August 23, 2018
I feel kind of bad about it, but I haven’t been doing much (in terms of working) the past few days. Elvis has gone to Iquitos and Ellie and her boyfriend are tripping around other parts of Peru, so I am here in Sucusari by myself for a few weeks. I spent all day yesterday doing data work at the lodge, playing soccer, and chatting with Jairo and Marina. Jairo has been telling me stories about lots of different kinds of animals. It’s amazing how much the Maijuna know about every species, just from a huge collection of observations. We chatted about tamandua and where they live and what types of ants they like to eat the most. How they can kill hunting dogs with a quick swipe of their claws, and how they are often found hanging by their tails trying to get into ants’ nests. He told me stories of finding giant anteaters sitting in the rain, with their bushy tails curled over their heads like an umbrella, and countless other animal facts. The amount of knowledge here is just incredible.
The 23rd was meant to be a big day. Today was the first day of harvesting materials for my house. Beyond that, I knew something else was going on when Jairo peeked his head into the community house at 6:30am (I was asleep) and said “Brian. Brian! Are you coming over to have a cup of coffee?” I jolted out of bed and in my sleepiness I yelled “Jairo! Good night! I am coming to your kitchen!” Not my best Spanish. Anyway, this was odd because I always come over for a cup of coffee in the morning before breakfast, why would that change now? When I arrived, Marina was acting strange as well. I walked over to the water pot to get some water for coffee and she told me to sit at the table and she would bring it to me. Something was definitely going on. I said “Marina, is everything okay?” and she couldn’t contain it anymore. She picked up a box that had been sitting by the stove and smiled and said “I got you a gift!” I was super surprised, but even more so when I opened the box and there were two big, curious eyeballs staring back at me. As of this morning, I am the proud owner of a baby green parrot. Marina said it is about two weeks old (it still hadn’t grown its feathers in) and she decided it was a boy (although she admitted there was no way to tell). We were both super excited and spent an hour or so chatting about parrot-care. She is sure that it will be able to talk, and (laughing) she said “Maybe when Katie comes in January he can help teach her Spanish.” Sorry Kate, that was quite funny.
I’ll give a bit of background that I left out in the previous post, about where this little baby parrot came from. When we were way up river, Reigan was walking in the forest while waiting for Elvis and heard a bunch of baby parrots crying from a nest. I don’t know the circumstances, but he took the seven baby parrots out of the nest and put them in a bucket to take back to his house to sell eventually. When we met up with Reigan later in the day he showed us the baby parrots and I (only half jokingly) told him that I wanted to buy a baby parrot when I had a house. These of course would be too old by then. When we got home, Jairo told Marina about the baby parrots and she said Jairo you better give me some money because I am going to go buy one for him. Anyway, Rico has a new brother he doesn’t know and Mama G and Claire now have yet another needy child that they don’t know yet.
As for the house, the idea was that the hunters who are participating in my project would build my house, and therefore would receive the benefits when I paid for the materials. At the community meeting, the hunters agreed that the benefits should be shared among the entire community, and therefore the entire community was going to help with the house construction. They decided the house would be finished before the end of September. A month is not a bad turn-around for constructing a house, so I was happy with that.
This morning, 40 community members met to assign roles in material harvesting. I was pretty surprised when, 2 hours later, those same 40 people came walking out of the forest laden with tree trunks to be used for most of the frame of the house as well as panels of leaf thatch for the roof. Another team had gone up river a ways to find a particular hardwood tree from which they could cut the posts for the corners and middle of the house to keep it off the ground. Duglas came up to me at about 9am and said “Hey Brian, a quick question, do you have the food for the minga?”
Pause, while I explain what a minga is. The Maijuna use mingas as a way to get work done quickly. They’re similar to how the Amish do barn-raising in America, where the entire community comes over for the day, eats food, then everyone works together to do the work. This could be clearing or planting fields, building canoes or houses, or any number of things. I had planned to throw a three-day minga once the materials were harvested in order to build my house. A minga almost always starts with masato. Everyone will drink somewhere between two and five bowls of masato and once they were full and reasonably tipsy, the work would commence.
I was confused, then, when Duglas asked me if I had the food because today was just the first day of getting materials. I asked him what he meant and he said well, there are 40 of us and we all know how to build houses. Today is Thursday, so the minga would start today, and by Saturday afternoon your house will be finished. What happened to the end of September? Also, three days to find the materials and construct a decent-sized house?? Unreal. I smiled and said well, who can drive me to the market, I’ll grab some food. There is a store in a nearby town called Llachapa where I bought almost 100kg of food, including rice, pasta, chickens, onions, garlic, sugar, eggs, potatoes, oil, and fariña. When I returned the holes for the posts had been dug and the frame laid out, and everyone was sitting waiting for the post team to come back. Luckily, they didn’t return until 2pm, well after it was too hot to work. That means the mingas can start tomorrow, thankfully. There isn’t enough time to make masato, but everyone said chicken is definitely good enough.
In the early afternoon, some health officials from the regional government came by. They called everyone to a meeting (easy since everyone was sitting outside waiting for posts) and said that they had come to give each person in the community a new insecticide-treated mosquito net for free to help combat the spread of malaria. I excused myself to go and eat lunch with Marina. Not a half an hour later, a friend came running up to the house saying that they needed me at the meeting. I walked back over with him and the whole community was looking at me expectedly. It turns out, they had told the government officials that I was a Sucusarino now, living in the community, and part of the Maijuna, and therefore I also deserved a free mosquito net. They had convinced the officials. I walked up and signed the official health registry book and got my free (high quality!) mosquito net as well! Every day, there are more examples of how good people are to me.
The evening passed with the usual soccer games and oatmeal dinner. The evenings and nights have been getting cold here, which Jairo tells me means that summer has arrived. Everyone thinks that it’s scorching hot here all the time, but that’s definitely not the case. The past few nights have been about 60 degrees by my reckoning. I’ll be heading to Mazan on Monday to buy a blanket, I think. I’m tired of sleeping in a hoodie and still shivering!