Puerto Narino

is up a city-town up a small river off the Amazon .

We rented a room from an indigenous woman named Alba who made and sold handicrafts. Her shop was a den tucked away on one side of the porch infront of the house. I never went in. It didn’t seem like a shop to me, more like a place where people secretly convened. Through the wood walls I’d hear Alba singing to her granddaughter. Once I told Alba she should put a prominent sign outside the shop because from outside you couldn’t really tell it was a shop. She shrugged and didn’t seem to care. That’s why I think the space had some other purpose.

Like many people Alba lived day by day and had no money. She hit us up early for the electricity bill. Her son brought her platino from his farm. They ate fish with boiled platino and farignia every day, breakfast lunch and dinner, and showed little desire to eat anything else. The only time I saw Alba nearly get mad was when she’d come back from the farm, hungry, and there was no fish on the grill (is there fish!? she roared.) They were very generous and shared food with us and I became addicted to barbecued fish too.

In Puerto Narinio the fishermen came with their catch at 6am and 4pm, and it costs 5000 pesos ($2.50) for 5 or 6 fat fish.

Alba mourns how everything is with money now. The handicrafts sell slow and she and Leonardo are old now and not so spirited to work. We chopped the firewood for the house. She spoke nostalgically of when she was younger, when her family’s house was the only house for miles and all around was rainforest. There were wild bird and boar feasts and fish abundance. They never ate sugar or rice before. Then there were more and more people and the forest was replaced by houses and houses surrounding the houses, and now, in just a few decades, there’s hardly any space to plant crops and there’s no game. So now, hemmed in by houses on all sides, the forest felled, the river depleted, the money economy is the necessary means of survival.

Leonardo, Alba’s husband, tells us about the Piropucu (approximate name), the largest fish in the river. Before the lake was full of them. Now there are none around here, they were over-fished.

But isn’t the town pretty with its tarmaced streets and leafy trees boughs bobbing overhead? We could be in the suburban United States. But Puerto Narino has a big problem behind the pleasant facade- water. The house is covered over with buckets and basins. There are big industrial containers on the roof, an assortment of containers, medium, large, sprawled over the yard. These are to catch rainwater. Rainwater is precious.

A series of scorching days. After 8 am you can lie comatose in the hammock or there’s a breezy spot leaning on the banister just outside the kitchen. The water supply wanes and wanes. When will it rain?

The drinking water tastes like soap. Someone got soap in it, made it undrinkable. Who did it? We are mad at each other. A full bucket’s waste of clean drinking water. When will it rain?

There is no more water to wash clothes. There is no more water to flush the toilet. We look nervously at the last water and plot our escape. Leonardo, weakened by a bout of dengue two years ago, must make arduous trips down to the tepid river water to collect buckets just to flush the toilet. You must wash clothes and bathe down at the port which is not luxurious because the water is dirty and feels like a warm gasoline mud stew on your skin. The river is not close to the house because this is a city.

Life needs water. All the little children sent by their mothers to fetch brown water, buckets swinging from their little fists.

People get sick in the summer because they drink the river water. They get fevers and diarrhea. A little girl dies and the word is that she had the standard fever but by some medical malpractice they gave her an overdose and she died. Alba doesn’t trust hospitals, she’s afraid of them.

So you can have all the tarmacked road you want and all the trees pruned beautifully and people employed to pick up trash and that makes it pretty for the tourists (Columbian tourists from Bogota come to Puerto Narinio) but if you don’t have access to clean water it’s an empty illusion.

‘Human beings adapt to every environment’ a man in a suit said to me as we overlooked the rafts under the Iquitos Bolevard, as if this was an excuse. People are very resilient and can scrape out a living in many situations. But there’s a difference between living and keeping yourself alive. People can put up with a lot, it doesn’t mean they should have to.

And they want to extract Petroleum nearby (surprise! surprise!)


Posted on October 6, 2014, in Off the river. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. take care of your health…. best, Rob

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