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No Hope

NOTE: The story below is a fictionalized combination of events that we saw happen while working with the Maquiritare people, who also called themselves the Ye’cuana.  
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 Juan felt the sweat dripping down his brow into his eyes. The hot sun beat down on his bronzed body as he slashed rhythmically away at the brush. He worked alongside the other men from the village to clear a garden for Clemencia.

Slash and burn. They had been doing this for generations and Juan was sure they would do it for generations to come. He was a Ye’cuana and proud of it. He came from a long line of strong men, men who could clear out of living in the dense jungle, men who could make dug-out canoes that were in high demand by other villages up and down the river, men who lived by the old traditions despite civilization creeping in on them, and men who needed strong women to survive alongside them in a hard land.

Juan glanced over to where Clemencia was giving drinks to the other men. She was a woman such as that, a strong Ye’cuana woman who made living in a hard land look easy. Better yet, she was in the right family line to marry Juan. Juan hoped his parents would arrange a marriage between him and Clemencia. She was beautiful in the Ye’cuana way. She had a solid back and neck, thick strong legs, and endurance. She was a woman that would make any man proud. She had the strength to bear many children. Juan was young, strong—and in love.

Clemencia noticed Juan looking in her direction and headed his way.

“Would you like some of my drink?” she asked.

“Yes, I want it,” Juan responded, reaching for the large gourd of fermented drink. He downed it quickly though his stomach rebelled as more fluids were added to the large quantity he had consumed throughout the morning. But that was the Ye’cuana way. You never refused a drink—and you always emptied the entire gourd offered you. He promptly turned to the side and let vomit spew from his mouth as the drink hit his already distended stomach. That was also the Ye’cuana way. Clemencia smiled as she retrieved the gourd. Juan was a man.

Feeling young and virile with the world before him, Juan returned to slashing the brush. He could feel Clemencia’s eyes on him and it was a good feeling.

Maybe it was the sun in his eyes, maybe it was the sweat dripping down his brow into his eyes, or maybe it was that his mind was so preoccupied with thoughts of Clemencia. Whatever the reason, Juan’s reputation for having eyes like an eagle failed him that morning. The fluorescent green snake slivering through the brush remained obscured from his sight until it moved to strike—and then it was too late.

The strike was fast, hard and accurate. The fangs sank into Juan’s forearm and the feeling of the venom entering his body made Juan go cold with the chill of death despite the heat of the day. He knew all too well what was to come next—and it wasn’t the culmination of his dreams.

“Snake! Snake!” he yelled out a warning to those around him as he fought to not show his pain.

An uncle standing close by slashed at the retreating snake, cutting off its head in one smooth stroke.

Juan gripped his arm, the shock of what had just transpired causing a deep-seated fear to enter his bones. The men gathered around studying the snake from a safe distance. All agreed it was one of the deadliest in the jungle.  All knew without stating it that young Juan was facing a death sentence.

The pain increased as they walked back toward the village. Juan was already spitting blood.

“Wait here,” he was ordered as they drew near the closest garden to the village.

Juan waited, knowing what was happening, hating it, but accepting it. They would go into the village, they would tell his mother what had happened, and they would bring him his hammock. He would not be allowed in the village because they knew he was going to die. If he were to die in the village that would necessitate a move of the entire village. Death could not take place within the village. That was the Ye’cuana way.

Stoically, he waited for their return. He waited for them to hang his hammock. He waited for death to come. He waited without hope.

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Categories: Missionary Life
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