Rain is beating against the red earth (Pucallpa is Quechua for red earth). Dust becomes thick, hungry clay swallowing up any wheels that try to pass through unpaved streets. Maybe the dust isn’t so bad, I’m thinking as Uncle Marty’s (as the children affectionately call him) truck is sloshing across red mud and begins to sink into a ditch.
An eccentric, elderly Peruvian woman without teeth is in the front seat directing us to continue on this road so that she can get home. Her backward bandana rests on gray curls and high, strong cheekbones. Wearing richly pink pants, and a shirt of many colors, she’s insisting that we move forward, saying aloud in Spanish, “All powerful God, Help us!”
We are helped.
The water tank on the roof is growing algae. Maybe this has something to do with the persistent high fevers: Chloe’s reached 105. Michael’s: 104. With this water, we have cooked, bathed and washed dishes and vegetables. But now the man on the roof is draining the source of our expenditures and foul, green water shoots out through two protruding pipes from the top of the house down to the sidewalk. Sounds like rain.
Heavily-loaded canoes and other boats, whose names I don’t yet know, are pulling into the muddy river bank unloading stock after stock of green bananas and plantains. There are sweet-rather-than-sour lemons, and all shapes and colors of hot peppers. In the market stalls, beautifully woven hammocks hang from tin roofs. In others, there are beheaded turtles, whose limbs are separate from their shells.
Snake in a rusty cage. Ducklings and chicks. Quail eggs in jars. Tiny, firey monkeys whose red ribbons tie them to the cages they sit upon snarl, and make threats to passers-by. Quechua women drag carts through the meat stalls with their smooth, wooden spoons and bowls, weaving in and out of hanging pigs’ feet and giant black and white slippery fish piled in sloppy stacks. As the sun crawls higher into the sky, sweat drips from our noses and the bags of garlic and peppers, lemons, meat and mandarin oranges begin to make our shoulders ache. The moto-taxis plunge through the rocky dirt paths leaving little room for street-crossing.
One father is wearing his tiny baby, while driving his motorcycle. Another small toddler is sitting in her pink walker which is tied to the back of the motorcycle seat resting on the bench of the moto-taxi. We begin to walk, then race through open holes in the traffic pattern, inhaling gusts of diesel fuel. We are on the other side now. There are woven brooms and hanging kitchen sinks from awnings. Painted, peeling turquoise wood panels are made into towering shelves that hold laundry soap beside giant sacks of loose flour and sugar and hard corn.
Later in the afternoon, Aunt Dena serves fried fish and giant kernels of buttery corn mixed with red pepper and smoked pig meat. There is garlic rice and homemade apple pie. We are celebrating Michael and Uncle Marty’s safe arrival from Lima. Having driven the usual 16 hours in 21, given a two hour road-construction stop and mile after mile of striking cocaleros, their safe arrival calls for a feast.
A convoy of trucks protected by police in army fatigues carrying semi-automatic weapons led the way while cocaine-growers and their sympathizers launched rocks from the hillsides at the Land Cruiser Uncle Marty and Michael were driving. The road was littered with burning rubber tires. For weeks the main highway had been impassable due to coca-growers (whose product is processed into cocaine) on strike. As soon as the newspaper deemed the road clear, Michael and Marty flew the hour to Lima to pick up our vehicle, making the long trip back home with a car load of supplies from Lima…
They hear a heavy thud on top of the car. They’ve been hit. And later-- hit again on the side of the car door…
Home in Pucallpa, Dena and I have lost communication with them and it has been many hours. We are growing restless-- uncertain…
It’s been 23 hours. Still--no electricity. A little frog is hopping across the dark house, after finding his way through the open front door. The windows are open, too. We are sprawled with pillows across tile beside the door. Usually fans provide relief-- there is no air conditioning. But even the fans sit dormant tonight without power.
Everyone in my family is sleeping. My eyes are closed. I imagine a warm wind beginning to move through darkness. I am recalling the events of the day: learning to drive that stick-shift Land Cruiser, shifting gears without the clutch only to be firmly scolded by Michael: You’re not doing what I say!
Me: I can’t even understand what you’re saying. That’s not my learning style. I do much better with trial and error.
Michael: You can’t say that about driving! This is not about learning styles. We’re trying to stay alive here, Crystal! Listen to what I say and do it.
I am laughing.
He scolds again: This is no time to be laughing. You’re in the middle of the street and everyone is staring at you. You’re blocking traffic.
He tells the people to go around me, and I try again to shift into third gear. I cannot stop smiling. He’s always great at giving directions. My ability to heed them under pressure can be somewhat lacking. Still, I cannot stop smiling. So he does too.
For in union with Christ, you have become rich in all things… 1 Corinthians 1:5
Pictures from some of September can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=75281&id=1334529821&l=1419c97b21