Ryan and I have been in Puerto Maldonado, a city in the Southern Peruvian Amazon, for over a week now --- yet hardly anyone has heard a peep from us. The story of our first time meeting Julio Cusurichi, a leader in the indigenous rights movement here, might help explain our mysterious disappearance.
But I want to preface it with a little context. I lived in Peru for a year in 2004, and one lesson about this culture that has saved me some pain is: the people here value flexiblity in their lives. Which means they might not get back to you right away -- or ever. Things happen and they prioritize on a day-to-day basis. I love this lesson of staying in the moment, even though on my frustrated days, I also call it inefficiency and disorganized.
That said, Julio Cusurichi is unlike any Peruvian I´ve ever met.
The day we flew in, Ryan and I found a hotel and then immediately set out to find Julio at his house. His wife said he was at a meeting and didn´t know when he would be back. That was on a Friday afternoon, so Ryan and I went back to the hotel and started to take a nap, thinking we wouldn´t see him til Monday.
An hour later, there was a knock on our door. There was Julio. He was wearing a vest with indigenous design, which told me quite a bit about him immediately. In many small towns in Peru, if you are wearing a fisherman-looking utility vest -- the ones with a bunch of pockets, you must be someone important, like an engineer. Julio´s vest symbolizes exactly what he is. It´s a white, calming color vest with lines connecting splashes of color together .
Even more that....Julio coming to seek us out told me that he really believed in his cause. Not everyone would make an extra trip on a Friday afternoon, when most people here (and many parts of the world) leave a little early from work.
We spoke lightly in our hotel about the work that he is doing here, but I was really not prepared to see his reality.
Julio told us to come to his house at 4am the next morning because they were about to aire the first indigenous radio program at 5am on Radio Aurora. It´s a local radio station housed in the back of a small bodega.
The radio hosts were three energetic and nervous journalism students: Juan, Celia and Marissa. They were all going through a program that Julio initiated to train indigenous people to become journalists and show the world firsthand what´s going on here. They are learning everything from video editing to radio programming.
Ultimately, Julio believes the new weapon of the indigenous rights´movement is information. It makes me feel empowered to be a storyteller and walk among these warriors.
One thing Julio talked on the program was the effects of the InterOceanic Highway, the highway that runs from Brazil to Peru and cuts straight through the Amazon. It has been a 10-year project that is set to be completed this year.
¨Globalization is a word that´s used to explain the expansion of the highways here and exportation. It´s good in theory, but in practice it´s something different. How can they build a highway in our country without reaching out to the public, training them in modern ways and finding an international market for our products? Without doing this, the highway will only benefit the loggers and exporters.¨
That day was an 18-hour day with Julio ---- going from that radio show, a workshop on how to improve local economy in the indigenous communities, an interview with local celebrity Domingo Marquez and then to his TV news program, and finally a meeting to protest a judge who had just been appointed after spending five years in jail for corruption.
At the radio station, he handed me a schedule, which consisted of a list of meetings he was hosting that week. It also had about five interviews that he set up for us, all on Friday night after we spoke. In this week, Ryan and I have already visited two communities, one three hours away by canoe and one three hours down the InterOceanic highway. We´ve met so many incredibly strong, honest and dedicated movers, which we will continue to write about.
If you have any desire to come and meet Julio, I´d recommend it. It´s amazing here, and we´ll continue to tell you why in these next blog entries.