2020-02-09 BRAZIL

International Community LaValla200> in Tabatinga

The Tabatinga community is one of the international communities for a new beginning.  It is situated in the heart of the Amazon, in Brazil, bordering onto both Colombia and Peru, and is composed of Br Luke Fong (Fiji), Martha Eugenia Martínez (Mexico), Mario Araya (Chile) and Br. Paul Bhatti (Pakistan). The last to join the community was Br Luke. In the text below he recounts his arrival.

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The instruction came from the Air Latam Pilot for the crew to sit for landing, I looked outside and all I could see were trees on both sides. I said to myself, “Oh, is this Leticia?” I was expecting to see high-rise buildings and modern houses as in Bogota, the capital of Colombia.

While walking to the terminal I saw huge “dalo” (taro) plants growing like flowers and the smell of fresh and natural air from the forest around me cooled me down from the bright sun. Waiting for my luggage, I could not comprehend the size (small) of the airport and looking around I started to see the simplicity of the people and the way they dressed.

Br Paul Bhatti from Pakistan met me at the airport, and he welcomed me to Leticia, a city in Colombia of about 50,000 people. After about 5 mins of driving Br Paul said, “Welcome to Brazil. Now you are legally on Brazil soil”. Br Paul also said that the road acts like a boarder. Houses to the left are in Colombia and on the right is Brazil. It was so interesting as it was the first time for me to experience this type of set up.

Closer to home I asked Br Paul where the Amazon is and he said that we are in the Amazon. I asked because all I could see were houses and shops and no sign of thick forest or jungle. My image of Tabatinga before arriving was that it is situated right in the jungle, surrounded by tall trees, wild animals and swamp. But when we arrived home, I started to see that what I had imagined was totally different from what I was seeing at the moment. That gave me a sense of security and calmness within myself.

Tabatinga is a city of about 60,000 people. Together with the neighbouring Colombian city of Leticia and the Peruvian town of Santa Rosa, the urban area has more than 100,000 residents spread along the Amazon river. Three countries (Brazil, Peru, Colombia) share a common border in this area of the Upper Amazon. There are twin towns – Tabatinga (Brazil) and Leticia (Colombia) – that are 1000 km from the nearest cities in their respective countries, with no roads. So, it is quite isolated.

The area is home to many indigenous rainforest groups, other Indian descendants, mixed-race river people, “missionaries, mercenaries and misfits”, those trying to exploit the resources of the Amazon and those defending against this.

So far, I am trying to settle down into my new community and also to this environment. I know that life will not be easy but I am ready for the challenges that lie ahead. One of my biggest challenges at the moment is the language. Portuguese and Spanish are spoken and written everywhere. There is no English language spoken or written anywhere here at Tabatinga. For me to really feel at home I need to know and learn the Portuguese language, not easy but I will try my best and hopefully by this time next year I will write to you in Portuguese.

The weather is really hot during the day but it cools down at night. It’s the rainy season at the moment for the next 6 months or so. I like the food and I eat anything that is available. We have different types of tropical fruits which really helps me to settle in right away because they remind me of Fiji.

I will begin my Portuguese lessons next week and hopefully in the months to come I will be able to speak and communicate in Portuguese.

The community is yet to determine a Marist project as such but has involved itself in diocesan youth work in the past. My other community members, Martha (a Lay woman from Mexico) still waiting for her visa and Mario (a lay man from Chile), will arrive on the 6th of February. Once they arrive, we will meet and discuss our mission and what to do here in Tabatinga. So far, I could see that there are lot of things to do here but language still a big barrier so I am eager to learn the language so that I am ready for whatever lies ahead.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you all, my brothers and our dear Marists of Champagnat, for your support, prayers, encouragement, words of advice and love that enable me to put into reality one of my many dreams of serving on mission outside of my own continent.

I know that this is God’s time and work for me and I am at peace knowing that this has been God’s plan for me all along.

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Br Luke (January 31, 2020)

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