"Being back in Iquitos this year felt strangely like coming home"

Post by Maddy Selby

When you step off the plane in Iquitos you are immediately enveloped in what feels like a hot, humid air bath. The sun is blazing by 10 amand the heat shimmers off the jungle in waves. You must then fight your way through the crowds of mototaxi drivers waiting at the airport exit while trying to find an authorized driver who is willing to drive you into the city for the standard fee of S/. 15.

Being back in Iquitos this year felt strangely like coming home. Maybe this is because I didn’t go home beforehand, or maybe it has just become so familiar to me that I have gotten comfortable even with the stresses and discomforts that inevitably arise. I realize that I am grinning like a fool as we drive into the city despite the unregulated exhaust fumes and gritty dust blowing into my eyes and mouth.

As usual the city is brightly colored and vibrantly active, with motorcycles, mototaxis and the odd car weaving in and out of “lanes.” There is no such thing as a double yellow line here. Familiar smells fill my nose—chicha morada, pollo a la brasa (rotisserie chicken) and chifa (Peruvian-style Japanese fusion cuisine) along with the stink of the fish market and the garbage dump trucks. From one moment to the next you can go from inhaling deeply to smell the good smells and wanting to gag from the others. The noise level is incredible, with hundreds of motors running, music blasting from nearby restaurants and shops, people shouting to one another, and vendors hawking their wares.

This year there will be regional elections for the state of Loreto, which means two main things: 1) there are political slogans and pictures everywhere, usually depicting the candidate and/or their tagline as well as the symbol that is to be associated with them on the ballot (shovel, rooster, chick, map of Loreto, tree, etc.), even painted onto people’s houses and businesses and 2) there are more major public works projects going on than I have seen in the past 2 years combined, especially road repair/maintenance projects. Yawning holes are open in the middle of streets, blocked off only by wooden stick shoved haphazardly into their opening to mark them; many main roads are closed off due to these projects. It seems as though the only time that the government makes a real effort to address issues of municipal services and resources is during election season. Yet the projects are widely complained about by most Iquitos residents as being highly inconvenient. Most people recognize that they are the product of incumbents’ desire to be re-elected rather than any particular concern for the good of the people.

Sunday night is aji de gallina (shredded chicken with creamy yellow aji sauce served with yellow potatoes, rice, and the traditional garnish of ½ a hard-boiled egg and a Kalamata olive) night at Silvia’s house. We arrive at 8 pm as agreed but as usual things are running on Peruvian time so we don’t sit down to eat until around 9. Silvia’s aji de gallina is hands down the best in the world, although she will be the first to tell you it isn’t her personal favorite. However she made it for us because she knows how we love it from the past years and wishes to welcome us once more to Iquitos.

The floodwaters in Pampachica are higher than they were last year because we have come earlier, but the residents say it was not too bad this year. Yet we still need to walk on the catwalk leading into the neighborhood from the main road, and water still stands in stagnant pools in many places.

In Pasaje Ivan the new youth center is almost finished, just needs electricity and to be reinforced a little bit more to prevent water from coming in when it rains. It is great to see how far they have been able to come from last year. In El Aguaje, the frame for the new center is standing next to Albert’s house, and we are getting up at 5 tomorrow morning to help them with their minga, or collective action, moving all the building supplies down from the 2nd floor where they have been stored for the rainy season to prevent them from warping. After that, we will be going with Reyna to Santa Rita, the same village we went to last year, to celebrate the village’s anniversary.

We have been able to get the class schedules for both Colegio Micaela and Colegio Tupac Amaru and have begun interviewing administrators. We will begin participant observation this Monday in both schools as well as interviews with teachers. We are also in the process of communicating with the regional board of education for Loreto to get any statistical reports they may have on the region and Iquitos.


  1. Mads, I love the way you write!
    Question -- what are your interview questions this year?? I'm trying to figure out what point we're at with the research project.

    Eat some extta aji de gallina for me! It sounds delicious =D

    1. From our GROW Interns: "Here's the most organized list of questions we have in English. The questions were organized further and separated into quantitative and qualitative info. The quantitative questions have already been submitted to the schools, and we'll be getting stats back from one school today. The interview questions are still in the works, and we're still waiting to hear back about when we can conduct the interviews."
      How much does it cost to go to private/public school? University/technical institute? Is the cost broken down by semester, month, or year?
      -What kinds of financial aid is available, if any? Is it merit or need based/how can students access it?
      -What kinds of technological resources (i.e. computer literacy classes, access to the Web and computers in school) are offered by private vs. public schools? University/tech?
      -What are the graduation rates recorded by the schools?
      -What are the GPAs of graduating students from each school/ is this information kept track of?
      -Are students in the grade levels that correspond to their ages?
      - What other kinds of information do the schools keep track of?
      -Are attendance rates recorded?
      -Are drop out rates recorded? Reason for the drop out?
      - Retention rates? Standardized tests? Scores? Comparison with the national average?
      - How many of your students go on to higher edu?
      - Retention rate of teachers?
      - What are the qualifications for teaching secondary school?
      - What mechanisms are used to evaluate teachers?
      - -What are the average class sizes in secondary public/private schools? Universities? Technical institutions?
      What subjects are taught for each grade? Sample curricula from secondary schools would be ideal
      -Student-Teacher Dynamics: characterizing the relationships between students and their teachers in public vs. private schools and institutions
      Are there after school programs and activities offered?
      What are homework assignments like? What kinds of resources/technology are students expected to have access to to successfully complete assignments? Are these resources accessible to stuAz
      dents at school? How are assignments recorded?
      What is the exam schedule like? Are exams kept on file? Can we have them?
      - Are parents notified by the school when their student(s) are absent from classes?
      - Are parents notified by the school when students are not performing well in classes?
      - Are there parent-teacher-student meetings?
      - If a child has disciplinary problems in school how is this communicated to the family?
      How are disciplinary problems dealt with in general?
      What’s the attendance policy?
      When do students eat? Is food provided? Is there a free/reduced cost food program?
      What mechanisms/resources do you have to help your students find jobs or go on to higher education after finishing? Guidance counselors? Internships? Test preparation? Etc?

  2. Sweet, thanks so much Joanna! It sound great =D