Kathryn: Spring break, Amazon style

April 4, 2010

For spring break, I threw in my lot with a group of students from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, to go on a medical mission to bring a health clinic and spiritual nourishment to pueblos in the Amazon region of Ecuador. The team also included American doctors and nurses, Ecuadorian priests, and a number of English/Spanish translators. My role was to help translate health talks and religious talks and skits for people waiting to be seen at the clinic. The week was filled with rich experiences of generosity, culture, nature, and community. My only connection with the group was that I had been in email contact with a Franciscan alum, Lily Hannon, who is currently living and working in an orphanage on the coast of Ecuador. She and her missionary partner Breanna, had planned to participate in the mission trip, and it so happened that the dates exactly aligned with my Spring break.

I wish I had time to detail all of the experiences I had, but with the limits of time and space I will recount a few highlights:

  • Ferrying or taking long, thin boats back and forth across the river that separated our hotel from the towns where we brought the clinic.
  • Playing soccer, red light green light, red rover, and duck duck goose for hours with hordes of barefoot, dirty, smiling children.
  • Sneaking off with some of the kids to see the river in a hollowed out log-boat only to fall in the river five feet from shore.
  • Getting a tour of the jungle and eating cacao, papaya, an orange avocado-like fruit, pods with fluffy melony-tasting chunks inside, and hierba luisa—a grass used to make tea.
  • Speaking about and against alcoholism to a group of young men in a village; teaching groups of children how to pray the rosary; translating and acting out the Good Samaritan.
  • Handing out first aid kits and translating messages about basic hygiene—washing hands, brushing teeth, boiling water (or setting it in the sun for six hours in a clear plastic jug).
  • Watching traditional village wedding dances and being pulled into one by a seven-year-old boy.
  • Sleeping on the concrete schoolhouse floor under mosquito netting without mattress or blanket, listening to a monsoon roar outside.
  • Going to daily mass all week and relying on that grace to come up with religious talks, songs, and skits in Spanish with almost no preparation.
  • Getting climbed on, incessantly poked and chased by kids.
  • Going back to Quito and getting my nails done with one of the other missionaries for $2. Then going with her to get her ear pierced, also for an obscenely low price.

For those of you who just want to see it, here is a slideshow of the trip!

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