A librarian in Galápagos (VII)

Chapter VII. Little stories from a southern horizon

Being a librarian in the South is much more than dealing with budgets, collections and patrons. In my opinion, a library is that particular place where the meeting between knowledge and people happens. And, in the South, that can happens in a lot of spots — from a peasant backyard in a rural community to a boat in the Orinoco, on a bike in the forgotten neighborhood of a big city, or by the side of a box carried by a donkey up in the Andes.

Being a librarian in the South means that I have to know my community first. And when getting acquainted with that community (and its environment), I’ve got into contact with countless amazing, astonishing, funny stories. Most of them are collected in my diaries. And here I’ll share some. Because, as I said, that’s also part of a librarian’s job. The most human part of it, actually.

Colombia highlands. © Edgardo Civallero.

A plane’s horn

Wednesday, September 26

Cristina told it to me in Bogotá, while sitting at the best table of a well-known brewery called La Ventana — a table that allowed me to look out through “the window” that gives the place its name, and let me observe downtown’s busy life at the intersection of 19th street and 3rd avenue.

Cristina told it to me, I was saying, and she did that after drinking only two beers — a fact that made it hard for me to question her credibility.

(At least in Latin America, bar’s conversations are not measured in minutes or hours, but by the amount of alcohol ingested, which is what usually defines the reliability of what is said).

“The plane honked”, she said.

She was talking about a cargo plane she had to board while traveling to one of her destinations as a librarian in the Colombian Amazon. I twisted my lips. My first thought was that she was just joking. Not a kind thing to do, by the way.

“Honked…?” I repeated, almost mechanically. “You mean honking… a horn, like cars do…?” I asked, trying to make sure that we were indeed talking about the same sound phenomenon.

“Uh-huh,” she nodded — and sipped her blonde wheat beer as she peered at me over the rim of the glass. I twisted my lips even more and kept thinking that the girl was simply trying to pull my leg — again, not a kind thing to do. And I was about to ask her if the plane’s honking was due to the traffic light turning green and the airplane in front of it not moving. But I preferred not to. The story could be true.

And it was. “In Colombia, magic realism has no need of the ‘magic’ qualifier” said Sandra, next to me. “It is just realism”.

I laughed out loud. It was impossible not to. I told them that in my homeland, Argentina, when we wanted to say that something is really useless, we used to compare it to a deaf man’s ear, a motorcycle’s ashtray, or an airplane’s horn. “As useless as a plane’s horn”, we said. Well, not anymore. I had to find a proper substitute. Tarzan’s tailor, maybe?

It was at that table, after two beers (to which some more would be added later), when I remembered one of the reasons why I like to keep a diary in my continent: to collect all those fragments of Latin American “magical realism” which don’t need the “magic” adjective.

Fragments like the honking of those planes crossing the skies of the Colombian lowlands. Horns that sound to scare away flocks of toucans, or to alert silly Parisian storks — those carrying babies to the many towns hidden among the green of the Amazon rain forests.

Playa Mansa, Santa Cruz Island. © Edgardo Civallero.


Sunday, June 17

I had just kayaked a large part of the bay that makes up Playa Mansa, there in Tortuga Bay, near Puerto Ayora. In southern Santa Cruz Island. In Galapagos.

It was a long trip. I stopped by the mangroves on the left shore to take a look at the birds resting on the branches, and to delight myself with the interweaving of the trees’ roots. Those roots always strike me as the design of a master goldsmith, or of an old Irish illuminator of medieval manuscripts. I also stopped in the middle of the bay when I began spotting the huge heads of several green turtles that came out to breathe and, incidentally, to take a look at me, there, all alone, riding that ridiculous piece of yellow plastic.

It was at one of those stops when I heard a screeching noise, as if a huge sandpaper was being rubbed against the side of my boat. When I looked out, I saw a two-foot fin emerge from the water and, soon after, a tail.

Both belonged to a good-sized Galapagos shark, which had apparently chosen my kayak to scratch his back. And to freeze all the blood in my body.

That was how I found out that sharks scare the s*** out of me.

Mural in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island. © Edgardo Civallero.


Sunday, May 27

I see the “Lost” sign glued on a wooden light pole, while going up to the community market in Puerto Ayora to buy some fruit. It is a sign with the picture of a kitten in it.

I know it, that small furry ball. I’ve seen those black spots on a fluffy white background before.

Its name’s Mip, and yes, of course I’ve seen it. It’s the cat of the lady working at the laundry, just there on the corner. I have spoken to it, I have even made the fruitless attempt to play with it. But it is too young, too little, and it is always running, hiding, and fooling around.

Now its owner is looking for it. It seems it got lost last Friday. And since the female cats surrounding my house are noticeably in heat, I assume Mip will have gone after one of them. It is young… but maybe not that much.

Besides being always saddened by those “lost pets” signs — those calls for help from people looking for their beloved companions — , I am struck by the name of the little one. Mip. Where does it come from? I assume an exotic origin, from an indigenous language of the Ecuadorian lowlands. Shuar, maybe?

The lady is sweeping the sidewalk in front of the laundry when I walk by. I ask about the kitten, but it still didn’t appear. And I take the opportunity to solve my doubt: what does “Mip” mean?

Almost ceremoniously, the woman answers:

“Manejo Integrado de Plagas”. Spanish for “Integrated pest management”.



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