July 21, 2018
This week has been a whirlwind of meetings and trying to catch up with a lot of different people. On the 18th we left ExplorNapo with our team and Shebaco, Victorino, and Duglas. We took an Explorama boat and a mechanic to the nearby town of Mazan, where we purchased rice, eggs, and oil for our food the next few days. Shebaco, Duglas and I went to a restaurant called Pez Blanca to pick up lunch for everyone. Mike gave me the warning he had been sick there several times, and order wisely. Naturally, I settled on 11 orders of fried chicken for everyone. While waiting for my food I had a nice chat with Shebaco about when Katie was coming to live with them and what she was doing and how long she was staying and all that. It's amazing that everyone is so welcoming all the time, even though they don't know us at all really. We shared a (free) jar of cebada, which Shebaco told me is a fruit. Turns out, it's a juice made from barley. I was also wary here because I have a bad record of accepting free food and suffering because of it (looking at you Chris and Joey). Spoiler, that didn't happen again.
We also met Carlos in Mazan, who is the team's expert on all things bees and beekeeping. The native Amazonian bees are interesting because they have lost the ability to sting. Raising bees then presents a safe and easy sustainable income - and that's what Carlos teaches local people with his NGO La Restinga. The honey the bees produce is delicious, although it isn't as sweet and thick as the honey we get in the US, and it has a very light citrus flavor that lingers pleasantly. Beyond being good to eat, it has lots of medicinal properties. The Maijuna have been raising these bees under Carlos's guidance for several years now.
After Mazan we headed towards our goal for the trip: visiting two of the other three Maijuna communities along the Yanayacu River. An hour and a half more on a boat and we pulled in to Puerto Huaman, the first community. We chatted for a bit, but the community authorities were not present so we moved on to Nueva Vida, 5 minutes up the river from Puerto Huaman. After a whirlwind of introductions and hurried chatting, we settled into the big wooden community center and set up our tents. We had a meeting scheduled for 7pm so we had some time to relax and get to know some people. We made some house visits to say hello and chat and make sure everyone was aware of the meeting and was planning on coming. Then it was time for dinner... which was a touchy thing because Mike said every time he visits there he leaves sick. We needed to have someone cook to promote good faith with the community, but at the same time you never want to be offensive if something isn't hygienic. We ended up just going for it, and I had my first meal cooked with water from the river. Another spoiler, I didn't get sick from that either.
The meeting had a number of different objectives. First, we needed support from the community and commitment to keep the Maijuna Federation FECONOMAI recognized by the government, which is key to protecting the wildlife and ecosystems located in the nearby protected area. We also wanted to discuss the possibility of opening a market for baskets made by local artisans, and the possibility of bringing sustainable beekeeping to those two communities (hence bringing Carlos). Finally, Mike and Shebaco had some concerns about the schools in these two communities, not holding classes. We wanted to discuss the possibility of bringing Puerto Huaman and Nueva Vida into the Adopt a School program by an NGO run by Explorama called CONAPAC. The program provides school supplies and educational support in exchange for a commitment from the communities to send their children to school every day, take care of trash in their communities, protect their local ecosystems, and a whole list of other things. It's a fantastic and successful program.
We were aiming for an hour and a half meeting. Three and a half hours later we finally finished. I passed out in my tent and when we woke up the next morning, we headed back to Puerto Huaman to do the same meeting all over again. The second meeting was quite a bit more animated, with the community asking a lot more questions and holding some good discussion on each point. They seemed very engaged on each and every idea, although there were definitely some conflicting personalities present. That discussion brought the second meeting to a solid four hours and fifteen minutes. That's a long time to sit in the concrete oven of a school room with 30 people. It felt pretty good to take a breath of fresh air and head back towards the river after that. By the time the meeting ended it was getting close to 12pm, which was another issue: we had not brought enough food for lunch and we didn’t want to risk eating in Mazan again with the students coming in just a few days. We were getting hungry when we arrived in Mazan and took a Motocar across to another small town called Indiana. In Indiana we were supposed to meet an Explorama boat, but nobody was there when we arrived. We had an interesting few hours on the dock waiting. There was a super enthusiastic card game going on nearby. One man was making noises that I have only ever heard in like cartoons he was so excited. Someone also drove their enormous wooden boat up to the dock, pushing the transport ships aside, tied it up, and just started painting his boat on the dock. I’m not sure where he got the paint from or why he needed to paint his boat right where the transport ships loaded, but maybe he wanted to show off his painting skills. Regardless, he provided a bit of entertainment.
Explorama arrived and we jetted back to Iquitos, ate a ton of food, and crashed at the Garden House. The next two days were a whirlwind of meetings, mostly centered on running errands and organizing ourselves for the upcoming field course and meeting with representatives from la Universidad Nacional Amazonia Peruana (UNAP). To apply for a Fulbright, you need to affiliate with a Peruvian institution of some kind, and I had chosen UNAP. The president of UNAP had submitted a reference letter for me, which I think was a big help in actually winning the award. Now, the time had come to meet with them again and discuss what UNAP could gain from this new affiliation. After meeting with the president, the dean, and six or seven faculty members to talk about my research and how UNAP students could be involved, I was pretty beat. Overall though, it was a success. We have a semi-solid plan of bringing UNAP students on expeditions, then they will stay with me in the community to conduct more interviews. It’s going to be a good experience for them, and allow them to do a lot of their theses and practicums!
Students began to arrive last night and the rest arrived this morning. I think every student but one had some sort of flight issue, whether that be a delay or a missed flight, so it’s been a large headache for Mike and I trying to make sure we know where everyone is and when we need to send someone to pick them up from the Iquitos airport. Eventually, they all arrived safely and we hopped on the boat around 1pm to head back to ExplorNapo. Two and a half more hours on the boat and we rolled up. Of course, then it was a site orientation, program orientation, journaling exercise, and dinner. We went on a night boat ride to get everyone excited, and saw a sweet Red-Eyed Tree Frog and Two-Toed Sloth. Not things you see every day! I think everyone’s getting excited for sure. I’m just excited to be out of meetings…