ODE TO AIDJOY AND THE BLACK BLOOD DRAGONS
by Bo Bryan
Going with AidJoy is risky business, off the chart, where the geodetic survey drops from the table, over the edge where discoveries are made. Where the olden time mapmakers signified the unknown with a terse warning, “Here There Be Dragons”.
Where AidJoy goes the dragons are sometimes microscopic, the size of sporozoites, those tiny, savage bugs that cook you alive in the slow fires of Malaria. Sometimes the dragons are flame-throwing, petroleum giants feeding on the Earth’s black blood, way up the Amazon River.
The dragons are always way up the river. This time in northern Peru, on the Rio Corrientes, a tributary of the Amazon, where a giant lizard, name of Occidental Petroleum, has sucked the black blood out of the Earth for thirty-five years, and now the river is sick. A lot of people who live along the river are dying, and nobody knows. AidJoy will go and investigate, taking medical personnel up the Corrientes, along with cameras, and journalists and all the equipment that directs the light of the civilized world into the caves where the dragons are.
BRIGHT LIGHT IS THE ONLY THING DRAGONS FEAR!
*click “Learn More” for the rest of the story
AidJoy deals in absolutes. What is known of the Corrientes and the black blood dragons still living there is not very much. Going to find out is risky. The dragons have a lot to protect.
The people who are dying have nothing. Not even publicity that could bring more medicine, even build a hospital ship, given enough candle power. Light of that quality has a price: a dime, a dollar, a bar of gold.
It doesn’t matter how much you give; money you have sweated for and put to such a purpose is a sacrifice that is rewarded by glory. The forces that keep the universe in balance guarantee it.
Reach into your pocket and find a dime, a dollar, a bar of gold and fling it at a dragon.
For glory’s sake, please, please, HELP AIDJOY TO DELIVER THE LIGHT!
Part II. MUSIC AND MALARIA IN THE VILLAGE OF FLOWERS
I’m with AidJoy, lost in a labyrinth of Amazon waterways, looking for the Village of Flowers. I’m thinking: This is actually what it’s like to explore unknown territory. We were all but lost when the journey began.
The “Village of Flowers”, actually Villa Flor, a singular, proper noun, translates in English to “Village Flower”, a tragically ironic name for a place so sick with fever. Maybe the inhabitants meant it to be La Villa de Flores and just got tired, the way Malaria leaves the sufferer, drained, lethargic, aching all over, so that all their tongues had energy to dribble was “Villa Flor”, singular, one Village Flower, as though all the flowers but one never sprouted, or something like that.
This was three years ago, the first time I traveled with Mike Bergen and Jonathan Shanin. AidJoy didn’t even have a name yet; it was just an idea — albeit a solid one — in the minds of Mike and Jonathan.
We were two days upriver from Iquitos, Peru, in a twenty-two foot boat with one outboard engine and two fifty-five gallon barrels of gasoline. About this time yesterday afternoon, the jungle guides we depended on were as lost as we were.
Now we’re standing on a white sand beach, at the foot of a high bluff climbing to Villa Flor, the village of the one flower. A phalanx of silent indians watches from above, none of the adults are waving, none of the children rush to greet us. The air of celebration we have created in villages closer to the city is a deflated party balloon. Mike Bergen wonders aloud what’s up.
We climb to the top of the bluff, following jungle guides whom we do not completely trust.
The village is mainly a glaring, open swath of ground, the size of two football fields. The glare, the midday light feels and looks opaque, as though there are things behind it we cannot see. The open field is sparsely surrounded by thatched roof, platform houses, all of which are open, void of walls and windows, same design, same construction as in the villages all along the rivers and estuaries of the Amazon.
Villa Flor, however, is sick. Many of the villages are, one way and another. Here, the cause is Malaria. In others, polio still stalks the children. Waves of Cholera and Diphtheria swell and crash through the jungle unreported, and after a while, even unremembered by the villagers as anything very unusual.
The Indians have been dying in the Amazon in unnatural — if not genocidal — numbers for hundreds of years, ever since the Spaniards came looking for gold.
When the Conquistadors first saw the rainforest, it was alive with millions of human beings. Recent archeology in the lower reaches of the Amazon has confirmed this long held theory.
European disease decimated indian populations, a process and a crime still underway, otherwise, the rainforest and the rivers would still support multitudes.
Everywhere you look are young children, produced in such numbers because many will not survive adolescence. In Villa Flor — we later learn — the entire population of one hundred and fifty four will have Malaria at least once every year. All of which is bad enough, but then we’re told by our jungle guides that the people are deflated and silent, not because most of them are feverish today, but because they are wondering if we are the gringos who come to harvest the organs of the people?
I lack the vocabulary to express the horror of that thought, let alone the despair, which would cause an entire village, including not a few grown men and boys of fighting age, to resign themselves hopelessly, to merely stand, wondering if we are the gringos who have come to harvest their kidneys.
They are resigned because these people have been beaten over and over and over, down the generations for hundreds of years. They have died by the millions!
Nothing they might have done on the field of battle would have made any difference whatsoever, and they were fearsome warriors. Too many in number for the conquistadors to have defeated them for long with magical guns and a few fly-bitten horses.
Small Pox and Cholera, Plague and so forth and so on, and so forth and so on, made all that gold and silver so easy to take away.
And then came the rubber barons, propelled by the invention of the automobile, the demand for rubber tires, who in the early 20th Century kidnaped whole tribes, holding the women and children hostage, while the men were put into the forest with quotas of rubber to harvest, and if a man didn’t make his quota, he could choose between having his own hand cut off or that of his youngest child.
In 1920 the hunt began for the “Black Blood of the Earth”, as the Indians called crude oil. The rubber barons moved on to Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.
The Indians knew nothing of internal combustion and were useless in drilling for oil. They did not even get in the way very much. By now there were not a great many of them left living in the jungle.
The oil discovered in northern Peru turned out to be oceanic. Up the Corrientes River, it was waiting underneath the rainforest for the likes of Occidental Petroleum.
The people of Villa Flor know little or nothing of Occidental Petroleum. The Corrientes River and the oil fields, all the pollution, sickness, and death brought on by thirty-five years of careless drilling and oil extraction are far away. In Villa Flor, the people merely wonder if we three gringos have come now to harvest their kidneys. God help us!!! Mike Bergen, Jonathan Shanin and I might have been strung up for meat simply because we are white men!
But that is not the way of these kind people. Once reassured of our peaceful intent — we are here only to document how sick they are, how badly they need our help; we have no means to cure, only to bring back stories — these people take us in. The school teacher, down with Malaria, gets out of bed and organizes the children to perform with crude musical instruments and sing for us.
*Click here to hear the children singing: https://www.aidjoy.org/files/villa-flor-singing.mp3
Mike takes pictures, Jonathan interviews the village elders. The chief and his wife feed us canned spaghetti for lunch. A feast it is too, and an honor to be fed from a tin can so far removed from the so-called civilized world.
We leave Villa Flor with stories to tell, of Malaria and music and a people so resigned to the fate visited upon them for generations, they could only wonder in silence if we were the gringos . . . Or maybe that never really happens in the Amazon . . . maybe it’s only a rumor.
Part III. THE CANDLE POWER OF SACRIFICE
“Nothing big happens and nothing big changes until somebody is willing to die.”
So said Joan Baez of the war protest movement she helped to lead in the 1960’s and 70’s. Joan Baez was willing to die. It was a thing you could see in her eyes, but only if you could look in the mirror and honestly see the same thing yourself. Lots of people have it and never know it. The run of history dictates in many cases, who will discover their willingness to sacrifice everything, and then act on it. Some people come to it just because they want to, or need to, or can’t stand themselves otherwise. They look in the mirror, and if they don’t see the light of a mission-in-progress right there, all-in, all the time, for all the marbles, they don’t feel much at all, certainly not alive. They are not often happy people, not in a quiet way, they tend to be loud when celebrating, they tend to be rough in loving their lives. But that is all they care to do, love that is, whatever it is they are doing, all-in, for all the marbles.
Jonathan Shanin and Mike Bergen, the founders of AidJoy, are just that way. They generate a weird sort of candle power. Their light attracts others who are looking for purpose. For me, they have been a mostly vicarious thrill. Supporting a pair of passionate borderline lunatics who are willing to do whatever it takes to get the story, to bring back the pictures that could actually change things — that, to me, is humanitarian adventure, and I will take all of it I can get at whatever price I can currently afford. Give a dime, give a dollar, it doesn’t matter the size, it’s the candle power of the sacrifice that bounces back at you in glory.
AidJoy is on its way to a global reckoning with the future! Jonathan Shanin and Mike Bergen are young guys full of what it takes to fight it out with black blood dragons, or slip around behind those monsters, and take the picture that proves they were there, revealing something that badly needed the light of day.
Bo Bryan, for AidJoy and Project Amazonas
Right now 75% of the Peruvian Amazon is open to oil exploration and extraction.
AidJoy’s documentary journalism is a radical action. Radical enough to stop 75% percent of this rainforest from becoming a larger version of the Rio Corrientes.
Our work is made possible through individual contributions. We have $45,000 left to raise. Every donation , regardless of size, is greatly appreciated.
Please, help us reach our $10,000 goal for February.
To help, click on the “Give” button at the bottom of https://www.aidjoy.org/digital-gift.html
* We’re happy to provide you with an itemized expense sheet, just ask.
We would like to offer a special Thank You to:
* Foreign Translations for shouldering some of this media expedition’s financial burden.
* Our individual sponsors
* Members of AidJoy’s Director’s Council
* The Peruvian Embassy
Without your support this would not be possible!
Jonathan, Mike, and Jim