coffee with a witch doctor
It's so unreal to me that just a month has passed since we were deep in the Amazon. It feels like yesterday, but also a lifetime ago.
These images are from a village nestled deep in the jungle called Mujo Mirin. It was the only community we visited reachable by vehicle (vs. boat), and we were their first white visitors. We came with a dental team who provided free care, a luxury for residents.
We could tell right away that we would leave this place with a lot of stories- But we had no idea just how many. One such tale is about a man called Uncle Black, and his wife Neuze. We visited their home one day, and were welcomed with open arms and coffee.
They have a large home by jungle standards, mostly open air, and have several relatives living with them. There were kids and animals running about the whole time we chatted.
The two of them got together fifty eight years ago. She was fourteen, he was seventeen. They met at a local party and moved in together shortly after. Nine kids and several years later, they still live in the same village, the same building.
They made their living harvesting acai and mandioca roots. Neuze suffers extreme headaches, something she credits to the poor quality of food they have to purchase from outside of Mujo Mirin. They occasionally travel to a nearby port to buy fish and other goods, and have a lot to say about the degradation and lack of nutrients in food today.
The two of them have seen a lot of loss in their years. Every time one of them leaves for any amount of time, they say goodbye like i might be the last time. There has been an increase in deadly violence in nearby villages, and they fear it will spread to theirs soon.
Their story sounds sweet in so many ways, and their hospitality and interest in our company was evident. We talked a lot about the beauty of family, the joy of children, and the value of a welcoming home. They expressed that there is a feel of being forgotten in their community. They are far removed from other communities, and traveling anywhere takes a great deal of time and planning. A few times in conversation, they credited good things in their life to God.
But, there was an underlying heaviness we could all feel. Bottles of alcohol lined one wall, and there was an altar with statues, sand, and ribbons in the middle of the room that they avoided speaking about.
I love to ask old couples to share their favorite piece of wisdom with me regarding marriage. I've received so much beautiful advice this way. When I asked Uncle Black and Neuze though, there was perceivable tension.
Before his wife could speak up, Uncle Black firmly replied, "Don't be jealous." He went on to say that Neuze is a good wife because she was always at home waiting whenever he would be gone for extended periods of time, sometimes several days, and would't ask any questions. He emphasized that jealousy only breaks a family, and should't even be present. That individuals in a relationship shouldn't interfere in each others lives in that way.
As her husband said all of this, Neuze just stared at her hands.
The truth in this community is that Mujo Mirin is a beautiful, beloved place, but also is plagued by a lot of darkness. Witchcraft, promiscuity, abuse, and violence were all made evident to us over our short amount of time there. A fourteen year old mother, a small boy's story about a man who hits and sells children, the drunk father and his skinny children, timid Neuze.
Uncle Black is the village witch doctor. This title has a lot of unhealthy implications by any standard, regardless of religious preferences.
I share all of this not to shine a bad light on these communities, but to be real, to share genuine needs, a window into how other people live. It is so easy to become blind to the rest of the world, to forget the plight of people outside of the spotlight. The process of sorting photos and writing these experiences out has been a way for me to remember them in prayer and every day life.
There's a whole world out there, full of stories we don't know or understand, full of people who feel forgotten. They are so confused by God- claiming Jesus and then ushering in darkness. It was so evident to me in this village that He hasn't forgotten them but is at work there.
I know that This isn't a very joyful post, that it doesn't have the sort of words that will make me popular. But I can't share these images without sharing what's behind them.
I also don't want to communicate that Mujo Mirin is a hopeless place, there is so much joy. I could see it the most in the children there- as they jumped into springs and flew kites. I saw it in the family of ten living in one tiny home, as they welcomed us inside and we sat on the floor sharing stories and prayers and tears.
God is so present and at work in that place, not a corner of this earth goes unseen or unreached by him. I want to fight my human ability to forget stories and place like these. They are so much more important than the mundane objects that rule so much of our minds in daily life. God doesn't forget them, and I don't want to either.