stand on instead of sinking. The term “stuck in the mud” took on a whole new meaning to me. We start at 1800 meters and climb to 3440 meters. Parts of the journey are straight up with poor footing and if you grabbed the wrong root and it gave way you were going to fall quite a ways down. I quickly became aware that I was entrusting my life to tree roots and the sovereignty of God.
The first two hours were painful but I still was able to look around and thank God for the beautiful creation and enjoy it. The higher and higher we got the more exhausted I became and less oxygen was available. My little family and friends were used to the altitude. The guys who had gone a few times before walked or ran through the mud like it was dry ground. I don’t know how they did it. My little sisters, who play sports all the time and are very athletic, seemed a bit tired but for the most part were doing quite well. Calros, my dad, and I were the only two who were really struggling. We eventually stopped trying to keep up with everyone else and we walked at a much slower place. Carlos, my little brother took my pack from me and attached it to his as he saw how exhausted I was. He also took his fathers huge pack and one of the girls took a small backpack. They distributed most of the weight between carlos and his friend. Even though they carried all the extra weight they were still way inf ront of Carlos and I. My enjoyment and ability to thank God for his creation quickly began to switch to a “jesus please come back and take me now because I want to be dead and its so clear that I am living in a fallen world” type of mentality as I tried to stomach the nausea I was feeling from pushing my body to its limit.
It was about 5 hours of trudging through mud and wanting to die until we reached the swamps. Now this was a whole new adventure. I remember being at the beach with friends this summer watching an episode of bear grylls where he was walking through a swamp in florida and he said if your not careful you will go under. I remember watching him then abruptly fall through the tall weeds and cut a hole to get back out. It looked terrifying. Luckily this swamp was only waist deep so when you would make a wrong move and plunge through the weeds you didn’t go completely under. It was still quite terrifying. I just wondered what was swimming under there. I only went in once. My right leg was firmly on dry ground but my left leg went straight in up to my waist. My mind was quickly turned from the terror of what may attack my leg under the weeds to the sharp pain I was experiencing in my right leg. My right leg had twisted in another direction and a shooting pain was sent through my leg. Carlos, my brother helped pull me out. Once I was out I realized quickly that I had pulled my groin muscle and ever step was incredibly painful. Lifting my leg was what hurt the most and having it stuck in mud and having to pull it out with every step was agony. You honestly cant use your leg at 50% when it means that you might fall and hurt yourself worse or slip down one of these cliffs and die. There is nothing you can do but grit your teeth and keep walking at full force. I knew we didn’t have enough hours of light left in the day for me to turn back. The only thing I could do was walk the next two hours to try and make it to camp. I walked for a half hour on my leg and wanted to die. I thought about just walking into the swamp, going under, and not coming out. I had a face mask that they call a “passa montanas” which basically covers your face and you look like your going to rob a bank. I pulled it down so they couldn’t see the tears in my eyes and the expression of agony on my face. When I started to think I may black out I sat down and told them I needed a break and couldn’t do it anymore. Jose told me to wait there and he ran his pack up the mountain about a half an hour and then ran back. He rigged up his little rope and basically tied me to his back. He carried me the last hour and a half to camp. (the two girls ended up taking his pack the last hour and a half! They are pretty amazing.)
I was completely amazed at jose. He walked twice as fast with me on his back as I did before I hurt my leg with no pack at all. It was quite terrifying though. I cant tell you what its like to climb straight up cliffs on someone’s back. I clung to him as tight as I could so he could use his arms and I just prayed he would not fall. The rope cut into my legs and into his shoulders and my arms felt like they were going to fall off but it was better than the stabbing pain of me walking.
When we finally reached camp and my body was no longer straining to hold on the cold set in. I think my body may have also been in shock but I for the first time, legitimately though I may die there and not make it back. My whole body was convulsing from cold, pain and exhaustion. It took about an hour for the guys to set up camp. Once the tent was up I could barely take off my wet , mud caked clothes and get on my dry ones. My hands were not working and I was too tired. I wanted to admit defeat and lay down right were I was and die. They guys had to help me take my boots off because I didn’t have the strength. Once I finally got dry clothes on I crawled into my sleeping bag. I could not get warm. I laid there convulsing for an hour and a half. I honestly didn’t know if it was from the cold or the exhaustion and pain. I was scared it would be that way all night and that I just wouldn’t wake up. I tried to make my body stop but I couldn’t. I asked them to fill my nalgene up with hot water and then I put it in my sleeping bag. About a half hour later my body stopped shaking and I fell asleep. I slept from 7 at night until 10 am, which is 15 hours, and I woke up a few times through the night with shooting pains in my leg or the feeling of nausea from the exhaustion. I couldn’t throw up because that took too much energy to get out of the tent and it was so cold so I just tried to hold it down and sleep . It didn’t matter though, I was warm and I was not walking. When I woke up I wanted to cry thinking about the 10 hour trip home. I ate some ramen noodle soup for breakfast and went to look at the lagoon, which I now hated for even existing, and took a picture with the girls. I put my muddy wet clothes back on over my nice try clothing and we packed up and started back. I had taken 6 Advil with my breakfast and was feeling pretty good. I was determined to walk back because I could not imagine having jose carry me for that long.
I was walking slow. I did walk for an hour and a half but it was very slow. Going down was easier in some ways because you start out out of breath and then get more oxygen as you get lower. Its just as terrifying though. Going down these steep cliffs, I was scared of slipping and that being the end of me. At that point I really didn’t care much. “If I were on survivor” I thought to myself, “I would be the first to go and I would opt myself off the show asap”. I however, did not have the luxury of opting myself off of any show so I continued in pain to try and walk. Eventually jose found a tree that he hid his backpack in and told me that we would get back at midnight if he did not carry me. He also told me that it was painful to watch me walk because I looked like I wanted to die. That was accurate. So again, I was turned into a little backpack. The ropes were horrible. I was bruised from the day before so they only cut into my legs more. We found a way to rig it up using his sweater as well as the rope so that the ropes didn’t dig into his bruised shoulders quite so much. I felt like a little koala bear at first… then I just felt like a sack of dead chickens hanging there on his back. I would at times put my head on his shoulder and close my eyes and try and pretend I was not there. That was not possible however when he would duck under branches and come up too soon and smack my head on them. I am not in the least bit trying to complain because Jose saved my little life and im SO thankful for him but he is not good at gauging head room when going under trees. I pulled down my face mask to try and protect myself a little from the snapping tree branches. Jose carried me for 5 ½ hours. If I had to have a hero in life, I think it would be him! Haha. I don’t even know how he did it. He carried me with a machete in hand (which I was so scared hed fall and I would land on) and walked at twice the pace that I could have if I had not been hurt and without a backpack. I was terrified when he would scale these cliffs with me on his back and I don’t know how he didn’t fall. I was honestly as amazed by his strength and agility as I was by the rainforest around me. All I can say is that God provides grace where grace is needed and Jose was definitely Gods grace to me.
We finally reached the horses and I sat there fighting the swarms (literally clouds) of mosquitoes as he loaded up the horse. You cant sit still in the mountains there or you will be eaten. I jumped on the horse and realized the pain would be pretty awful as I had to used my legs to hold on. I didn’t even care about the horses sliping all over. If my life had ended I would have been grateful in that moment. Heaven seemed quite appealing to me. Carlos, who was extremely tired at this point got on the back of the horse with me. My horse did not like that much weight and was not thrilled. Carlos also didn’t really know how to ride that well and I think the horse knew it. He fell off when the horse slipped on some rocks and I was scared hed take me with him, but he didn’t. Then he got back on and my horse was not happy. He was throwing his head around and then he started to buck and kick. I got mad and yanked his head around and smacked him hard. I was not in the mood to be thrown from a horse with my leg killing me and I was in too much pain to be scared by its bucking. I was just angry and kicked it as hard as I could with my good leg. Carlos somehow didn’t fall off this time but immediately jumped from the horse in terror which I thought was a little funny, although it would have taken far too much energy to laugh. I was happy when carlos decided to walk because I did not have the strength to fight this horse the rest of the walk and it hurt like crazy to stay on the horse when it was acting up.
We finally got back after dark. The dark did not help with the horses slipping all over the path but I was too exhausted to care. Once we got to the hacienda they had dinner ready for us. I still felt horrible and I did not want anything to eat. It was agony to sit there while they all talked and laughed and ate. I just wanted to go home, take a shower and crawl into bed. Jose showed everyone his bruises and they laughed. They made jokes about how his wife would divorce him for having a gringo hugging him for 6 hours. They made jokes about his bruises saying I hugged him too hard and how would my boyfriend feel about that? He laughed and joked with me saying he would miss his little backpack or that his back was cold. I tried to force a smile and laugh but it took too much energy. Then we had the hour ride home. I finally got to the house and just about fell into the shower. I prayed and prayed for hot water (its not always hot here) and I had the most consistent and hot shower I have taken since I have been here. I never thought I would praise God so much for his grace to me with a hot shower.
I slept 11 hours last night and everything hurts today. Im just thankful for my little bed and clean clothing. I think im done with hiking for a little while.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The first of many sessions...

2 1/2 more months and im realizing there is so much here to do. Its hard to know im building relationships and earning trust with girls who will open up their lives to me only to leave their lives in a few months. There is brokenness everywhere and America is no exception but there is something different being in a place where most have little desire to help and would rather turn a blind eye to injustice. Maybe growing up around it makes you numb to it?

I had my first counseling session today and talked with a beautiful little girl who is the subject of verbal and at times physical abuse from her mother. Her father is an alocholic who she believes loves her but cant leave his alcohol. She is the oldest and is responsible to cook and care for all of the children. Her brother who is a year younger than her hits her when he does not like her cooking. There is little money for food as her father spends it all on alcohol. She sits in my office sobbing asking me why her mommy doesnt love her. She tells me how her brother who was born before she was alive had died as an infant. She says she wishes it had been her. Her mother kicked her out of the house and she rented a room for a year from a woman who she would work for all day and get fed only one meal a day. The woman eventually kicked her out when she found someone else to rent the room who could pay and she moved home with her family. Can you imagine a 13yr old girl living by herself? She asks me why shes had to take care of her brothers and sisters since she has been little but why no one has ever taken care of her?

Her father wants help to stop drinking. He wants to stop but cant. There is no AA in pimampiro. To go to rehab it would cost over a thousand dollars which is more than the family makes in a year. There is no child abuse hotline here to call. I feel so powerless to help. I have spent all afternoon looking for child advocate services or substance abuse centers with very little luck. There are laws against abuse but no one to carry them out, not unless you live in Quito or one of the other few large citys in Ecuador.

My heart feels so heavy. I know this will only be the first of many stories and i feel so illequiped to help when there are no resources here. I feel like i tiny bandade on a gaping wound.

In ways this is so good for me. I AM powerless to do anything. I can do nothing apart from Christ. I know that. I am just praying for opportunities to share Christ because he is the only hope of restoration. She so desperately needs to know she has a father who loves her so deeply and whos heart is breaking over the pain she has gone through. She needs the hope of the gosple, the hope that one day all this pain will be redeemed and restored. She needs to know the one who came and died so she could be set free to have joy in the midst of such great suffering.

Please pray that i would have boldness to take opportunities to share this hope with her but a gentle sensitivity and discernment as well. I feel like its the only thing of any real substance i have to offer to her.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mountain Adventures!

Get comfy... this is a long one!

Yesterday I had quite the adventure. After school I jumped on a bus (thankfully not a cattle car) and went for the hour long drive down the windy mountain roads (praying that the bus would not go over the edge of the cliff) to Blancas house for the night. Blanca (who is 14) has a sister Diana who is 17, a little brother Jefferson who is 4 ½ and a little sister Tatiana who is 2 ½. When we got to her house we were met by her mother, our lunch, and a kitchen full of jabbering cuys (guine pigs). Her mother laughed at me watching them scurry around the floor and told me her daughter had told her that in america we keep them as pets so I did not want to eat one. She thought this was hilarious (as all Ecuadorians do). I quickly found my favorite one, a little all white baby, and told them I named it Isabella and when they ate izzy they should think of me haha.
For lunch we had potatoes, rice, tomato and onion salsa and beans. Then they gave me a different pair of shoes so wear and sent me hiking up the mountain with the girls to feed the cows. It was at least a 45 minute hike up the mountain to where the cows graze. We met her brother Jefferson and her father there, fed the cows and went back down the mountain with their horse. The girls were very eager to see an American attempt to ride bare back and I was feeling particular thankful that I had taken riding lessons when I was younger. The through a little rug on the horses back and I jumped on. We went down the road a bit to their neighbors where we picked mandarins and then rode back. The girls did a little homework and they fed me a giant bowl of honey (which is a huge honor because its very expensive and takes a long time for the bees to make a little bit). This honey was not like the honey in america though. It has all the wax and pollen still in it. It tasted great but left a weird film in my mouth and my stomach was a bit uneasy. Their little brother, who may I remind you is 4, is one of the worst children I have ever met! I went from laughing so hard at the things he would do to wanting to put the kid on time out myself! I let him play with my camera and when we had to go and take it back he got ;mad and started yelling at his mom. His mom told him to stop crying so he got more angry, grabed his fathers huge knife, came back out, and started yelling again while giving his mother the finger. At this she just started laughing! I didn’t know what to do! Part of me wanted to laugh and part of me was so sad! He then started to beat up the animals. He would jump kick the chickens and beat the horse with a rope and tried to kick his kitten. I know animals are looked at differently in this culture but I don’t care what culture your in… you should still respect animals and the mom did nothing. It made me so upset to watch! He threw a rock at one of the chickens and it was limping around all day. If he had hit it square on im sure he would have killed it. He would swing from the rope tied to the horses neck and then tell it he was going to kill it. Hed get this crazy evil look in his eyes and try and hurt all the animals. I seriously was wondering if the kid was possessed! And they did nothing! I just tried to not worry about it but it was so hard.
After this we threw the rug back on the horse and I jumped on to go to their grandmothers house a half hour up the road. Jeffery got on the back of the horse with me and we started our little adventure. The ride there was fun and mostly up hill which was nice. Once we got there I met her grandmother and aunt, got the cheese and then started to ride back. By this time it was getting pretty dark and the ride was mostly down hill. If you have ever been on a horse you know it’s a bad idea to attempt to trot on a horse down hill. If its going faster than a walk it can trip and its really dangerous. These were steep hills too. I t was hard because Jeffery being on the back kept pushing me forward and the whole rug would move forward till I was practically on the horses neck. I kept trying to move back which was hard with Jeffery. Jeffry then decided he wanted to run so he starts kicking the horse insesently and telling it to run while im saying “whooooa” and puling back on the reighns. Im telling Jeffery its dangerous going down hill and its dark and you cant see cars around the turns and he needs to stop. He gets the look in his eye when he realizes im getting mad and he does it even more! The horse is starting to run down the hill and is tripping and im still pulling on the reighns. The horse is so confused that it sees grass on the hill and instead of running uphill it just bolts up the mountain and Jeffery is laughing histerically. I finally got the horse to stop and turned around. I told Jeffery if he kicked the horse one more time he was walking home. His sister came running and yelling after us and FINALLY yelled at Jeffery to stop, which he then did. Oh what I would have given for a saddle and a helmet!
I am not sure if any of you who read this have ever been on a horse bare back but its not comfortable and these horses are not well fed, which means there whole spine is digging into you the whole time. It was so much fun until about the last 15 minutes when that little episode happened and every step became somewhat painful. I will just say that I am quite bruised in unmentionable places haha.
After our little cheese adventure we had bread, cheese and coffee. They gave me half the thing of cheese to eat! I was trying to be polite and eat it all but I just couldn’t finish it. They make the cheese there and they don’t refrigerate it and every time I have it here it makes me a little sick. I had never eaten more than a small piece though and I knew in a few hours id be feeling it. We then walked to the little store they own where all the men hang out, drink, smoke and play cards all night. There were ment from 15-60 there! Every night Diana goes and makes hardboiled eggs to serve the men. She said the women are expected to stay home and cook. I asked if that’s what she would do when she was older and she said she desperately wants to go to college to be a teacher and hopes her family can afford it. She said she wants more than to have a baby and get married at 18, live with an alcoholic husband and cook eggs all her life. All she would do is put eggs in some boiling water, take them out and serve them while her dad watched. I asked why he didn’t just make the eggs and she laughed. She said it would make him “look bad” to his friends.
One of the eggs broke in the water and the white part came out and was cooking outside the egg so it looked really funny when we took it out. All the younger guys were trying to show off their tattoos and were making comments to me and tryng to be cool and get my attention. I told her that It would be funny if I tried to bring them the egg and tell them I had a special egg for them and it was a present haha. Even though I didn’t do it she thought it was hilarious and told her mom, her dad, her sister and all her friends on the buss this morning about it lol. On the walk home we had a good talk and I just encouraged her to wait until she was done with school and married to have kids and that she should wait for a guy who will treat her well to be with. No one here encourages these girls that there is so much more to life and it makes me so sad.
Her mother served us some soup with potatoes and then we all went to bed at around 9:30. They have 4 beds in the two room hut. Both girls had their own bed and each of the little kids slept with one of their parents in a bed. Blanca slept with her mom and brother so I could sleep in her bed. I layed there, being bitten by bedbugs and fleas for about 2 1/2 hours before I fell asleep on the “bed”. It was a real bed but it was missing a mattress so I slept on a board. They had so many covers on it that I honestly felt like I was buried under library books. I slept for a few hours and then woke up with a horrible stomach ache from the cheese. I laid there till 5 when they woke up, took my egg with me since I couldn’t make myself eat it (I thought I would throw up) and jumped on the buss for the hour long ride back. We got in at 7 and I went straight home and back to bed for 5 hours! I woke up feeling much better although my neck, stomach and well whole body are covered with little red bite marks. Rosie, my mom was so worried about me and doesn’t want me going to the mountains anymore because of the bedbugs haha. I told her it was ok and I didn’t mind that much. It was definitely and adventure but it was so fun for me to see how they live. Im exhausted, itchy and sore today but it was so worth it! I loved it! I would definitely do it again and although it was a bit crazy it was an awesome experience!