I was sitting this morning with my back against a vine lined wall eating rice and a hard-boiled egg, and looking around the streets of Iquitos thinking what a cartoon it has turned into in five years. Five years ago, a computer revolution created the first consciousness in this river locked rainforest port. The prior citizens had no inkling of space or time and existed in the present. The computers provided a model for thinking, which everyone quickly absorbed, so now the people can think and to a degree analyze.
Concurrently – and who’s to say if the egg or chicken came first – an economic boom from gold, ayahuasca tourism, and improved conditions, has changed the city landscape. Five years ago, there were no motorcycles, and now there are tens of thousands. Now the citizens wear western clothes instead of rags. Tourists find the girls don’t chase them as far for favors.
The origin of consciousness and the tide of money has come too fast and turned the town into a cartoon. The citizens have ballooned in weight, without stop signs there are continual motorbike crashes at intersections, the money has bought plastic junk for Christmas presents, and aguadiente, which is the local cane alcohol, flows in the streets like the adjacent Rio Amazon.
It’s like living in a bubble, and the closest sensation is a psych ward. When i got certified as a psych tech and began working the bins, i found the psychology/psychiatry industry is the saddest, most perilous form of capitalism on earth. It’s the only place where one’s consciousness may be obliterated by idiots overnight. Keep those pills close to your gums and don’t swallow.
A dwarfish man walked up full of aguadiente and holiday cheer. I smiled back, but he continued to stand with his large feet nearly on mine. After a minute, I waved him along with a spoon and he reached out to grab and shake my hand. This is custom: a friendly local grasps and pumps a tourist’s hand…and won’t let go. The grasp of a jungle born and bred Amazonian is stronger than the Olympic champion wrestlers I’ve known. Then this man started waving his oversize palm in my face. I replied casually, ‘If you don’t continue down the sidewalk, I am going to rise and push you.’ He edged in, hovered his hand over my plate and the hard-boiled egg rolled down the sidewalk instead.
I grabbed his wrist rising simultaneously and twisted his arm behind his back. It requires two hands to pin it against his spine because their muscles are so strong the arm springs back. I wrapped him up like a Noel gift and marched him down the sidewalk toward a police substation. We ducked under a street vendor tarp knocking our heads on pots and pans before the man twisted his face around to mine and pleaded, ‘Anything but the police!’ for they would beat him. His body tautened in fear and the pinned arm popped out flinging me into the vine wall, as four swat team policemen hemmed us in.
‘I was eating breakfast,’ I explained, pointing to the squashed egg under my right shoe, ‘and he wouldn’t leave me alone. But it’s Christmas, and everything is peaceful now.’ They pushed him down the sidewalk, and that was his Christmas present.