Well if the Mayans were right then Antoinette and I are separated by 6 hours of river as I traveled up river to the community of Angoteros. I will be working in the health post all day today and then, the reason I came up, a meeting with the local authorities to plan for the inauguration of the new health post. On a side note I believe the Mayans never really said it was the end of the world I believe they felt it was the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, it was media and crazy people that said it was the end of the world, not the Mayans.
Angoteros a community very native, a group named the Kichwa who have their own language, which is very difficult and of which I know about 8 words. They are a quiet group and their elected leader the Apu is an older man, who also is of very few words even though he knows several languages and has traveled to several South American countries. There are some very beautiful aspects of their culture and some very ugly aspects. They continue their traditions, dances, teach their native tongue in the schools, but they also have an astounding amount of alcoholism and domestic violence. To an outsider gringo like me it is a difficult life and there seems to be lack of hope. There has been a lot of oppression and discrimination towards the people of the Amazon, most obvious starting at the turn of the century during the epoch of the rubber barons or epoca de caucho (rubber) y los caucheros. Several communities were enslaved, people chained together, taken into the jungle and forced to extract and carry the rubber to boats waiting on the river. Since then the government continues to ignore their rights, poverty and difficulties with a system designed for those with birth records, DNI (equal to a social security card), etc. These people do not have the funds to go to Iquitos to get their DNI paperwork filled out and then wait a minimum two weeks for it to get processed, where do they stay? what do they eat for these 2-3 weeks? Then to get social programs such as health insurance you need to have this DNI, to apply for the DNI you need your birth certificate, where do you get this in the middle of the jungle when you deliver at home??? We offer this service as the health network but many do not come in for several months and the same government states you need it filled out within 7 days of birth. For this reason some birthdates are not too accurate. Next the government here might look around at other countries and maybe just give them money and a tiny plot of land where they cannot live the lives they are used to and tell them they can build casinos to solve all their problems, that seems to work well for native communities!
In terms of the help given over the years by missionaries and NGOs it has not helped the long-term situation a whole lot. Over the years the people have grown accustomed to receiving everything for free without offering anything in return nor have there been efforts to create programs of sustainability. The people feel if they are going to help the church, NGOs, etc that these same groups will pay them as they had in the past. That is one of the dangers of just giving money, if no system is left in place then when the money stops, the people are right where they began. For example the two nuns in Angoteros cannot even ask someone to carry up a bucket of water from the river without them asking for money in return. It would be like asking to borrow flour or 1-2 eggs from the neighbor and the neighbor always saying sure that will be one dollar. I am hopeful for the future of the river as the priests, nuns and now the health network on the river are working towards change in the people, a life of collaboration and partnership, not just of donor and recipient. This may take 1 year, 5 years or 10 years, but we are moving in that direction and if we can instill this ideal in the younger generation than we can effect change and a better future.
written on 21 December 2012