Friday, January 12, 2007

Joisi's Baby

Last year I met a street entertainer who was dressed as a clown. His name was ”Augustine”. He spoke some English so I always looked forward to asking him questions about street life in the city. Augustine introduced me to his girlfriend Joisi who was a 17 year old street vender selling lemonade nearby. During my stay in Iquitos I bought a drink from Joisi and her mother everyday. They invited me over to their house and I eventually got to know their whole family. Joisi’s father is in the military and he has five children ages five to seventeen. They live in a shatty house without running water or indoor sewer.

Now...a year later, I went to their house to see Joisi and Augustine. Joisi’s mom and dad were home. I stumbled with my awkward Spanish to ask how their family was doing. We communicated by drawing pictures on my sketch pad. Joisi came home a short time later and and I was surprised to see she was eight months pregnant. Joisi hasn’t completed much schooling. She is almost illiterate and can barely draw her name on a piece of paper. Trying to communicate with her by showing her words in a dictionary is useless. I learned that sometimes the most complex emotions are communicated more clearly by a frown, hand gesture or expressions.

I foolishly asked her...”Joisi and Augustine matrimonial” (got married).

She shook her head... “No”.

Then I asked... “Who is the papa” ...while pointing to her stomach.

She said... “Augustine”.

“Where is Augustine”... I asked.

Joisi made a gesture with her hand like an airplane flying up to the sky.

“Augustine to Lima”...she said.

Her father joined in... “Augustine no good” ...while making a hand gesture of cutting his own throat.

I could tell from their faces they were happy for the new baby but sad and raged that Joisi was alone.

“What is baby’s name?”... I asked.

Joisi pointed at me... “Baby Lon”

I didn’t know if I should feel embarrassed, surprised or honored.

“Why no baby Augustine?” ...I asked

Joisi wrinkled her nose and shook her head no... “Me no like Augustine.”

I tried to tell Joisi that I thought Juan Carlos might be a better name for her baby.

She tapped the side of her head and motioned she would...“Think about it”.

I could tell Joisi’s family didn’t have money for new clothes or things for the baby. I asked them if they wanted to go shopping for baby clothes at the market store downtown. Joisi thought that would be fine. Her twelve year old sister came with us and we took a moto taxi into the city.

The three of us began walking along the crowded sidewalks of the shopping district. Joisi would stop at baby clothing displays. I would dawdle and do “the guy thing”, and stand around and look dumb. The store clerks would look down at Joisi’s stomach, then look up at me. Then point at say... “Oh you papa”. I would shake my head...“No”. Joisi would say... “Si”...(yes). I frowned at Joisi but she wanted a father for her baby. This accusation would be repeated by shop owners as we went from store to store. We spent $20 on various baby undershirts, sleepers and shampoo. Joisi was going to have her baby a few weeks after I left Iquitos. I don’t know if she had a boy or girl. Or what she chose for the baby’s name.

I had a night flight from Iquitos to Lima, then back home to the United States. At noon I went swimming at the lagoon resort near the zoo. It was a hot 95 degree day and the water was very warm. This is the place I would like to end our bike tour on the edge of town. It would be a fun place to have an afternoon picnic and swim after a hot day of riding.

The restaurant there was making grilled Alligator Fillets and Grub Worms on a stick. The grubs are about the size of your thumb. They have a thick crispy coating with lots of spice. They crunch like cheetos corn curls from the mini mart. The alligator is actually very good. Like a stringy chicken meat with a smoked flavor. I would eat it again.

I started to get my things packed to come home. I had to buy two duffel bags to store the souvenirs I bought here. This was a good tour and I accomplished my scouting goals. Our group of American cyclists will return next November to ride the best routes and stay at the best hotels during our expedition. We will have our own guides and vehicles to keep everyone safe. I still want to offer Americans the chance to get to know the local people who make traveling interesting. Peru has so many beautiful areas to visit and explore, but it will be the people I have met that I will remember most.


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