Welcome to the Jungle
Well here I am! The sweltering, tropical, humid jungle capital of Pucallpa. I just moved here from the coastal town of Trujillo three days ago and I’ll be starting the second and final stint as a KF6 fellow for Manuela Ramos. A former Kiva fellow hooked me up with a family here in the heart of the Amazon and I’m staying with them for the next couple of days.
The father picked me up from the airport and ushered me (mercifully!) through the hoards of mototaxi drivers out to the main road where we caught a ride a less then half the price hawked at the airports front doors.
I notice immediately that almost all transportation here is via mototaxi- where Trujillo had seven taxis for every car on the road, Pucallpa has the same ratio of mototaxis to single motorcycles or regular cars.
The sun was setting just as a arrived and the air was muggy, but still fresh. It’s hotter than a Florida summer here and I think my existence here is going to be defined by a constant and hopefully light sweat.
As we buzz down the road in our mototaxi I notice how different this town looks from Trujillo. It’s much newer having sprung up since the 1950’s when the paved highway linking the rivertown to Lima was completed. There are no colonial buildings or pedestrian byways around here. It’s dusty and full of people walking, running, chatting, eating, laughing.
Winston my host and I arrive at his house where he generously offers up his daughter’s room as my quarters for a couple of days. He and his wife entertain me over a couple of cold mangos and dang they’re delicious!
The next day, Sunday, I trekked all over the city looking for housing. Here in the Amazon basin where the temperature wavers around 85-95 degrees on a daily basis, rooms with air-conditioning are double the price of rooms with fans. The prices are surprisingly high and I decide my budget will allow for a non-AC room only. I will think of my new home as a breezy sauna where I’m sweating out all of my toxins nightly. I traipsed around town for several hours and finally – a bucket of sweat, a heat rash and a few breaks in the shade later – I decide on the Hotel “Happy Days”. The name bodes well doesn’t it?
After my marathon trek around the city I settle down in happy days and take a quick glance in the mirror – phew I’m looking beat! This heat is going to wilt me daily, I cant tell! The weather channel always says, 85 degrees but feels like 95 or 96 or 98 with the humidity. That hot sun is no joke and only gets better when it rains. I got caught in my first rain shower yesterday and it was a ducha abierta or downpour the likes of an “open shower” as they say here. I was caught totally off guard and literally had an ankle deep dash through streets in mid-miniflood as I raced for my hostel and my umbrella. From now on I’m carrying around my raincoat and sneakers should the skies open up and let loose on me again.
On Monday I was presented most graciously to all the women of the Manuela Ramos branch here in Pucallpa. The office is located in the city’s center which is humble as far as downtowns go. That afternoon I took my first trip out to the asentamiento humano Bolognesi.
Asentamientos humanos, or legalized squatter settlements, are formed when immigrants from other parts of the country invaden, or literally “invade” an abandoned section of land outside the main urban perifery. These immigrants may come from other Peruvian metropolises or more often from villages in the nearby jungle; but, all come with the dual purpose of finding work and owning their own home. The groups of families – two to five hundred people at a time – organize among themselves and form a neighborhood council that is charged with dividing the unused land into equally sized lots, one for each family. Once the land is equally partitioned, the families purchase the lots and register titles with the city government. Invasions have been occuring in Peruvian cities for half a century; some asentamientos are decades old while others, like the one I visited Tuesday are only two or three years old. These days families are paying around $400 for a 2,300 sq.ft. dirt lot.
This photograph was taken in the asentamiento Villa Oriente where an al fresco meeting of the Damas del Oriente was held Tuesday.
The socias (bank members) are listening to Rosa, the loan officer, explain the five “P”s of marketing – it’s like business school classes all over again! These women own and operate all types of businesses: roadside restaurants, door-to-door beauty product sales, lingerie shops, fish shipping, cheese making – you name it and a Manuela Ramos socia is doing it. I am continually impressed by their creativity, energy and sheer will to work several jobs, take care of several children and support this unbearable heat!
I met 71 year old Asuncion Rengifo Marin (pictured above) at the Damas del Oriente meeting yesterday and interviewed about her Kiva loan. We talked about her restaurant business where she works seven days a week from dawn to 11:00 pm preparing and selling breakfast, lunch and dinner. She tells me her daughter asks her all the time when she will retire and that always responds: “when my fingers and arms fall off my body, I’ll quit the kitchen!”
After a month in Trujillo, I’m really looking forward to being in the office with a little bit more experience under my belt. I’m so excited to go find the bank members and find out about their lives, their families, and their business plans. Mirtha, Winston’s wife tells me that the women of la selva (the jungle) are dangerously beautiful and fiercely hard-working. After this first meeting, I see it and believe./>