Part three of how Chuck and I met and fell in love. You can read Part I here and Part II here. The world shifted for me the moment Chuck said, “I want to have ten kids”. I’ll admit, that number seemed a bit extreme to me. I wanted a large family, defined by me as seven or eight kids. Preferably seven since for some strange reason my brain prefers odd numbers and nine, well, that was just too many, you know?
I found myself subconsciously keeping an eye out for Chuck during meals, on the work site, during devotions. Where was he? What jokes did he laugh at? What comments did he make? Being a leader meant it would have been impossible for me to “pair off” with him even if I had wanted to. I was busy just quietly observing the soft-spoken, cute Canadian…
There was no hurry. We were smack in the middle of the Amazon jungle. Neither of us was going anywhere anytime soon.
The jungle heat began getting the best of me. I was tired. Really tired. I felt hot all the time (who didn’t?) By bedtime I would crawl into my tent and crash. Working at the job site was getting harder every day. I just didn’t have the stamina. When breaks were called, I would take sip of water from my canteen, lie down on the jungle floor and fall asleep.
And then there were bats.
The first project when we arrived in our jungle home was to dig two latrines. They were basic and functional: a hole in the ground, a wooden seat, corrugated tin walls and a tarp door. It was perfect. Until the Bat Invasion of ’94 that is. It started off innocently enough. A few bats found that the girls’ latrine (separated a good distance from the guys’ latrine) was a good resting spot. We began a routine of tentatively approaching the latrine and giving the corrugated wall a few good kicks to warn the bats before we entered.
And it probably would have been okay if the bats didn’t discover hanging under the toilet seat part of the latrine to be an even better resting spot. So our routine grew to tentatively approaching the latrine, kick kick, throw open the door, wait for the bats to exit, kick the wooden platform the seat rested on, duck and cringe, wait for the bats to leave the seat area, all while holding the tarp door open. Lets face it, no matter how brave you are, no matter how much you pride yourself in being a Buff Alaskan Woman, no one wants a bat flying into their nether regions.
Am I right?
The bat problem eventually got so bad we took to taking a friend to stand guard as we took care of business (at least the quick sort of business) outside of the latrine. The bats were happy and we were, if not happy, no longer concerned that we would have to head to our team nurse, Chuck, for a bat bite on our feminine posteriors. I’m pretty sure he would have retired his position as team nurse had this unfortunate event ever actually occurred.
A few of our team members became sick with fevers and aches. Teen Missions’ policy states that each team have a sick tent where ailing team members must go for a minimum of 24 hours after they are declared sick. They are only allowed to have their canteens and Bibles with them. This accomplishes two things: is discourages the spread of germs and discourages the faking of sickness.
Fevers and aches in the jungle, of course, bring up visions of malaria, dengue fever and African sleeping sickness. I was careful. I always wore a long-sleeved shirt in the morning, despite the laughing of my fellow team members. It was never cool enough in Brazil that summer to justify that long sleeve shirt, but mosquitoes take one look at me and consider me an American smorgasboard. An all-you-can-eat feast of hot, red blood made to order. A free meal for them and their relatives. Mosquitoes love me. They love me more than any other human within a ten foot radius of me. My 98% DEET repellent only repelled fellow humans, not blood sucking insects. So I suffered through the mornings and evenings (when the mosquitoes made their twice daily appearances) with my long sleeve shirt. Besides that, almost everyone on the team was taking anti-malarial medicine. We would take it each Sunday afternoon and it gave me vivid nightmares that had me waking in the jungle sweat-soaked, my veins coursing painfully with adrenaline.
Finally I am feeling so sick, I can’t head out to the work site. Instead I find Christy and tell her I’m sick. Since I have a fever I am banished to the sick tent with my Bible and canteen. I’m fine with this. All I want to do is sleep. I awake to a rhythmic scrich-scratchy sound on my tent. My eyes pop open and I look around. The sun is shining through the fabric and I can make out the silhouette of rhinoceros beetle. If you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing a rhinoceros beetle in person, let me just say it is one of the most terrifying insects to walk the planet and they’re big. Like, really big. I listlessly watched it climb up the outside of my tent, then flicked it off. Lying back, I tried to doze off again…scritch-scratch. The noise and the beetle was back. I flicked it to oblivion again. A little bit later it was back. My feverish brain began to believe the rhinoceros beetle had it in for me. He wanted me. I knew, logically, it couldn’t and wouldn’t hurt me, but that didn’t change my feeling each time it returned.
Night began to fall and I began to get worried. There are a few irrational fears I possess: the dark, serial killers and being abducted by aliens. The first was certain to come (and soon) and the other two seemed equally likely. I now faced the prospect of a night, alone in the jungle. Buff Alaskan Woman or not, this was not cool. I grasped my Bible tightly and quoted every memory verse about fear that my feverish mind could remember. The jungle is never quiet, so each time I dozed off, I was awakened by the sounds of animals. Birds, monkeys, frogs, insects. They all had something to say; it was amazing and enthralling during the day, but terrifying and chilling when you find yourself alone in the dark jungle at night.
I awoke from my restless sleep to the sound of footsteps. My heart was beating wildly in m chest as I whispered Bible verses. Was it an animal? Or a human? I wasn’t sure which I found more frightening. My ear was steadily tuned to the steps, willing them to get softer and fade away. Instead, I heard them coming closer. I knew now they were human steps. My hands desperately searched the floor of the tent for my flashlight. Should I turn it on? Did I want to alert the intruder that I knew he (she?) was there? Should I scream? Pretend to be asleep? Finally I flicked on the flashlight, hands shaking, and pointed it in the direction of the sound.
Silhouetted in the beam of my flashlight, was the figure of a man, approaching my tent.