What follows are the reflections of Gil Inoach, Awajun, lawyer and former president of AIDESEP, Peru’s national Amazonian indigenous organisation, on voluntary isolation from disease when he was a boy growing up in an Amazon indigenous community and obligatory isolation today in the city.
23 March, 2020. It is the second time that I have experienced quarantine in my life. The first time was when I was seven years old with a measles alert. My parents took me into the forest to a nice place. We camped by the river with relatives who had followed my father. It was really impressive to see how they brought food to the camp and there was no lack of fish and meat from the bush. The landscape was full of fauna with jaguars roaring half a kilometer away, the children playing in the scree and delighting in the clear waters of the Yurapaga river, the celestial sky in the day and at night the stars that seemed to touch your nose. Ohhh. All a joy, but also a great school, because one learned to catch cashca from the rocks that sank into the greenery of the deep waters. We had beautiful moments.
45 years later, now in Lima, locked in quarantine, but nothing to see compared to that first flight. Here, enclosed in four walls, with few things to entertain; continue working with the help of communications technology through my laptop, reading, watching news and – sometimes – a few movies; but it doesn’t go any further. All this in a landscape of domestic life where you only have a living room, dining room, kitchen and bedroom and go out two blocks to buy something to eat. At night, I cannot go beyond the threshold of the door. It all comes down to a virtual jail. The decision is to stay home and take care of ourselves, because it is for the good of oneself and the community. I am not complaining about this, but how diametrically opposed and different is the freedom that the jungle offers you to continue enjoying it, walking for miles while you wait for the coronavirus to pass.
If the measure is extreme, I think that the city can no longer endure more isolation, especially when there is no more money with which to continue buying food. Although for a few this will not be a problem because, working from home, they can continue to earn an income. For many of us who work independently, things are going to be painful. In contrast, the quarantine in the jungle is different, because there the negative impacts of the economy are not going to be felt almost at all compared to the financial crisis that the world may experience. Experts say that the coronavirus will weaken the world economy and lower the GDP. This can critically hit one’s pocket book. Even if things do not reach this extreme, once again the lesson I draw is that – with more reason – the first nations must protect and safeguard that great pantry that serves us all, translated into forests, rivers, wetlands, fauna and biodiversity.
The indigenous communities are cataloged as being extremely poor but, when it comes down to it, living and facing any crisis from our territory is a thousand times more vital than waiting for health within four walls, where you can’t run anymore. If you go out, you are classified as irresponsible. Instead, the jungle and life in the community landscape gives you freedom. One more reason to die of old age in my territory in the hope that the coronavirus does not reach us.