- 3 Dec 07, 04:48 PM
Posted from: San Lorenzo
Aliya Ryan studied anthropology and has been working with the Achuar in the Pastaza basin for three years, as part of the Peruvian NGO Shinai. Their work focuses upon indigenous rights and capacity building, particularly on territorial rights issues. Here she describes her experience of working with the crew during their time with the Achuar in Wijint.
We have just arrived in San Lorenzo. I have been here many times since I started working with the Achuar three years ago, but the trip never fails to amaze me. The tiny planes fly beneath the clouds and all you can see, stretching in every direction, is an endless expanse of green, sometimes with a lazy river meandering through it. This time the flight was even more spectacular as we opened the sliding side door so as to film the view directly: Bruce leaning into the wind and shouting his impressions into the microphone and Matt hanging out to capture the beauty and immediacy of the canopy passing just beneath us. It looked almost close enough to touch and it took my breath away.
The trip was also my first experience of the crew at work. I flew into Pucallpa from Lima late last night, just in time to meet the team drinking their last fresh fruit juice in their last air-conditioned hotel. It wasn’t until 5am this morning when they started to amass all their kit in the foyer did I begin to get an inkling of what I was in for. They have SOOOOOO much stuff. Zubin, Almu and Angel kept coming back again and again from the rooms with more bags, boxes, cases and strangely shaped packages, until the entire floor of the reception was covered in baggage. Meanwhile Steve gingerly sipped the instant coffee we had cajoled out of the early morning staff, Matt had sunk into an armchair, pale as a ghost, Bruce and Chris were ensconced in a corner deep in an absurd argument, Mike wandered around offering malarone and Willow was somehow talking on both her mobile phones whilst simultaneously counting bags and discussing the latest update on the stolen equipment saga with the hotel chauffeur. I couldn’t quite see how I was going to find my place…
But here in San Lorenzo I feel more at home. It is a small and very dusty little market town on the river Marañon, only reachable by plane or boat. Some of the Achuar leaders met us at the airport and we went to the Hotel Milton Raul, across the road from the port we will leave from tomorrow when we head up the river Pastaza into Achuar territory. Although not quite the best in town (the “best” hotel is frequented by oil company workers and the Achuar avoid it if they can), I didn’t think Steve’s question “Is this a converted prison?” was entirely fair. Then again perhaps I am too frequent an inmate to be struck by its glossy, easy to wash green walls and barred windows looking out onto a bare concrete corridor.
I care very much about the Achuar and am a little nervous about how the next few weeks’ filming will go. I have never worked with a film crew before and am unsure exactly how things will unfold. But from the short time I have spent with the team and my many long conversations with Willow, I believe they are committed to showing, honestly, what is going on here. Hopefully they can portray the richness of Achuar territory and culture, the threats posed by the multitude of oil companies that the Peruvian Government has licensed to work on their land, and the strength of the Achuar’s repeated and united rejection of all oil exploration in the Pastaza river basin. It is an amazing story and there is no other example in Peru, and few in Latin America, of an indigenous people remaining firm and united for so long, in the face of so much power, money and unscrupulous tactics.
Find out more about the Achuar