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Seeding life in the Amazon (I)

May 12, 2022

Kenia and Jomaris are the first Daughters of Jesus in the Amazon. Perhaps their destiny began to be dreamt with Laudato Si and started to become a reality after the Synod of the Amazon. The Congregation wanted to collaborate on a project to protect our common home, “to live an integral ecology in communion with all creation, to combat poverty and restore the dignity of the excluded”. She searched in different ways and came across REIBA (Red de educación Inercultural Bilingüe Amazónica). Kenia also started searching the internet and found REIBA. At that time, Yomaris’ destiny was Venezuela, but God had another path for her: the Peruvian Amazon.

The adventure began on 28 January, that day they left Elías Piña, in the Dominican Republic, their native country, to head for the Amazon. After a month in Lima, completing the documentation, they arrived in Tarapoto, the first contact with the Amazon. By land, sea, and air they continued their journey to San Lorenzo where they spent another 15 days preparing the documentation for the school. There they took a chalupa (a small homemade boat with a motor) and for three days they traveled along one of the rivers of the Amazon to reach the community of the Missionaries of Mother Laura on 19 March, the feast of St. Joseph, where they will spend at least two years working in the school.

Thanks to technology, we shortened distances to have a conversation with them. We share the first part:

How is the adaptation going?

Everything is very different. Right now it’s winter, but it’s so hot you can’t stand it. The worst thing is the mosquito bites, that’s what we’re finding most difficult. You adapt to the food, it’s a lot of carbohydrates, little vitamins, there’s little fruit, sometimes a coconut and some papaya, some lemons too. The customs are very different, some things are difficult for us. People are shy, they don’t say hello very much and in our country they greet a lot. We greet them in their language “tasha” and nobody greets us back and that’s hard for us. But we are getting used to it. Some children are afraid of us, I don’t know if it’s because of our color, because we are different… Those who get to know us get closer to us, especially at school.

What is daily life like there?

Kenia: I teach English to the students. We get up at 5 a.m. for personal prayer, at 6.30 a.m. for community breakfast and at 7 a.m. classes start. I accompany English and EFA (Education for Work) in a nursery, animating at the level of ecology. Every seed we find we bury, we use all the waste, everything ecologically. We also accompany the teachers in what they need, in writing, because the teachers and staff have difficulty with Spanish. So it’s morning and afternoon. We also promote intercultural education, because at REIBA we support intercultural bilingual education, and every Friday we meet to share experiences.

Jomaris: I also help them in the evenings by accompanying their dynamics before bedtime and the reading, writing, and revision of content. We also help with logistics, because there are only two Laurita sisters here.

How are the families organized?

The houses are very big, with dirt floors. Normally, when the daughter of the family gets married, her husband goes to the house, so there are several families in the same place, but they have different cooks. There is polygamy, the man can have several wives, so each one cooks in a corner, each one with her children, same space but with different food. The woman takes care of the land, the chacra (vegetable garden), and the husband hunts, looks for food far away, and collects it. They do a lot of sports, they have courts on every corner. The woman prepares food made of fermented yucca called masato, they always carry a bucket full of masato to give to their husbands and visitors.

Every day they get up at 3 o’clock in the morning to drink the wayus, which is an infusion, like a little leaf. Around this fire they make corrections, they tell each other the truth to each other’s faces, it is a moment of family counseling. It is their most sacred space, what they respect the most and what keeps them united as a family. Religious celebrations are also held at 5 am.


What do they live on?

Each family has a chacra. There are also people who sell sangre de grado, a tree resin that is medicinal. When people need to buy, they go to San Lorenzo, the nearest town, and sell it. Unfortunately, now oil companies have come in and there are many people from the area who are working for these companies, which, by the way, are destroying the river. They also raise ducks and chickens.


Is it possible for them to leave the community?

Very few leave the community. Some go to Lima to study for a six-year degree; others go to San Lorenzo to study and others study for the military. Thank God, some come back, like the nursing technician here. In the school they try not to lose who they are, so many of those who are now teachers have been students, they went to study in Lima and now they have returned. It is much better because they understand their language, Achuar.