Nancy Santullo - Manu Rainforest Peru

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The journey continues...

 Everyday life in Tayakome.
A Matsigenka women spinning cotton to make clothes and handbags.

It’s been non-stop and action packed since my last post. The days are passing here in Peru as if they are lifetimes before me. My work these days is trying to stay balanced with our intense work load which involved the hiring our 7 new team members, the purchase of 150,000kg of construction materials (tubes, cement, tools, tents, etc, and 3 river boats), logistical planning of ground and river travel, staff meetings, partnership agreements with the Peruvian Health ministry, and endless paperwork and filings with Manu National Park office.

Glenn and I on the Manu River to Tayakome.

In between supervising all of what I just mentioned, I made a 10 day trip to Tayakome with our project foreman, medical anthropologist Glenn Shepard Jr., and a Manu park guard. We spent 36 hours over 4 1/2 days in total on the river, and 6 days in the community. We saw many spider and howler monkeys on the way and though I missed it, a 7 ft alligator! I love the monkeys myself more than the alligators, as I shared in my last post; I am a bit afraid of them. The park guard supervised all of our work since Tayakome is in the protected zone of the Manu National Park.

Its now approaching spring here so tiny mosquitoes and bees were out in full force! I would say I was averaging 30 mosquito bites a day, and at least 3-5 bee stings until I got smart and started putting on repellent; which I normally never use. That took care of the mosquitoes, but dealing with the bees was just a matter of surrendering to them! Manu in all its wonder and beauty is one of the most biologically diverse places on earth.

Our first order of business was a community meeting with the people of Tayakome where we reviewed the project for a 3rd time, along with our tentative work schedule for the next 3 1/2 months. Glenn, who speaks fluent Matsigenka, translated our meeting from Spanish into Matsigenka. The meeting was very well attended. The men sit up front and the women in the back. Ladies, don't get angry about this that is just the way things are for now!

Here, Glenn is listening intensely to one of the community members concerns that Maestros (project foremen) through their past experiences are always drunk on the job.  I answered, and then Glenn translated that we would do everything we could to monitor that this would not happen with our project foreman or any other crew member.  Sadly enough drinking on the job, especially, in remote rural locations by project personnel has become the norm or accepted due to the lack of supervision from project supervisors.

Community meetings are always quite interesting.  At any given point several people begin talking to each other and over each other, seemingly without listening to each other, but interesting enough, everyone knows what the other is saying! We reached a mutual agreement that involved active community participation which included the children throughout the duration of the project. With that point being clear, the meeting ended and everyone left happy and ready to start work officially on the 8th of September.

Glenn and I then worked together making house-to-house visits talking with the women about our upcoming anemia and parasite base line testing. We also would be checking out the local streams in the village and up river with the park guard. The greatest news is that there is material (4 - 10cm stone for our greywater drains) 25 minutes from the community. The park has approved the collection of this material for the betterment of the lives of the people! This will greatly reduce the amount of money spent on transport which makes me very happy!

As the days progressed, we received an unexpected visit from Yuranahua Indians. The Yura were former enemies of the Matsigenka, so community members did not accept their visit with open arms. When they arrived, word quickly spread, "watch your stuff" because in the past they would steal. There were 12 of them (10 adults 2 young boys) all together traveling in a dug out canoe boat. Glenn knew them from his years of research in Manu, and spoke their language. They made a temporary camp on the shore across from Tayakome, and came each morning like clockwork all waking in a straight line around 6:30 am. I would look at Glenn and say...your friends are here! :) He would always greet them with a big smile, and listen to their troubles as I passed out whatever food was left over from breakfast. We shared oatmeal, eggs, rice and crackers. A breakfast of champions! At one point one of the Yora said, we’re not here to steal, before our fathers did that...we don't want that any more. Man! How past karma haunts us until we make that step that says NO MORE!

One morning, the leader of the group came with turtle eggs, and we traded cans of tuna, bags of pasta, and salt with them.  I did not eat the eggs because I had no clue how long they were sitting in the sun, and just did not want to come down with food poisoning so far away from home. :)

Another afternoon, they all came filing in for a visit with chickens in their arms, beautiful necklaces around their necks, and different trades they had made with an older Matsigenka man named Ramon; that day they really scored!  The next morning at
6:30am, Ramon greeted Glenn and I, and said he was going to trade with the Yora for a skirt for his wife.  Over the passing days I really became quite fond of the Yora filing in one straight line to our camp.  When the time finally came, I was a bit sad to see them go. 

I then moved on to finalize a signed agreement with the village chief and the community that would bring clean "safe" drinking water to each village home by Christmas.  In the end, I shared with the chief that I was a very direct person, and that this often offends people. :) We both let out a laugh!  He then said he liked "direct" so it would not be a problem.

Throughout my visit I traded beads from Cuzco with the children and women. They use these beads to make necklaces and bracelets that they sell, so needless to say there were lots of visits to our camp. I would give beads to them, and in return they made beautiful necklaces or bracelets for me to give to my donors. One day I asked the kids if they could make me something with a heart on it. The VERY next day beautiful necklaces arrived with hearts. I would joke with them that my Tupperware filled with beads was the "Tienda" the Store. Here in the above photo I am asking the kids if they can make me a necklace with the Star of David on it for my next visit, with the promise that I would bring more beads. I'm quite connected with the Star of David, for me it’s a perfect balance of the masculine and feminine energies, with heaven and earth as one.

Our boat load of construction materials arrived on our last day in the village. The entire community joined in to haul 25 - 40kg bags of cement, 150 - 5 meter PVC pipes, and boxes of tools and accessories up the 75ft cliff from the river to the village. It was at least 95 degrees with 85 % humidity that day; sweat dripped off of everyone. Labor intensive to say the least! At one point, one of our native crew members Emilio, (carrying a bag of cement on his back) shouts out huffing and puffing, "I feel like my lungs are going to burst" from the climb and the heat!

The project is physically demanding, since all work is done by hand, and all materials are carried to different locations within the village on the backs of the people or by wheel barrels. The gravity flow water system will extend 5 meter PVC pipe throughout roughly 4.5 kilometers of the village. Snake bites in the field are always a concern so we bought 20 pairs of high rubber boots for the men in the community, since most either walk barefoot or with (ojotas) sandals made of rubber. I would say there is not a day that goes by that I don't have concerns about everyone's safety. Building in the remote rain forest is always challenging, and it is through Divine Grace as well as, a team that loves the forest, that all will be accomplished. 

I believe that the transformation of this village lives in the hearts of the children, and the kids of Tayakome are living testament to those words. As they heard the boats arrive, they just naturally began gravitating towards the river and immediately pitched in carrying pipes and bags of cement, laughing as they scaled the 75ft incline. I was deeply moved as I witnessed the interaction and willingness of the community and its children. Their desire beamed through every ounce of their being for the betterment of their lives. Really beautiful!

In the midst of all that, the village shaman Lucho was waiting patiently for us to begin a small ceremony that would ask Nature to bless our work in Tayakome. He had been waiting since 1:00pm, and finally at 4:15 we (Lucho, the chief of the community, Glenn, myself, and our project foreman) raced through the forest to where the water will be captured to begin the ceremony.



My prayer (as the mosquitoes were biting me) to Nature....God...the Infinite, was that we all be held safe in his/ her arms and that the water would forever flow abundantly to the children and people of Tayakome. Lucho smoked his pipe and looked into creation silently, then we all gave each other a hug. Lucho then said it was time to go because it would be dark soon - ceremony in its simplest form, in the arms of the forest and all its glory.

That night we began packing up our camp, and at 5:30am we woke, and began hauling all of our stuff back down to the boat. It’s a bit of a trek, and by the time you arrive to the boat with your things your arms are about to fall off!  Finally at 7:15 am our 2 boats were loaded, and we headed out for the 2 day journey back to what I call the more developed jungle, Pilcopata, where we have a base camp office. The boat ride would not be complete without our thermos of coca tea which is so delish with a squeeze of lemon. After our morning round we save a bit for tea and cookies at 4. After spending the night in Boca Manu, Glenn left us in a pecky pecky at 7 am to began his journey back to his home in Brazil. As always, we were sad to see Glenn leave us because he is such a loved member of our team. By the way... he only had to spend a day in this boat and then board a plane to Lima in route to Brazil.

Glenn shoving off with the pecky pecky. 

We arrived in Altalaya where we docked our boats at 5:00pm. We were all a bit tired from our trip, but there was no rest for the weary. We all had to pitch in, and haul are field supplies up from the boat.  Our Cuzco administrator Edgar met us here with our truck. He, along with our driver, drove all day (8 hours) from Cuzco to be there upon our arrival.  After a meal at Senora Chickie restaurant of "Sajino" wild pig, rice, yucca and salad, we continued 1/2 hour off road through the forest to Pilcopata. Edgar and I spent the next 3 days in non-stop meetings with crew members. It was hot, and we worked really long days. One of our native crew members had an accident with his foot, so one night Ed and I were in the hospital until 11 pm. Indeed our days never encountered a dull moment!

Edgar and I returned to Cuzco that Saturday at 5pm. Our driver was in the back seat just in case of a flat tire! Under a full moon, talking about life and playing great music we were in the flow. (Thank God for power steering, and SQ foundation for our mod squad wheels) The fog I encountered made it difficult to see as we approached 13, 000ft, but I managed just fine! Rule of thumb --hug the side of the road that's not the 500 ft cliff drop into the abyss!         We arrived in Cuzco at 11,000 ft at am. My next days here are focused on ongoing project coordination, raising more funds, and completing our environmental impact study for the park. Our third boat of materials arrived in Tayakome late this afternoon, with our crew which will now take permanent residence in the village. The crew will be away from their families for 3 months.  First order of business is building the tank where the water leaving the source will be captured.  I head back to the forest soon to check on our operations.  This 2 1/2 day boat trip to the village through the most magical primary rain forest is now becoming second nature to me!  My journey to bring the Matsigenka of Tayakome clean water by Christmas continues.
Me clearning my meditation space in Tayakome with a borrowed machete. Amisdt this beauty I have been given the priviledge to serve this lifetime. Blessed, blessed, blessed am I. 

Saturday, August 8, 2009

How it started...

It was in Nov. 2007, when I made my first trip into the reserve zone of the famed Manu National Park, and to the remote native villages of Tayakome and Yomybato. I traveled with my engineering team and our medical anthropologist and friend Glenn Shepard PhD. Glenn is an expert on the Matsigenka Indians of Manu. He speaks fluent Matsigenka, and really, I think he is a Matsigenka disguised as a white boy.

Glenn as we stopped at a small Matsigenka village going up river.

Glenn is a Princeton valedictorian, who earned his PhD at UC Berkley. The Tayakome project was seeded in 2005 while Glenn was participating in PBS’s filming of our pilot project in Huacaria. He asked me if I would one day bring clean water to the people of Tayakome and Yomybato whom he had a close relationship with for over 12 years. . (His reasoning at the time was that a virulent, highly contagious gastrointestinal illness of unknown origin had entered the communities, and left large portions of the adult and infant population ill, and caused as many as 13 infant deaths.)

As I visited both communities, it was not hard to see that the health of the children and people was in a vulnerable state. There was a distant stare in the eyes of the kids that I believe came from various degrees of malnutrition and a weakened immune system. However, it was their kindness and simplicity that affected me most that trip. They shared what ever they had with us.

The kids and people were always gifting us with watermelon this trip.

We lived with the people, bartered with them trading chickens from them for bags of salt, rice, soap and cooking oil, and held community meetings (translated from Spanish to Matsigenka by Glenn) to share our message of how clean H2O and sanitation would better their lives. At one point during a meeting as I explained how labor intensive the project would be, a man named Hiliaro stood up to the crowd raising his voice saying in Matsigenka, "We want a better life for our children – we are not lazy people, we know hard work, we will work." Hiliaro's enthusiasm and the willingness of the people throughout that visit guided me to expand our health programming to them.

Now 1 1/2 year after our first trip to Tayakome, we will break ground in the 20th of August. Our recent trip to Tayakome in July formalized our agreement with the community. The people are so excited the time has come for the project to begin!

Me talking with the people at a community meeting. The pan in the center of the floor was filled with popcorn!

It’s the first time ever an NGO, or a white girl from Connecticut with Sicilian ancestry, will bring sustainable health programming (clean water, sanitation infrastructure and health education) to a remote native village inside the protected zone of the Manu Park.

For some perspective on the logistics of my work: It takes 1 day by off road travel from our office in Cusco, and 2 1/2 days by small river boat through virgin rain forest to reach Tayakome. I often drive that 1 lane dirt road 8 hours from Cusco into the rain forest. The worry about oncoming traffic hitting us head on is something I have come to live with. The route is magical, and ever changing, as we drive up 13,000 ft from Cusco, then drop down into the lowland tropical rain forest of Manu. Our boat travel lies in the hands of two brothers named Cecilo and Jesus. Cecilo has worked with Glenn and Tayakome for years. 

One picks their boat men very carefully for river travel is extremely dangerous. I am still getting over my fear of the alligators that are present throughout our travel. I love looking at them, but they frighten me a bit! However, when all is said and done, being on the river for days on end surrounded by pristine nature outweighs the physical discomforts (cutting wind that goes right through my body, and not showering for days) of the long trip.

Cecilo and Jesus

The days ahead will involve long hours of the logistical planning. Deciding upon cost effective ways to purchase boats and motors, construction materials, and then transport 200,000 kg/400 lbs of rock, sand, cement, pipes, and slow sand filter tanks to Tayakome, is my work at hand. In addition to the above there will be endless meetings with the Director of the Manu National Park, a partnership to establish with the health ministry, and the hiring of construction staff. In between this all, fund raising! Glenn will be arriving on the 20th of August from Brazil, which is the best news of all. He will translate the subtlety of my thoughts and the project to the people in Matsigenka over 10 days of his field study of the project. 

There is a flow to this project that is very exciting to me. Although the days are long for all of us, my crew members continue to share with me that even though the logistics and living in the field for months will be challenging they have a Really Good Feeling about Tayakome. Me too! :-) Join me as we Raise Up a village through simple acts of kindness.

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    About Me

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    I am the founder and executive of House of the Children, a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to empowering global cultures through sustainable programs of clean water, sanitation infrastructure, health and education in context to the cultural and environmental needs of the people. Before I began wandering the Manu Rain Forest in 1999, I was a successful fashion/advertising photographer in Los Angeles, photographing people such as Cameron Diaz & Sir Anthony Hopkins. I have a great love humanities innate ability to transform our adversity, --to achieve our greatest potential here on earth.