Tuesday, September 05, 2006

To Salvation and Back

Out of Cusco, into the jungle with bugs the size of your hand flapping and sizzling against flimsy screen doors, orange and blue butterflies flocked in small crowds on the banks of the river, waterfalls, lush and bountiful plant life, sun rising in the morning through the trees as I bathe in the river, a beautiful 12 year old Machigenga girl named Juana with her nose pierced with the traditional red bead and her stiff grey schoolgirl uniform, standing shyly outside my tent, wanting to talk in the way that you talk when you are both in the jungle, silently, watching the miracle of it all, bugs, trees, water, earth, light, listening.

Yes one of the jungle towns is actually called Salvacion, and nobody seems to know why. Some say it¡s because a group of people were almost lost in the river and then miraculously saved, some say it's because of a local plant colloquially called Salvacion. At any rate, it's a pretty little town, quiet and calm.

Nearby is the Aramkbut community of Shintuya, where I spoke to some of the community leaders and watched a group of energetic boys and girls play a tough game of barefoot soccer on a grassy field. People in this area are nervous about petroleum development, which is planned for the area of the Native reserve and some of the surrounding region. The company proposing this development--Hunt Oil--does not have a great reputation in Peru, being one of the companies involved in the disastrous Camisea project further north. And the older folks complain that none of the younger people want to learn the Native languages. A grandfather and grandmother talked of a time fifty years ago, when whole families were wiped out by smallpox brought by contact with the outside world.

It used to be, the old man said, that fish were bountiful here, but not any more. Logging and mining have taken care of that. He's a skinny bright eyed man with a wealth of memories and a nagging pain in his chest.

For lunch, I ate macaroni soup with his family, then fell asleep in the humid heat of the afternoon. In the morning, there were no eggs in town, so I ate bananas, rice and papaya at the home of another neighbor, Victoria. She proudly told me of the time just a few months back when the entire community of Shintuya tore town a sign that the government had put on their land saying "Manu National Park." "We are not a national park, we are a community," she said.

The government wanted to put the entire community, all 250 people, in jail for their "vandalism", but the community won, and now the sign is gone.

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