Posted by: calloftheandes | October 16, 2015

Building Relationships with Women in the Ecuadorian Community of Santa Rosa

Waiting for the Airplane TogetherThird in a Series of Three Stories by Rachel Kunker

Laughter fills the area between the thin wood walls and palm roof. Food is shared, a modest meal of sardines, yuca (cassava) and naranjitos (little oranges).

A simple meal in these surroundings represented hospitality extended and warm fellowship. Laura, the wife of a leader in the jungle community of Santa Rosa, opened up her home to a gringa by showing hospitality and welcoming her to be a part of Ecuadorian life.

Well, I am that gringa. Last summer I had incredible opportunities, all made possible through my internship with Reach Beyond. For eight days I worked in Santa Rosa, helping build a system to bring clean water to individual houses.

Engineering tasks such as digging trenches, preparing a water tank and tower, and putting in solar panels to power the system were all opportunities to build relationships with the people. Specifically, I had an opportunity to build relationships with the area women.

The first day I sat with Fanny, daughter of the community leader, Pedro. As she demonstrated how to make a popping noise in the leaf of a yuca plant, I discovered that leaf popping was by no means my talent.

Our second day in Santa Rosa we headed off to work on the same task we had done the day before, helping with a clean water project. At one point it started to rain—a common occurrence in the Ecuadorian jungle. I struck up a conversation with three sisters, Gladys, Loida and Margo. I learned something of their family and enjoyed simply spending time with them.

Jacque Zook (left) and Rachel Kunker

Jacque Zook (left) and Rachel Kunker

After the rain stopped we moved on to another area to work. While there, Gladys showed me how to carry a heavy basket with a head strap and then allowed me to use her machete as she taught me how to cut papachinas (a type of potato) from the ground.

With much laughter, Gladys showed me the steps associated with serving chicha (a fermented beverage made with yuca which is a staple in the jungle) and demonstrated how to plant papachinas and yuca.

She invited Jacque (the other female intern with Reach Beyond) and me to go on a walk after lunch. Although we didn’t know where the walk would go or what Gladys meant by “far,” we readily accepted. After lunch we put on my sunscreen, drank some water and headed off to meet Gladys.

Jacque and I followed her footsteps to a nearby farm where—as she recounted to us—lived a man who has two wives. As the three of us sat in the cool shade, we were presented with an opportunity to talk to Gladys about Christianity. She had questions about what it means to do what the Bible says.

In the best Spanish I could muster, I said that in my relationship with Christ actions are a response to His love, not a means of attaining my own salvation. Due to barriers, I’m not sure Gladys understood but I’m very grateful for the opportunity to talk together.

We were greeted by a lady who offered us a pineapple to share. We sat and talked more. This time together provided Jacque and me with our first experience at seeing how important it is for the women simply to spend time with each other.

As the week progressed I was presented with more opportunities to experience life with the women. One highlight was going fishing with Fanny and Loida. Fishing in the jungle is different from fishing in New York, my home state. Together, we chewed on yuca which Fanny then mixed with a powdered poison. She then threw the yuca mixture into the river.

After five minutes passed, fish floated to the water’s surface as the poison took effect Fanny, Loida and I gathered the fish, all ranging from one to three inches in length. Showing patience, they showed me how to remove the throat and stomach, and after my first 20 or so fish, I could remove these parts without their help.

Hours passed. We spent time walking from river to river, preparing more fish poison, and just sitting with each other. Once again I learned that while the task was being accomplished, one of the most important aspects of life was simply being together. After we had enough fish, the three of us headed back to Fanny’s house to prepare food.

It was time for merienda (dinner). Fanny, Loida and I served the community and others from Reach Beyond the fish we had spent hours preparing. The main course was accompanied by salted yuca and papachinas. Serving brought me great joy as I saw the community’s appreciation.

The day I served dinner was a Saturday; I was in Santa Rosa until the following Wednesday. Countless opportunities arose for learning about the culture of a Shuar woman. To name a few I learned a Shuar dance, ate multiple meals with families and carried a bucket of chicha through the jungle. In all of these experiences, I began to learn about the beautiful, supportive, submissive role displayed by the women.

Being in Santa Rosa to help with the water project enabled me to experience life alongside the women in Santa Rosa. Although I was only in the community for eight days, the relationships I began to form with women enabled me to partake in their way of life. Their willingness to share opened my eyes to the beauty of life within the Ecuadorian jungle.



  1. […] a baby, one of the ladies shyly asked if I were Scott’s wife as he greeted many of the men whom he had helped in September. Later we […]

  2. […] than focusing on the water project, I was able to cook with the local women, go fishing with them and work with them in their gardens. Although it was not always good to be absent from engineering aspects of the […]

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