An Encounter with a Shipibo Girl in the Amazon

While walking at dusk behind my hut in the Amazon, I ran into a little girl I knew crossing the grass , naked, with a towel in her hand, and I said, "what are you doing" sin vestidos? ? She said, "I am going to wash myself! "


"Aqui!" she pointed with a confident finger at a plank near a spigot where her mother washed bowls.

"And soap?"

She pointed at a hut way off, so I went to the hut to go get the soap for her, while she waited on the plank.

"Lista? Te ayudo?"

"Si!" She giggled as I soaped her little feet, lifting one after another, inbetween her toes, her squiggly back and her scrunched up little face.

Her job was to scoop water over her head. 'Are you sure this is big enough for you?' I asked as she chose her scooping instrument--a coffee cup! Si, si! And then squealed in giggles as I took over the scooping over her soaped head: "Otra vez!"

I became a little jealous of how clean and sparkling she was, and asked her if SHE would help me now wash my hair, and she did! She soaped my head with little fingers, and poured coffee cups of water over my head and back, squealing each time I got wet, while her mother behind us laughed and boiled chickens (more free range than this you can't get) for our soup!

This is the same Shipibo child who the first day I arrived, woke me in the hammock where I was sleeping, with a little hug, so I gave her the wrapped package of food from the airline I had taken to give to anyone I met who might be hungry.

"Que es?" she said, excited.

"Pan," I said, a bit embarrassed about the predictable disappointment (I too had been disappointed when the stewardess gave it to me).

"Pan!" she said. "Pan con que??"

"Pan con nada," I said. Just plain boring bread.

"Pan con nada! Pero pan con mantequilla es bueno!"

"No hay. This is bread with bread."

"Y pan con jambon es bueno!"

« No hay. »

« Y tambien, pan con queso (cheese) es bueno ! »

She went on in singsong, pan con marmelada, pan con pollo, pan con .... while I went off to see her grandfather.

So after our baths, she took my hand in her firm one and led me to her "house", a clean as a whistle shack she shared with her parents--"I sleep here (big bed) and they sleep there (on the floor!)", and she cuddled next to me on her "bed"--me feeling like a wise old grandmother-- as we watched dancing men on a small tv set, a station she said came all the way from Spain, as "they spoke different."

"Come!" she suddenly said, getting up. "I want to now go to the place where YOU sleep. You can read me a cuenta!"

"Do you have a book?" I said, knowing that she had none, as I had asked her before, telling her that all little girls should read books.

"No tengo!" she said. "You?"

"No tengo," I said. "But maybe we ask the Japanese girl."

She led me with her little hand up the rocks in the dark towards my shack, where the Japanese girl was under her mosquito net with a flashlight.

"Do you have book?" I asked her.

She only had her Japanese picture grammar book of Spanish, and I thought, this will have to do. So, using the light from my computer (it was dark), I sat the little girl on the bed and made up stories using the random pictures of animated cartoons next to the "verb conjugations": stories about four people stuck under the ice in a mountain, who had to ask a passing bird for a flight (this from four little drawings of Mexican men), and about a mother with her green child who did not like being green.


"Read me this one too!" she said, cuddling close--and pointing to the conjugation of "hacer."

"No, I am tired. YOU read me this one!"

So she made up a story about people being stuck in a strange sky, with all sorts of obstacles, very similar to the ones I had had in my stories, and she did a good job of having them all escape.

Now, what else does one do to entertain a little girl?

"Photos!" I said. "Do you want to see photos of all the countries I have been to?"


So I showed her Egypt and Turkey and India....and she said, "why do you have so MANY houses?" and I said, they are not houses, but rooms I live in from time to time. And then she said, looking at the other tourists on the boats or in the dinner parties, "are these your primos (cousins)", and I said no, and then she would ask, but where is your own home and where are your parents?

She was a smart little girl--only age six--asking me where my country was, what color people were, why Muslim women had to wear veils, and who had "taught" me to smoke, and I said, good question, maybe friends.

She really liked the animals from Kenya, and asked each time if the animal was "comida" for the lions, and I said, they are ALL "comida" for the lions.


And she squealed each time she saw my little stuffed cow. "He is always with you!" she said. And then, when she saw him with his fellow cows in Kenya, she giggled and said, "Tu vaquita!""

"Time for little girls to go to bed!" I said, scooping her up in giggles.

She turned seriously to me. "Can you take me too on your travels? Can you take me to all your quartos? A very bonito quarto! One that is lindo, lindo."

She was the FIRST person who ever asked to travel with me!

"OF course," I said. "Tomorrow I ask your mother."

"WHEN will you take me?"

I paused. "In a couple years," I said.

We shook hands.

"And will you introduce me to your vaquita?!"


She lit up in a big happy squeal of giggles.

Note: Just asked her mother (boiling soup!) if I could take the little girl and she laughed and said, "Si! Llevala!"