June - 2011

   Posted by Kyle Olsen     

firefox-grayJune 6, 2011
Today is Monday, my brother Tyler and I are very excited for our first trip to South America, the state of Amazonas in Brazil to be specific.  Hopefully, it will be the first of many.  After being taken to Jacksonville International Airport by our family, we said our goodbyes and caught a flight to Miami, Florida that departed at 6:00 PM.  The plane was of the prop variety and held about 50 passengers.  It was a stormy day today, and their was a lot of turbulence so it is a good thing that neither of us are prone to motion sickness.  Despite the rough flight we made it to Miami on time, around 7:15 PM.  We just checked in to the airport hotel for tonight and are about to get a quick bite to eat before going to bed.  Hopefully I can fall asleep immediately, but I doubt it; I am rather excitable.  Our flight leaves tomorrow around 7:00, I suppose I should check to be sure before I forget.  Until tomorrow.

June 7, 2011

Last night turned out exactly as I expected.  Both Tyler and I fell asleep watching a baseball game on ESPN but were plagued by our own joviality.  I am pretty sure we both woke up at least ten times and probably got no more than two hours of sleep.  Oh well, our arrival in Manaus, Brazil is not too far off and I know I speak for both of us when I say that we are filled with excitement from the opportunities and life experiences that this trip will bring.  With exception to Earl and Ruth Anne Haubner of Project Amazon, we are going into this 10 day journey knowing no one but each other.  I am sure everyone on the trip will kind and servant-hearted Christians though, why else go on a trip like this.  I personally believe that if more Americans were willing to leave their comfort zone, even if only for a week, then we would truly understand what really matters in life.  Everyone could use a helping hand from time to time.  

I got a chance to catch up on some sleep on the flight from Miami to Manaus.  It is a good thing too because the line togged through customs in the Manaus Airport took close to three hours.  On a side note, I had a very interesting encounter in the airport.  The group of people behind my brother and I  were also heading out on a medical mission trip and the leader of their team was a doctor named Steve Wheeler from the University of Louisville who just so happened to be the head of their Med School admissions and processed my application for acceptance to one of their programs.  We shared in an ironic and comical conversation and even borrowed Tyler's cell phone to text his contact in Brazil that they had arrived safely.  It really is a small world.  

I also met a few nice Brazilian folks who spoke broken English in the line before recognizing Earl's son Teddy from a Facebook photo.  The team seems great and their names are as follows: myself and Tyler, Karen, Sherri, Mark, Teddy, Sandy, Glenn, Caleb, Jenny, and of course Earl and Ruth Anne who make these trips possible.  After a short ride on a charter bus from the Manaus Airport to one of the city's port hubs we boarded the Francis & Anne and made our way down the Amazon.  For a mile or so at the beginning of the trip we were lucky to see the parting of the Black and Amazon Rivers where the two are distinctly separated (black and milky brown color respectively).  That was interesting to see in person because prior to this trip I had only ever seen photos of such a phenomenon.  We also met the crew today and even though they only speak Portuguese, it is easy to see that they too are good Christian people.  I do not yet know the names of the 3 ladies and 3 guys who work the boat, but I can tell you one thing&  These women can cook!  The rest of the evening we spent hanging our rede (pronounced hedgie in English) on the boat deck, in addition organizing medications and vitamins for tomorrows work in the villages.  Tomorrow is a big day for the team so we are all trying to get to sleep early.  I know that everyone wants to get this trip started on the right foot.

June 8, 2011

Last night sure was interesting but we awoke to the calm waters at the docks in a town by the name of Sao Sebastiao.  Because the river is so high during Brazil's Winter, it becomes possible for large ocean liners to travel the Amazon and distribute goods to the major port cities.  You can trust me when I say that the combination of large boat wakes and free swinging hammocks (or redes as Brazilians call them) make for a fun ride but little sleep also.  At one point we were swinging so wildly that everyone was awake and laughing at the same time.  However, Tyler didn't find it quite so funny when the tie rope to his rede snapped in the middle of the night leaving him laying on the floor and me trying to fix it in total darkness.  

After breakfast this morning, we gathered on the top deck of the boat to share in a devotional session in which Earl began the difficult task of teaching us Americans how to sing popular worship songs in Portuguese.  We tried but are not very good just yet.  Earl also gave us our responsibilities pertaining to the medical work that we will be doing starting after lunch today.  My job is to help Teddy, Sherri, and Karen perform a variety of tasks in the clinic room and also to keep the floe of people at a reasonable pace so that we can see as many people as possible per day.  After lunch we arrived at our first village, coincidentally, another medical boat had visited them recently so we moved on.  Despite getting used to our roles and the unavoidable late start to the day, we still managed to treat close to 70 people on the first day.  Not bad if you ask me!  After treating people each day we have a service with the kids of the villageÉ Although I did not fully understand, it appeared as though almost all the children professed their faith to Christ and Tyler took their picture with Earl.  To cap off the day we enjoyed another delicious meal consisting of a brazilian salad, rice and beans, and beef and vegetables.  Oh yea, and home made flan!  I already love this country and its' people.

June 9, 2011

Today we woke up and spent most of the day in the same village.  I am beginning to catch on to the songs that Earl has been teaching us in Portuguese.  It has been a lot of fun sharing and singing with the kids at church in the evenings.  Most of the people in the villages are very receptive to the message that God has called us to share with these people.  Although many of the children and adults alike in the village appear to be very happy, it is evident that they do not understand the concept of self-worth.  More than any medicines or help we can offer these people, I hope we can teach them as much about God's love for his children as they can teach us about being happy without all the bells and whistles of our lives the United States.  I mean seriously, is it absolutely necessary that we check Facebook everyday or spend hours texting/talking on our cell phones&  I for one do not miss that part of home in the slightest.  The food was excellent again today and I have finally remembered the names of the ladies who work the kitchen.  Edilsa is the head cook, and she receives help in the the kitchen and with general upkeep of the boat from Nete and Socorro.  I have enjoyed spending time with all of them so far but especially Socorro because she too is on her first trip with the Project Amazon team.  The village we visited today had a church and school that had been established by the 7th Day Adventist Church.  I  found this a bit ironic because in devotional this morning we talked extensively about legalism in the churches of Galatia.  I hope the people of the village saw Christ in our team and understood the message we were trying to convey to them.  

As an aside, I must tell a quick story regarding Dudu.  A short time after lunch today, he asked Tyler to follow him with the 35mm camera.  Tyler had no idea what he was about to see.  As the two of them approached the edge of the village, Tyler was unsure of what was going on until Dudu began climbing a tree with great ease. He knew at that point that something interesting was about to happen. Sure enough, Dudu plucked a three-toed sloth clean from its' resting place and brought it over to the Francis & Anne for us Americans to see and take a few pictures with.  What an experience.  It was a beautiful animal but I am certain that it did not enjoy our presence nearly as much as we enjoyed his/hers.  The feeling was anything but mutual but we did get the opportunity to take a few good pictures before returning it to its home.  We saw many families that day including a father and son of which the prior had a severely sprained thumb/wrist.  In the United States it is easy to take for granted how easy it is for us to head to the pharmacy or drive of the street to see our doctors for treatment.  The people of the Amazon have little to no idea what good medical care can do to improve our lives.  Many of them live in such remote locations that the only time they receive any medical help is when the "Francis & Anne" or another similar boat passes by their village.  Overall, today was another wonderful experience but I would be at fault not to mention the excellent shepherd's pie that Edilsa, Nete, and Socorro prepared this evening.  Also, before I forget to mention it, you can see the bands of the Milky Way Galaxy here.  I am certain that never in my life have I seen so many stars.

June 10, 2011

This morning the cooks graced us with a much more typical American breakfast that consisted of ham and cheese rolls, eggs, fresh fruit and juice, coffee and chocolate cake.  For those of you who have never been to Brazil, it is customary to eat a small breakfast followed by a much larger lunch and dinner.  They were clearly attempting to make us feel like we were at home and I know in my case that it worked.  Following breakfast we had devotional and spoke about the key verses in Galatians 1.  We all seemed to have different ideas but ultimately we converged upon verses 8-9.  Today was also very very enjoyable because I got to know two of the cutest little girls that I have ever seen.  Their names were Michelle and Sandra; they are the daughters of Pastor Ronaldo and his wife Danicelia who serve in one of the villages the team visits.  They more or less serve as the welcoming committee when the boat arrives in a village.  The younger daughter Michelle, who is 9 years old, spent most of the day showing me how much smarter than me she is at that age.  She figured out how to navigate my Iphone and took some great pictures all in about an hour.  Her and Sandra both are very smart and bright futures ahead of them, largely because their parents are such wonderful Christian people.  We spent the whole day in the same village today and had a small service in which Earl pointed out the people the meaning of Christ's love for us.  That it is not only unconditional but everlasting.  We are all special and beautiful in God's eyes as he explained to a young girl before we sang the happy birthday song to her in Portuguese.

Before leaving for another village, a few of us Americans were invited to play futbol with the children of the village and the three Brazilian guys who serve as the boats crew Denis, Dudu, and Sony.  Needless to say, they put us all to shame.  Not only were all the teenagers better than us, but also the young boys and girls.  You would have to see the fields and soccer balls that they play with in order to believe it.  I promise you I am telling the truth when I say that we played on a small cow pasture on the bank of the Amazon. It was quite literally covered with holes and cow droppings.  Back home, no one would ever consider play a sport under such conditions.  Before returning to the boat, I washed my legs off in the brown waters of the river and then proceeded to the shower fully clothed.  I was covered head-to-toe if you know what I mean.  Despite a twisted ankle and clothes covered in bovine feces, today was and probably will be my favorite day here on the Amazon.  Tonight for dinner we are having a beef and vegetable dish that reminds me of a stew that my mom often makes at home.  I feel so blessed to be spending such an extended period of time with these people and I feel that their influence on me has already been life changing.

June 11, 2011

Last night I awoke in the middle of the night and saw one the most incredible things.  Around 1:00 AM I looked out from the port side of the boat.  The moon was still situated high in the sky but on the horizon in the opposite direction I could see the sun which was still setting.  It looked like a ball of fire that was slowly sinking into the river.  It is difficult to for me to explain; I wish that everyone could have been awake to see it.  Anyway, I really enjoyed the work on the boat today.  I felt privileged to have helped treat two separate ladies who had open wounds on their feet and legs respectively.  The second of which, an elderly woman was incredibly patient and rather tough too if I may say.  I have yet to meet anyone who lives in the state of Amazonas who has had a genuine complaint about there lives.  

On a less serious note, Edilsa made another wonderful mousse for dessert.  Already this week I have eaten more dessert foods than I have in the past few years.  It is not that I do not like dessert foods, but I did tell myself before coming to Brazil that during my time here I would try everything within reason at least one time.  That includes swimming in the Amazon, which I have already done twice.  I spent the entire day in the sun today so I am especially tired.  I will try to be more thorough tomorrow.

June 12, 2011

I found out this morning that today is the last day that Ronaldo and his family will be spending on the boat.  I have enjoyed getting to know his family in this short amount of time.  Especially with regard to Michelle and Sandra.  They are two of the most precious and intelligent young girls that I have ever had the privilege to meet.  As a matter of fact, I feel blessed to have met everyone I have come in contact with so far on this trip.  

By the way, the food was excellent again today.  As per usual.  With lunch the ladies made one of the best potato salads that I have ever had (except for my mom's of course).  And for dinner, we had a chicken stew of sorts, also very good or should I say "muito bom".  My Portuguese definitely needs a great deal of work.  Before I forget to mention her, there is a lady by the name of Flavia who has been working with Project Amazon on this trip.  I have formed a special bond with her because she not only speaks Portuguese and a little bit of English but also some Spanish as well.  Whenever I get confused or need to know how to say something I simply ask her in Spanish and she can translate it back to Portuguese.  I have also really enjoyed her company because like me, she has a great deal of passion for children.  She sees the best in each of them and works very diligently to unlock their potential individually.  If you see the video that my brother is making for Earl I am sure that you will see a few clips of her.  Also, we had another opportunity to swim in a very clean part of the Amazon.  Almost everyone on the boat jumped in the water from the top deck.  Even Sherri, who previously wanted nothing to do with the water jumped in and swim for a while.  Besides simply jumping in, a few of us guys also did some diving underneath the boat.  It was basically scuba diving but none of us were as brave as Denis, Dudu, or Sony.  Those guys are afraid of nothing and have even gone as far as to change a prop on the boat in the middle of night with no flashlight. I can not even imagine doing that under a sixty foot boat in the jet black night of the Amazon. The trip really is going well so far.  I hope every day can be like today.  

Lastly, today was probably the most enjoyable service that we shared with the kids in any village.  Almost all of the children came out and we all enjoyed in some great fellowship with other believers.  

June 13, 2011

Today was Monday.  It began in similar fashion to those prior, breakfast followed by devotional.  I attempted to pray for breakfast this morning in Portuguese, but clearly I still need a great deal of practice when it comes to speaking in different verb tenses.  This morning we treated the village that we stayed at last night after leaving Urucara.  Even a week into the trip, I am still amazed at how quickly word spreads to the neighboring villages that their is a doctor or medicine available in the area.  It gives new meaning to the phrase "they came out of the wood work".  Earl told us earlier that the village we treated at this morning was initially very dangerous for the man who started the first church there.  Apparently they threatened him with his life but he persevered.  Eventually, with the help of another gentleman who stood back to back with him has he preached, and of course by the grace of God, they were able to win the entire village for Christ!  His testimony was incredibly moving and powerful.  After wrapping up treatments in the village we began the trip back to Urucara to treat the people that we had met in the Christian church there the night before.  On the way there, we enjoyed another excellent lunch of rice, chicken salad, and lemon mousse that would remind many Americans of key lime pie.

By the time we arrived on the banks of Urucara their was already a crowd of people gathered to see Doctor Sherri.  Before leaving church Sunday evening, Earl told the people of the church that we would be back today to treat them; they were ready.  I had a rather interesting day calling for and helping patients onto the front of the boat.  Many of the women had infant children with them and in addition to the boat rocking from passing boats, there was also a large drop off between the land and the bow of the boat.  Lucky for me, I have spent a lot of time on boats in the ocean and have reasonably good "sea legs".  Beyond working on the front of the boat, I was privileged to help a young man and elderly woman clean their infected wounds.  The people here are incredibly gracious for even the the most simple forms of medical care that many of us in America do on our own.  I guess that is why they are willing to give so much in return for a two months supply of vitamins and ibuprofen.  Every village we have visited thus far has brought us a lot of their local crops whether that be cocoa, guava fruit, bananas, or fresh coconuts.  In reminds of the story of the woman in the bible who was not clean or generally welcome in church.  The wealthy people that knew her ridiculed her for giving so little even though it was all she had.  The people of these villages are very similar.  Though they possess very little in terms of material wealth, they would never hesitate to share all they have with you.  Interesting side note from earlier&  Dudu caught a few wild iguanas so that we could take a few really great pictures.  Later this evening we will be again be docking for the night in Sao Sebastiao so that we can restock on fresh water and fuel.

June 14, 2011

Last night we picked up some excellent ice cream in Sao Sebastiao.  After finishing breakfast and our devotional series on Galatians 1 we had to get to work one last time.  Our last day treating people on the Amazon before we start our 24 hour trip back upstream to Manaus was success. We saw only seven patients (most of which were sick babies) in Sao Sebastiao bringing the total for the trip to 600 people!  Earl mentioned to me earlier that a good number for most trips is 300-400 people.  After a quick rest this morning, we walked the newly paved streets of Sao Sebastiao to see some of the projects that Earl and Ruth Anne helped start for the Central Brazil Mission.  We saw the first church that they helped to have built which also had the first flushing toilet in the entire town.  He told us it was quite a popular attraction for some time and people would wait in long lines just to use it.  While at the church we were lucky enough to see the children of the church practice a couple of dance routines; they were great performers.  In addition to the church, we also saw the towns new hospital (which does not have a full time doctor), and the Green House Project which is on a parcel of land connected to the house several teams before us helped to build and is now occupied by Santana, a very gracious lady who works with the team of people who represent Project Amazon in Sao Sebastiao.  It was at her house that we got to enjoy a tremendous barbecue of beef and sausage, rice, beans, salad, and coconut pudding.  The meat was prepared over an open flame and seasoned only with rock salt.  The food seemed to be endless and tasted amazing.  I would venture to say that it was my favorite meal of the week.  I believe I speak for everyone when I say that we all enjoyed the fellowship and relaxation with family and newly found friends.  While the patient care portion of the trip is going on their is little time to truly give thanks for all the things we get to see. Today was a great day for one reason in particular, it afforded me the opportunity to reflect on trip and all the wonderful people I was able to meet in the state of Amazonas.  It is about 2:00 PM now and we are soon to be headed back to Manaus, that is, as soon as this storm passes and we all have one last chance to plunge into the cool waters of the Amazon River from the third story roof of the boat.  Dinner tonight was exceptionally good as we were privileged to enjoy local fish and fried gator tail, which was caught by Dudu the night before.

June 15, 2011

Most everyone slept in a little while this morning, not myself however.  Last night while working on this journal the computer crashed and I lost nearly half of what I had previously written.  Oh well, I guess it gives me more time to remember the trip.  Besides, I am sure I was making some uncharacteristic grammatical errors while typing at 2:00 AM.  Now we are re-entering the main part of Amazon.  Later this evening we will be spending the night in the village where the new boat is being built.  I am excited to see it because I know many people have put a lot of time and heart into getting the project done.  From what I have heard so far from Earl, I think that the new boat will forever change the way that Project Amazon will be able to help the people of the villages.

June 16, 2011

Today was Tyler and I's last full day with the team.  We spent last night in the village where the new boat is being built.  It sure will be be incredible when they start using it to treat people on the Amazon. It is gigantic.  I am excited to come back for a trip when it is ready. Not only will they be able to see so many more people, but I can also walk around the entire boat without hitting my head on the roof.  Anyway, it is an incredible project and I can not wait to see the future has in store for Project Amazon.  In addition to touring the boat this morning we also got the opportunity to walk around Manaus and shop in the markets for a while.  Tyler and I both bought a rede to put in our home in Jacksonville. I think the whole team had a great time seeing a very different part of Brazil than the Amazon where we have spent the last 10 days.  

Our flights from Manaus to Brasilia, and from Brasilia to Goiania were both nice; the latter of the two lasted a mere 25 minutes.  This evening my brother, Caleb, and I will be staying in the apartment of a mutual friend who works here in Goiania.  His name is Drew Hudnall.  He is a great guy and I am very much looking forward to seeing him again.  Tomorrow we will be going to the mall for a couple hours and later the majority of the team will be returning to the United States.  Tyler and I on the other hand will be spending the next three weeks with Marlon and Yara Brito of Project Grow (another great mission here in Brazil).  It is about 10:30 in the morning and I am wrapping this thing up. But before I do, I would like to leave any future readers of this journal with a few closing words.  First, if you ever get the chance to visit Brazil, leave the cities and see how people have learned to do with out all the luxuries that we have grown accustom to having.  Also, do not be afraid to leave your comfort zone because their are millions of people all over the world, maybe even in your community that are in desperate need of the love and attention that we can only garner through a relationship Jesus Christ.  And finally, offer someone a smile or helping hand each and every day.  Not only will your life be enriched with the pleasure that it brings but you also never know when a single kind gesture could save a person's life.  God's love is truly a universal language, let us remember to share it with others.