I'm writing to you today outside of a small town named Tamshiyaku, located in the Amazonian jungle of Peru. Filtering through the screen windows are the sounds of birds chirping, dogs barking, insects humming and motors sputtering as boats make their way up and down the Amazon River. Every once in a while I can hear the eerie sound of whistling drifting on the still air and I wonder what type of bird makes that noise. When I've asked a number of different people about this sound and why the dogs bark occasionally in the night for no reason, I've been told casually that it's from the ghosts that stroll along the river banks as they walk to and from the villages.
I've been in Peru for almost four months so far serving as a Global Ministries Intern and working with a non-governmental organization called APECA (Association Promoting Education and Conservation in Amazonia). Right now, the on-site APECA team is made up of Pablo the Program Director, Bella the cook, me, 5 dogs, 2 peccaries, one trumpeter bird and a number of chickens that changes occasionally depending on what we have for lunch. Gina, APECA's President, splits her time between Peru and the United States and will be here working with me and a visiting volunteer at the time that you receive this letter. Since my arrival, every month has brought new experiences and opportunities to learn about the people and animals that live here in the Amazonian jungle.
In October, I arrived with two volunteer nurses from the United States and we hit the ground running with our health campaign in the rural communities. During two short weeks, we visited 18 communities and served 357 people with concerns including fungal infections on the skin, parasites, infected wounds, cough, high blood pressure, arthritis and muscle pain, to name a few. Through this experience I was able to familiarize myself with some of the local customs and ways of life here along the Amazon as well as learn more about health. As many communities that once relied on natural remedies are now turning to pharmaceuticals, lots of education is needed as how to properly administer pharmaceuticals while still encouraging the use of natural medicines.
During November and part of December, I lived in the city of Iquitos with a host family and volunteered with a local zoo named Quistococha. I very much enjoyed my time there and had the opportunity to not only learn about and interact with the animals that are native to this region, but also have hands on experience helping the veterinarians and biologists treat sick animals. Having to converse solely in Spanish at the zoo helped speed along the learning process and incorporate new words into my vocabulary. One of my favorite days at Quistococha was when the police brought us a sloth that had wandered into an urban area. Because this species of sloth's diet specializes in the leaves from only one type of tree, it would have been difficult to maintain its health in captivity and therefore we released it in the reserve surrounding the zoo. Ever since I had watched the movie “The Mission” I had become obsessed with the idea of holding a sloth and was beyond thrilled to join in this adventure!
As 2014 and my position with Quistococha came to a close, I enjoyed celebrating the Christmas season with Pablo's family in Iquitos. I welcomed in the New Year with yellow ribbons around my neck, lentils in my pocket, and 12 peeled grapes in my belly to ensure that 2015 would be a year of luck, financial success and accomplished goals.
The month of January was a hodge-podge of tasks and experiences as the APECA team returned to El Fundo, APECA's study center in the jungle, and prepared for the first Promotores de Salud (Health Care Training) session of the year. During the three day course, 22 representatives elected by the surrounding rural communities attended classes about tropical diseases, methods of disease prevention and practiced public speaking and leadership skills. APECA's team of three (Pablo, Bella and I) worked hard making tables and benches, transporting the students, preparing and serving meals, and working with the doctors to during the classes. We all saw God working through us that weekend as everything eventually fell into place. Even the meat that we had bought in Iquitos lasted five days without refrigeration and only a small amount of ice – a miracle for sure!
I have had many challenges during my time in Peru, but am doing my best to learn from them and let them help me grow. Through all of them I have heard God's voice affirming that I am where I am supposed to be and doing what I am supposed to be doing. I've found that God has given me an enormous amount of strength and peace through both stressful times and tedious tasks. But I've also experienced many joys. My favorite moments here include seeing a toucan that has a feather for a tongue, catching a glimpse of a pink river dolphin surfacing, and waving to the children on the river banks who recognize our boat and remember my name. Things like this cause me to stop and marvel at this crazy beautiful creation. I treasure the memories of occasional adventures like Pablo asking me if I want to go see the anaconda that's caught in the fishing net, walking around the plaza to see the Christmas lights and pretending not to be afraid of snakes and electric eels to calm the two little girls who are holding my hand as we walk into the water to swim. I've realized that I am getting used to some things that at first were new and strange – like eating entire fish instead of just the filet, hopping on the back of a friend's motorcycle or riding the city bus, washing laundry by hand and eating boiled plantains with every meal. I've enjoyed seeing this part of the world from a local's point of view and being accepted warmly by the people of the communities. I am grateful for this opportunity to serve as a missionary and use my skills as a biologist in the context of conservation and health care!
If you'd like to stay informed about the rest of my adventures as a Global Ministries Intern, you can read my articles on my Global Ministries page http://www.globalministries.org/lauren_kabat or my personal blog which is kabatscompass.wordpress.com. Due to not having internet except for a few nights a month when we journey into Iquitos, I haven't been able to keep up with my blog as much as I'd like, but am going to try and update it as regularly as possible. Thank you all for the love and kindness you have shown me throughout this journey!
Lauren Kabat serves with the Association Promoting Education and Conservation in Amazonia (APECA), located in El Fundo, Peru. She serves as assistant to the Program Director. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Week of Compassion, Disciples' Mission Fund, Our Church's Wider Mission and your special gifts.