Saturday, October 10, 2009

peru 2009

Tomorrow I am heading into the Peruvian Amazon, specifically to the Reserva Comunal Amarakaeri (RCA) with representatives from FENAMAD, Federacion Nativa del Rio Madre de Dios y Afluentes. It is a crucial moment for the indigenous people of this region. Big oil in the form of Hunt Oil (google Hunt Oil to see the endless hits about its relationship with the Bush family) has begun a hostile push into the region to begin oil exploration. (See for more information.) Until recently, local indigenous communities have held together in their fight over the highly illegal way Hunt Oil has begun to move in. The Peruvian government has ignored legislative procedures by signing contracts with Hunt Oil without the participation of the people of the region.

Hunt Oil's imperialist tactics of manipulation, deception, and false promises of financial gain has steadily been breaking apart the unity the members of this region once had. At first, they sought to separate communities in order to breakdown communication in the region. They have taken it further. They are now actively and strategically breaking apart families. As of this morning, Hunt Oil representatives are on the ground in the reserve going from family to family to make deals and gain support.

One of our immediate goals is to meet with local leaders and community members to dispel the lies they are being told and re-build the community network they once had. This trip is the first of many that need to happen in the coming months. We are at a disadvantage because Hunt Oil obviously has more money and thus more ability to have a presence in the region.

My role with Los Commandos will be to witness and document our interactions in the communities and possibly with the representatives of Hunt Oil. Officially, I have volunteer status with Wanamei Expeditions, an eco-tourism company based in the area.

RCA is the geographical center of the Vilcambo Amboro ecological corridor that stretches south to central Bolivia and northeast through Brazil and southern Ecuador. For those of us from the Rockies, think about the Yellowstone to Yukon corridor. It is the same idea here. Along this corridor, there is a vast exchange of water, soil, plants, and animals. If the corridor is disrupted the entire region will undoubtedly suffer. If Hunt Oil gets its way, the region will be decimated, making it uninhabitable for the indigenous people who call it home.

FENAMAD has some good support from the NGO sector, for example the Norwegian organization called Rainforest Foundation (, but the NGO sector simply cannot respond to this urgency in any timely way. We need to get our people into the region as soon as possible.

So here it is, friends. This is the metaphorical car crash for me. Do I wait around to see if someone else will come to help the injured, trapped in their cars, or do I jump? Now?

I believe that this has come to me because there is something I can do. And now I am putting it to you. We need money to fight. If you know me at all, you know that I like to do things on my own. I can't do this alone.

In deciding how to handle financial assistance from the US, we decided that the best way to do it would be to send money directly to my account in the states, which I can easily access from here. We considered using the FENAMAD account at the Banco Credito here in Cusco, but concerns of corruption make that unrealistic.

Mail checks to:
Edward Jones
1001 W. Oak Street Suite 203
Bozeman, MT 59715

(make checks out to me.)

If you decide you can help us, please e-mail me back with the amount of your contribution, so I can keep track of funds.

Anything you can give goes directly into this remarkable place in the world, home of ancient wisdom that all of us could benefit from. I hope you understand how urgent this is. It is happening right now.

I leave early in the morning to begin the journey out of the Andes. I expect to be back in Cusco sometime next week. Keep us in your thoughts.



I am just now beginning to grasp the complexity of what lies ahead. Forget good guys and bad guys, with the exception of Hunt Oil of course. Those guys are obviously involved in goals that are violent to humans and destructive to the environment. But looking deeper at the situation, one quickly begins to see that simple solutions do not exist. We are talking about diverse cultural and linguistic groups. How do you get people to work together when they don't even speak the same language? Then throw into the mix how totally different they are from one another, and you begin to see the work that FENAMAD has before them.

We traveled overland to Shintuya Native community on the Upper Madre de Dios river. These folks are Harakmbut speakers whose lives changed dramatically two generations ago when the Dominican priests set up a mission on their lands. While we were there, Wanamei representatives hosted a workshop about eco-tourism, what it means, how to achieve it, and ways to work together. The atmosphere in the workshop was upbeat. People are interested, but they are still trying to figure out what questions to ask. It was a strong first step.

An interesting moment for me was when the president of the Shintuya community walked in. In this community of about 200 people, everyone knows everyone else and all of their business. El presidente, recently accepted money from Hunt Oil. In this community where Hunt Oil trucks rumble through every few hours, everyone has taken a side. What was el presidente doing in the workshop? Is he attempting to play both sides? Upon his entrance, certain others quietly got up and walked out of the room. These people have known each other all of their lives and now they do not share space whatsoever. I imagine that it hard to do.

While there, we continued to pass out copies of DVD's regarding Hunt Oil's practices and other DVD's about the devastating effects of the oil extraction process. In this part of the world, there is very little cultural understanding of what it means to lie. Dishonesty is a foreign concept. So when Hunt Oil comes in and says, "No, don't worry. There will be no environmental impact of oil exploration," locals willingly allow them to pass. How do you explain dishonesty? I don't know. Hopefully the DVD packs and fliers we are passing out will do that better than I can.

We continued downriver for several days, stopping in villages along the way. Arnoldo, a Harakmbut from Shintuya, and Jessica, the two main figures in Wanamei, know people up and down the river. We spent much of our time sitting under shade trees in various communities talking with locals. And listening. And passing out information.

Our last stop on the river was Boca Colorado, a shitty colonial town, populated mostly by highlanders imported in by the mining and oil companies to do their dirty work. Not a place you want to be alone, day or night. It is a clever strategy on the part of big corporations to bring these folks in. It much easier to do destructive work when the land belongs to someone else.

From there, we traveled overland to Puerto Maldonado, district capital and home of FENAMAD headquarters. That night I was able to attend a meeting with the FENAMAD lawyers who had come in from Lima. These guys are good. They are balanced, steadfast, and ready to work. An appeal has been put together to get an injunction against Hunt Oil. As we all know, the legal process can drag on forever, but we are off to another good start.

I would like to take this opportunity to offer deepest thanks to those of you who have sent funds. It is imperative that FENAMAD continues to receive this kind of support. Your contributions are being spent right now. A delegation of FENAMAD representatives left yesterday to begin the journey to the community of San Jose, a difficult trek to the center of the reserve. This weekend is the community's anniversary and people will travel from all over the area to attend. Having a FENAMAD presence there will have an important impact. Thank you thank you.

If you feel awkward about sending money to my account, I understand. I know that Americans get bombarded with requests for assistance. I hope that you all at least take a moment to check out FENAMAD's website (in Spanish only) or, a great blog that really gets to the heart of the matter.

Ok, enough for now. More to come, I am sure.


Friday, February 20, 2009

pays dogon

i never know how to come home.  sometimes slipping back into the groove is seamless.  surrounded by great friends and montana skies, home is where i digest visions of other places and new connections.  other times, coming to montana confuses my senses.  i have figured out that the best prescription for settling back to life when i feel challenged is to just slow down, be quiet for a bit, and let my world be small till i am ready to dive back in to my community.  

one week after this homecoming, i took a fall skiing and blew my ACL, PCL, and meniscus.  huh.  slow down, be quiet, and heal.  i will have surgery on march 2, and till then will have much time to contemplate.  i am immobilized in a town where people sit still only when they have to.  so many of us have been hurt doing the sports we love.  i figure it is just my time.  not pleased about it, but able to see the bigger picture.

my bigger picture has the most lovely details.  graceful old women carefully maneuvering the trail down the cliffs, teems of children playing in the stream, reminders of ancient settlements high in the cliffs and stories of its people who many believe had the power of flight.  there is a  rich source of imagery bubbling from mind and little of it is self-created.  my mental files overflow with information about the world.  i may not be able to walk very well right now, no matter.  there are many places i can go.

our friends at Dje Yamen had planned an excursion to take us for a day trip to visit Tireli, home to one of Tandana's school garden projects.  we traveled by car that morning to the edge of the escarpment and got our first breathtaking views of the cliffs and the plain below.  we followed an old trail down the cliff.  to be out moving around in this beautiful place was just what i needed.  we seemed to move slowly through the cliffs, limited only by the desire to savor every angle, every perspective of the view before us.  cameras were clicking away with each turn in the trail, knowing all the time that these photographs would be unable to capture the sense of expansiveness of the sub-saharan landscape.

we entered Tireli from the cliffs and made our way down the meandering paths of the village itself until we arrived at the campement where Isaac had arranged for us to lunch.  after lunch, we had the unexpected opportunity to engage the village chief and several other elders in conversation that ranged from regional politics and education to organized religion and traditional animist practices.  i appreciate those moments when beliefs i hold onto get turned upside down.  

afterward, we strolled over to the school garden where Isaac explained the project's goals and what they are doing to achieve them.  with each discussion of local problems and their potential solutions, i have a growing awareness of the centrality of local insights to create enduring, positive change.  Isaac and his cohorts are intimately connected with their environments and have well-informed, progressive ways of understanding the challenges before them.

we spent the rest of the afternoon visiting with the children.  surely they must have been wondering what the heck we were doing there.  still, they were polite, gracious hosts.   

later that evening, as we toured through the countryside on our ride back to Bandiagara, the cliff settlements of the ancient Tellem people loomed overhead.  i considered Isaac's comments from earlier in the day, that the Tellem had recently returned to their villages in the cover of night and flown up to their former dwellings to perform their ancestral ceremonies.  when asked how he knew they had come even though no one had seen them, Isaac considered the question as though it was nonsense.  he said, "well, we just know that we know."  that made perfect sense to me.

this intellectual dilemma asks us to believe in multiple, contradictory things at the same time.  i have no doubt that these ancient ones can fly and i know that the human capacity for flight is dependent on certain technologies.  it is perfectly acceptable to take both of these notions into my belief system.  the power of contradictory, opposing forces dissipates.  instead of hanging my hat on this notion or that, i simply get to acquire more hats.

how divine.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Djenne to Bandiagara

we left Djenne in the early afternoon, headed for Bandiagara.  a dry, hazy afternoon lay still upon the horizon.  we all seemed to grow quiet that afternoon.  whether it was the distilling of new ideas of this African experience or preparing oneself for the upcoming unknown ahead of us, i do not know.  the ride was uneventful, but still i felt in my heart a stirring of anticipation.  

we had spent the morning working with a family of bogolan mud-cloth artists.  Bogolan is a local textile technique that uses mixtures of clay and other natural ingredients to dye cloth.  the traditional cloths tend toward complicated geometric patterns while the newer cloths are more representational.  after a quick demonstration, they set us to work on our own cloths.  i often refer to  myself as someone who is artistically challenged.  i even get jittery in the face of crafty or otherwise art-y projects.  that morning however, as we set up our cloths on the roof of the house overlooking all of Djenne with the Grand Mosque in the background, i realized that it would be foolish to do anything but find peace in the process.  the night before, i had had a dream about a mint green cruiser bicycle, so i decided to attempt to give my bicycle life on cloth.  after the mud had dried, we carried our cloths to the river where our new friends carefully washed the mud away to reveal the designs we each had created.  Aubrey's swirls and shapes, Anna's motorcycle, Ursula's geometrics, all of them were wonderful.  little bits of ourselves right there on the cloth.  surprise, i even liked mine a little bit.  

there was a stillness that settled in me while we were working on our cloths.  since arriving in Africa, it had been all go, go, go.  last minute running around, logistical details, trying to find the time to get to know everyone in the group, all these things seemed to wring the hours out of the day.  so to have a few moments on a crisp, sunny morning to be quiet, yet together held a sweet richness for me.

perhaps this opportunity for introspection lingered as we loaded up the trucks that afternoon and followed us down the road to Bandiagara.  one member of our group was not feeling well and i was worried, but optimistic.  i grappled with other uncertainties as well.  nothing special, just the regular program-running sort of stuff.  but more that anything else, the refrain that settled in my internal dialogue went something like this, "i am here.  here i am.  Africa Africa Africa."

several hours later, Timothee, Moussa, Daniel, Isaac, and Noum hosted us to a lovely welcome dinner.  the stage was set.  the momentum had been created.  it was as though everything up till then had been a slow walk up a long mountain and we were just about to crest the hill to get our first view of the landscape.  but not yet.  there were still a few more things to do.