Good news- the reason I have not written anything since April is because I have been super busy and incredibly happy! A lot has happened in the past 5 months! I can’t believe it has been that long since I moved to Explorama Lodge, it doesn’t seem possible. I think the best way to catch up is one month at a time.
In April I headed to Explorama Lodge to help Dr. Nancy Dunn at the CCC Amazon Library as she prepared to move back to the States. She had decided to leave the library to CONAPAC, (it was an independent non-profit organization before). Basically I was there to learn the ropes. The library is open Monday-Thursday in the afternoon (the kids are in school in the mornings). So everyday I worked with Nancy in the mornings, either at her house or in the library and spent the afternoons at the library with the kids. I spent a week there in January, however when I was there it was closed for inventory, so I finally got to spend time with the kids!
|Waiting for the library to open!|
The students come to the library after school to read. They ready silently for the first 20 minutes or so and then we read out loud in groups. The last hour of the day the kids can play games and do puzzles. The library has almost 4,000 different titles, from children’s books to encyclopedias and everything in between. There is no library like this in all of Loreto (the department of Peru we are in). The library lends books to students over the weekend, which is unheard of in Peruvian libraries. Nancy told me that there is a saying in Peru: “It is foolish to lend a book, but more foolish to give it back!” The library has many special programs, like scholarships for higher education, field trips to places like the zoo in Iquitos and Explorama’s Canopy Walkway, computer classes, English classes and a music program. There is a teacher from Iquitos who comes each week for 3 days to teach music in the schools in the mornings and to direct a children’s choir, teach guitar lessons and violin lessons in the afternoons. Again, there is nothing else that compares to this music program in the jungle, and something like it would be very rare even in the city. In mid April Nancy left for a three week vacation, leaving me in control, kind of my test run.
In May we tried to do a different special activity each week at the library. First, we experimented making toothpaste with baking soda, salt, and mint extract. It was fun but kind of gross, all of the kids agreed that we needed more mint! We had a bunch of toothbrushes that we donated so each student took home a ziplock back of toothpaste and a new toothbrush. Next we made Mother’s Day cards; they were all very sweet and very covered in glitter!
|Priscilla with her card for her mom|
Our last activity in May was making ice cream in ziplock bags. It was a huge mess but so much fun. The kids loved having a cold treat! Also throughout May we were preparing for Nancy’s goodbye party. The kids learned a song to sing to Nancy and they each made a page for an album to give to her. Throughout April and May the Amazon River is on the rise. It floods annually in these months, and this was my first time here to see it. I will have to post a separate blog entry to show the difference between high and low water, it was amazing. After a while the water rose too high to reach the library on foot, so each day someone from the Lodge would take me in a boat to the library, picking up students on the way. It was like our own little school bus, the kids would be waiting at someone’s house for the boat to pull up to the front steps. Each day, one of my favorite students, Ronal, would make sure to sit next to me. At the end of May Nancy came back and I left for the States.
|On our way home!|
For the month of June I was back in Michigan. I had a great visit. The first week I was home I was able to talk to my mom’s next Fremont Rainforest group. They are not coming here until June 2012, but they have already begun to prepare. I also helped out with their bake sale, I baked enough cookies and pies to make up for almost a year with no oven! A highlight of my time at home was spending time with my best friend Hillary and her beautiful new baby Colbie.
Hillary and her husband were trying to adopt when I left in October, of course after a long wait, they were matched and had their new baby just one month after I left! I was very anxious meet Colbie- she is adorable and may be the happiest baby ever! I got to spend time with Hillary and Colbie in Fremont as well as at their home in Madison, WI. I also got to stop for a way too brief visit with my friend Dena and her baby Gannon. Gannon was courteous enough to be born right before I left, so this was the second time I got to meet him. He is super cute too!
I also visited with my grandma in Decatur, IL along with my uncles (on my mom’s side). Of course I spent as much time as I could with Faye, Owen, and Ryann, my nieces and nephew. We got crafty and made patio stones and birdhouses!
|Owen and Faye|
I also was able to spend a little time with my brother Brian and his wife Jamie, and my brother Tim and his girlfriend Coco. Of course I spent some quality time with my parents too!
When I returned to Peru it was now time for Nancy to leave. Her goodbye party was while I was gone, I hear it was a success. Her last day at the library was bittersweet. She surprised me with a cake to welcome me as the new library director, it made me cry. It was a little overwhelming, it had been my dream to live here since I was 17, and now it was happening for real!
It was very exciting but at the same time it was heartbreaking to be there as Nancy said goodbye after building this library from nothing 13 years ago. It is amazing to think of all of the lives she’s touched, and how lucky I am that I get to continue the work that she started. So, now it’s official, I am the director of the Amazon Library Project! Well, not totally official, I still don’t have my Peruvian work visa, but I almost do! My mom came to visit for 10 days in July. We spent time at the library, we spent time at Ceiba Tops luxury lodge, relaxing by the pool, we visited a community on the Napo River, and we went to Monkey Island, to the manatee reserve, and the butterfly garden and animal orphanage.
|Mom with a red uakari|
We also visited Las Malvinas, the school I work with in Iquitos. It was great to show my mom where I live and introduce her to my wonderful friends here.
Most of the month of August I spent with two Global Explorers groups as their expedition leader. My first group was from Houston and my second group from New York City. They were part of a special program sponsored by AFAR travel magazine, the students all had to write articles and take photos to create their own magazine, it was a really neat project. I always enjoy working with student groups, I love their excitement as they experience the Amazon for the first time. Every trip is different, I always get to see new things. This time, we saw a mother and baby 2-toed sloth while on the canopy walkway. I have never seen a 2-toed sloth in the wild, just 3-toed sloths. At first they were just hanging on a branch, kind of hard to see, but then they moved to another tree, crossing on a branch out in the open air. It was a National Geographic worthy moment, it was breathtaking, they were beautiful.
I traveled to Lima with both of my groups to make sure their flights went smoothly. My first trip to Lima I went a little crazy grocery shopping, they have so many things there that they don’t carry in Iquitos! My second trip to Lima I went with my lawyer to Interpol to get finger printed, photographed, and to have my teeth examined in order to get my visa! I will have to go back to Lima one more time to go to the immigration office, but it sounds like it will take a little time for all of my paperwork to go through before that. Then I will have my visa and be able to stay here! After returning from Lima I had a few days in Iquitos. I still come to Iquitos on the weekends to check in at Las Malvinas, work in the office a little, and to do laundry. In July, everyone else moved out of my house! I was pretty excited about this, except they took Tony the cat with them. She was very sweet so I was sad to see her go. I was thinking I’d just not have a cat there, but with the open kitchen I really need a cat to control the rats. So, I just welcomed 2 new kittens to my home! I adopted them from Amazon Cares, an awesome non-profit in Iquitos. Their names are Shungo and Moshaco. I got their names from a dictionary of local words that Nancy left me. Shungo is the local word for heart, and Moshaco is the local word for womanizer. Their sister also is here with us for a little while, she belongs to my friend Cliver, we just haven’t been in the city at the same time for him to pick her up to bring her home.
|Shungo, Moshaco, and Chiquita|
Now that my groups are finished, I am just focusing on the library. We have some field trips coming up, I am going to start teaching English, and we are installing mini water treatment plants in both libraries (did I mention there is a 2nd library in a community about 20 minutes away?!). I’ll also help out with other CONAPAC projects here and there, like end of the year community evaluations.