Community Team Field Update–Lessons from the Quechuan Caiman

The Community Team spent three days learning about how environmental and sociopolitical issues within Peru affect ARCAmazon and Lucerna. Both during that time and outside of it, they had the pleasure of expanding their knowledge and vocabulary, sometimes while interacting with dangerous critters. They each chose something that stuck out to them to share with all their lovely readers.

Photo by Luke Fisher
Photo by Luke Fisher

Swim Calmly

“I’m going to place it on the bank and it’s going to calmly swim into the water,” said Harry Turner, our intrepid badass wildlife expert as he clutched onto a hissing caiman. The caiman, a small crocodilian creature with razor sharp teeth and a snapping bite that could easily take off a human finger or hand, had scales so hard the only thing my imagination could compare it to was dragons I had seen in video games or movies.

But this creature was no fictional creation. It was real, and I was filming it. In the dark I stood in the water, the caiman’s home, with four flashlights shining on my subject. Harry lowered it onto the bank and let go…nothing happened. The caiman stood there stoically pretending there weren’t 6 potential predators, or meals, staring at him intently. And then in a moment that had to have been faster than any other in history, he hissed, snapped, and came fishtailing towards me at a speed I thought only theoretically possible. I jumped out of the way with a gasp, the flight response defeating the fight impulse, and the caiman swam away from me. Amidst the laughter of my fellow night hikers, I exclaimed “Swim calmly into the water, my ass.” We all laughed harder and I regained my composure and filmed the beautifully dangerous creature as he finally swam calmly in the water.

This was just one story of my time in the rainforest, an experience that I hope to continue to share with you as I go forward in producing a documentary on the rainforest. This is a wonderful place that has to be seen to be believed and my hope is to show you its magic.

Chakras, such as this one that grows cacao, are prime examples of ayni in action. Photo by Danielle Fatzinger.
Chakras, such as this one that grows cacao, are prime examples of ayni in action. Photo by Danielle Fatzinger.

Quechuan IOU

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during this trip, it’s that the rainforest deserves respect.

The second thing I’ve learned is that communities can work well together by living off a single idea: ayni.

A rough translation of the Quechuan word is “I will help you now because you will help me later.” It gets work done faster since it puts more hands on the farm, makes sure the childcare is covered, and ties communities together since the people are better off when they are working together than when they are working alone.

This idea has stuck with me not just because I was able to see it firsthand, but also because I noticed that our group fell into ayni pretty quickly.

“I’ll give you bug spray now because you’ll give me bug spray later.”

“I’ll save you a trip out from under your mosquito net because you’ll save me a trip out from under my mosquito net.”

In my opinion, the most important example is “I’ll look at your weird red bump now because I know you’ll look at mine later.”

It was beautiful enough to rival the rainforest.

(Although the rainforest obviously wins.)

ARCAmazon sous-chef, Benjamin. Photo by Casey Kelahan.
ARCAmazon sous-chef, Benjamin. Photo by Casey Kelahan.

Lessons from the “Cool Kids” Table

The first night that we arrived, I joked with Jimmy that my goal was to sit at the “cool kids” table with all of the Peruvians who work here at ArcAmazon. Their conversations, full of jokes and “jergas” (slang), made me laugh and provided new and interesting Spanish vocabulary (though perhaps not the kind that you’d want to share with your abuela).

Throughout our few weeks here, I have learned much more than jergas from the Peruvians who live and work here in the camp. From Daisy, the camp cook and resident mother figure, I learned a variety of local home remedies for everything from stomachache to heartache.

Benjamin (Ben-ha-meen), her sous-chef, was always eager to share local stories of half-human forest monsters as well as a daily joke or three. My post dinner routine usually consisted of listening to his newest material over a cup of choco-listo hot chocolate.

Aldo, one of our wildlife guides, bounced back and forth between sharing information about birds and mammals of the area and joking around with Benjamin and the other staff.

Last but not least, Alfredo, the newest member of the team and the head forest ranger, spent the better part of one afternoon happily describing the stereotypes of different regions of Peru from the perspective of Limeños (people from Lima). For instance: “This place has good cheese. This place has beautiful beaches. This place is the place that you go to if you can’t afford to go to the beautiful beaches.”
Most of all, I learned from the time spent laughing with, listening to, and working with the team here that the little things can be the most enjoyable, meaningful, and hilarious. In our ever-increasingly modernized and tech-oriented world, it is important to take a step back and appreciate the simple pleasure of playing a hand of cards, sharing stories, or laughing over a series of botched or mistranslated jokes… and if you happen to have the opportunity to do so in the midst of one of the richest and most beautiful ecosystems that exist on the planet, all the better.

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