Hands clapping together and voices lifting up beyond the bounds of wood and frame. Little bare feet running up and down connected boards that create a path from one end of the village to the other. Games played in dust, dirt, and mud that call for river baths when finished. The majestic Orinoco River whose delta is home to the quiet spirits of the Warao people. Canoe paddles splashing in the water in the early morning light. These images, among many others, are tiny treasures I will hold on to in years to come.
About two months ago, ten individuals (three staff members, myself included, and seven high school students) boarded a plane to Delta Amacuro. This is a state that encompasses where the Orinoco River pours into the Atlantic Ocean. It is known as the Orinoco Delta.
The trip was a part of the secondary department’s Week Without Walls: an opportunity for the students to serve outside of the walls of the school.
If I calculate correctly, we spent about two days travel and preparation to get to the Warao village, three fulls days with the Warao people, and two days of travel back to Caracas.
The boat ride to and from the village totaled somewhere around six hours there and five hours back.
The morning we arrived at the river, it was cool but not cold. We left the town sometime around 4:00 a.m. and arrived at the boats about 5:00 a.m. As we were packing our backpacks, food, and other assorted items into the boats, the sun was coming up. The picturesque moment of watching the sun pull itself up from the behind trees into the sky and cast its glistening beams over the river was magnificent.
I remember feeling so at peace on the boat ride. All was silent for a good part of the trip, partly due to the sleepy state of the students, partly due to the moving sounds of the wind and the water. Six hours was not near as terrible as it may initially sound.
Another moment imprinted upon my heart and mind is the moment we arrived at the dock in front of the house we would be staying in (see below). Some of the children in the village must have heard the boat as it made its way toward the dock. There they were, as the boat slowed upon the water, peeking their heads around all corners.
Much of our time was spent surrounded by these curious and energetic children. The students put together a mini-VBS for the children. I was continually impressed by their involvement and dedication during their time with Warao people.
The dock connected to the house quickly became a playground filled with the sounds of feet running, water splashing, laughter, and mixed languages.
It became the center of much activity during our time there. We gathered our water, brushed our teeth, and washed our clothes on the dock.
The proper washing of clothes was taught by several of the children. The correct process is to rub the clothes down with blue soap and then pound them with a wooden paddle until they are soppy and soapy. After which, you ring them out in the river.
Perhaps one of the most hilarious moments occurred when the little boys were gathered outside of the house knocking down all of the spiders that lived outside of the upstairs window where the girls slept.
They found an extremely long stick to accomplish this mission. Once most of the spiders were knocked down upon the boardwalk, the boys proceeded to run around and smash the spiders with their bare hands.
As we pulled away from the dock on this last day, I found my heart to be both heavy and
full. The students all felt the same way.
I am beyond thankful for every moment I experienced there. I’m also thankful for the maturity and selflessness of the students I experienced this trip with.
I have said many times what a beautiful people the Warao people are. Initially shy, but one quickly finds that they are altogether warm and generous.