25 Jul I bike the Amazon
Everything really does happen for a reason.
It may sound cliché but on our second to last night in the Amazon, the crew is realizing that the old saying is so true.
Yesterday was our first day back in the city of Iquitos after eight days working off the grid in the jungle village of Meliton Carbajal. A small community of only 22 families, we worked with an amazing group of local university students called Asociación Mayantu. They work to address many issues in villages in the Loreto region, both through education and construction projects. Along with capacity building seminars on the importance of clean water and proper hygiene, we were there to help construct an elevated water tank/filtration system, a new set of stairs down to the river, and the beginnings of a maloca, a community building for visitors.
With 14 OGers and the Mayantu crew, the people of the town welcomed us with open arms by letting us camp out in the secondary school and providing meals hosted by a lovely local family. We all worked hard in the sun each day, followed by some bathing in the river, afternoon games of volleyball in the rain, and plenty of time to enjoy each other´s company. We learned so much from the local men working construction with us, from the women and families who were so incredibly kind and hospitable, and from the copious amounts of children who never left our sides.
On our last couple days in the jungle, we hosted two separate capacity building sessions with the community. The first aimed to explain the importance of clean water and how micro-organisms affect people on a daily basis. Using a microscope to show parasites in their river water, the community elected a committee to operate and maintain the water tank for the village. Though the construction projects were very important, and the water tank will undoubtedly change the lives and health of the village, it´s these capacity building seminars that truly make our work sustainable.
On our last day in the jungle, we had a cultural evening with the entire community. There was traditional dancing, games for the children, and we all got up to perform a Spanish-English acapella version of Stand by Me. If you´re wondering how it went, we won´t be holding our breath until the Grammy nominees come out next year. After the performances, we presented a community health kit which Mayantu and OGers, Lacey and Lauren, worked hard to put together. Some prominent members of the community, as well as OG and Mayantu leaders came up for some last words, and I truly cannot say who was more thankful for whom. Everyone was touched. Everyone was so grateful and happy to be there. The only way to continue on was with Reggaeton and the local cane sugar alcohol, Aguardiente. Some got more into the latin rhythm than others, but everyone can agree that a late-night river excursion capped off a perfect week.
The next morning, we inaugurated the water tank and said some surprisingly tearful goodbyes. Why surprising? It wasn´t until a group conversation last night that we all realized how much we had learned in Meliton. Our week wasn´t at all what we had expected. It wasn´t an isolated village. People didn´t wear loincloths and hunt with spears. They weren´t helpless before we got there and they definitely did 10 times the amount of work we did on the construction site. The work itself moved far slower than it would have in North America and in the beginning our patience was tried. We learned that jungle time is even more laid back than the Peruvian time we´d become accustomed to, and that you can go a week without internet, mirrors, running water, or beds. These people are happy with each other and what they have, and we stand to learn a lot from them still.
Real development work isn´t about coming into a helpless community as a hero. It isn´t about doing everything the way you want it, when you want to. Sometimes the biggest thing you can do is just be there to facilitate, to serve as a catalyst for change. Every stakeholder has their own set of skills and role to play in the process and we learned that no amount of Western education taught us how to use a machete to build a water tank. At the same time, the villagers learned that foreigners aren´t just walking dollar signs but that gringos can work hard too (16 buckets of sand in 10 minutes isn´t bad…)
Now here we are, back in Iquitos, doing exactly what makes this trip an OG trip: giving up a portion of our Independent Travel Time (ITT) to finish what we started. Before we left for Meliton Carbajal, we were working in a barrio in Iquitos called El Porvenir. With the local organization KALLPA Iquitos and the residents of the 700 person community, we had already painted two murals and hosted an incredibly successful garbage clean-up campaign. We had assembled a playground for the children, however because of delays from the local and regional government, the land where we were to build the park wasn´t ready even by the time we had to leave for the jungle.
Now our amazing, devoted crew is spending the first three days of ITT working here instead of heading down to Cusco, to Machu Picchu or the beach. We spent the day employing all the skills we learned from our maestros in the jungle: digging holes deeper than our own heights, using machetes to cut ropes course poles, and oiling up nails with Castrol for an easier slip into the wood. In one incredible day, along with the help of an entire community who didn´t really think that we would come back, we´ve almost completed the project.
Tomorrow, we pour the concrete and the next day, after putting the finishing touches on the park, we fly back down to Lima and break for ITT. After the week of waiting every day for the land to be ready, the frustration of not being able to finish, it turns out that it all really was for the best. We now have a couple more days to enjoy Iquitos, to reflect on and use what we learned in the jungle and to spend more time with the community we´ve connected with in El Porvenir.
Spirits are high as we head into the last stages of our trip.
We really, truly, couldn´t imagine being anywhere else in the world right now. Wish you all could be here too.
Peace, love and Jungle Juice.
The Peru AA Crew.