One of the things that struck me as harsh was the lack of adequate medical care for the villagers along the riverbanks of the Amazon. I know that is it due to the remoteness of the area and their tribal lifestyle that is under presevation by the Funai. While the rest of Brazil enjoy socialized medicine, it works well, IF you can get to a doctor. It hit home to me when the young woman fainted during the service while we were still at Natal. We were able to whisk her over to the medical boat by canoe and have her checked out. She was revived but if there was something really wrong, we would be able to do nothing. We were a floating medical boat but only for check ups. One of my room mates, Virginia summed it up best and made it hit home. We were talking..what would happen if someone had a heart attack or went into labor and had trouble? Virginia said they would just die. Just die with no help at all. They have no medical care and the mision boats are not frequest visitors as the Mura live in the flooded forest. People from the outside world only have access for a short period of time each year. For the most of the year, they are cut off from what we call modern civilization.
That made me sad. I thought of all the recently expired drugs we were stocked with and all that we had given out to treat all the parasites and worms and colds. These few doses were all that they would have for a very long time.
At night my cabin mates and I would sit around and talk about the day in our very small, animal filled cabin. The dental stories were just terrible. There were some people with so much decay that jaw bone was exposed. Teeth were broken off and there was little to nothing to hold on to, to do the extraction. And there was no anethesia.. just knumbing, so extractions were done with little medication. I think that the pain of the extraction was less than the long term tooth amd mouth pain the Indians had lived with. There would be a little pain relief, short term antibiotics and off they were sent with a piece of gauze stuffed in. I am so glad I do have access to medical care in my life. If some sort of horrid infection developed after we left from parasites in the water or whatever…they were on their own. It made me wince just to think about it, so I tried not to. Jonathas said a time or two, that it might not seem like we were making a difference but we were. What little seeds of hope we planted when we were there, was making the difference for the villagers right then at that time and place. They needed so much more.
There is hope for the future, though. Jonathas told us that there are plans for a mission in the next few weeks to open the first clinic that is free standing. Progress is being made.
With medical care being so limited, I asked where and how the dead were buried with all this water, water everywhere! I was told that since there is no method of embalming, the dead are buried quite away from the villages due to the smell of rotting bodies. There are no real tools like metal shovels so the graves are shallow ones. Some bodies are in wooden coffins and some not. Normally to get to the burial place there is a water procession by boat with the body in the lead boat, sometimes in a coffin or sometimes not. On our trip back home I did see one cemetary. It was high in the cliffs and near the waters edge. Based on the water stain levels in the red clay beneath the cliff, the water at times was very near flooding the cemetary. If there was any more erosion in that area by the Amazon river, bodies would be floating away within a year or two. I did see a few woooden crosses standing, otherwise you would never know it was a cemetary.