The Joys of New

Posted: August 1, 2013

The grilled suri are delicious, it turns out. I had avoided the suri during the 12 years I have been working in Peru. I claimed to draw the line at monkey, but I found myself refusing offers to enjoy the larval stages of insects, too. I am shameless in my pursuit of chupetes (fruit popsicles) de ungurahui and aguaje (two palm species) on the streets of Iquitos, Puerto Maldonado, and even Lima. The patarashca (fish wrapped in leaf and grilled) and lomo saltado (“jumped” beef on rice) served for lunch make me happy. But it turns out that the suri is delicious. This is a hard-working larva that dutifully decomposes the mature aguaje palm trunk. Toasting on the grill beside the sweet plantains and river fish, the suri has been transformed to a tasty non-timber forest product and source of income for rural residents.

The best part of being on the program development team in Peru is that it is in a country that I know and love. I am intimately familiar with the forestry and farming systems of smallholder rural residents in the Amazon region of Peru. I know—I am certain—that once students who participate in the SFS Peru program on Biodiversity and Development in the Amazon take their first walk in the rainforest, when they enjoy a carambola or taperiba fruit from a farmer’s agroforestry system, or when they first see the expanse of a jaguar footprint on the trail they will be hooked. Hooked on Amazonia.

New program development is at once exciting and maddening. The exciting part is the process of imagining how the SFS program model will work in this new place—a new social, political, economic, cultural, and natural environment. The maddening part is trying to focus that imagination so we emerge with a cohesive curriculum, centered on an exciting theme, and a program that blends academic inquiry into the social and natural sciences with meaningful community engagement, opportunities for group development, and space for student reflection.

There is so much to do, so much potential; so many communities, ecosystems, species, and issues that we could address. We ask ourselves, what do students need to know about this place in order to gain an appreciation for the complexity of the socio-ecological system, yet understand enough to draw meaningful conclusions?

Join us in the field in September 2014 to discover Peru, and yourself.