February 24 – Panama City airport
I’m excited to be leaving for Iquitos today. It will be in the middle of the rainy season when both tasty Amazon fruits and mosquitoes (with and without malaria) are abundant. I’m ready, though, because I get to spend a whole month away from the coldest winter I remember after living in central Pennsylvania for almost 20 years. The snow has been pretty, but repeatedly freezing my fingers and toes while shoveling my and a neighbor’s driveway has grown tiresome.
As I started packing two days ago, I saw a squirrel perched on the hand rail of our back porch with her tail curled onto its back giving it a Mohawk look. As she looked at me through the window, I wondered if she was just curious about me or wanted to come inside for a reprieve from the extra chill. I donned five layers to walk my lab-mix Juno, but I did smile when I saw her running with her head lowered to plow fresh powder into her open mouth. It reminded me of a black skimmer slicing through the ocean surface with its open beak to scoop up tiny fish.
I’m also excited about spending a month to advance CACE projects in Peru. It’s hard to believe we are now nine years old! I will again visit the native villages of Brillo Nuevo and Puca Urquillo where we are doing back to back workshops to help 80 Bora and Huitoto artisans learn to make popular models of hot pads, belts and ornaments. I also want to ask them about their goals for their families and communities to gauge how much time they really want to invest in craft-making compared to other ways of making money and tasks of daily life.
I’ll return to Jenaro Herrera to begin winding down our basic research on the ecology of copal resin as we apply results from these studies to help our community partners sustainably harvest resin from their forest and distill it to marketable essential oil. I’m looking forward to seeing the women artisans from Chino to pick up a new batch of woven frogs whose expressions reflect their creators’ warm personalities. I also want to record how they’ve used CACE social rebate funds to tend young chambira palm trees planted to supply fiber for making the frogs and their signature Tahuayo region baskets.
Thanks to CACE board member Michael Gilmore, I will return to the Maijuna village of Nueva Vida to help their artisans make six models of small baskets we can try to market in the U.S. I’m hoping for good health and energy since I spent several days languishing in a hammock after eating something funky at an otherwise wonderful festival.
After my trips to our partner villages, our project manager Yully Rojas and I are going to host our first CACE public gathering in Iquitos. Almost 200 people who live there have “liked” our Facebook page, so we’re going to invite them to a combo presentation and little party. My hope is that we can start to kindle local and interest and support for our project with the people who live in the heart of the region.
Near the end of my trip, we will welcome Tracy Stayton to a CACE Amazon Field Volunteer for ten days as part of her remarkable Thirtyfourtunate project. Having turned 34, Tracy has begun a year-long global giving adventure when she will do 34 acts of service to give back and bring awareness to NGOs and their causes around the world. Follow her journey at: Facebook.com/34tunate.
Thank you to my loving family and many friends for your warm wishes as I head south again. May you enjoy the winter outside as much as you can and savor a cup of hot tea when you come back inside.
ARTISANS SEPARATING CHAMBIRA FIBER After artisans strip leaflets from chambira "cogollos" in the forest. In the comfort of their homes (or in this case in the artisan house in Chino), they grab the bottom end in between their big and fourth toe, make a nick at the top with a little knife and then pull down on the long strong fiber. This is the prime part of the leaflet for making quality handicrafts. They also separate out the secondary part (carapa), palito (spine), and waste material (bagasso).
HARVESTING AND WEIGHING CHAMBIRA PALM LEAVES After morning introductions at the Artisan Leadership workshop in Chino, we took a large peque peque (motorized dugout canoe) about half an hour upriver to a path that took us to the forest fields of three artisans. Walter showed the group how he attaches a saw to a pole and then taught Francisca how to use this to harvest a chambira "cogollo" (leaf spear). While artisans have traditionally used a machete to harvest these, the women in Chino was one of the first groups to use a pruning saw since it allow the artisan to cut this leaf without damaging the ones next to it. Each of the three small groups harvested 3 cogollos and then weighed them whole before stripping off the leaflets that they brought back to the village to process. Note that Graciela is holding the upper end of the cogollo with a shirt to protect her hand from the spines on the main pole. As usual, Francisca showed how to do every task with a smile. I'll discuss how these measurements will help the artisans. I hope these photos can help other people realize the amount of work fand care involved in producing a woven handicraft even before the weaving begins.
ARTISAN LEADERSHIP WORKSHOP - DAY 1 We began our most recent artisan leadership workshop in Chino by dividing participants from different communities into small mixed groups to share their knowledge about the best ways to harvest chambira. It was fascinating to hear about their approaches and identify important things they did not know - such as how many new leaf spears grow on one tree per year. We then went to the forest to do some harvesting. But before getting down to business, two artisans split open a mature macambo fruit and snacked on its seeds.