5/11/2020 0 Comments
I was born on the wings of death.
Perhaps we all are.
Before my mother travels to Quito for my birth, my parents send my oldest brother out in the MAF Cessna with Frank Colinger, a single American missionary, to Arajuno.
Arajuno is a Kichwa community with an airstrip built by Shell, the Dutch oil company in their search for oil in the late 1930's. Between 1945 and 1962, 23 new Evangelical churches and missions are welcomed to Ecuador in part to challenge the iron grip of the Catholic church over the country, but also with the hope that they would successfully missionize the Amazon, “pacifying” the people and opening up the Ecuadorian Amazon to oil.
As they work to bring Christ’s gospel to the Amazon, the missionaries use the abandoned oil strips to reach the forest communities. Arajuno is one of the river communities on these strips.
My brother is 10. He follows Frank down mud paths from house to house visiting families, sitting on wooden benches, drinking chicha. They hunt in the forest. They watch the rain.
They watch the river rise.
Several days into their visit, tragedy strikes.
While my brother stands on the bank watching, a canoe carrying children across the flooded river to school overturns. 10 children drown. Sisters, brothers, cousins--all lost to the swollen river.
One by one, the river gives up the bodies. One by one, the fathers and uncles pull their children in. The children are older and younger than my brother. Some families have lost more than one child.
For the next few nights, my brother follows Frank from house to house as they attend the wakes. At every house, as they approach, they can hear the wailing. The keening pierces the forest, a sharp song of sorrow that flows through the darkness and continues through the rising light of day, it swells with the sun and falls after noon and then calls for the darkness to return. Sometimes the rain swallows the song and sometimes the sorrow swallows the rain.
My brother comes to me cloaked in the spirits of these children.
Years later he tells me that when he sees me for the first time, he recognizes me.
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