Sunday, October 26, 2008


Jungle Mom and friends enjoying the cement floor.

Before living in the jungle, I had never put much thought into the making or care of dirt floors. I assumed they would be care free! Not so.

The first few years in the village, we only had dirt floors. This is because the cost of flying cement out to the village by plane was very expensive. And then, the fact that all the sand and gravel had to be dug out of the river bed during dry season when the river is at its most shallow, carried up to the village and hand mixed with water which you also hand carry, bucket by bucket, slows down the process greatly.

So, dirt floors it was! When making a dirt floor, the first step is to dig down and level the floor as much as possible. Then, using water and a heavy tamp, you begin to pound away!!! You must use enough water to dampen the floor, without actually making mud. This process goes on for several days in each room.

After the floor is deemed "finished", you may then begin to use the room. Dirt floors do need to be swept daily. Lint, thread, and other debris does accumulate just as on any floor. Each day the floor is swept with a handmade broom. Once all debris is removed, you sweep the floor yet again, this time adding water to the floor as you sweep.

This is to settle the dust which comes from walking on and sweeping of the floor. If you do not keep the floor dampened, it will turn to dust and everything in the room, including small children, will be dusty. The dirt is of a high clay content and leaves an orange stain on everything. I had orange feet for years!!

Dirt floors do not show dirt, but it is amazing how trash, such as paper and such, will show up! The other problem with dirt floors is when you have accidents, such as spills. How to clean it up? There are many vermin and insects and if you leave anything organic, you will be overcome!

I learned this when we first arrived and our children were all still small. We all came down with malaria and had several bouts of vomiting. How do you clean that up??? With a shovel!!! Then you bring in fresh dirt to fill in the holes.

I did learn that by occasionally adding kerosene to the water I used on the floors, I was able to keep many insects at bay.

We finally laid a cement floor in the main room after about a year and a half . It took us several days to carry up all the water we needed for the cement. We had been collecting the sand and gravel from the river for a few weeks and we were excited to finally lay the floor, by hand. What a job!

Once it was dry, we prepared a concoction for sealing the floor. I heated kerosene on the stove and melted candles into it. We then applied this while still hot to the floor. It worked great! I kept the floor polished by adding 1/4 cup kerosene to each mop bucket. Again, to fight the bugs as well as add shine.

We slowly added floors to the house and eventually added up our costs to be nearly $15,000 US!!! For rough, hand laid cement floors. The floors helped our children's health by cutting down on parasites and also the ever present "nigua".

A "nigua" is a small burrowing tick which lives in the jungle dirt. They especially like to burrow into the toes and even under the toe nails. They are barely visible to the naked eye, but once under the skin, the nigua lays an egg sack which grows and grows and grows... until the eggs hatch and all the new baby niguas begin to reproduce!!! Not fun. Neither is it fun to dig them out of the tender nail bed.

I once had to remove an entire nail of my toe to get to an egg sack under the nail. OUCH!!! And, of course, any opening in the skin is likely to become infected.So the floors, though expensive, were needed and greatly appreciated.We would eventually come to the point of feeling the small niguas before they even burrowed!!

A new problem occurred when we laid the first floor. The Sanema chew tobacco. They keep a large plug of it under their lower lip at all times. This produces a green ,slimy spittle. The Sanema generally spit a lot! They spit out the nasty spittle. On my floors.On my walls. It was a constant source of irritation to me.

I finally had to come to accept it. I did keep a spray bottle of bleach and paper towels handy and taught them to clean it themselves. The bleach was also needed to clean up after the many diaperless babies that came to visit each and every day.

Needless to say, our only furniture was wood or plastic so that it could be cleaned and disinfected daily. I felt it was better to have things I did not mind them using, than to have nice things, but perhaps worry that it would be damaged. I did not want 'things' to come between me and the people I was there to serve.

On the other hand, I did feel it was wise to teach them what behavior would be expected of them by the Venezuelans in town. After gaining their confidence, I was able to teach them that spitting would not be acceptable in town. Nor would babies without diapers! Nor looking inside through windows...nor using yards as an out house... nor walking in unannounced ... nor burping loudly at the table...and many other activities deemed perfectly acceptable in their own culture.
A visitor with her baby.


preacherman said...

I want to thank you for sharing this with us. The pictures were wonderful. I want you to know that I enjoyed reading your blog. Great topics. I want to thank you for the prayers. It means so much to me and my family. I hope you have a wonderful week! :-)

Pat said...

I love your jungle stories ---even if I have read soem beforem I love to revisit them!! O still am touched by your love and desire to minister to the Indians!!

The Indian Mom looks so very young! You mentioned one time about a marriage, but cannot remember the age of the bride.

Prayers are with you and the family!!

MightyMom said...

well, there are some good to be said for "western civilities"


The Localmalcontent said...

Rita, like Preacherman above, I too want to thank you for this post.

I must tell you though, that I was laughing through the first few paragraphs of it, through the 'accumulation of lint...", paraffin wax and kerosene and ticks parts, but as always you bring the whole story around to becoming a lesson, teaching us: and capping it all off with
"I did not want 'things' to come between me and the people I was there to serve.".

So I say, both "What a Hoot!", and "What a blessing~!" to ya, friend.

Kepler said...

Muy interesante.

I am curious about what manners Native Americans see as rude from "Westerners", criollos and otherwise.
I suppose it goes both ways. We do not like people spitting, but perhaps they do not like things we consider as "normal", "perfectly sound".
Any example? ;-)

Jungle Mom said...

There are many seemingly innocent behaviors which they do not approve of or understand.
One is the intimate interaction between the sexes. As a female, I can not look into the eyes of a married male, nor should I interact unless in a group with my authority figure present. That would be my husband, but for unmarrieds, it would be the father, uncle, brother, or some relation.
The criollos almost always break this taboo and it leaves everyone confused and offended.
Mixed bathing of adults in the river is also not appreciated.
And when offered any food or drink, one must not only accept it, but drink (yucuta) or eat it all. NEVER return unfinished food or drink!
They consider all of us to be very loud! When in a small village it is important to respect others in regards to noise level. Many 'turistas' are out for a good time and drink and play music loudly. This is offensive, and if one stops to consider, it would be offensive anywhere.
And many , many more...

Anonymous said...

That thing about not talking to the other sex reminds me of Conservative Jews and Muslims in Antwerp. A female friend of mine (a Spaniard) told me they avoid any contact with women even in their shops because they think they could get contaminated if touched when passing money or the like. Weird.

And how did you do if you could not drink it all? Can you spill it away discreetly? A friend of mine, doctor, said he had to drink some ant soup in the Bolivar region and it was no fun.

I have nothing against ants but I can imagine it was hard for my friend.

As for the noise: that I can share. We criollos tend to be very noisy. Sometimes I have wondered if many of the visitors to the jungle should not better stay in the cities, as they tend to go just for a quick jump into an exotic river and the odd picture, not for learning from nature or the Indian societies there. Daniel commented something similar in his posts on the Warao Indians.

jvaughn0311 said...

Wow, I never thought about that! This is a neat post!=) Interesting! I thought too that dirt floors where easy to take care of, now I realize just the opposite.=)

Jungle Mom said...

Kepler, the only polite way to NOT drink or eat everything is to vomit it up. This is acceptable and more polite than leaving it unfinished. By providing the guest with more than enough food, to the point where one must vomit to finish, they are showing that they are not stingy and wish to provide more than enough. y vomiting it, you are expressing your gratitude at receiving more than enough food.
We have eaten a hot sauce
made of bachacos.
Unfortunately, the criollos most likely to have contact with the tribes, at least those villagers more remotely located would be the military or miners.
The tourist trade is a complicated issue as it does provide income, but at a great cost. Usually brings about prostitution and such.

Kepler said...

Haha! That is funny. My Russian friends also tend to offer too much food, but I am not sure they would appreciate if I vomit in their house as a sign of gratitude. Russians are there a bit like Venezuelan criollos.

When I was in the Gran Sabana I also saw the bad treatment from criollos towards the Indians, condescending at best, worse usually.

One of the most interesting conversations I had with people in my last visits to Venezuela was with an old Pemon lady who took the same road to Maurak, a Pemon village, and who offered a friend an me to take us for free with her family
(we were hitchhiking and the criollos wanted to make us pay through the nose).

I could ask a lot of things about their culture.
By the way, her Spanish was much better than that of the average criollo, even if she learnt it as second language.

Jungle Mom said...

kepler, The Pemon are very familiar with criollos and more likely to understand their culture than the Ye'kwana of the Alto Caura. Even the Maquiritare of the Amazonas are quite well adjusted to the criollo culture.
Our village was much more remote, no roads and a 10 day canoe trip from Maripa with Salto Para in the way. The Salto pretty well deters tourist from continuing on and the indians agree to not transport anyone above the falls.
We could fly in our Cessna from Bolivar in a little over 2 hours.
Each tribe has their own nuances. I am more familiar with the Ye'kwana of Bolivar ( Maquiritare) Sanema and somewhat with the Pemon which is quite similar to the Ye'kwana.
Feel free to ask any questions as I love to share!

Tori said...

How interesting, I love these stories.

Gayle said...

If by some unforseen circumstance I ever will have to build a dirt floor, now I will know how to do it, Rita. Thanks! :)

Wow! The wonderful stories you have to tell. And to think, you don't have to wait for your old age and a rocking chair before you tell them.

Z said...

It's official. You're a saint.

Brooke said...

I SO enjoy your stories, JM!

Thanks again!

Jungle Mom said...

z, I am afraid you do not know me very well...:(

The Hermit said...

I don't think I could let that slide about hocking greeners on my floor. They'd have to adapt to me in that respect.

Kath said...

Amazing! When are you going to write a book? Seriously! I'm wondering how the girls took care of their feminine needs and if there's a difference between now and when you first went there years ago. Also, did you follow what they did, or did you bring several years worth of supplies? :) Also, when you were deep in the jungle, especially in the early years, how did you keep in touch with your family? See, you need to write a book! Have a nice day!

Jungle Mom said...

kath, I'm all about supplies! They use old rags these days, before, they would need to 'sit' near a smoldering fire to deter flies and insects as they dug a small hole to deal with the issues.
We are no longer in the tribe, or Venezuela. All missionaries were expelled from the jungle by decree of Chavez. We have recently relocated to Paraguay.

MK said...

Thanks for sharing that JM. You know if the world came to a grinding halt, we'll all flock to your location cos you sure know how to live out there in the wild. Us softies will need all your experience. :)

Saur♥Kraut said...

You know, I am a great fan of yours and love your stories and courage.

But you constantly remind me of why I wasn't cut out to be a missionary.

When I was very little, I remember hearing my pastor and the various visiting missionaries tell us that God can call you to the mission field and you have to answer that summons.

I watched missionary slide shows, as the missionaries talked about the roasted grubs they ate, or told stories such as this one hear.

And every night after such a demonstration, I would go home and pray constantly that God would never call me to be a missionary.