Part of the complex system of gifts and sales here in Sucusari is that if you gift someone a raw product, they usually gift you whatever they make with it in return. A great example of this is seeds – I always save the seeds of veggies and fruit because they make easy gifts. Later on, I will be gifted veggies for free since I gave the seeds to grow them. Anyway, I had some pineapples out a few days ago (thanks to the school teacher’s garden I almost always have fresh pineapples) and a neighbor stopped by to ask if she could have the pineapple peels when I eat the next pineapple. I ate it for lunch, and took the peels to her house later on. She told me she was going to use them to make chicha, another traditional alcoholic beverage.
Three days later, this morning, I was drinking my morning coffee when my neighbor came back over carrying a large bucket of chicha. Now, I kind of expected to be offered a bowl full when I went over next time, but this was a literal bucket. She said I could share it with Jairo and Marina … but even then that’s way too much. I graciously accepted and said I had never tried chicha, so I grabbed a bowl and had one while she was there to show her that I wanted to try it, and then that I thought it tasted great (which it really did – like a fruity masato).
Jairo and Marina were at their fields digging holes for new trees, but coming down the hill to stop by was my old friend Felipe. As I have said before, Felipe stops by most mornings and most afternoons to just sit and rest for a few hours. I usually give him a cup of coffee or an egg and we just sit together and enjoy the breeze. We also play this game where I ask him how old he is and then he answers but a few days later he forgets I asked, then I ask again and he gives me a different answer. The range I have gotten is 79 – 88. But if there’s one thing I know for sure about Felipe, it’s that he loves masato and chicha.
I had a bowl waiting for him as I helped him up the stairs. He said his legs hurt too bad to walk without help today, which makes me sad to hear. We sat at my new breakfast bar (I had to help him onto the stool), him with his bowl of chicha and me finishing my coffee and we started to chat.
Three subjects are easy to talk about in Sucusari, and always come up – the weather, the river, and food (or lack thereof). We covered each of these as we always do, how the sun was already blazing hot today but a nice breeze was going through my house. We talked about how the river has risen and fallen over 8 meters this week but is still flowing with a strong current. How it must be raining hard in the headwaters, but the Napo must be running low still to create such a strong current out the mouth of the Sucusari. We talked about how there’s a shortage of fish recently (I haven’t had any in about a week) because of the river rising – they’re harder to catch.
I finished my coffee and switched to chicha, and poured Felipe a new bowl. While I was prepping it with extra sugar like he likes, he picked up a stack of letters that I received yesterday from my mom and Katie. Felipe can’t read in any language, but inside was also a Polaroid Katie had sent me of us together out hiking to hang in my house. The front of my mom’s card was a drawing of a baby tapir, which he recognized immediately. We began to talk about the letters and my family and Katie then, over our bowls of chicha. Usually our conversation is limited, with me doing most of the talking because Felipe cannot hear very well and he speaks Spanish with a strong Maijuna accent, making him difficult to understand at times too. I told him about the U.S. and how the leaves are changing colors and falling off the trees right now, and how Katie is back in school taking more classes and my mom and sister are teaching their classes. I told him it was my friend Tommy’s birthday last week, and described his nickname (Steak – but steak doesn’t exist here, so in Peru Tommy is dubbed “Meat”. Felipe took this to mean “Carne del monte” which actually means “Meat from the forest” specifically – hah Tom).
I swear Shebaco can smell masato/chicha a mile away, and soon rolled in as well. I poured him a bowl too and we chatted for a bit more, then he chatted with Felipe in Maijiki about my garden. When he left, Felipe went outside to sit on the steps and watch the river. I asked him what he was going to do today, and he said rest my legs – and you? I said well, I’m going to write a note to my family and friends back home.
He said “This is good. Tell them our leaves are still green.”
Well, United States family and friends, you have a new message from my 85(ish) year old friend Felipe Navarro. Hello. Sucusari’s trees are still green.
I find yet again that my favorite moments of the day are often hidden in small conversations. It’s going to be a good day.

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