Hello from UNM-Cameroon,
We have a little less than 3 weeks before we all are off to Cameroon. May 15! UNM will be working with 5 students from Ohio State University, an organic farmer, the Cameroon Association of Active Youths (CamAAY) and the surrounding communities this summer.
We’ll head to Douala first and then the Northwest region, around OKU and BATIBO.
We’re still working on our visas and finalizing the details of the projects coinciding with our stay, but it looks like we’ll be involved in various things in some capacity or another alongside CamAAY:
– Women’s health campaigns promoting awareness about menstruation and safe sex
– International Youth Leadership Camp
– Sports Tournament
– Women’s seed collective groups (agricultural techniques and seed sharing)
– Construction of the community center in OKU:
If you have any resources you’d like to share about preventing substance abuse in youth, women’s health education and youth leadership, comment below! We’ll be involved in workshops and awareness campaigns related to this.
The end of our time in Madre Selva was spent by going around to the different communities for the last time, giving away gifts to friends we had made, as well as passing the torch to Project Amazonas and their volunteers to finish the clinic project. During our last week we were able to cheer on some of our friends in a local soccer game and we were guests at a one year old’s birthday party in Commandancia.
When we left the clinic site for the last time, we were able to look out on a huge area that we had cleared and leveled without the help of modern equipment. It was such an incredible experience to see how much we have completed and to understand how much of a help the clinic will be for the community.
The people living in the communities along the Rio Orosa do not currently have access to a health clinic. If someone were to have a serious injury they would have to take a thirty-minute boat ride to the small town of Yanashi to be seen by a doctor, or travel four hours to Iquitos where there is a hospital. These boat rides are costly and are only taken in dire need. The locals also make use of a Shaman who provides herbs and special drinks to cure ailments. The locals use a mixture of their traditional practices as well as modern medicine. They believe that this way, they are safe either way. Since locals are rarely able to travel to a doctor, once every few months a mobile clinic travels up the Amazon stopping at communities along the way. Project Amazonas organizes these trips with medical students and other volunteers. After the construction of the Santo Tomas Clinic, the local people will no longer have to rely on mobile clinics.
The construction of the Santo Tomas Clinic will allow the health promoter to keep up with the health needs of the people in the area and will provide the locals with access to a health center anytime they are in need. The projected completion of the clinic is February 2013 and although the clinic construction began with our Nourish International group, the project will be completed with the assistance of other Project Amazonas volunteers. In Peru, for a doctor to work in a government run hospital, they are required to serve a year in a rural health clinic. After the clinic is completed, these doctors will staff the clinic and we are hoping that eventually one will want to live there permanently. The grounds of the clinic are large enough for a house to be built on the premises. The director of Project Amazonas, Devon Graham, has recently been looking into having a cell tower built near the clinic that will allow the doctor to access a database where medical data and records will be stored. This will also allow the doctor to use the Internet to connect with doctors in Iquitos and around the world. This will be extremely beneficial because it will allow any concerns of the rural doctor to be solved quickly and effectively.
The four-hour boat ride back to Iquitos was bittersweet. We were all so excited to go back to civilization and to see our families and friends but we also knew that we would miss our new friends we had met in the Amazon. A very special moment for me was prior to leaving Madre Selva, a young girl came up to me and told me that I had become one of her best friends. I was so sad to have to say goodbye but I am so happy I had the chance to meet the people around Madre Selva and learn about their life and their culture.
Before this summer, I never would have seen myself doing a project like this. I love to help others but I didn’t believe I was capable of putting myself in such a different element. Even though we obviously could not have completed the entire clinic in seven weeks, I believe our efforts with this project not only created a positive change for the community, but also in all of us.
We started out this workday right—we spotted a sloth high in the trees on the way to the clinic site and watched him slowly climb down for a few minutes. Luckily, our pace was a lot quicker and we ended up clearing almost all of the dirt left in the ground for leveling. Devon, Edwin, and Teo were present at the site to speed the work along and bring some Latin spice with a playlist of Peruvian tunes.
We later returned to Madre Selva to relax before lunch and talk about some of our favorite authors, when I heard someone say, “Mira, mira!” behind me. I turned around right as one of the crewmembers was near my face holding an anaconda. Despite his unhappiness, people took turns letting him wrap his body around their arms before he was released. The day ended gloriously! I finally saw the small black monkeys in the wild and I hadn’t seen them the entire time. My Amazon experience is complete!
It’s the final week and we’ve started it with excitement! The evening consisted of a boat tour led by Cesar. We saw frogs and nighthawks, had a fish jump into the boat and hit Cesar’s neck, and watched him climb a tree to retrieve a boa. Overall I would say it was a very wildlife-filled day.
Our next morning began when a Cayman was thrust towards my face before breakfast. We held him for a while and let him hang around the common area before we released him into the fishpond on the premises. Kelsey and I then went to Comandancia in the morning to conduct a final survey with the president’s wife, asking her about her experience. We then got a tour of the town, received instructions from an elderly woman on how to chop a log that would later be used as a five-foot piece of a raft, and then experienced a “minga” with a group of drummers and dancers.
Saturday we spent the morning gathering items to give away, while we packed the rest and anxiously awaited Jimdevon’s 1st birthday and our departure the following day. Sunday we attended a final meeting in Santo Tomas about the clinic and the future of the project. We heard final opinions and said our goodbyes to the people we’d been working with for nearly two months—some acquaintances, some prominent members of the community, and others people we’ll never forget.
The boat ride back was virtually problem-free aside from our driver having to physically move an entire floating island of lily pads with the boat. We knew we’d experience culture shock after being away from ‘civilization’ for almost two months, but we were thankful to be back in the city of Iquitos.
The next few days were filled with going to the markets to see things like local art, woodworking products, and open food sections. We also took the free time to reminisce on our experience. Despite any minor setbacks that occurred, or partial feelings of isolation resulting in jungle fever, there’s absolutely nothing I would trade this experience for. The people we met and the communities we’ve continually interacted with only strengthen the decision to continue with the clinic and future collaboration with Project Amazonas.
Yet another week has passed here in the Amazon, I think. After 6 weeks, it’s very difficult to tell what day it is, but I guess that doesn’t really matter out here. Anyway, here’s what we’ve been getting up to recently!
Although tangibly close to the end of a long stay in the jungle, our sixth week was perhaps the most difficult of them all for us. The excitement and intrigue of the rainforest never truly runs out, but weeks of hard work in the hot sun have certainly taken their toll. However, with a clear goal and new faces from Dr. Graham’s class, we powered on through the difficult times to achieve what we had come to do.
We are continuing to work every day towards a foundation for the clinic. This foundation is both literal and figurative in the sense that it will be the basis of construction and it shows the communities and other donors that we are serious about our work. In the past, these communities have been promised many things. They may have been dubious about whether we were in the project for the long haul at first, but with all our work, I think we have proved to them that there will be a clinic here and that we will see it through until completion.
As always, we had a couple of work days with the communities. Thanks to this work time, we are learning a lot about each of the specific communities. Although they are very small, relatively new, and in the case of Santo Tomas and Nuevo Israel, actually connected, there are many differences, some immediately obvious and some more subtle which we are beginning to notice. Although these differences so far have separated the communities, to the point that some will not work together on the clinic, we hope that a completed clinic will help unite the communities by demonstrating what can be accomplished for the common good when they are all working together. It would be awesome to see the clinic site further develop into a community center, linking all of the Orosa River villages together.
Looking back over our project so far, it is fair to say that the whole process was more work than we had ever anticipated. Although the work we have accomplished so far may seem disheartening, when one considers the primitive tools used (machetes, axes, spades, etc.), it is really quite amazing. The ambitious goals initially set by Nourish and Project Amazonas have been readjusted to reality. Now, our goal is to clear a totally flat piece of land upon which the clinic can be built. One truly cannot appreciate how much work this is until one considers that we were flattening a hillside that was in the process of being converted from wild rainforest to a dense plantain plantation. Future groups will continue the work after us, with a goal of opening the clinic this spring. (Watch this blog for future updates!)
Although not technically in my time slot for blog writing, I would like to comment on our trip to Yanashi last week. One reason for why the clinic was so necessary is that the Yanashi clinic is often inaccessible once the river level has dropped during the dry season. On our ride into the jungle in May, just after the rainy season, we passed through the small waterway between Yanashi and the communities. Although it was clearly deep and wide enough then, 5 weeks later, the water had seriously dropped. In just a couple of weeks, this passage will not be navigable by boat for several months. This presents a serious problem for anybody in need of medical attention. Although we had all been told why the clinic was necessary, it was good to actually be able to see the reasons in person.
This Sunday was our final community soccer match as next Sunday we will be heading back to Iquitos. We have been going to these games, alternating between community venues, every week to spectate and to cheer on some of the Project Amazonas staff. Much of the community comes out to watch and we have used these opportunities to strengthen our bond with the community members. Although perhaps not the final farewell, it was sad to say goodbye as we left that evening.
Thanks for reading!
This week Dr. Devon Graham, the director of Project Amazonas, came to Madre Selva, which allowed us to meet him for the first time and ask him any questions we had about our project. On Monday, we were able to show him the worksite and plan our next steps for clearing and leveling the land. Seeing the ground clear of obstructions such as logs and massive roots in the ground enabled us to really feel as though we had accomplished something. The following day we had to say goodbye to Daniel and our new Australian friend Loren which made us all very sad because we were losing part of our little family.
A few days ago we were alerted that some children in the near by village of Santo Tomas were interested in learning English. I decided to volunteer and have them come to Madre Selva about twice a week to learn greetings and basic words in English. One boy in particular, named Felis, was extremely eager to learn and when I would run into him in Santo Tomas, he would greet me in English. One day this week he and his cousin brought me three large papayas they had grown as a present for my efforts working with them.
Wednesday we had a community work day with Comandancia where the strong efforts of the community were very apparent. Leveling is very hard work and without the assistance of the men, women, and children in the different communities, we would not have made so much progress in only a few weeks. I have been very impressed by the work ethic of my fellow project team members as well as the people in the community, especially the children. The young children have been assisting by carrying bags of dirt down the hill when the wheelbarrows are full. I was very impressed that the children were such hard workers even though their parents were not pushing them to assist and the heat made the job even harder.
Thursday night we had the most fun we have had all week! We took a half hour boat ride to Yanashi, a small city on the way to Iquitos, where we danced and were able to buy chocolate! It was quite a relief to be able to go somewhere new and explore an area that was larger than any of the communities around Madre Selva.
Friday we were able to take a break and relax around Madre Selva in preparation for our Saturday work day at the clinic site with Nuevo Israel. The day was very hot and exhausting but it was good to see familiar faces and talk with the Nuevo Israel children at the work site. Saturday night a few of us went over to Comandancia to celebrate the holiday of San Juan. Although this community is not known for its Christian culture, but instead for its Yagua Indian traditions, we were able to witness a christening during the San Juan festivities. A really cool moment was when the people began to recite the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish, I was able to say it with them because I learned it in high school!
Although some times have been a struggle, I have greatly appreciated all of the experiences I have gained so far and am looking forward to the next few weeks!
We started off our week on our Sunday leisure day and went for a boat ride to the nearby lake in order to try and catch piranhas and see pink dolphins. We were unlucky with the fishing (although we had some strange luck later) and just as we were going back up the river, we saw a spout of water shoot up into the air, hearing our guide Edwin shout, “dolfin, dolfin!” We never actually saw the dolphin, but we were close.
The next day we resumed work on the clinic site, moving brush and logs to burn piles, and clearing the area for the physical location of the clinic. We had constructed a massive teepee-like structure of sticks, logs, vines, and leaves, lighting it at the start of the day and constantly adding to it throughout. The small pieces of ash floating down actually made it quite beautiful. The afternoon was filled with relaxation, conversing with our Peruvian crew, and doing yoga on the top of the bird observatory. The day began early, heading to the community of Santo Tomas to help with their community workday by cutting the grass with machetes. For them, these community workdays represent a time to physically collaborate, as well as create a sense of communal cooperation for the betterment of their society. After the work was done, we all met in the shade for important discussions regarding the community. The president and the law enforcer talked about the importance of the building of the clinic and how it would not only better their community, but all of the people surrounding Rio Orosa. They emphasized that putting in volunteered time towards the construction of the clinic now, would allow for future economic stimulation and health for their children and future generations. Not only this, but the more that communities are involved with the construction of the clinic now, the more they will be invested in its future and sustain it later.
After our discussion that would hopefully inspire more people in the community to collaborate more with Nourish International and Project Amazonas, we returned to Madre Selva to find about five kids from the community starting tickle wars with us. Braiding, tag, and climbing to the bird observatory ensued and we seemed to create a lasting bond, because they continued to stop by in their family canoe.
Wednesday was our designated day for all of the communities to show up to the clinic site. We arrived and had about fifteen or so people come from the three communities. This was about one-third of the amount of people we expected to come. The community suggested that they needed more time before the workday in order to communicate with all of the community, because they are so spread out. They decided on another day one week from Wednesday. I did not catch a lot of the remainder of the conversation, because the version of Spanish that they speak in this area is much different than the Spanish I’ve been taught. This could be because of its nearness to Brazil, therefore resulting in a greater likelihood for the influence of Portuguese on the language.
This week we had three new people from the U.S. arrive to Madre Selva. Their purpose was simply tourist-based, but their stay has been interesting, because of their collaboration with Project Amazonas. Their small excursions have been biologically informative and respectful of the wildlife. They have observed many of the species on their wildlife tours led by Project Amazonas’ specialists. This is one good example of the ecotourism taking place in the area—it’s uninvasive, sustainable, and provides money for Madre Selva to fund future projects and upkeep the biological reserve for the locals and all others who come to Madre Selva. Thursday, Kelsey and I helped with a project in Madre Selva, while the rest of the crew went to survey part of the Santo Tomas community. Daniel’s surveys included questionnaires about what types of health problems the locals see as the most prominent in their society and whether or not they felt that the introduction of technology would be beneficial for the community’s overall health. So far, they’ve gotten very positive feedback from all they’ve talked to about it, and Daniel hopes to incorporate the use of research technology and IPads in the new clinic that will be built.
This is a controversial topic and study as a whole. It leads me to wonder how far is too far with the introduction of Western medicine into these cultures. This is a very complex and layered point of discussion, but it’s worth looking into. Of course the community’s perspectives are the most important and viable in this situation—and so far, the feedback has been positive. Whether or not this feedback is biased or not, or accurate is another thing that will need to be attended to in the future. The second point of interest here for me is how much of their medicinal practices are going to be taken into consideration when the clinic is up and running? Our hope for the clinic is to get the local shaman highly involved. Not only would it preserve their cultural practices of medicine, but also it would (hopefully) have more of the communities’ support. Because so much of this society is reliant upon and trusting of the shaman’s practices, their faith in the effectiveness of the medicine and the clinic as a whole will be raised. Overall, I think the most important factor to keep in mind here is the involvement of the community, as well as respect for and preservation of their culture. This will allow for a diverse population to survive and a more harmonious relationship with other people as a whole.
The weekend ended with a beautiful day of community work with Nuevo Israel at the clinic site. There was a fantastic turnout of about fifty people and we were able to dig out a large chunk of land for the leveling in preparation for the base of the clinic. Afterwards, we gathered with the people to discuss a possible future workday. They presented some concerns about having to work with the neighboring communities. This was somewhat disconcerting to hear, especially because the clinic was going to be constructed with the idea that it’d be for people all along Rio Orosa and in the Amazon area. This was explained to the people at that time with the intention of bringing a more harmonious view to the project and a sense of collaboration with the communities. My hopes are that this clinic will not only improve the people’s health, but also the community relationship and regards for other people.
The mud is slippery when attempting to jump down off the motored wooden boat we have been so accustomed to traveling inside. Although I always strive for dramatic, I feel like the boat hits the muddy shore and we pile out like troops rushing Normandy-and then I wake up and realize that we are just putting in three really hard hours of sweat in the exhausting heat of the Peruvian Amazon.
Slipping in the mud, we climb our twenty feet up the embankment to reach a plateau that we have been clearing, of high ground, that will be the layout for the clinic. Today is a work day, so ten community members are already working on digging the remaining roots out of the ground of the previously machetied forest we cleared. Having community involvement like this really sets up the correct image in my head: one that reaches both sustainability when the clinic is constructed and also a community voice.
Working four hours aside the community was a very arduous task; these fellows are very talented with their machetes and have some better tools, like hoes. The days here, however, seemed to be blurred into one-the work has been exhausting, and after, we retreat to Madre Selva biological station where we lose our minds in the biological beauty of the Amazon. Today, a multi-colored frog was a definite highlight-it is hard to imagine a frog with more colors.
Sleeping in until the normal time, 7, was a nice change from the previous mornings 530 wakeup call. I definitely felt more rested, however, was not eager to go back into digging out roots in the heat. Breakfast took a little longer than normal because it was the farewell day for our new friends: two biology students from Iquitos, a Dentist, Mercedes-a Peruvian Obstetrics Doctor, and Aldo, the clinic’s architect who had all stayed with use for ten days.
Although the sounds of the jungle are anything but quiet, it is nice having others around and learning about different cultures. I was definitely sad to seem them leave and will miss treating patients with Mercedes, talking to Aldo about Uruguay and his couch surfing experiences, the two biologists speaking all night and keeping us up, and the Dentist for some obvious reasons that Sam and I share.
After saying goodbye, we all hesitated on getting back onto the boat for the notorious four-minute ride to the clinic construction site. With a late start, and much rain the last few days, the delay seemed well founded. We finally boarded the ship, worked for three hours, and got back late for lunch, about 30 past one. The rest of the day was filled with good lunch and getting caught up in our favorite books and some good conversation. I am just hoping the monkeys come back through the station soon, that would be a great second round of intrigue.
Today was what I like to call a much needed dia de floja, or lazy day. Deciding early in the day not to voyage to the worksite, we planned out our day. Joey, Kels, and Tina took a hike to find wood, while Sam and I waited for them to get back so we could steal their boat driver and head off to Santo Tomas for research purposes. Once they got back from the hike and we ate lunch, Sam and I took off to the community and began our surveys.
The people here are incredible, I have never felt an accumulation of kindness and security to this level. This could be only an initial representation of the people here, however, I feel that it is genuine. People are very welcoming and very open to answering questions and speaking to obvious ‘out of place’ foreigners. After visiting about 6 homes and recording the interviews, we rendezvous with our drivers and headed back to Madre Selva for dinner. Not so bad of a day-
My highlight of the day was when we interviewed the president of Santo Tomas and he gave us long tree branches of sugar cane as a gift. We will make juice out of them soon….
Today our wake up call was super-early, you know why?? Community work day!! These days are awesome because we get so much done and the simple fact that the community is dedicated reassures us there is some sustainability efforts under way. And on top of the former, it was a very refreshing day, cooler temperatures without much more than a drizzle of rain.
After a long morning of work, a few of us went straight for the bird tower to rest prior to lunch. Sure enough at about 1300, we heard our loud call for ‘almuerzo’ echo across the rainforest and into our hungry ears. Now we had to wake up and crawl down four flights of rotting stairs to feed our appetite.
I had been excited throughout the day because it was movie night, and we watched the second Harry Potter film prior to bed, and about three of us stayed up for the entire movie. The sounds here are indescribable-something that needs to be experienced and embraced. Every night new birds and strange noises from bats, frogs, monkeys, etc. illuminate the biodiversity that swallows our little bungalow into a fierce jungle. I for one cannot believe how many different sounds are continuously ebbing in and out of my ear, however, the excitement of what I may hear next keeps going to bed an adventure in itself.
Today I woke up early to read while the rest of our party slept in from a long night playing cards and engaging in conversation. After breakfast, I jumped on the boat with Edwinn and took off for Comandancia to continue my research. To my amazement, the same attitude and outlook among all of the people I interviewed transcended across, even when health issues and unemployment are rampant and the norm for much of the people.
I returned and ate lunch, however, a little tired and hoping to embrace more the jungle itself in peace, I stayed behind while the rest of the group went Pirahna fishing and swimming at a nearby lake. Everyone stated, when they returned, that the lake was breathtaking to see during the day, however, no piranhas were caught, well, not caught yet! Dinner was amazing, catfish in beer and a play on fried rice. Overall, another great night that will not be too hot for sleeping-
Woke up and was ready to jump back to bed-I think we were all a little tired today. Ate breakfast and then got to the work site, dug out more roots, burned some of the remains from our clearing, and organized wood piles for about three hours. Then, we cut it a little short, and headed back to basecamp, Madre Selva to call it a day. I think we are all getting a little tired of the clearing and want to get to the actual construction parts as soon as possible-it would be nice to see our progress to help the community in action, and not just a cleared stretch of land.
However, we can see great progress and it’s exciting to think we have been an integral part of the construction and materials of a clinic treating patients who have no close access to any type of healthcare. Once we got back, we ate lunch and everyone drifted off into his or her own direction of laziness for the rest of the afternoon. I decided to take a quick rest and then reed (really, read?). Once deep in thought about the social structure of political systems and thriving inequity that serves the root causes of infectious diseases among the poor, a large group of monkeys came roaring through the trees right next to me. So amazing, everyday in the Jungle is a new surprise of wonders that could probably never reach any surfeit-I take that back, deforestation is a calculable end to not only the most magnificent biodiverse regions of the world, but our supply of lively gasses (no pun intended).
Today the group went to cut grass early, as a community work session; I, on the other hand, took the day to go do my graduate research in Santo Tomas-which is performing interactive surveys to get a baseline of medical issues, technological interest, and possible clinic use. The research has been very positive so far, and the people here are extraordinarily kind, open, and very smart.
At night, we went on a night hike and saw two really amazing snakes, six scorpions, poisonous tarantulas, and a number of other cool insects and frogs. Before leaving, Sam, Kels, and I saw an ant-eater-an amazing experience to see these incredible, and rare animals in the wild. I would have liked to see it eat some ants, or as I like to joke, clean up the ants that Sam and I have a deal with in our room: stay out of our food and we won’t kill you! If I used acronyms like LOL, I would probably put one in directly after that last sentence.
We started this week off more prepared and better adapted to the jungle. The group was also able to make it to the satellite phone in a nearby village to make short, but much needed, phone calls. The week started with more clearing of jungle. One of these days we set up a community day to get the community involved with the clinic.
We had an amazing turnout of about 25 people, who showed up, and, worked alongside us for a good four hours. The majority of the land after this day was cleared and the wood was piled and ready to burn. All of the people who came were amazingly strong and helpful. They can take down just about anything with only a machete which seems like an extension of their arms. Everyone works – children, women and the very old. And, everyone knows their niche when it comes to working. The work continued after the community work day and it did so with fire. We built a fire and spent most of the day feeding it underbrush trying to catch the wood which was damp and not very burnable. For me it was surprising to see that this was the method used to develop the land here as everything is always wet.
The determination and survivorship of the people is incredible and I was humbled every time I observed it. By the next day we had revised rough plans for the clinic and decided to begin cleaning the area of the actual clinic and measure the dimensions. This cleaning involved machetes, axes, rakes, shovels, and chainsaws to remove all of the trees and leaves from the area. All of this work is very time consuming and tiring especially in the heat of the day. By the end of the week our hands were blistered, bug bitten and cut. We were ready for our day of rest. We went to Santo Tomas for our day and started off making phone calls and buying cookies and cokes. We then went to watch the locals in their weekly football games. They play in everyday clothes, usually without shoes or any equipment, and their field is basically at a thirty five degree angle. The people were intense and they all know how to play. The rules are that there are no rules. They are all fairly good and the games are fun to watch. We also decided to go on a nighttime boat ride to see the local wildlife. The first thing we got to see was an owl, which was pointed out for our owl lover in the group. Then we went into a lake and found may types of frogs which we were holding and passing around. After the frogs we got to see two Cayman one of which Edwin pulled out of the water so that we could hold it.
After our nice day of rest we had a community work day where we volunteered with their community to help mow the grass around the school house with only our machetes. The amount of effort that this job took was amazing and the locals again made it look so easy. This experience made me really appreciate how amazing lawn mowers are. After working with the community we headed back to our work site and began to work on digging out roots, which was the first step we needed to take to level the land at the site. This is of course easier said than done when all you have are machetes, a spade, and rice bags to carry the dirt in, but of course we made due.
Hi again everybody,
As mentioned, the blog posts for UNM/Peru 2012 couldn’t be posted while we were on the project due to technical limitations in the Amazon. However, we all wrote posts during the project and now we can finally begin uploading them! I know you’ve been waiting for this moment for almost 2 months now, so here we go!
We started our adventure in Lima, apprehensive about what was to come. From Lima we were to travel to Iquitos and from there it was into the jungle. Very little was known about what we were going to do, or, how we were going to accomplish it, but this added to the sense of adventure. Perfect weather welcomed us to Iquitos (that is if your idea of perfect weather is eighty five degrees with 100% humidity.) We stepped out of the plane, walked into the airport and then continued outside to find our transportation to the hostel. In Iquitos this usually means a motorized tricycle, but since our group was large, it meant a car. Driving in Peru is unlike anything seen in the states and this holds true especially in Iquitos. There are no lanes, not many lights, and even less rules of the road. As we zig-zagged throughout traffic between tricycles and motorcycles I could not help thinking about how in America this would never happen. Here, accidents are almost always avoided successfully because the drivers are constantly paying attention and know exactly where their cars or vehicle is in comparison to other vehicles. Needless to say, I was impressed. When we finally made it to our hostel located on the other side of town we were all dripping with sweat and letting our first real taste of the rainforest. We then began to explore the city, eating interesting foods, and talking to different people. On our way back from a laundromat we happened upon a man who was giving tours of a floating neighborhood called Belen. We didn’t hesitate and went on the tour. Belen is a neighborhood of approximately 20,000 people that floats on the river. Instead of streets they had the river and boats to navigate the city.
The immensity and beauty of Belen was breathtaking and shocking. The entire city has electricity, markets and even a disco tech where we stopped to have a drink. When we were finished with the tour we had a better respect for how friendly and resourceful the Peruvians were. The next day we left for the jungle and our compound. We boarded a boat and proceeded up river. The Amazon is magnificent and seems to never end. In New Mexico we have a river that is called “big river” – you can throw rocks to the other side in most part. The Amazon really put things into perspective for me. It was huge and brown and surrounded by jungle for as far as my eye could see. As you travel along it you see families in boats of all sorts traveling besides you. It took us four hours, by boat, to the Madre Selva compound. This was to be our home for the next seven weeks. The first thing that we did when we arrived was to get our rooms assigned. We were to be in the upper part of the facility in huts called tambos with palm and thatch roofs that had no electricity. The bathrooms were 100m away. Needless to say, there was a transition period. The next thing that we did was to meet up with the men who kept the place running and who would become like family to us. Edwin was our father of the jungle. He was to take care of us throughout our trip. Joe, the English carpenter, was there to help us with our project. Raul was our cook. He was an incredible cook. His food was amazing and there was always something new and delicious to be eaten. Julio was our quiet caretaker. He could do anything in the world if you showed him once. The first night was the hardest. The jungle comes alive with sounds at night which was hard to get used to. The first couple of nights I did not have mosquito netting. The bights were plentiful and painful. After my first two days in the rainforest I had 200 bug bites. That number continued to rise. Our first few days were composed of adjusting to the heat and humidity, and, getting set up in our dorms. On our third day, however, we got our machetes and work began. We started with just general cleanup around the grounds. We cut grass, small plants and firewood. Working in the jungle gets you very sweaty so we had to stay hydrated. We rested on Sunday. On Monday we started clearing the land for our clinic. Our clinic was to be built on a parcel of land that measured 120m by 120m. Land boundaries had to be established.
Our first day we established some of the border, and cleared away most of a hillside. It is ridiculously hard work to cutting down a jungle with a machete. By noon we were all exhausted. We went back to camp and relaxed. That night we got three visitors. A dentist, a Uruguayan architect, and an Aussie student who was interested in medicine. The next morning they joined us in our clearing where we made wood piles in preparation to burn. This was the end of our first week.
Since our last blog post, we’ve had several adventures, and we’ve made significant progress on our project. Last weekend, we traveled to Cedi Bead Factory in Kofordua so that we could better understand the bead making process and view a center like the one we are building in action. We then traveled to Ghana’s Volta Region and had an exciting weekend.
On Saturday we had the opportunity to attend a Ghanaian wedding. It was a lot of fun and a great opportunity to experience Ghanaian culture.
We have nearly finished clearing and leveling the construction area, and the support pillars are cemented in the ground. Construction on the roof has been delayed for the last couple of days, due to several complications, but in the mean while we have been constructing the tools that are used in the bead making process. As of this morning we have constructed 8 of the necessary tools. Dan, our supervisor and host estimates that we have 8 more days of construction work
Our entire team is thoroughly enjoying themselves. Working with in ABAN in Ghana has been an amazing experience thus far, and I’m excited to see what the next few weeks hold.