Monday, October 31, 2016

Return to Urubichá

I recently had the opportunity to visit Urubichá again after almost 3 years.  When our ministry plans changed direction in 2013, I made a rather hasty exit -- packed up the Patrol, threw all my tools and gear in the trailer, and hit the road for Santa Cruz.  Although the transition to ministry at Etnos has been bittersweet at times, I haven't truly regretted that decision.

However, I was excited to go back for several reasons:

1.  Since I left, Emilio and Marlen have finished culture/language study and started writing chronological Bible lessons.  They have a small group of believers meeting in their patio each Sunday and have a kids' program on Saturdays.  I was eager to see and hear how things are going for them.
2.  Margarita joined the team about a year and a half ago, and Eliana moved out there in June.  The purpose of the trip was to evaluate their progress in the Guarayo language.  My role was to accompany Judy, our language consultant, and learn how to do evaluations, a natural extension of what I am already doing in the training center!
3.  My parents are here for a few months to visit us and help around Etnos and I was able to take them along.  They haven't spent much time out of the city on this side of the country, so it was a great opportunity to introduce them not only to a place so important to me as Urubichá, but all of the countryside along the 210 mile trip as well.

The Guarayos team (l-r): Eliana, Margarita, Esteban, Emilio, Ninoska, and Marlen
On the trip out to the village, it occurred to me that this was the first time I was going to Guarayo country without planning to live there.  That realization gave me the freedom to look at everything through different eyes and I found myself much more relaxed.  I definitely took a lot more photos (Click here to see 80 of the best).

We drove on Saturday and arrived just before the kids' program.  They were having a special game day to encourage more kids to come, and there were a ton!  The younger ones and the gals played board games while Emilio reffed a soccer tournament for the older boys.

On Sunday, we joined the group in the family's patio. Unfortunately, most of the congregation was at a big event at another, Spanish-speaking church in town.  Even so, we enjoyed our time and were treated to several Guarayo worship songs, a violin duet by Esteban and Ninoska, and Emilio teaching in Guarayo.

On Monday, the work started.  Judy and I spent a couple hours with Eliana that morning, asking her to do a variety of activities using the Guarayo words and phrases she knows.  Then, in the afternoon, we invited a bilingual Guarayo lady to come listen to the recordings and talk to us about how Eliana speaks.  We also visited a couple from the church, Hermenegildo and Matilde, to get their perspective.  She is doing great!
Judy, Eliana, and Rafaela

Urubichá is known for making the best hammocks in Bolivia. Matilde is finishing the one in the background.
On Tuesday, it was Margarita's turn!  She is also advancing very well!  She is fairly well conversational and speaks rather fluidly.
Judy, Margarita, and Esther
Of course, no trip to Urubichá would be complete without going to the baroque music institute!

A highlight for us was to find Esteban giving a violin lesson to a 5-year old student.

Behind the music institute, there is an artisan institute that offers woodcarving classes for the men and weaving, sewing, and needlework classes to the gals.
Guarayo men hand-carve wooden boxes to sell

Guarayo girls with their needlework samplers
Eliana is using the weaving institute as an opportunity to spend time with the ladies, building crucial relationships and listening to language as she weaves.  She recently started a new bag and showed us the process of setting up the vertical threads on the loom.

That evening, we spent some time on the plaza and stopped in to see the church and watch the Urubichá youth choir practice for the following night's performance.
The region's reliance on timber and woodcarving shines through, even in the Catholic church
On Wednesday, our final day in town, Judy and I spent some time talking over the results of the evaluations with the gals, giving them suggestions for how to continue improving in their studies.  We visited the Rio Blanco in the afternoon.

That evening, we went back to the plaza and joined a packed house for a performance by the choir.  They sang an amazing rendition of the Kyrie from Domenico Zipoli's Missa in F.

Our plan for Thursday was to take some final photos of the team and hit the road by 8:00am for the ~7 hour drive home.  We had been gone for 5 days already, and I was eager to be back with Kaylee and the girls.  We were also taking Eliana and Margarita back to Santa Cruz with us, for a missions conference that started that evening!

However, first thing that morning we got news that there was a big blockade in San Julian, a town about halfway home.  Apparently, the soy and sunflower growers were upset about prices, among other things, and applied Bolivia's normal form of protest:  block the highway until the government agrees to help.  I was unsure how to proceed -- whether we should stay another night and see if it died down, or go look for a way to go around.

Then Emilio got a phone call, in which he learned that a group in Urubichá was planning to block the highway in Ascención due to a timber dispute.  So we decided to get out of Dodge.

We drove as far as El Puente, home of Bolivia's nicest gas station (in my opinion). After fueling up, I asked about a way to get around San Julian and one of the old timers told me about a route that cut cross-country to Montero.  I have often wanted to find a way through there, so of course we decided to try it! :D
Lunch in Nucleo 29
It was an exciting, crazy drive through farm country on bumpy, dusty roads.  We had no map, no GPS (mine was stolen recently), no road signs, and for most of the journey, no cell coverage.  I lost track of how many times I stopped and asked people for directions.  We had to flip a couple of U-turns, but we never got truly lost and never got bad directions.

For me, the highlight of the trip was crossing the Rio Grande on a barge, my first time!

The AC conked out around noon, so the inside was just as dirty as the outside!  We made it home in 10.5 hours, hot, filthy and exhausted, with just enough time to shower, change, and grab a bite to eat before the conference started!!
I spent some time on Google Earth figuring out as much of the route that I could. Due to a recent, significant change in the course of the river, I was unable to complete the center section, but it gives the idea. :)