Dragon Healers

Personal Reflection: People and Things Along The Way

When I embarked on this adventure, I knew it would change my life. I just didn’t know how and to what extent. I found the people of Peru to be warm, friendly and filled with quiet dignity. Even though we did not speak the language people were very helpful, they did not get frustrated with us as the Europeans do when we visit their countries.

I am not sure about the gender politics but I noticed that women worked along side the men. However there were no Peruvian coed teams entered in the race. The Peruvian women’s crew won the race in that division for the past 9 years of the race. They won again this year. We met a young man, who was on a men’s crew. In talking with us he found out that I was the captain of the Healers back home. He was surprised and said women are captains on the women’s crew for the race only. They do not hold other positions like this in other athletic events. He was eager to introduce me to the women’s crew and their captain. This meeting was one of the highlights of the trip.

The women’s ages range from 27 to 47 years old. Two of them are fisher women and the other two worked in the market. They do not train for the race because they paddle almost every day. The river is a mode of everyday transportation. We saw boats with kids paddling! These women could not understand what the ‘big fuss” was about, in reference to the race. For them winning the race means they will have food for the rainy season. The women were warm and accepting and we connected as women and paddlers. We talked a lot and there was much touching and hugging as we talked.

We saw the women again on raft building day. They built their own raft and came to our site to give us some advice. They told us which logs to use and got one of their friends with a chain saw to help us cut our logs. We were the envy of the other rafters who were cutting their logs with dull machetes! They told us that at the start of the race we should follow them as they knew the currents. Cecilia and I started calling them “the ladies” vs. the girls who were our teammates, Healers Red. We tried following them in their bright green tee shirts (not tech shirts), but we lost them after the first hour! Later that day when we crossed the finish line they were cheering us as we came on shore. They came in 7th that first day and we came in at 14th.

The ladies continued to check in with us every morning before the race. One morning we shared our protein bars with them because all they had was water for that day. The contrast between the foreign and the Peruvian teams were quite stark. We had special tech clothing, hats, sunscreen with deet and other fancy stuff. Their skins were various shades of brown all baked by the sun. At the end of our race when we were giving them the rest of our stuff, we had to laugh because so much of what we had they did not need because they are one with their environment and did not need protection from it.

On the last day of the race as we crossed the finish line, I had a bitter sweet feeling as I saw the ladies waiting for us. I knew this was the last time I would see them (at this point I had not decided I would return to the Amazon), my heart was full. We hugged and spent time together at the paddlers’ reception. We had our arms around each other as we watched the awards ceremony. We talked to them about dragon boating and the upcoming festival and asked if they would want to come next year. They were very curious about a dragon boat and the idea that man and women can be on the same boat. We finally said our goodbyes at the end of the ceremony and promised to keep in touch. Since returning we received an email form the captain of the team by way of her husband’s work.At the ceremony I also saw the young man who introduced me to the ladies. He told me he wanted me to meet his mother. He was very excited as he introduced me to his mom. The only words I recognized were captain and woman. He asked if I would take a photo with him and his mother. He got the local photographer to take the photo. There are so many moments like these which still fills me with wonder at the human connection and how if we as humans allow ourselves to be open our lives can only be filled with richness.

We met the race director’s assistant who was responsible for our support boat. He is an expat from London. He lives in Peru a few months a year. He immediately took all of the Healers under his wing. He always had a watchful eye out to be sure we were getting what we needed. At times he and Michael talked about maps. He and I talked about diversity and event managing. He and Ross talked about logistics. We all looked to him for guidance because information was sketchy at times.

There is so much I haven’t digested about this adventure and the impact on my life. I know I am a different person because of my experience at the race, the people I met, the relationships developed with my Healer teammates and raft mates, the deepening of my relationship with Ross (the love of my life) and the country and people of Peru. – Kathy