by Campbell Plowden
I generally don’t give away many of my old clothes because my size and fashion sense haven’t changed for 30 years and I wear my shirts until the collars are worn through. Other members of my family, however, do periodically clear out items from their closets that no longer fit them or their lifestyle and put them in a large plastic bag. My daughter once carted a batch of nice blouses and pants to Plato’s Closet in hopes of getting some money, but none were accepted because they weren’t popular top brands. We didn’t want to organize a yard sale, so it looked like four bags were destined for Goodwill. I had regularly taken some t-shirts and pants to our Center for Amazon Community Ecology (CACE) field assistants and their families in the past, but the stiff new fees to check a bag on Delta Air Lines made it too expensive for me to continue doing this on my own.
Two things made it possible for me to bring 100 pounds of good used clothing and surplus medical supplies with me to Peru this summer. The first was that my 17 year-old son Luke was going with me so we could use his strength and baggage allotment to bring one extra 50 pound duffle bag stuffed with these donated goods while I carried another. The second was that the “Do Good” Committee of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting Young Friends (a group of Quaker teens from the mid-Atlantic region) pledged to raise $200 to pay for the extra baggage charges on our international flight to Lima and domestic flight from there to Iquitos.
We spent the first two weeks of our trip visiting Bora and other native communities in the Ampiyacu River region working with their artisans to develop new products, reforest chambira palm trees, create a communal dye plant garden, monitor the growth of rosewood tree seedlings and recovery of copal resin lumps and finish a community pharmacy built with funds from a CACE rebate of craft sales in the U.S. Amazon Field Volunteer Amrit Moore started making drawings of dye plants for an artisan manual. See CACE update for summer 2013 activities in Peru.
At the end of our stay in the village of Brillo Nuevo, we hosted an appreciation ceremony where we gave about thirty-five artisans a certificate in appreciation for their making handicrafts with the CACE project. The ten top sellers also received simple prizes (a toothbrush, tube of toothpaste, a pair of batteries, and a small tin of Vicks Vaporub). Our project manager Yully Rojas then distributed an equal share of the donated clothing to all of the women while the young artisan Maria filled and refilled the guests’ cups with bright yellow Oro (“gold”) soda – a special treat in this remote village.
Yully and I were both happy and relieved that this gathering had been much more fun than the first time we did this artisan “award” ceremony in 2012 when many artisans were sullen. This year women made jokes when Ines Chichaco won a prize again for being the year’s top seller instead of stewing with resentment. While Ines and another dozen artisans continue to make most of the woven crafts that we sell from Brillo Nuevo, it’s good to see that two dozen artisans, both young and old, now understand we are equally happy to buy creative and well-made crafts from them.
See related story about CACE donation of medical supplies to the regional health clinic at Jenaro Herrera.
Learn more about or donate to the CACE project in Peru at: www.AmazonAlive.net
GETTING STUFF DONE IN IQUITOS
While it can be very hard to get certain kinds of things done in Peru in an efficient way (like standing in line for hours to pay a bill at a bank), it’s a fun adventure to get other stuff done in a fun, timely and affordable way. I went out on Sunday to get some basic supplies for our house and got most of them at a modern store called Quispe, but right around the corner I found a fellow named Elmo who is the owner of one of the typical mobile micro-stalls (about 3 x 2 x 5 feet) that is his shop for his business to make copies of keys and help people with other kinds of locks. He first used one of those simple machine to make a rough cut of the key copy from the original. He then used a narrow grinder to fine-tune the copy.
I was really impressed that he used a hand caliper to measure the depth of each notch in the original key and the copy he was making. He eyeballed any minute differences because the calipers had no graduated lines on them. Elmo had been doing this work for 30 years so I felt pretty confident that his keys that cost me $1.25 each to make would work. He gave me his phone number to reach him just in case. His copies got me in my house just fine, but I’d like to see him again just to learn more about his life.
While the lease that we signed to rent our new house for CACE in Iquitos said everything was in good working order, we’ve discovered a few things that needed fixing to make the place more comfortable, safe and functional for our needs. As soon Tulio moved into the house, he met our neighbor Jorge who quickly became our go-to motorcar driver. When we mentioned to Jorge yesterday that we had a few plumbing issues that needed tending to, he said he had a friend who could handle them.
Julio showed up ten minutes later. They quickly determined that the threads in the faucet in the kitchen sink were stripped, the sink in my bathroom was leaking because the pipe under it was totally rusted through, and the sink in Tulio’s bathroom was clogged and just needed cleaning. After several trips to the hardware store to get various new pipes, glue, and tape, Julio donned my headlamp and used his and Jorge’s collection of old saws and wrenches to replace or clean all of the degraded items.
Julio returned this morning and spent the better part of the day doing four more tasks: 1) installing new pipes connecting our elevated water tank in the back patio to faucets in the work sinks so we could distill our rosewood material with an abundant supply of cooling water, 2) installed a new section of mosquito netting in my bedroom, 3) installed a new section of mosquito netting in the space above my bathroom, and 4) fixed up a wire in the back patio that was loosely connected by duct tape that was hanging out of a busted piece of PVC pipe.
We paid a total of about $25 in materials and $50 in labor for all seven jobs and everyone felt good about the tasks that were done. Julio looked around the house as he was leaving and said “please call me if you need anything done. I can fix your roof, put up a wall…….” Tulio told me tonight that Julio is someone who is referred to here as a “mil oficios” – someone who can do a thousand things. I know we have handymen in the US, too, but I’m awfully glad that I met Julio here.
STINGLESS BEES AT CHINO One of the houses I also visit first at Chino belongs to the veteran artisan Romelia and her husband Jorge. Jorge is one of the folks in the village who has maintained several wooden box nests with stingless bees as part of a honey producing project developed under the guidance of German Perilla from George Mason University in Virginia. While these bees don't produce as much honey as their stinging honeybee counterparts, their honey is highly valued for its strong flavor and medicinal properties.
During my last visit, Jorge's nest boxes were in his back yard. This time, he had placed both at opposite ends of his kitchen to keep a closer eye on them. I took several shots of bees coming and going out of the entrance tube as well as the guard which is always on duty to prevent the entrance of unwelcome visitors (other bees, flying ants, etc.) who might wish to invade to prey on their young.
Check out the video Beekeeping in the Amazon (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ca2kYBJN4tI) focused on a stingless bee project developed with Maijuna native communities by OnePlanet.Org and its director (and CACE board member) Michael Gilmore.