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Saving a Dying Language
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The Journal

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Wednesday, July 24

This morning finds Lev with a pretty clear case of malaria. Chris, who is also not feeling well, takes him to the health post where they are both tested for malaria, and Lev is started on the treatment. They are told that because of the length of time they are spending in the area, the preventative medication they are taking is probably no longer effective. The bigger issue with this news is that all of the other team members are also at risk.

A new health post in San Antonio
This new health post was recently built in San Antonio.

I spend the day doing last minute interviews with more of the linguistas (one of whom also comes down with malaria by the end of the day) and taking some more photos. Carlos is expected to pick us up Thursday morning, which means that today is the last chance to talk to people in the community. I've already spoken to all of the especialistas, except Ema—also ill with malaria. I'm hoping that she will be well enough to come by the center early tomorrow morning before we leave, but I'm not counting on it.

By now nearly half of the people I've met in San Antonio have contracted malaria or are just recovering. I had always thought of malaria as being a somewhat debilitating illness, but people here take it in stride. With the cyclical nature of malaria fevers, they have learned to lay low during the downside, but generally carry on with daily activities during the upside.

Once again, the morning is overcast, but the sun came out long enough for us to recharge computers and the team is able to work on data entry as well as videotape Jaime, the village's apu or chief, telling a story of the history of Iquitos.

A children's class had been scheduled for the evening, but confusion about the schedule leads to a slightly lower attendance. Arturo is teaching the class, so there will be a chance to assess his abilities and provide feedback during tomorrow's linguista class.

The students work until around 10 p.m. Chris is really not feeling well, and though she doesn't seem to be running a high fever, we are concerned. After winding down a little, we head to the tent for one last chance to hear the night sounds of the jungle.

Musicians preparing for Independence Day celebrations
Musicians wearing traditional dress prepare for Independence Day celebration activities.

Thursday, July 25

Everybody slept in a little this morning but the first cup of coffee was still ready by 7 a.m. Chris and Lev are both still ill but are trying to work anyway. Tom and I spend the morning packing our gear and taking a few last minute photos of people from the community who stop by to see us. Throughout the week, we have ordered crafts from different people around the village and today is their last chance to deliver them.

Tom and I took a walk to the school to watch the students practice for the Independence Day celebration activities. It also gave us a chance to say a few goodbyes and take one last look at the center before we leave. Another pivotal person in this story is Alijandro Boudreault, a support engineer with Raymarine based in New Hampshire. The company allowed Ali to take a month-long leave of absence to supervise the construction of the center and our sleeping quarters. Painted bright blue, the building has not only been a physical presence, the community also sees it as a symbol that this project is being taken seriously.

Carlos arrives on time at around 11:15 a.m. After arrangements are made for him to pick up the student team in about two weeks, we load our gear onto the boat and start the trip back to Iquitos. Now that we are making the river trip in daylight, we have a new respect for Carlos's ability to guide us through the narrow channels of the Pintoyacu at night.

The tents where Robin lodged while in San Antonio
Robin's lodgings during her stay in San Antonio.

We have very mixed feelings about leaving San Antonio. On one hand, I'm looking forward to a shower and a bed, and not being eaten alive by bugs (Tom says there will be a famine among the San Antonio mosquitoes now that I'm leaving). At the same time, I met some amazing people and am sad to leave them.

We picked up a passenger from one of the many floating homes in the area. Considering our problems on the trip upriver, Tom and I were a little wary about taking more weight onto the boat, but we weren't consulted. The arrangement must have been made ahead of time, the man who joined us was packed and ready—his payment to Carlos and the motorista seemed to be some small piece of unidentifiable meat with a leg still attached. This was discreetly tucked under the driver's seat. We thought it best not to ask what it was.

The rest of the ride was, thankfully, uneventful and gave us time to talk about some of the things we had seen and heard. A huge bat, really big spiders (though we never did see the two tarantulas residing in the center), the community's superstitions about rainbows and pink dolphins (both are very bad signs), stories about monkey hunting and encounters with snakes and eels—we will have stories of our own to tell when we get home.

It only takes us about four hours to reach Iquitos, but this is just the beginning of our journey home.

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