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Saving a Dying Language
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The Journal

ENTRIES   1   :   2   :   3   :   4   :   5   :   6   :   7

Monday, July 22

Today is the team’s day off. For some it is time spent catching up on data entry; for others, napping in the hammocks and reading are in order. There are no appointments or formal interviews scheduled and we spend most of the day taking photos around the village. The community really wanted some pictures taken in their traditional dress, as well as some of day-to-day activities such as making masato, playing soccer and weaving thatch, which is the community’s primary source of money.

Lynda De Jong and children from the village of San Antonio
Lynda De Jong is very popular with the children of San Antonio and can often be found surrounded by them.

Because it is the team’s day off, Lev makes us some improvised pancakes, and for lunch we splurge on rice and lentils with some fried plantains.

The soccer games here are serious business. Everyday, unless there is a downpour, there is a soccer game at 5 p.m. Right now the games are of particular importance as the San Antonio community prepares to play other villages during the upcoming Independence Day celebrations.

One of the most anticipated events of the day for us is a trip to the cocha, the lake where much of the village’s fishing is done. In the past few weeks, the boys have caught several large electric eels in their nets, and they have been planning this excursion for us since our arrival Friday night (July 19).

We set off through the chachras of yucca and into the jungle. The boys led the way, occasionally beating the brush with their machetes to scare off snakes. At this time of year, snakes are a big concern and many of the village’s chickens disappear from the river bank and into the bellies of boas.

Our trek is cut short upon finding that the water level has risen into the jungle and cut off the path. Still it was a welcome chance to stretch our legs.

This is David’s last night in San Antonio and we have a little send-off for him. There are no classes tonight, so Hilter and his wife Juana, along with Ciro (one of the village’s teachers) and his brother Miguel, come to the center to join us in wishing David a safe journey. The evening is spent telling jokes and stories of hunting. Last minute photos are taken and farewells are said. Ciro will be going with David on the speedboat in the morning—his wife is ill and needs to go to the hospital. He hopes he will be able to return with our boat on Thursday.

Tuesday, July 23

Mark Brown gives a computer tutorial
One of Mark Brown's responsibilities is to teach the linguistas to document their progress in teaching Iquito on the computers.

For the first time since we arrived, the day begins gloomy, both in terms of the weather and the general feeling around the camp. The sky is overcast and the cool breeze is a sure sign of the rain to come.

This is my worst day for mosquitos—I’m covered in bug bites and as a result have had very little sleep. The itching is relentless and even antihistamines are ineffective, but what can I expect—it’s the middle of the Amazon jungle, and there are lots of bugs. My complaints about bug bites are silly compared to what happened later in the morning.

Lev was teaching today’s linguista class, when he suddenly became very ill and had to turn the class over to Lynda. Though he doesn’t seem to be running a temperature the sudden onset is alarming.

Our guide, Carlos, arrived—with a new boat and motor—to pick up David along with Ciro and his family for the trip back to Iquitos. David makes his departure with promises of keeping in touch and the possibility of a visit to Austin.

Shortly after David leaves, the rain starts and doesn’t let up all day. In Austin, rain wouldn’t slow things down much, but it’s different here. Usually the village has a generator that is on from dusk until around 10 p.m., but it is broken so the center relies on a single solar panel and boat battery for power. Because of the rain and dense cloud cover, the solar panel can’t keep the battery charged. This means that all computers must be turned off. There is a language class tonight and all of the energy stored in the battery will be needed to provide light during the one hour class.

By afternoon, Lev is feeling better, but the rain has hampered the team’s progress. They had planned to videotape Hermenegildo telling a traditional Iquito folktale, but there isn’t enough light, and the rain on the thatched roof causes too much noise.

The center is where the graduate students—Lev, Chris, Mark and Lynda—do most of their work
The center is where the graduate students—Lev, Chris, Mark and Lynda—do most of their work with the linguistas and especialistas of the village of San Antonio.

We find out at the last minute that there is a village meeting tonight, so class must be cancelled. With only a couple of weeks left, this is another setback for the team. Every day has become important and there is no time to waste. With days that start by 7 a.m. and don’t end until 9 or 10 p.m., the team is still concerned about being able to meet their goals for this year.

We use the precious electricity to light the office while we have a dinner of crackers, sardines and peanut butter.

Lev abruptly takes a turn for the worse. Shivering and feverish, he is showing the signs of malaria or dengue even though he has been taking an antimalarial drug. We all pull out our guidebooks and any medical books available to check the symptoms. Lev, who has had malaria twice already, maintains a sense of humor saying that if it is dengue he’ll have another tropical disease to add to his list.

We all decide to make an early night of it and hope that tomorrow is less dreary.

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