As I walked into work this morning, I commented to my co-workers, “Have you noticed how good the air in Castlegar smells?”
An odd observation, except for the fact that I had just returned a few hours earlier from a missions trip to Guyana, South America with Castlegar Baptist Church.
As is the case in many third-world countries, the storm sewer system there is basically a ditch that runs along side the already narrow roads. It contains a lot of standing water and things in varying stages of decay including left-overs tossed out for the multitude of dogs that freely roam the streets. Compounded by heat and humidity, the smells in the city are not pleasant.
I have been on this type of trip before, and one of my biggest takeaways is always — so you think you have problems? The things we often consider problems would be considered luxuries in many countries around the world.
We take it for granted that we are able to run water from the tap and actually drink it. But we want nicer faucets, bigger sinks. Many people in Guyana would be happy just to have running water in their homes — even though it’s not drinkable.
In Guyana our team either showered with a hand-held shower head, with nonexistent water pressure and no hot water or we bathed in a creek. Yes, that’s right — we took our soap, walked down to the local creek and cleaned up the best we could. So this morning, I got up and filled my bath tub to the brim with hot water, soaked for way longer than was necessary and thanked the Lord for clean water.
In the cities there, having water and electricity in your home is contingent upon your income, meaning there are a lot of people without it. And in the smaller villages, it is not available at all.
We spent part of our time in a jungle village where there was no running water or electricity. The people there just deal with it, food is cooked on fires, and with no refrigeration wild game and fish are necessary elements to keep people fed.
One of the most plentiful animals in the area where we stayed is the agouti — I’m pretty sure they are the “rodents of unusual size” from Princess Bride fame. The locals were happy to catch several of them so they could cook our team a meal. It tasted more like pork than chicken, and I didn’t ask for the recipe. The country is so poor, that McDonald’s hasn’t even set up shop. Tonight I will be eating some Canadian raised beef and will be thankful for farmers, freezers and grocery stores.
While in the country, we only saw a few other Caucasian people the whole trip. Our skin colour fascinated many of the children we worked with — being the first Caucasians some of them had ever seen. We generated a lot of stares and curious looks, and a few catcalls while travelling around. Being in the minority gives one a different perspective.
On the first few days of the children’s camp we ran, some children would come up and tentatively or “accidentally” touch our skin or hair. By the third day, they had decided that Canadians were good people and those touches changed to hugs, which was extremely rewarding.
But amid the hardships of life, there was beauty. The jungle was gorgeous and lush (in spite of the centipedes, snakes and spiders). The fresh fruit was amazing — pineapple, bananas, coconuts, avocados the size of small melons and fruits I had never heard of before, all available at roadside stands from the people who grew them or plucked from trees in the jungle.
And the children — such beauty in their faces, expressions and enthusiasm, such joy over a simple plastic toy or a piece of candy — thankful for the few little things they had been given.
So the next time you start to complain about how bad things have become in North America, stop and really think about what life is like for millions of people around the world, and consider trying to make a difference in their lives.