AMAZON BOAT TRIP - SEPTEMBER 13-25, 2021
BY VICTORIA CRAWFORD
Greetings from the beautiful Amazonia region of Brazil! We are a group from Chapel Rock Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana (except one person who joined us from Salem, Oregon). It felt great to arrive here after 24+ hours of travel time. Because there are no current flights directly into Manaus from the US, we flew 9.5 hours from Atlanta to Sao Paulo, then another 4 hours to Manaus. It was exhausting, but well worth it
We were greeted by Earl and some members of his crew, then took a bus through Manaus to the CBM Amazonia boat. Within minutes of embarking, we set sail onto the river. After a shower, a wonderful meal, and some time to watch the sunset, along with a gorgeous rainbow the Lord blessed us with, we got some much-needed rest.
I am writing to you from a redes (hammock) on the top deck of the boat. We are surrounded by the river and green forests all around us, broken only by occasional villages and dwellings. We are feeling the welcome breeze, as it is about 86 degrees and humid. I am smelling the wonderful aroma of lunch being made by the crew directly underneath me. The only sound I hear is the wind, the motor, and the waves being created by the boat. Life is a different speed here and it is beautiful and refreshing.
I have missed several days of writing because we have been so busy here on the boat. After our first day of traveling on the river, we arrived at our first village. Dozens of families came on the boat for treatment. To be safe in the midst of the Covid pandemic, we sprayed their hands and feet with alcohol and required everyone to wear a mask. Unfortunately, we were unable to allow the children to come on the boat because we needed to control the number of people in the small space. However, our pediatrician saw many of them at the registration area in the village and was able to assess immediate needs. Families had many expected ailments such as back pain, joint pain, acid reflux, rashes, and cold/cough symptoms. Additionally, we would see some infections or orthopedic injuries. At the second village, we removed a half-inch thorn that was embedded in a young man’s leg. We traveled to several villages in a lake area off a tributary of the Amazon over the course of three days. Hundreds of beautiful Brazilian families were served and we pray they all felt the love of Christ through this ministry.
After 3 full days of clinic, today was a day of rest for our team as we traveled about 6-7 hours downriver. We are traveling to an area of the Amazon that has never before been visited by CBM, so we look forward to all of the new challenges that await us. After a tiring 2 days of flying, then several days working in the clinic, we all appreciated the day to rest and reflect. Many of us spent time in the redes while reading or taking a nap, some people exercised, we played games, and we visited amongst the group. The day ended with a powerful thunderstorm and a gorgeous rainbow. Our hearts, our souls, and our bellies are full here on the CBM Amazonia.
Saturday was spent treating patients in several small villages in the Amazonas region. We were treated to a crowd of children doing acrobatic jumps into the river and playing catch. They were excited to see the boat arrive with the Americans on it, and were even more excited to get some candy and Frisbees!
We had a young man present to the clinic who complained of anemia, a common complaint amongst the people here. However, his skin color made it evident he was extremely anemic. We are able to do simple blood tests, and his hemoglobin level was 1.3. Nonmedically-trained people may read this without much thought. However, all doctors are nurses probably just gasped a little at that sentence. Simply put, that level is dangerously low and his is in need of emergency medical care with a blood transfusion. Our Tylenol and vitamins were no match for his medical condition. Doing medical care in remote areas of the world is very rewarding, but can also be highly discouraging because we know that we are unable to provide the level of care that is needed for serious ailments such as this. We supplied him with vitamins, prayed fervently on his behalf, and educated him on the gravity of his situation. His family agreed to take him to the nearest city with a hospital, so later in the day he would travel by boat for 6-7 hours with the hope of seeing a doctor that can help him. I continue to think of him and pray for his health.
After leaving the second village, our journey became more of an adventure. We traveled into the state of Para, which is an area that has never before been visited by CBM or the crew. We took along a missionary named Miguel, whose home village is in this area. He was instrumental in helping the crew navigate the new area of the river. The scenery through this tributary is almost impossible to describe. I do not believe it can be understood without being experienced. The river was as smooth as glass, mirroring the clouds in the blue sky above. The water was at an elevated level (not the highest it gets), so only the tops of trees jutted out of the water. And those trees were also reflected in the water. All in all, it felt as if we were part of a sci-fi movie. However, I doubt even Hollywood could create special effects as impressive as the natural landscape created by God in this place. By the time the boat docked, the sun had set and the full moon was above us. We are now several days from the nearest industrialized city, and to say this is a remote corner of the earth is an understatement.
Every morning begins with Bible study and worship, but today is Sunday so we also had the Lord’s supper together. There are many ways to experience God’s power and divine design, but to me, there are few things this in this world more powerful than worshipping and praying with God’s people in different languages. In that moment, our differences disappear and we are united in a supernatural way to fall at the feet of the one God for all people. The pride of mankind is the reason for language variations, but our humility at the feet of Jesus brings us back together. I am convinced we are getting a small taste of the abundant worship in heaven when this happens.
We spent the morning treating patients in the home village of our missionary Miguel. The CBM boat has never been to this village, so the people were excited and grateful to have us. We treated aches, pains, infections, and parasites. Additionally, we had a gentleman come on board who had gotten near a tree that had some sort of poison on it. His entire abdomen was covered in flaking skin with open sores. We treated him the best we could with the supplies available to us, then told him to stay away from that tree!
As I write this, we are traveling back out of this tributary through channels with jungle on both sides. The water is dotted with small islands of jungle growth, so our awesome captain, Sanderley, is navigating his way around the obstacles. It is slow-going and appears perilous to our American eyes, but I have full confidence in the knowledge and ability of our crew.
I would like to take a minute to share with you a little about the best boat crew in the Amazon River. Just driving the boat seems to be a pretty major undertaking. They have to understand the water level, know where the safe channels are, keep track of our location, avoid obstacles in the water, and dock the large boat along the shore at villages. In addition, they also repair malfunctioning electrical boxes, keep the boat clean, plunge stopped up plumbing, monitor the water onboard, and do all other necessary maintenance for a floating home & clinic holding 2 dozen people. In all of this, they maintain their sense of humor, which makes it a lot of fun. Even when that humor is directed at me!
Nete and her crew feed us 3 times a day with amazing food. More about that in a later entry. And Mara works hard keeping up with our laundry and keeping our rooms clean. They are a fun crew, and we have all enjoyed playing Uno with them and getting to know them across language barriers!
After “conquering Para” as the Brazilians have begun saying, we began our trek back the way we came and reentered the state of Amazonas. We visited some villages that brought only a few families onto our boat, and some villages with dozens of families needing care. We treated rashes, coughs, and various aches & pains. A beautiful 14-yr-old girl came onto the boat seeking treatment because she was stung on her foot a week before by a sting-ray. The wound looked terribly painful, but it was healing well and she is no longer in pain. Some families had lab results from earlier visits to the clinic in town and wanted to have these results interpreted. We were able to assure them of overall good health and treat the few abnormalities. Many of the women in the villages were pregnant, and we were able to let a couple mommas hear their babies’ heartbeats. Such a blessing to both us and the precious moms. The kids in the villages were excited to see the huge boat with strangers passing out candy!
I am writing this entry shortly after eating lunch, so I will tell you a little about our food experiences of the week. Our kitchen crew – Nete, Elizete, & Mara – have kept our bellies full morning, noon & night. We have 3 hot meals a day, including eggs, sausage, bread, lots of fruit, beans, rice, chicken, beef, fish, and various amazing desserts! We are beyond grateful to them for nourishing us. The more adventurous members of our group have experimented with some local fare. Cristiano caught a piranha (by request) from the river and Nete fried it for us for lunch. I was apprehensive at first, but found that it is now one of my favorite types of fish! It is a mild-flavored white fish with a thick consistency. I would definitely eat as much as they want to catch for me! Sanderley convinced me to eat the fruit Goiaba, then explained after I ate a bite that he knew it was a really good Goiaba because it still had a worm in it. Well, great. The flavor of the fruit is good, but I was a little disturbed to know I had just eaten a worm! Then today, we all tried some cow’s tail. Tastes like beef!
I will finish today’s entry with some information about the wildlife of the area, which is more abundant than I could explain in this journal. So I will just tell you about the things we have seen. Before coming here, I thought the pink river dolphins were elusive or rare. But we have been blessed to see dozens of them around the boat! You have to be attentive and watchful because they only breach the water for a second. But it is a treat to see. The birds that fly around are colorful and large, with long beautiful tails. If you watch, you will see a parrot fly overhead. Early in the trip, some people from our group saw some monkeys in the trees, but unfortunately I missed them!
But when I think of the Amazon, I think of alligators. So we all wanted to see alligators!! A couple nights ago, Cesar and Cristiano took us out on the small boat to a lake with dozens of alligators swimming around. We spot them by shining the light to reflect their red eyes. In some areas, we saw groups of 8-10 gators swimming together. Suddenly, Cristiano reached into the water and came up with a baby alligator in his hands! He tied the mouth shut, then let us all take turns holding it. Such a fun and surreal experience!
This will be the last entry for this trip, as we are traveling back toward Manaus and preparing for our flight back to the US. Since our arrival on the river, we have treated over 800 Brazilian people in 15 villages. Because of Covid restrictions, many of these people have been lacking in medical care for the past 18 months, similar to what is happening in places all over the globe. But God has provided for them in miraculous ways. They are a beautiful, resilient people who work hard and love their families. It was a blessing to us to be able to travel to them and deliver simple necessities such as pain relievers, antibiotics, vitamins, and dewormer medication. The Brazilian government has done an excellent job of distributing the Covid vaccine, even to the remote villages, so the majority of people we saw had received one or both doses. The virus hasn’t gone away, and these people were affected in terrible ways, just as other countries, but it has not been victorious.
When I return to my home and family in Indiana, I will take a part of Brazil home with me in my heart. It will take time to fully process the beauty of this experience and learn where God wants it to fit in my life story. But I do know for sure that all of us will forever remember the smiles, the heartache, and the love we witnessed on this side of the equator. As Paul prayed for his churches when he was not physically present, we too will pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ serving in the Amazonas region, forever remaining spiritually connected until we are reunited physically in Heaven.