MEET ESTELITA - CREATIVE ARTISAN, LEADER, MOM AND BODEGA OWNER Meet Estelita Loayza Ihuma. I met her first as one of the artisans from the village of Chino on the Tahuayo River that makes the beautiful chambira palm fiber baskets. In recent years, though, I have gotten to know her better as the President of the artisan association from her community. Many artisan groups elect presidents, but I have never met anyone in this role who has done so much and earned so much trust from her fellow artisans as Estelita. When she joined our Artisan Leadership Program workshops last year, it was a marvel to watch how quickly she also earned the respect of artisans from all of the communities. She articulately discussed how the Chino artisans were in a similar position to other artisan groups ten years ago and how they have progressed since then. They were working primarily as individuals until an opportunity came along to sell more crafts to visitors from an eco-tourism lodge. Estelita helped her fellow artisans improve their craft making, brought them together as a cooperative group, helped figure out how to shift husbands from being adversaries to advocates for the women artisans, took on quality control for the group, and become a pioneer in improving management of chambira palm trees. As Estelita remains a positive force in her community, I hope that CACE can work with Estelita to strengthen artisan groups in other places. Oh yes, in addition to making crafts and guiding the artisan association, she is a mom to a cool grade-school boy and runs a little bodega (general store) on the ground floor of her house with her husband.
BEE VISITING BLUE FLOWER After I'd finished buying crafts from the Chino artisans in their new artisan house, I found a spot outside that I thought would make a nice natural backdrop to take pictures of the artisans with their crafts - this meant a place with interesting plants and even lighting. After I was done taking pics of Madita, I looked around a saw that a few bees were making the rounds of pretty blue flowers. I don't know what kind of bee or flower they were, but I always liike to take shots of pollinators in action. I like seeing how the blurr of the wings shows that the bee doesn't just flap them up and down - they can swirl them around to hover or go anywhere they want.
MADITA AND HER CHAMBIRA CRAFTS One of the first artisans I met in Chino ten years ago was Madita Sinarahua. She showed me how she harvests chambira palm leaves, prepares the fiber, and weaves them into beautiful baskets and other crafts. She is displaying three of the ones I bought at my visit to Chino in late September.
ARTISANS IN CHINO - ONE VETERAN AND ONE NEW At the end of my meeting with the artisans in Chino, they all spread their crafts in front of them on a piece of plastic or cloth. As usual I went around to each one in turn and placed a little white tag on each craft that I wanted to buy. Afterward, I took a picture of every artisan with at least one of their crafts. Below are pics of Yermet - the veteran artisan who pioneered making woven frogs and Perla with one of her baskets. She is sister of Sarita Mendoza - another artisan who makes incredible woven chambira baskets. These will soon be available through our online store. Contact me if you'd like to get them sooner.
NAIL BALANCE GAME IN CHINO - EVEN TOUGH CHALLENGES HAVE A SOLUTION When I visit our artisan partners in Peru, the basic things that I almost always do are: 1) review and pay for products they have made for CACE as part of an order (Yully does this during visits to the Ampiyacu) 2) review other products they have available for sale - these may be items they've made for sale to tourists or new ideas they want to show us 3) talk about how the sales of their and other artisan group's products are doing in the U.S. This trip I shared how our sales of bird and sloth ornaments had been increasing. 4) talk about how our workshops have been helpful (or not) and how future CACE workshops might better address their needs to develop new products or improve their organization. These are interesting and sometimes tough conversations, so when possible I try to introduce some kind of fun activity or game that can lighten the energy and promote cooperation. This trip, I offered the nail balance challenge to the artisans at Chino and villages in the Ampiyacu. To make the "puzzle," I bought 15 nails at a hardware store and found a piece of scrap piece of wood in a house where some construction was going on. I asked one man in Brillo Nuevo to hammer one nail upright in the middle of the wood. Here's the challenge - balance 12 nails on top of the nail stuck in the wood. None of these nails can touch the wood or anything else (ie can't be held by someone's fingers). While I've seen as many as eight people (US students) trying to solve this puzzle together, it was interesting to find that when presented to these artisans, only a few of the women usually came forward to try. If young people were around, the older ones generally encouraged them to do it. The most common strategy that people tried was to try to balance one nail on top of another. A few intrepid ones tried to build a sort of box. I never rushed them, but at some point (usually 10 to 20 minutes), every group reached a point where they gave up. Even though they didn't solve the puzzle, though, they had fun trying to do it together. I will admit up front that I didn't figure this puzzle out myself. I got the solution off the internet. When I showed the artisans how to do it, they went "Oh, I see." A few of them then adopted this strategy and did it themselves. I usually followed up this demonstration with a simple debriefing. Basic questions were: How many of you thought that there really was no way to solve this puzzle? (some said yes, some said no). What did it take to solve this puzzle? (thinking about the problem in a different way) Are there any problems you are facing as artisans or in your life that seem unsolvable? How can you take a fresh look at this problem to find a creative solution. Just because a challenge seems hard doesn't mean you can't figure it out.
ARRIVING IN CHINO After spending most the day fishing with Exiles, we got back to the village of Chino just before sunset. I only had a few smallish pirana to show for the fishing, but as previous posts show, it was an awesome day for bird watching and photography. One landmark of Chino is the thatch dome building at the top of the bluff where the community gathers for some meetings and greeting visitors. One of our artisan friends Darli del Aguila was washing her clothes down on one of the floating docks in the river. Note that the river was way down, but during the rainy season, it will often rise to the point where it floods the village soccer field.
TWO KINDS OF VULTURES IN THE AMAZON The Amazon has many kinds of vultures that bat clean up in the parlance of baseball. While some birds go after live fish in the river, I saw numerous black vultures by the side of the river that were helping themselves to dead ones that had washed ashore on the mudflats while turkey vultures (the kind with a red head) soared above looking for similar opportunities. In the Spanish, vultures are called "gallinaso". While considered repulsive creatures by some, the Ocaina people have one of the clans named after this majestic looking bird. See example of chambira woven bag with a vulture design made by artisan Rosa Andrade.
TWO DIFFERENT BIRDS OR ONE? TUQUI TUQUI VS TIMELO As Exiles and I arrived at the lake (Cocha Charo), we saw lots of birds feeding on the mudflats. He pointed out one bird with a brown rust colored body with a yellow and red beak that was sort of chirping and called it the Tuqui Tuqui He then pointed to another very similar looking bird (white under wings, similar colors on its beak) that he called the Timelo. When I looked in my bird book, however, I only found one bird that seemed to match both of these - the Whattled Jacana. What he called the Tuqui Tuqui was the adult form; the Timelo was the immature form. It's certainly not uncommon for juvenile birds to have more muted colors than the more mature form of their species (sometimes males have brighter colors than the females).
BLACK CARACARA WITH CATERPILLAR At first glance, I thought this bird perched on a branch by the side of the Tahuayo River was a vulture, but looking more closely, I realized it was something a bit more exotic - a Black Caracara - close relative to another caracara that locals call "tatatáo" based on the cadence of its crow-like screechy call. Now that I'm home and looking at the photo up close in the computer, I can see that it's holding a large wriggling caterpillar in its beak. Any bug people out there care to guess what kind?
NEOTROPIC CORMORANT TAKING OFF FROM RIVER As my guide Exiles (pronounced Ex-see-les) and I turned off the main channel of the Tahuayo River to seek a better fishing spot, we encountered one cormorant after another in the channel leading to a lake. When we got too close for their comfort, they would start to run across the water with their webbed feet and madly beat their wings churning up the water until they glided off. One time I saw one had a good sized fish in its hooked beak - clearly more proficient at catching fish than me.
See more about the Neotropic Cormorant at: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Neotropic_Cormorant/id?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIkfXAj-ex1wIVFLbACh01mwR9EAAYASAAEgI4sPD_BwE
OSPREY IN THE AMAZON Another bird I saw while fishing in the Tahuayo River last month was an osprey. This sighting surprised me for two reasons - one, it was a bird I could identify with confidence, and two - I didn't realize that this beautiful fish catching bird that I have seen along both coasts of the US in the spring and summer migrates to Central and South America when it's winter up north (see more at: https://birdsna.org/Species-A…/…/species/osprey/distribution). I have loved the osprey for a long time. My first memories are seeing it hovering over salt marshes in New Jersey while doing my undergraduate thesis in 1975. A few years later, I embroidered one on a blue work shirt while out on my first Greenpeace expedition seeking out Soviet whalers in the Pacific ocean. This was one of my first and last attempts to sew anything more complicated than a small rip in a pair of worn khakis.
MAMA VIEJA One of the neatest birds I regularly saw by the side of small rivers in Peru was the black-collared hawk - locally known as "mama vieja." It perches in branches overlooking water scouting out potential meals. You can hear its characteristic high-pitched call long before you see it. I got this shot on a day fishing near the village of Chino on the Tahuayo River. Read more about the natural history of this beauty at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black-collared_hawk.
Story behind the scars on an artisan's left hand (not shown in the picture below)
While taking our little speed boat from Chino back to Iquitos at the end of our Artisan Leadership workshop, I asked the artisan next to me about a scar on her left thumb. I expected to hear that she had cut it with a machete - a type of accident that is very common among people living in forest communities. I wasn't prepared for her answer though. "Maria" (not her real name) said that she favored using her left hand when she was growing up, and her mom did not want to accept this. Verbal reprimands alone were apparently not sufficient to dissuade her habit, so when she turned seven years old, her mom took to whacking her daughter's left hand with a knife to discourage its use. This happened several times and eventually "Maria" learned how to use her right hand.
While this story upset me a great deal, it was interesting to hear a few other people nearby say in a matter-of-fact way that parents frequently discouraged their left-handed children to shift their dominant hand. It seemed like their desire was not motivated by any fear that their child had been infected by the devil, but that their child would have a much easier life being right-handed since so many tools fashioned by society are designed for use by right-handed people. They were, therefore, merely taking practical steps to help their child later in life. Even "Maria" didn't admit to holding any ill feelings toward her mom who had taken such harsh measures to curb her left-handedness. She has become a very skilled (and somewhat ambidextrous) artisan who is happily married and mother to several very loved children.
I sincerely hope that parents today do not subject their children to such potentially traumatic forms of behavior modification. My friends did seem curious learning that the famous tennis player Raphael Nadal had been born right-handed but was taught (presumably without physical punishment as an incentive) to play left-handed by his uncle and later coach when he was four years old to gain an advantage playing mostly other right-handed players.
The picture below is actually my hand that I included just to have a photo associated with this post. I got one scar on my left-forefinger which I got many years ago trying to inexpertly open a can of paint that had a sharp tab on it.
I left for Chino last Tuesday morning. First took a "rapido" (speedboat) to the town of Tamshiyacu where I waited on the floating gas station for an hour before the "lancha" pulled in. One fellow kindly lugged my large duffel bag to the top deck where I sat on one of the side wooden benches and bought one of the cheap meals (one piece of chicken with beans, rice and yucca) and a bottle of cocona "refresco" (watered down juice) being sold by one of the vendors that hops on these boats at stops. I couldn't finish this starch extravaganza as usual and soon offered it to the rather old but chipper lady sitting next me. I set up my travel hammock near the back to read and rest a bit, but both were difficult because it was close to the large and loud diesel engine. As the boat made its way farther and farther up the Tahuayo River, more people got out at small dirt landings with their crates of bottles and bags of dried bread. As the magic hour of photography arrived before dusk, I got out my camera and telephoto to shoot the sunset and reflections in the water. It was dark by the time we got to Buena Vista where I needed to get out briefly. My headlamp was buried somewhere in my bag so I stumbled up the cement stairs, banged my shin on a unseen bench and finally delivered two copies of my passport (as always) to the police agent stationed at the official entry point to the Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo regional conservation area. Half an hour later we pulled into Chino somewhat ahead of schedule just after 7 pm. I was greeted warmly by friends there, hung up my large Brazilian cloth hammock in the upper floor of Estelita's house - the president of Manos Amazonicos - the artisan association of Chino. We briefly discussed the schedule for my visit and upcoming workshop before I retreated to the comfort of my mosquito netted hammock and sleep.
The photo below was taken last week with the artisans at Puca Urquillo Bora in the Ampiyacu River area. I'm off to Chino on the Tahuayo River today to visit the artisans who make the beautiful chambira baskets. Yully and 20 other artisans will arrive on Thursday for our next Artisan Leadership Program workshop. This one will focus on natural resource management so we'll spend a few days going into fields and forests to help the artisans learn how to inventory and use their resources as efficiently as possible. No internet for a week so check back next Tuesday. Good wishes to all.
MEETINGS AT BRILLO NUEVO AND 3-D "TELEPHONE" GAME WITH ARTISANS We got to Brillo Nuevo last Wednesday night, set up our travel hammocks, ate some tuna fish for dinner, covered up the perishable food to protect it from cockroaches and mice and went to sleep. We had a long meeting with the community on Thursday morning which was pretty rough for while - lots of comments from artisans about issues they were having with other artisans. While one fellow suggested that CACE should leave the community, I was relieved and happy that most artisans and others said that while there were issues that needed to be worked out to improve communication, trust and civility between the artisans, they said that CACE was not responsible for these and they thought we were doing a good job and wanted to keep working with us on the craft development and forestry projects to come. Sharing my thoughts and repsonses to questions push my Spanish abilities to their limit. We met the artisans in the afternoon. This was a lot more fun since it involved doing some team-building games (thanks to my colleagues at Shaver's Creek Team Building Center for nice ideas), discussion of how we wanted to try again to work with small groups, not individual artisans, and then reviewed and paid for the crafts they brought to fulfill last order. Pics below are of one game that's kind of like telephone except it involves a team working together to assemble a structure. 1. Team A with one or two people look at a picture of a group of 15 objects on a computer that are put together in a certain way. They then verbally describe five of these objects and what their relative positions are to the one or two people in Team B. 2. Team B then goes to the "store" with multiple objects spread around and tries to pick out the 5 objects described to them. 3. Team B then takes these objects to Team C and describes to them how they think these objects should be positioned relative to each other. 4. Team C then takes the objects toTeam D and explains to them how they think the objects should be assembled. 5. Team D then takes the objects to a staging area and tries to assemble them based on the instructions they received. One of the facilitators (in this case me) is on hand with a picture of the correctly assembled objects and tells Team D first if they have all of the correct objects. If they don't they need to pass the wrong object(s) back down the chain and try to get the right one. If the positioning is wrong, they also need to describe how they have done it down the chain and get updated feedback from Team A how to do it right. 6. The process then continues with the second and third set of objects 7. At the end of 20 minutes the team gets 3 points for each object that matches the correct one in the photo and 0-4 points for how well each one is placed in relation to its correct position (maximum 90 points for perfect score). We had three groups that did this and 3 other games in a circuit. The group with the best score on this game got 68 points. One motivation for this game was to help the artisans appreciate the importance of accurate communication of ideas, concepts and information. It was not an easy game, but they had fun.
When we passed by the village of Nuevo Peru on the Yaguasyacu River last week, I saw a couple of kids swimming next to a few women washing some clothes. I most enjoyed seeing a girl repeatedly run down the bank and launch herself into the river.
When we passed by the village of Nuevo Peru on the Yaguasyacu River last week, I saw a couple of kids swimming. I most enjoyed seeing one girl run and jump into the water from the bank.
One benefit of the slow trip from Pebas to Brillo Nuevo was that I spent most of the trip watching the water (hoping to get a good look at a river dolphin - no luck), the forest on the banks and the sky above. I was rewarded with some nice shots of various birds - an Amazon kingfisher with a fish he/she had just caught, a hawk (possibly an immature bicolored hawk), a turkey or black vulture framed in some clouds, and a Southern lapwing. Also saw parrots, swifts, and a slate colored insect eating bird with rust and white bottom that I couldn't ID even after looking through my Birds of Peru book three times.
So it only took less than five hours to travel a good way down the Amazon River in the new fast ferry to the town of Pebas, but it took about 7 hours to go up the Ampiyacu and Yaguasyacu Rivers in Ricardo's peque peque because it only has a 5 hp engine and it kept sputtering. Yully relaxed while Tulio Dávila and I discussed politics and ecology (he relaxed some too). When the engine periodically stopped, Ricardo's mom would paddle the boat over to the shore or grab the branch of a tree hanging over the river so we wouldn't float back down river. It was good to finally reach Brillo Nuevo just before dark so we could set up our hammocks and make our dinner with a can of tuna fish and crackers.
Took the new ferry from Iquitos to Pebas on Tuesday morning. We got off the fancy boat at a landing near town and transferred our bags to Don Ricardo's peque peque (dugout canoe with 5 HP engine. Check out a few pics from Pebas including a butterfly, carachama fish in a tub (they can breathe both through gills and by gulping air which allows them to breathe air for awhile), and a general store that truly seemed to have a bit of everything including a lone watermelon in the nail section).
Getting up at 3 am to catch our boat from Iquitos to Pebas - the gateway town to our partner native villages in the Ampiyacu River area. In the past we have usually taken a "lancha" that is basically a ferry boat to make this trip. it is rather slow and makes a lot of stops en route so it generally took 12-15 hours going down the Amazon and 18-22 hours coming back - usually in hammock strung next to 100 other people packed like sardines. For the same price as getting a "camarote" (a cabin that is a metal box with two bunk beds) on the lancha we will be able to sit in comfortable airline style seats on the new Ferry and make the same trip in only five hours. During this trip we plan to make quick visits to Brillo Nuevo to visit artisans and have a meeting with the whole community and Puca Urquillo where we will meet with artisans and leader of the native federation FECONA. Below are some colorful woven chambira bracelets made by Brillo Nuevo artisans earlier this year. What do you think of them?
14 million Amazon animals and plants — caiman skins, turtles, parrots, orchids and more — are legally exported annually. Illegal trafficking levels are unknown.
One of the new bird ornaments that an artisan from San Francisco recently made from chambira palm fiber is an awesome rendition of the Tropical Screech Owl (Megascops choliba). I am more amazed every time at the level of detail that he adding to his work. This time he added a second color to the talons. Pardon the pun, but Kleiber is a very talonted fellow, yes? I was taking some pics of this ornament in a nearby tree when one of the neighborhood boys climbed up next to it to see what was going on. Thanks for your smile Jilton! Ornaments like this soon coming to the Amazon Forest Store and holiday craft sales in Pennsylvania.