Something old

This is something I wrote a long time ago, a memory from my childhood in the Peruvian Amazon. I’m falling behind on my 3x-a-week posting goal so I thought I’d dredge something up from the past – my sister calls this “playing in the residue.” I think I was about 11 years old when this story happened. 

***

Aguano Muyuna

My family sat on the bank of the Urubamba river, waiting for the boat that would take us upstream to Aguano Muyuna.  The sun was hot and bright, reflecting off the sand of the riverbank and sparkling in the pebble-bottomed rivulet that ran into the murky brown rushing river.  On the opposite bank, a wall of jungle rose into the sky, slender trees holding up a green canopy and trailing vines and other climbing plants.  Close by, two women from the nearby village of Chazuta were washing their clothes in the rivulet.  We sat on our bags and waited.

I had to go to the bathroom, but there was no bathroom, no outhouse or latrine, so my mother told me to go into a clump of bushes just up the shore from where we sat.  I meandered over, picking my way around knee-high scrub into the higher bushes.  Around the back of the bushes I saw a man cutting coconuts from a palm tree, up on a ladder thwacking away with his machete.  I carefully made my way into the middle of the bushes, peering in all directions to make sure no line of sight would penetrate my shield.  Finally satisfied with my spot, I started to unzip my pants—when a buzzing swarm rose up from the grass at my feet and enveloped my head.  I screamed and ran out of the bushes, zipping up my pants as I ran towards the coconut man, waving my arms wildly around my head and face, feeling the burning sting on my hands.  “Al agua, al agua,” he shouted, waving his machete towards the river.  I stumbled down the bank to where my parents were rising to their feet anxiously.  I had left the cloud of bees behind me but my mother swiftly began to pull live bees and dripping stingers from my hair.  I was sobbing from the pain.  The clothes-washing women hovered around offering advice and clucking sympathetically.

I heard my father say, “maybe we shouldn’t go after all,” in his worried voice.  I didn’t understand.  Because of the bees, we wouldn’t go to Aguano Muyuna?  Was it really possible to cancel a trip?  How could we not go?  Weren’t we all packed and waiting for the boat?  Weren’t people waiting for us to arrive?

The pain had subsided and my crying calmed.  I looked at my arms, wondering how many times I had been stung, trying to count the welts.  I saw big red welts, and between them a whole rash of tiny little bumps.  “Look, Mommy, they must have just barely stung there without leaving the stinger,” I said.  She looked more closely, afraid now.

“Those aren’t stings,” she said.  “That’s a rash.”  She pulled out her toiletry bag and fished for a bottle of antihistamines.  “Take this,” she ordered, handing me a pill with a tall plastic cup filled with boiled water for drinking.  I obeyed.

Evidently my folks decided to go ahead with the trip, because the next I remember we were on the boat heading upriver.  I was no longer in pain, except for my right eye; despite my flailing, one bee had managed to sting me just at the corner of my eye, and the whole eyelid was swelling in a comically lopsided way.  I felt relieved that my accident with the bees hadn’t prevented the trip.

***

To be continued…

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4 Responses to “Something old”

  1. slowmamma Says:

    The jungle is such a beautiful yet harsh place. Your experience seems to validate that. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to grow up as the child of missionaries (or a missionary?). It clearly makes for some special memories.

  2. Rachel Says:

    Wow! Your growing up is so different than any thing I can imagine. I am glad you were OK, that could have been deadly.

    • Elizabeth Says:

      I guess it could have – I never thought about it quite that way. I don’t think we were as aware then of the possibilities of severe allergic reactions, for instance.

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