It’s a rainforest out there
Larry R. Moffitt
Buenos Aires, 27 October, 1998
The phone rang. It was the first week of October, 1997. Dong Moon Joo was calling Buenos Aires from Washington to ask if I could recommend a qualified journalist to travel with Father, Mother and a small group of people on a trip from one end of the Amazon River to the other.
He said something about the purpose of the trip being to examine business possibilities, but that was about it. When we hung up I still had no idea as to the itinerary, what we would be doing and how or why, or who would be in the group. The instructions couldn’t have been more vague, which according to my back-of-an-envelope-notes were approximately:
Amazon River tour with True Parents to study environmental, fishing and forestry projects. Have the reporter in Manaus by the morning of October 23. Tell him to bring mosquito repellant. Thanks.
If Mr. Joo knew anything more, he wasn’t talking.
I don’t know which journalist Mr. Joo had in mind – nobody specific most likely – but as I thought about the general qualifications of such a person I considered that, assuming the writer’s professional skills were in order, it was probably not an absolute necessity that he or she be a specialized environmental or agribusiness reporter. Most of the issues can be learned without too much difficulty by a good generalist, and besides, my experience told me the nature of the trip could turn out to be more on the order of a God’s Providence for the Amazon look-see than a serious sleeves-rolled-up study of proposed projects for fish farming, spiritually oriented multinational communities and the like. Whoever went would have to be comfortable with not knowing exactly what was expected of them and equally sanguine to find out that whatever they started out thinking the trip would be about – this was probably not it at all.
I thought the foremost criteria would be that the journalist have at least a minimal appreciation for the mission of the True Parents. I could think of very few reporters outside the membership of the unificationist movement who possessed the level of tolerance that would be required for them to be happy on a trip that included an aspect of unquestioned adoration of the True Parents and that possibly would seem to have no real purpose other than a hyperactive vacation cruise, regardless of what might be happening spiritually.
Within unificationism I came up with several journalist candidates including, immodestly, myself. As I was living in the neighborhood of the Amazon, was already emotionally bonded to the continent, interested in environmental matters, and would very much enjoy being with Father and Mother in such an intimate setting, I faxed Mr. Joo a note proposing that I be the accompanying journalist. He accepted and I was in. Later it occurred to me that he may have expected me to do this from the beginning. But one can never tell. If Mr. Joo played chess he wouldn’t lose many games.
Still, one generally assumes that some sort of preparation is necessary before going to the Amazon. Was this going to be a hike through high-canopy forest, camping in tents along the river at night? I spent way too much time thinking about irrelevant things, like whether to buy a "jungle knife," a big nasty steel bugger with serrated teeth along the back side so I could saw my leg off if I was bitten by a water moccasin. What if we’re attacked by a jaguar and I need to go mano-a-mano with it to save the others? Which vaccinations should I get? I turned myself into a minor authority on dengue fever.
No need to bring the laptop computer, I thought. It would be a poor defense against jaguars, and where would I find electricity in the jungle? In the end I opted not to get the knife, but did buy a small tent, backpack, flashlight, raingear, mosquito repellant, a small metal mirror for shaving in the bush and a few similar survival items – almost none of which was necessary. All I really needed was the bug spray.
I made a few calls to the church headquarters in Brazil and found out most of what I needed to know, including that we would be staying in civilized hotels. Father and Mother would begin earlier somewhere in Colombia, closer to the source of one of the Amazon’s tributaries. Myself, Mr. Joo and Vicki Yokota would join the party in Manaus, considered to be the heart of the Amazon. We would all spend a day and night there and fly eastward along the river in Father’s corporate jet, stopping a day each in Santarém, Macapá and Belém. At each stop we would tour the river and fish a little before spending the night and heading out again the following morning. From a hardship perspective this was going to be a piece of cake.
I left the survival gear at home. The hardest decision now was whether to go ahead and take the laptop, which I finally decided not to do. Too much weight, too many location changes, probably a packed schedule that would not leave much time to set it up and write. Too many people per hotel room and no place to put anything. Notebooks and pens would be more appropriate it seemed. I turned out to be right on all counts.
I arrived in Manaus in the wee hours of Thursday, October 23. [Throughout this report I will include italicized excerpts from my handwritten notes, made during the trip.]
Miércoles, 22 de octubre de 1997 – (American Express flight lounge at Ezeiza Airport, Buenos Aires) Waiting for Varig 941 to São Paulo and another to Manaus. Keen sense of adventure…The question is why are True Parents undertaking this research themselves? Why is this particular part of the front-line of God’s Providence the place he needs to be at this time?…With True Father being 77 years old, the question of where he spends a day takes on added value with each passing month and year.
Jueves, 23 de octubre de 1997 – 9:00 AM arrived at suite 3001 to greet True Parents. Both looked well and Mr. Joo gave his report. Father and Mr. Joo sat quietly by the window while the others sat on the couch and floor nearby. Vicki Yokota took photos.
At some point Father looked in my direction and began speaking Korean, half looking at me and half at Mr. Joo. I knew he was talking about me, so I tried to look alert and waited patiently for the translation. When Father finished speaking, Mr. Joo said, "Larry, after we finish surveying the Amazon and Paraguay Rivers Father wants you to focus your attention on heads of state and diplomats. Work with Ambassador Sanchez to prepare a way for Father to meet all the Latin American heads of state." Then Father spoke to Vicki…
True Father asked Vicki if she was raising her children well. "I’m trying to," she replied. Father gave her a big smile.
And then again to me…
Father asked me what I thought of the river and being here. I replied that it is a great honor and that it fulfills a dream of mine to one day see the Amazon.
He asked about my Spanish and I said, exaggerating slightly (or slightly more than slightly), that my Spanish had improved greatly over the past year. Father said that I must become one with the Spanish culture to the bottom of my soul. I told him that everyone at Tiempos del Mundo corrects my Spanish and this helps me learn. I added that my children learn the language much faster than me.
Father said, "You have been working so hard at Tiempos del Mundo that you have lost weight and become skinny." I thanked him for the opportunity to lose weight and said my wife thanks you as well. Father laughed.
The group included True Parents, Dong Moon Joo, Koo Bae Park, Won Joo McDevitt (assisting Mother), Ki Kyung Yoon (Father’s spear-carrier and fishing companion), two brothers from Korean UC Film Department (videotaping the tour), Victoria Yokota and me. In addition, Hideo Oyamada and Heung Tae Kim from the Brazilian UC headed separate teams that leapfrogged ahead of us to make arrangements for hotel, cars and boat a day ahead of our arrival in each place. Their organization was superb. They missed nothing and we felt very well taken care of. At each city a group of Japanese sisters prepared meals in the kitchen that comes with a presidential suite in any good hotel. In Manaus, the table in Father’s suite was too small to accommodate everyone for lunch, so Vicki and I and a couple others ate in another room off the main dining area.
After lunch we drove down to the river and boarded a large tour boat, fifty feet long, with two decks and lots of interesting cabins and space to walk around. Usually when I have been fishing with Father, everyone has been in smaller boats. Father much prefers the smaller ones. A boat this size, with air-conditioned rooms and a big airy upper deck, was a pleasant surprise to me.
3:00 PM – It just occurred to me how wonderfully low-tech is a pen and paper. (God this river is beautiful!) We are on the Solimões, probably near Careiro da Várzea or Iranduba, around the bend and upriver from the famous line in the water where the Negro River (darkened by organic matter) merges with the Solimões to form the Amazon. We are anchored next to the shore. Mother is fishing off the upper deck a few feet away, and Father, along with Mr. Joo and Mr. Yoon are farther upriver in an open, unshaded dingy. Most boats on this river have a canopy roof running the length of the boat to protect from the fierce sun.
Our big boat towed a small dingy with an outboard motor. It’s mid-afternoon and we are tied up next to the bank. I am watching Father as he sits in the dinghy in shorts and
t-shirt, putting sun block on his face before he heads out from our big boat with Mr. Joo and Mr. Yoon to troll around, stopping here and there to drop their lines and drift.
He puts a small glop of block in his hand and goes to work on one leg and uses what’s left on the other. Quiet, purposeful, it’s obvious his mind is already out there on the river. In his ball cap and what looks like an undershirt, he looks a lot different than the Father of the Belvedere sermons or the Father of the VIP receptions. This Father is older, much older, and mortal. It suddenly strikes me in a way it never has before, how old Father has become. I have always thought of him as indestructible and eternally vigorous. At that moment though, he looked to be every one of his 77 years. I realized in my gut something I heretofore acknowledged only in my mind – Father is physically finite. He will go to the spirit world one day.
But more than that, I realized that before he dies, his body and mind will slowly melt in front of us as do the physical shells of everyone’s grandparents. Father will likely go through the same winding down process of infirmity, memory blanks and the slow, shortened steps of every other person in their 80s and 90s. His body will get old, fall apart and die like yours and mine. When I think of Moses and Ezekiel, I picture wise, elderly gentlemen being lifted into heaven on a cloud, fully intact, fully aware – muscled, gnarled and weathered like Lebanon’s cedars. I don’t see my Biblical heroes getting liver spots and arthritis. I don’t see them suffering the indignity of incontinence or having a stroke that destroys their mind but leaves them lingering in a hospital for six months before they actually die. That stuff is for me and you.
The fortunate among us go quickly when we go. Maybe that will include the True Parents. Even so, nobody gets a completely free ride on life’s "back nine." Only victims of accidents bypass the down side of aging, the down side that almost certainly affected Moses and Ezekiel too. Sitting on the boat in the late afternoon tropical sun, watching him put on sun block, I felt the first inkling of something I am sure to be thinking about more in the coming years. I thought seriously for the first time how it might feel to be around Father during the endgame, the fading of his physical existence and its incremental transition to new youth in the spiritual world. Father is not superhuman or supernatural. He’s a man who has been and done extraordinary things undreamed of by others.
On the trip back to Manaus, Father and Mother sat on the top deck enjoying the sunset and the breeze. The rest of us sat close by. Father asked someone to sing. He sang and then Father asked another. Usually in these situations I am not requested to sing, but we were only about ten people and this was a couple-hours ride and so I figured my turn was going to come. I tried to prepare a song in my mind but suddenly I couldn’t remember the name of a single thing outside of Happy Birthday. Nothing. I took a deep breath, thought happy thoughts. Still nothing. Happy Birthday. I am so pathetic. Where are those ministering high spirits when I really need them?
Then sure as shootin’, Mother looked at me and said, "Larry?" I stood up, and the second I did, "Amazing Grace" flew into my brain. Not just the title, but three or four complete verses, enough to put together a credible tune. On one hand, I’m grateful to my guardian angel team for supplying the song and the sheet music, but on the other hand I can’t help but think they sure took their own sweet time doing it.
A small digression if I may. Amazing Grace was written by John Newton (1725-1807) and the inscription on his tombstone in England reads, "John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy."
Like with Charles Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol," it is tales of a scurrilous blackamoor finding redemption and forgiveness, the turning of evil into good that resonate most closely with me and most resemble the pattern of my own life. Newton was a slave trader who was nearly killed in a storm at sea. As it is said drowning men often do, he saw his life and his sins played before him. He returned to England, became an Anglican minister and spent the rest of his life repenting. From the depths of John Newton’s penitence, came one of the simplest, most eloquent of all Christian hymns. To hear it played by a band of crying bagpipes is to feel a sinner’s remorse.
John Donne’s poem said, "I am involved in mankind." A part of the whole, I am connected to the same evil that brought slaves from Africa to the New World, including Brazil. The bell tolls for me too. While standing there singing, about halfway through, I began to think of all these things and much more. More than think them, experience them. I connected with something. As I sang, I felt redeemed.
Father and Mother sat in front of me, side by side, listening with their eyes closed. We glided along the river, covered in the orange glow of the day’s end, and the bagpipes played…somewhere.
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will be my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The world shall soon to ruin go,
The sun refuse to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Shall be forever mine.
When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we'd first begun.
9:25 PM – We are back at the hotel. Father (with Mother) is speaking to the Manaus UC members, most of whom are seeing the True Parents in person for the first time.
Father spoke strongly and softly. He growled and purred, pushed and pulled, emphasized, empathized, cajoled and twinkled his eyes for three hours, lifting the spirits of the Manaus members. He strutted, stomped, posed, stood and sat. The old man on the river had regenerated into a young human fireball. We who made up his traveling entourage were bobbing and weaving from fatigue and too much sun. I was fading badly, barely able to keep my eyes open. Occasionally Mr. Joo nudged me and suggested I step into the small bathroom a few feet away to splash water on my face. I’m glad I was sitting in the back of the room.
The next morning we had Hoon Dok Hae at 6:00 AM (Won Joo read in Korean), ate breakfast, checked out and went to the airport. We were in Father’s jet, a 12-passenger Challenger. It comes with two pilots and a flight attendant. The pilot managed to get permission for us to fly along the river at an altitude of only 900 feet. What’s more, we poked along at under 200 miles per hour. Mr. Yoon worried about us flying under the aircraft’s specified speed minimum but maybe the instruction book that came with the jet called for minimums higher than what the pilots knew to be the real thing, a concession made to the lawyers perhaps.
Short of floating along in a hot air balloon, it is hard to imagine a more magnificent way to view the Amazon River and the endless carpet of tree tops in every direction from horizon to horizon.
Viernes, 24 de octubre de 1997 – Spent the day on the river at Santarém. We rode three hours downstream to fish and swat mosquitoes for an hour. Then four hours back upstream, returning to the city.
The excerpt above, from my handwritten notes does nothing to convey how magnificent this day was.
We didn’t actually get started on the river until about 1:00 PM and I will never forget the beauty of the surrounding plants, river, the afternoon sun, air – everything – as we sailed out to where we were to fish. Especially memorable was the sun, bathing everything in those good old warm tones that somehow intensify the color in everything that is green. On the Amazon you are never far from green.
Mother and Father laid down on a double bed in the front cabin and napped for about an hour. I chatted with people and spent long periods just watching Mother Nature’s show. After a while I climbed onto the roof of the boat with my legs dangling over the front, where I could be away from all people and as far from the sound of the engine as possible. It was so quiet.
I sat in absolute serenity.
Cruising along in the middle of the river, with the breeze in your face, is the only time in the jungle where you are free of the heat and insects. Being in a tropical zone, the Amazon region has only two seasons – dry and wet – relative terms to be sure. In reality one season is hot and wet. The other is hotter and wetter. October is the so-called "dry" season, supposedly the cooler period with fewer mosquitoes. If that was so, we could only imagine how hellish the hotter and wetter, more mosquito-infested season must be.
There is no place you can stand that is free of mosquitoes, whether it’s the middle of the jungle or the balcony outside your hotel room. As far as I can tell, this holds true for every inch of the Amazon’s drainage basin, which takes up one-third of the continent, including half of Brazil and parts of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. That’s 2,722,000 square miles. If that number is too difficult to wrap your mind around, think of Texas times ten.
Now hold that thought while we do some math. A square mile contains 27,878,400 square feet. Let’s say I occupy nine of them, one square yard of space (a bit less than a square meter) which includes room to cross my legs and a place to set an orange Fanta. This means a square mile can hold 3,097,600 people, each with their own personal space and personal orange Fanta. At a square yard each, the number of people you can put into the Amazon basin is almost eight-and-a-half trillion (8,431,667,200,000 to be exact).
I was swatting mosquitoes the entire week I was there. Presumably all eight trillion-something people would be swatting along with me. On the two occasions I tried counting, I found eight blood smears on my arms, neck and socks after about 20 minutes (they easily bite through clothing) and it seemed that six of the eight were instantly replaced by enraged kin, maddened by grief, who felt they had nothing more to lose.
They came in waves, unmindful of their own safety, hitting high then low, diving fast out of the sun. Their goal was to keep me constantly slapping myself, and they were really quite good at it. It must have been hilarious to watch. When I managed to tag one it would leave a big smear of my own blood all over my arm or face. The squashee would immediately be replaced by a relative bent on avenging the memory of his slain comrade.
If you just count the eight I sent to bug heaven, and their six replacements, I figure I was dealing with a total of 14 mosquitoes no matter where I was in the Amazon. It would still be conservative to assume that if people completely filled that continent-size basin, sitting knee to knee, everyone would get their standard allotment of 14 mosquitoes.
Therefore, I am pleased to announce that the entire Amazon basin contains exactly 118,043,340,800,000 mosquitoes. That’s 118 trillion, 43 billion and some change.
Mother and Father fished briefly while the rest of us dealt with our personal dive-bombing swarms that found us the second we tied up at the river bank and the wind died down. They caught fresh-water stingrays and assorted crud fish, all of which they released. These were not fish you would normally eat so I can understand tossing them back, but as essentially a non-fisherman I wonder about catch-and-release. Why bother to fish in the first place? As fishing, it seems the equivalent of kissing your sister.
Texas Republican and U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, once offered a fish’s perspective on catch and release. "Think about that poor bass," he told a group of reporters. "Put yourself in his place. You go into Denny's and you sit down and somebody puts your hamburger in front of you and you pick it up and you take a bite. All of a sudden, somebody grabs you by the mouth, drags you around the store, drags you outside, pulls the hook out of your mouth and throws you back into Denny's."
Got to admit I hadn’t thought of it that way, and now I understand catch-and-release even less.
It was dark as we rode back to Santarém. Father, Mother, Mr. Joo, me and one or two others sat in chairs on the prow of the boat as we made the journey home. Conversation was sparse. Long silent periods were filled only by the muffled chugging of the engine below and the three-dimensional, textured blackness of the starry nighttime sky. Except for the pilot occasionally turning on the roof-mounted spotlight to get his bearings, we rode in total darkness. The stars were huge and we could see billions of them. To the other tragedies of urban life, you can add that most of the majestic wholeness of the night sky is simply lost to city dwellers.
The spotlight went on once in a while for a minute or so at a time. It’s beam was focused to a few feet wide and illuminated an area a hundred feet or so in front of the boat. What’s more, a blizzard of insects filled the beam, not just mosquitoes but an inconceivable variety of flying bugs. Oh, to be a bat in the Amazon.
The ride back was a parcel of time, so peaceful, so complete, I wished it could have been an all-night journey rather than a few hours.
Mr. Joo and I spoke part of the time about possible newspaper articles that could come out of this trip. We passed the phrase "key issues" back and forth a couple of times, as though it had some meaning and as though we knew what we were talking about. A reminder of "key issues" to look into later, from the handwritten journal…
The Amazon’s dilemma; its future; its value for education in medicine, agriculture and race relations (integrating the Indians into the advancing civilization).
Inescapable, unstoppable reality: so called "civilization" is coming to the forest, rivers, people and wildlife of the Amazon. There are those, and you shall know them by their web sites, who preach that the best development is to do nothing at all. Limit traffic, stop slash-and-burn agriculture, farming – leave it pristine. An appealing sentiment, but you might as well try to stop the Pony Express or find a cure for gold fever in mid-nineteenth century America. Has the focus of debate really shifted from the "keep it pristine" argument to a discussion on the management of encroachment?
How to integrate the Indians? What about the "cultural imperialism" argument? Destroy a centuries-old culture, replacing it with urban madness and white man’s diseases?
Upon arrival at the hotel I went to the restaurant to buy a bottle of water before going to the room. Our two pilots and Mary the flight attendant, were having a late supper. "Air Mary," some of us affectionately called our private airline. We talked for a while about our respective adventures. The pilots described what they did to prepare for the next morning’s flight and Mary recounted the problems of foraging in an alien culture for food to serve us on the plane.
Sábado, 25 de octubre de 1997 – Macapá lies exactly on the Equator. According to Mr. Joo, it is one of only five cities in the world placed exactly so. I believe Quito, Ecuador is one also.
Sailing across rough water, we arrived at a wide tributary (rivers and parts of rivers crisscross everywhere here at the Amazon’s mouth). We sailed a few kilometers up a smaller river. Rough "machete jungle" grew to the water’s edge. A man who ran a boat engine repair shop along the river said he has seen (and killed) anacondas ten meters or more in length. He and his wife offered us coffee, water and hearts of palm. He said, "I don’t like cities. People are hungry in the cities. Here we have no hunger." He described the palm tree fruit, fish, hearts of palm, pumpkins, etc. that grew in the jungle around his home.
Our reason for stopping was to buy bait. Their engine repair shop was part of a small community that included a few houses, workshops, a saw mill for local use, an Evangelical Church of God, outdoor toilets and docks sticking out to the water’s edge. All the buildings were mounted on stilts and connected one to another by raised boardwalks, also on stilts. This close to the Atlantic, we were in an area affected by tides, and rain-borne floods. The tide was low during our visit so we climbed ten feet of stairs from the river’s edge up to the docks. Boats that would be floating elegantly a few hours later, now lay sprawled in the mud, tilted at grotesque angles.
We buy some bait, say goodbye and push off in our dinghy to rendezvous with Father’s group on a somewhat larger boat, a smallish cabin cruiser. We hand off some of the bait and head out on our own to take pictures and fish. In my boat is me, Vicki and the two Korean UC videotapers who are recording our every gesture and utterance. There are also the guide/boat driver and his friend, another shirtless and hatless local guy who doesn’t say much but knows his way around a fishing tackle box like nobody I’ve ever seen.
The silent river and the jungle around and overhead, surrounds us the way the man’s anaconda stories have enfolded themselves around my mind. The afternoon sun brings increasing contrast to the light and begins to work its magic again, separating all the things you would ordinarily just call "green" into countless distinct shades and variations. If the Eskimos have sixteen words to describe different kinds of snow, I wonder if the people here have fifty to tell one kind of green from another. I can appreciate now where Paul Gauguin must have found the colors for his Polynesia paintings.
Trees taller than an 8-story building stand pregnant with coconuts and pods of some kind of fruit. One stand of trees is completely covered by parasitic kudzu-like vines whose broad leaves starve them of sunlight and slowly snuff out their lives. The appearance is of someone having thrown a luxurious blanket over them. Beauty and death work so well together here.
Not only am I looking at a small piece of the largest forest in the world, but this land has always been forest, generally thought to be the oldest permanent vegetation growth on earth. Maybe my earliest ancestors didn’t climb down out of the trees, but their friends probably did – the great-great-something-something-grandparents of those trees right in front of me.
Half the known species of birds and more kinds of butterflies than anywhere on earth are here. Crawly things, bugs friendly and scary – bugs we’ve never even met – are everywhere. There are spiders so large they make their living catching and eating birds. We sit in the boat with the motor off, drifting silently. Every creature is putting out a mating call, a warning cry or just a song, as they flitter around on their way to eating and being eaten. The rainforest at rush hour is indescribable. Heaven will have to get up pretty early in the morning to top this for beauty. I keep hearing my own voice, filled with awe, whispering quietly, "my God…my God…oh my God."
Our boat turns off our tributary onto a smaller creek about 20 feet wide. Someone decided we needed more bait or better bait or different bait. The light is gorgeous and Vicki is ecstatic as she burns through roll after roll of film. I have been with Vicki on other photo assignments in Brazil, North Korea and other places, and she is always this wired. She works incredibly hard, demanding absolute perfection from herself and her equipment. Rebuking herself for the half-dozenth time for not having brought the other camera body, she whips a hand into her canvas bag as we suddenly come upon a spectacular piece of river that calls for an instantaneous switch from a long lens to a wide. But we’re moving. We’re on a boat that’s moving, on a river that’s moving, photographing animals, backlit foliage, ripples, reflections – all of them moving. The light is changing, the angles are changing, leaving forever. We’re skimming along, just two seconds away from this whole scene being nothing more than a memory.
"Tell him to stop! Tell him to stop!" Vicki screams at me.
I turn to tell the boat driver to stop. He doesn’t speak English but he caught her tone and her look, and is already reversing the engine. Like his scrawny brown assistant, he has come to fear this mad woman and they both watch her like you would watch an unfamiliar doberman.
She is relentless, projecting her passion onto the shooting environment, demanding cooperation from the sunlight and the alligators. Sometimes God delivers the goods, sometimes He doesn’t.
I’ve learned there is not much I can do to help Vicki other than stay out of her way. Most of the time she declines my offers to carry her equipment. The gear is heavy but she would rather throw her back out than have to endure the extra ten-second delay of me locating and handing her the 50-to-200 zoom. Vicki’s photos have won some prestigious awards but I think she assesses herself to be a better photo editor than a photographer. I think she’s phenomenal at both. I truly enjoy watching her in action.
I scribble a few thoughts in my notebook, like the fact that it and my pen weigh only a few ounces compared to Vicki’s 35-pound load. I tell myself that either media can record pictures just as well. The afternoon is ecstasy and I wallow in it. I haven’t the faintest idea where we are. We come upon a grass shack on the edge of the creek.
In a tiny, but navigable tributary we met an old gentleman who lives in a palm frond shack with two barking dogs. He wore a never washed t-shirt in tatters and boxer shorts. It didn’t look like he owned anything else.
The old man didn’t have any bait for us. He told us the wind is coming. We talked for a while, gave him a Coke and some oranges and left.
We met up with Father’s boat just before we headed back as it began to get dark. He told me, Vicki and the camera crew to get into his boat and for all of us to sit on the floor of the lowest part and to stay there. So we did. We found out why when we left the feeder river and entered the main body of the Amazon for the several miles trip across it. The water had grown rough and we could see waves rising above the side of the boat. The wind had indeed come. The dinghy we had been in had too many people for such rough water, and the guide and his assistant would have an easier time with a lighter load. Father wanted us sitting down so as to keep the boat’s center of gravity as low as possible.
Macapá is a city at one of the two major mouths of the Amazon. The river is wide and strong here, pouring out so much water that the Atlantic Ocean is fresh water for many miles out to sea. It’s still the river, technically a tidal estuary, but waves kick up that can compare to those on the ocean, certainly high enough to swamp small fishing boats like ours.
I don’t know how much actual danger we were in but it was bumpy and the waves towered over us when we were in the troughs. On the other hand, the stars were enormous. Again, an opportunity to die dramatically amid great beauty.
When we got back to the dock, the local UC members were waiting, welcoming, expectant. More of them stood at the entrance to the hotel with their children, all dressed in their Sunday best. They had never seen him before in person. It was late, but Father’s smile said, "ya’ll come on up," and they trailed after him. That evening, as tired as Father surely was, he spoke to the Macapá members. He reached into wherever it is he keeps his energizer bunny, and he gave them every bit of it.
Domingo, 26 de octubre de 1997 – 5:00 AM Pledge and reading of Father’s words in his suite at the Novotel Hotel in Macapá.
Afterward, we set our suitcases in the hall, where the local members loaded them into cars. In a flash we were aboard Air Mary for a brief, low, slow trip across the delta to the city of Belém (Bethlehem), located on the Amazon’s other gaping mouth. We checked into the hotel and met in Father’s suite.
For ten minutes, from 10:35 AM until 10:45 AM, Father sat three feet from me (him in a chair, me on the floor) and gave me the distilled, concentrated essence of a new mission. The feeling is that each spoken word contained volumes of instruction. I am being handed a dense element weighing tons per square centimeter. I must now break it apart and smelt it so I can understand what it’s made of, can lift it and carry it home to my heart. Maybe then I can figure out where step one should be placed.
Father turned his attention to Mr. Joo, with me seated beside him, and continued speaking in Korean for another hour. At one point, Father said my name and began a long set of what seemed to be instructions in Mr. Joo’s direction, but punctuated each thought with a direct look at me. Father paused to take a sip of water and Mr. Joo asked me, "How much of what Father just said did you understand?"
"I understood ‘Larry,’" I told him.
Father asked Mr. Joo to explain to me what he had been speaking about. Mr. Joo told Father we were sharing a room and asked if it would be okay if he filled me in later. Father nodded. A few minutes later, Father broke into his heavily-accented English to unload some of his disappointment that in all these years I have never learned to speak Korean. I understand his feeling. It is frustrating in the extreme to pour out your whole heart to someone and have him just sit there, staring at you like a cigar store Indian.
At lunch I sat at the opposite end of a small table for six. Father looked at me and began speaking in Korean again. Mr. Joo said that Father was expressing his concern that I had lost too much weight in my face. He said my stomach is still ample and that maybe I could find some way to lose some of the belly and get some back in the face. Overall, he said I was losing too much weight and he would give me some Chinese medicine to help. I thanked Father for his concern.
After lunch we headed down to the boats for our last day of fishing.
Fishing this afternoon was more like a boat party than serious fishing. We went only a little way upriver and tied up next to the shore all afternoon. I don’t think anyone got even a nibble. Everyone was talking. Vicki listened to her meditation tapes with headphones. There was no great urgency to remain silent lest we scare the fish – since there were obviously no fish in the area.
Father looked at me sitting on the roof of the boat and asked, "Larry, are you happy with your wife?"
"Yes, very much so," I replied.
"Do you wish you had gotten an American wife instead?"
"No, Father. I don’t think of Taeko as being of any particular race. She’s just my wife and her character has a lot of different qualities I admire. I love her very much."
He nodded his head and I continued.
"Father, no matter what bad things may come my way, I feel I can never complain about my life because I have been so fortunate to have Taeko as my wife."
This was an immensely satisfying exchange for me. I had wanted to say that to Father for 18 years.
Lunes, 27 de octubre de 1997 – This is the fourth anniversary of my mother’s passing into the spirit world.
We fly out after breakfast, headed south to Montevideo. Father’s and Mother’s chairs are across the aisle from each other, facing forward in the narrow cabin. Mr. Joo sits in a chair facing Father and Mr. Park sits in a chair facing Mother. Father has his shoes off and his feet resting on Mr. Joo’s knees. Mr. Joo is massaging Father’s feet. Mother, likewise, has her shoes off and her feet on Mr. Park’s knees. Mr. Park is massaging Mother’s feet. Everyone looks as contented as they can be.
As we pass over the headwaters of the Paraguay River near Cuiabá in southern Brazil, the pilot takes the plane down to under a thousand feet and we coast along. Father, Mother, Mr. Joo and Mr. Park talk among themselves.
The landing in Uruguay was in particularly turbulent conditions, caused by a thunderstorm. A shroud of clouds reduced us to zero visibility. The plane not only bounced like a trailbike, but it slammed from side to side as crosswinds played ping-pong with us. I have been in turbulence before, even on commercial airlines where True Parents were on the same flight. One might assume that flying with them would eliminate all fear of harm – either angels would hold up the plane or, it if did go down, you would have one very excellent spokesman when the group arrived at St. Peter’s gate. But that’s not the case. In the moment it’s still scary as hell.
Mother looked concerned as we bounced along the sky, but Father grinned and laughed after the most severe jolts. I wondered if Father is just being macho or after a lifetime that has included torture, starvation, prisons and being stalked by Kim Il-Sung’s death squads, he simply doesn’t fear whatever might await him on the other side or whatever it might take to get him there. Father gives the middle finger to Mr. Death.
In Montevideo we are taken to our rooms at the Victoria Plaza Hotel. I spend some time going over my notes, listing things Father has asked me to do and assigning priorities to everything I can.
In the evening, we gathered for dinner in Father’s suite. Sitting around the big dining room table were Father, Mother, Mr. Joo, Mr. Park, Mr. Yoon, Vicki, two National Messiahs from Venezuela, the two film guys, maybe one or two others.
After dinner Mother whispered something into Father’s ear. Then Father pulled out his wallet, smiled and said in English, "Larry, come here." Father opened his wallet and handed me everything in it. He didn’t even count it or look at it. He just pulled out whatever he had and gave it to me.
This moment was an experience with Father I will remember for the rest of my life and beyond. Besides being a microcosm symbol of Father’s relationship with the world, it stunned me that someone could love me and invest in me this much. Gratitude, love, truth, judgment, acceptance, repentance, peace – all the emotions one can imagine, came over me and down upon my head. Father gave me everything he had to give.
A few minutes later, Father asked me to share my impressions of the Amazon and what kinds of news stories I thought could come from the experience. I spoke about 10 minutes, with a certain amount of rambling. It ended well I thought, on a note of personal gratitude to Father and Mother. Then Vicki, Mr. Yoon, Mr. Park and Mr. Joo all gave their impressions of the trip.
The next morning we went to the airport and waited awhile together in the private terminal waiting room. The Uruguayan members were standing around. Father called me over and I squatted on my haunches in front of him and Mother. He spoke for a bit urging me to work hard and be good. He ended with a big smile, a thumbs-up sign and a little click-click with his voice, the sound a rider makes to encourage his horse to keep moving. I smiled, thumbed-up and click-clicked back at my Father.
Shortly after, we parted ways as I left to walk over to the main terminal to get a commercial flight for the hop over to Buenos Aires. At the door I turned and we waved again.