Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Learning to Win and Lose

Well, Madeleina came home from the regionals in extemporaneous debate yesterday and boy was she pissed off. The job was to take three or four poems, weave parts of them into one piece, read it and then be able to debate about the value of the pieces, the reason for your selections and so forth. Well, she went with the Beat Poets, which was a good choice because I have some of their books around. And she came up with a great piece which she could read very well.
    So she got picked to head to what I think are the regionals--kids were coming in from a few different counties, it looked like, and if it all went well she would have moved on to State--which is apparently a big deal here in Texas, though I don't remember even having it in New York when I was a kid in the last century.
    Evidenty she did fantastically at the reading and was held over to debate her choices. She didn't fare well there and did not make State. She said that her debate judges included a school bus driver and someone else not involved in teaching, and then one debate teacher. I think that's what she said. And the three of them, while saying they loved her reading, said the Beat poets had no value, no impact, and so were a very bad choice on her part.
   She took umbrage at that.
   They were lucky that's all she took.
   "Dad, excuse me but they were out of their flipping minds. Not important? Howl by Ginsberg is not important? Kerouac is not important? Dad! They were the social voice of the day! They were the white counter part of the civil rights movement! Ginsberg declared war on those who put down gays! They demanded the right to speak their minds in public and were willing to go to jail, like Lenny Bruce, for that! Not important! God, this is the worst day of my life!"
    They were wrong and she was right, of course. The Beats were very important. But maybe not out here in bucolic Joshua, Texas. Maybe out here they're considered as valueless as hippies and the Occupy Wall Streeters and the like.
    I tried to console her with the thought that she's still going to State as a solo flutist and as part of an ensemble. Not bad.
    She wasn't buying it. "Dad, they took some kid who read Christian poetry over me! God, I hate them!"
    She's got a point. But then, this is Texas. And learning to lose with grace, even if you're cheated sometimes, is an important lesson in life. Learning to lose isn't a good lesson by itself, of course, but learning how some people will cheat you out of what is rightfully yours--and figuring out how to make that not happen next time, how to keep standing up for yourself--well, that's important. Winning is great, but losing is where the real lessons are.

Monday, March 24, 2014

This House is Fallng Apart....

Pretty much my favorite song is "This house is falling apart" and I have no idea who does it. But the singer talks of the house where he/she lived/loved/rattled this town. What a freaking house! They're gonna rattle this ghost town even though their house is falling apart. Now that's something special.
    And my house is falling apart. The damned water pipe is leaking again, as I've noted, and today I went and bought rope to make the tree swings work again but I can no longer climb the tree to put it in place so I had to call Italo to ask for help. And then I had to call Marco to help with the damned leaking water pipe since I don't really want to put my leg in that shit. I felt like a sissy but justified it by putting a lot of hot sausage/peppers/onions/garlic on the stove to go with a nice marinara and mozzarella on hot Italian sandwiches and made several pounds of good chicken thighs to take home to their places.
   Then they both showed up, like the freaking mafia, sunglasses, radiant shirts, tough guys and I was just about crying because  I'm such a sissy and it was so nice that they came to fix things and they're at the store now buying parts and I'm sitting here just sobbing from loving them and how cool they have turned out. You guys are fantastic! Thanks for being my kids, kids. We fight, you two fight, but right now, right this minute, you have more love coming your way than you can imagine. Share it. I love you guys.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Abundance of Ayahuasca and Admixture Plants

Someone has been writing me private notes saying they want to move to the Amazon to study ayahuasca. Their enthusiasm outreaches their experience, so I suggested spending a month or two in the jungle--they want to live away from people, alone in the jungle--before they sell everything they have and move there. I was being nice, because the jungle doesn't accept everyone. The bugs are difficult to deal with. The work, so easy for people who were born to it, is nearly impossible for Westerners to learn to do. Simple things like carrying water, making a dugout canoe, building a house when you don't know what kind of trees will stay strong and not rot in six months; weaving leaf-roof sections and all that jazz. Sure, if you go in with lots of money you can get it done--and people do, though most discover they didn't even know how to hire the right people and so everything falls apart the first time or two. Like a lot of things, experience counts. Imagination is wonderful when grounded in a bit of reality.
    So the most recent letter from this person thanked me for explaining that you can't just grow a garden in the jungle. Some jungle will grow plantains and yucca; the neighbors' land, just 500 feet away, might grow wonderful peppers and cilantro but won't grow a plantain at all. The next neighbor over might be able to grow corn and papaya but nothing else. Depends the nutrients in the soil and a host of other things and those might well depend on the high water season of rushing river depositing topsoil on your property.
   But the fellow also suggested that at least ayahuasca and chacruna--the two key ingredients for making the jungle medicine--grow in abundance, as did the admixture plants. I was forced to respond and here it is:
Dear X: Actually, no, ayahuasca and chacruna and the admixture plants do not grow in abundance everywhere. And they take a long time to grow and they have been way, way over harvested in the last several years. Used to be, a curandero on a river might have five mature vines; when he cut some from one, he or she always left the roots, sang to it, smoked mapacho to thank it, then planted one or two sections of what he or she had cut to insure that more would grow--even if that growth was going to take several years.
    These days, some camps are indiscriminately asking people like the members of my team to go get them 100 sacks of vine--and that might have been every vine including roots, of every ayahuasca plant on an entire river. So no, things are not good that way.
    Over the years I've planted hundreds; most have been stolen by people collecting for the big camps or internet sellers. They are the only ones looking for that volume.
    Remember that traditionally, only the curandero drank, not the people at the ceremony, so a few good vines could be used for years. Once you have 30 people drinking nightly at each of 100 camps, plus 10 times that many drinking in the US alone every night--well, you're cutting very deeply into the supply of something that takes years and special conditions to grow. And since typical admixture barks, lupuna negro and catawa, for instance, are trees coveted by lumber men, well, they are getting in short supply as well.
   It's not a disaster yet, but in five years if things continue as they are, it certainly could be. In 10 years, it will be. Where we used to routinely use vines that were 1 1/2 inches or two inches thick, many people are now using vines that are 1/2 inch thick. Those are too young to have learned very much. They need more seasoning to be great medicines. But the demand is there and people who dream of having an Ipod will cut every specimen down if they think they'll earn enough money to buy one. That's just the way it is, not just in the Amazon, but everywhere. In the Amazon, though, the balance tends to be a little more delicate and so needs more care and attention to keep it from becoming something awful.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Our House

I stumbled on a beautiful website today--maybe while reading Huffington Post--devoted to beautiful homes. Some of the 57 homes pictured were on ocean coasts; some were on rivers; some were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. A couple were built as replicas of small castles; one was a really gorgeous log cabin on a river. A lot of them had fantastic pools or moats; some had bowling alleys or two-story libraries. These were beautiful homes. Look at any one of them and you could picture yourself living there in bliss forever. Just fantastic architecture, fantastic settings, thrilling designs.
    My house sprung a new leak in the water pipe last night. It's the second leak in three months. The first came about when the crew building the new road in front of my house moved the water meter in the ground with a Bobcat, breaking the line. I have not figured out why the new leak happened, but it left us with filling up a couple of 5 gallon pots with water for cooking/dish washing, and filling the tub with water to flush the toilet. I'll fix it tomorrow, but today I had to work on a story so couldn't.
    A few years ago a leak in our hot water heater went unnoticed for a week or 10 days and that put so much water under the house that the cinderblock foundation re-settled which sort of bent the beams which threw the whole house out of whack. That caused cracks in the roof and the kitchen floor, which led to rain coming in and dripping on my desk on heavy rain days and led to spaces between the kitchen floor tiles. It also almost dropped the pantry--where we have the washer/dryer/tools/junk--right off the house. That's now held onto the main structure by duct tape and a couple of well-placed beams to keep it from falling. The bend in the beam also caused the bathroom to move on angle. Not pretty.
   So I was looking at those houses and they were fantastic. And I remembered being invited to a house in Connecticut some years ago that was owned by the wife of the Russian media magnate--in prison at the time--which was a real castle and worth something like $40 million with another $10-$20 million in paintings and furnishings. And they were gorgeous. I'd like one.
   But you know what? I'll take my broken down house with the drip on my desk from heavy rains over all of them. Know why? Cause this is where my family laughs. And yeah, you all know my family is as broken as my house, but still, they all come over sometimes and we laugh and dance and paint and watch tv and eat like pigs and I just don't think there's a better house in the whole world than mine. Even though, I realize, nobody's ever gonna put me on a website devoted to gorgeous houses.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Madeleina as Guardian Angel

So I was cooking dinner--a simple rice/chopped meat/garlic/onion/zuccini/red pepper/yellow squash/spinach/achote/white vinegar/good sharp minced cheddar/cilantro mix stuffed into poblano peppers--when the phone rang. Madeleina answered and jumped for joy when it turned out to be Aruba--our friend Otmar--on the other end of the line, checking in. I heard Madeleina's answers and realized he was asking about my leg: "Well, if you didn't know anything you'd think he's got a piece of rotten jerkey below his knee, but actually it's pretty good compared to what it was."
    Then I heard her say: "No, you can't do that. You can't even mention that. No way."
    A minute later: "All we need is you to call once a year so we know you're okay; nothing more, and I mean it."
    And so on, until she passed the phone to me.
    Otmar, who calls me Uncle Peter and has been on one of my trips and has met me in the jungle several times, told me about his new girlfriend, about planning to see me in July when I'm in Iquitos and so forth, and then we hung up.
    After we hung up, I called to Madeleina, in the other living room, around the bend in the kitchen, and asked: "Madeleina, did Otmar say he wanted to send us money because of my leg?"
    "Yeah, dad."
    "And you told him no, right?"
    "Of course, dad."
    I hesitated, then said, "Well, there's 72 percent of me that adores you for knowing the right thing to do. But then there's 28 percent of me that hates you for turning down free dough!"
    "You couldn't do it, dad."
    "I know, but I could have had a moment to consider it before saying no, couldn't I?"
    "No dad. Better to get temptation out of sight immediately. That way you can't fail yourself. And you're weak. You might have given in. I had to save you."
    That's my baby. That's my Madeleina. That's my girl."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Something I just found and I think it's worth sharing

So I went to an ayahuasca board on which I occasionally post and found an interesting topic and saw that I'd posted there a year ago. Surprised me. It was a discussion of whether organized retreats in Peru were better than simply arriving on your own and trying to find a healer. Well, the conversation disintegrated over the course of 150 responses until it kind of became an argument of "at what point are  you ripping off locals?" That's when I interjected my comments, which didn't fill the bill exactly, but gave an indication of where you're ripping the locals off. I used the metaphor of the indigenous Shipibo who sell the most beautiful woven telas, cloths. They take a long time to make and I'm always upset when gringos chew them down in price to the point where the work that went into them is nowhere near getting paid for. So this was my comment and I'm sticking to it.

Someone here is talking about the price of a Shipibo skirt in Pucallpa versus the skirt in Iquitos. I would say that if the skirt took two weeks to weave, you should pay the person 10 days wages--at 20 soles per day, plus one meal a day, the minimum wage in Peru--so that would come to 200 soles and 10 meals at, let's say, 3.5 soles each, or 235 soles.
That's the minimum for two weeks work.
Now to ship that skirt to Iquitos will cost 5 soles. To have someone pick it up at the port at 3 AM will cost 5 soles. The cargondero who carries the box of skirts will charge 5 soles, to that's, let's say, 1/2 sole.
The woman in Iquitos selling her sister's skirt will walk around, with her two kids, for a day/two days, before she sells it. So add another 40 soles, plus meals for the woman and kids--just one a day at 3.5 soles, or, let's say 10 soles.
So we've got 235 soles, plus 10.5 soles, plus 50 soles. That's 295.50 soles. So then they offer the product for 180 and idiot gringos, looking at three weeks of work, chew them down to 70. The 180 came to about 65 dollars for something you will cherish for the entire time you are alive. Why on earth would you back them down to the wall of desperation? The number they will accept but which will force them to email their sister in Pucallpa and explain that they got ripped off and therefore the sister won't get any money for her two weeks of work or the 40 soles of material and thread she put into the piece?
On my trips there are four rules.
1) you ask for cocaine, talk about cocaine, you're off the trip and forfeit all your money.
2) No complaining. If you complain you are off the trip. You do have the right to punch me as hard as you want between the elbow and shoulder to get my attention, but the minute you complain about anything vocally, you forfeit your trip.
3) No sex with anything, anyone under 18. In Peru, as a lot of people know, courtship lasts about 1/2 bottle of beer. But if you take that chicken home, you had better be able to show me a birth certificate of 18 years old or you forfeit your money.
4) No bartering with Shipibo women. You may barter, but only under the awareness that you will promise to pay double what they asked when you finish. So if they start at 180 soles, and you get them down to 90--and that gets your rocks off, fine, but then you have to pay 360, to ensure that the woman and her children and the sister who made the tela--the fancy woven cloth--will actually all have enough to eat. Break the rule and you forfeit your trip money. All of it.
I think those are good rules. I've tossed probably 10 percent of my guests off the trip over the years, like one per trip or two, for breaking the rules. Are they surprised? You betcha. Do they learn to come and ask how they should really behave? You betcha.
We take care of people, we don't steal from them just because we can. And I think that's found somewhere in the golden rule....unless I'm mistaken.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Once More on the Keystone Pipeline

Well, a friend of mine posts a lot of stuff on facebook meant to push my buttons--and he's very good at it--he recently posted a poster of Obama's scandals, nearly none of which hold even a drop of water; a poster that said something along the lines of "Welfare was never meant to be a career decision"; another that said something like: "Stocking shelves, flipping burgers and washing cars were never supposed to support a family. Some people get it, some don't. A lot don't."
    Anyway, he knows I want to strangle him because he's supposed to be really smart, and he is, but he's not intelligent. He wallows in Rush and thinks Sarah Pallin is a real politician with good ideas. And he thinks Barack Obama is Black! Yikes!!!!
    Today he posted on the Keystone pipeline. Now, I am a journalist and I try to remain neutral so that I can see both sides or all nine sides of a nonagon.

This afternoon's nonsense from my friend included this:
Obama continues to delay a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline -- or perhaps his reticence is his decision. Maybe it's because he's dedicated to a different type of drilling. So typical of liberal progressives to shun an evident means to promote our energy and national security. 
He went on to rant on something completely different that I did not address. But I did address his opening comment. Here's what I wrote:

Well, with TransCanada's own company doing the supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) and still saying it sucks, and with TransCanada currently claiming, in the environmental report, that there will be 35 permanent jobs--all going to Canadians--and then what with the southern leg completed now and not having produced a single job for anyone who was not already working, and with all of the tar sands oil--some of which we in the US now use--being shipped to China and Japan and Korea, which will raise the price of domestic crude by maybe $0.15-$0.40 per gallon, well, I'm not sure why you think this will promote our energy or national security.
     I'm not seeing the upside in any direction. And remember, I've talked with and printed interviews with TransCanada's spokespeople, and I've read the 44 page summary of the SEIS several times and talked with the pipe layers and the Chinese making the pipe that's shipped to Canada and then brought to the US for trimming--and then being called US pipe. But I can't seem to find an upside: No tax on the bitumen because it's going to the international freeport of Port Arthur, no jobs beyond guys already working being diverted to the pipeline for a year or two, no permanent jobs except for the HAZMAT people who will clean up the messes; southern line had more than 47 percent of its welds having to be redone, no oil for the US. Just exactly what's in this for us in the US? I'm serious. What do you think is the upside?

Saturday, March 08, 2014

So Today I Performed a Wedding

Every now and then I'm asked to be a minister who marries people. Maybe three or four or five times so far, not often. And each time I'm asked I try to think of something different, something cool to say to the people getting married. It leaves me a wreak.
    Today I was marrying my cuñada, my sister-in-law, to a guy she's crazy about but whom I've never met. I haven't been with my wife/ex-wife's side of the family much in the last 18 months, not since Chepa's boyfriend moved into her house. He's okay, I guess, probably very nice, but I just don't feel like partying much with him.
    So I tried to cop out of doing the Universalist Life Church Minister thing today but no one would hear it. Amelia wanted me to do the ceremony, period.
    So I got back from Peru last week. And in the last week I wrote the Forward to a friend's book, went to truancy court with Madeleina, scrubbed the kitchen and bathroom floors, scrubbed the tub, took the garbage to the dump, vacuumed like a wildman, cooked like crazy, scrubbed the fridge, dealt with the company building the road out front of the house about the watermain--mine--that they broke, started a feature story for the Fort Worth Weekly that's due on Friday and did a zillion other things.
    But yesterday was the day I had to sit down and write what I was going to say at the wedding. And I did and it came out nicely. At the risk of boring you all to tears, this was a part of me that came from my heart--not because I've ever been a good husband. I was rotten to Clare and lousy to Chepa; but I have learned. I've learned what not to do if I ever get another chance with either of those or someone else. So I think my preamble was nice. Here it is. I improvised off this script but this is the gist of it.

Dear friends and family, we are gathered here today to witness the the marriage of my cuñada, sister-in-law, and friend, Amelia Aguliar to David Leiter, a man she tells me she loves very much.
And I’ve been asked to say a few words about marriage and love and I’m happy to do that, though god knows why someone would ask me!
I think love is a great spark with which to light the fire of marriage.
But I think that marriage itself takes more than love.
It takes work,
It takes confidence,
It takes trust,
It takes respect,
It takes generosity of spirit.
If your partner, for instance, comes up with a cockamamie idea for a color to paint a room, do you  say that’s a rotten idea and call them stupid, knowing you’ll hurt your partner’s feelings? Or would you rather encourage your partner with love, have confidence that your partner has an idea, trust that his or her idea seems a good one to them and then, with a generosity of spirit, allow them, help them even, find that color and paint that room.
You can always repaint it if it comes out as badly as you thought it would. But you can’t always take back the erosion of love that can be caused by stomping your feet and telling your partner that their idea was stupid to begin with.

The thing is this: Love and marriage both require constant care—picture your love like a garden: You need to weed it; to water it, to fertilize it, to care for it, to nuture it. You can’t just plant a seed or a million seeds and walk away: if you do, when you come back you might find that the birds ate all your seeds and your garden is fallow; or it might be overgrown with weeds. Or the neighborhood kids used it for a party and left beer bottles and other garbage all over it. Whatever the case, what I can promise you is that it won’t be a garden anymore.
Same with love and marriage. So take the seeds of love and make your marriage something you’re proud to be part of. Something you like tending. Something you love to nuture. Make it beautiful—and when hard times come, and they come to all of us, remember to work gladly, to have confidence, to trust your partner, to respect their needs and wishes, and to never stop giving joyfully the generosity of your spirit. If you can do that, you have a chance to make a marriage work. If you don't, you don't have any chance at all.

More directly, if I can give you three short but vital tips:
Try never to go to bed angry with one another, even if it means staying up all night.
Try to have two good laughs for every tear that falls.
And try to do one new thing every day to keep your marriage fresh—just one little thing that will let your partner know how much you love them. how much you value their partnership.

And now, its time for the ceremony.
Does anyone here know of any reason why this marriage should not go forward? If you do, please speak up now—or forever hold your peace.

Now, Amelia Aguilar, cuñada, do you take David Leiter  to be your lawfully wedded husband, for better or worse, in times of richer or poorer, sickness or health till death to you part?
And, David Leiter, do you take Amelia Aguilar to be your lawfully wedded wife, for better or worse, in times of richer or poorer, sickness or health, till death do you part?

May I have the rings please?
David, can you please place this ring, the representation of the wholeness of your love, on Amelia’s finger…
Amelia, take this ring, the representation of the circle of life and love, a circle with no beginning or end, and place it on David’s finger.
I now pronounce you, in front of all your friends and family, husband and wife.

And yes, you may kiss the bride.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Eight Months, One Week on Antibiotics, Coming to an End

I started on three antibiotics daily on July 1, when my leg began to look like it had a serious problem. And, having had flesh eating bacteria previously, when I said this looked bad, it looked bad enough that Alan Shoemaker sent Skinny Jorge, the best paper-man in Iquitos, to my home in Iquitos at about 11 PM with orders to take me to a clinic.
    From then through end of October, I was on three to four antibiotics daily; generally one was a drip and the others were pills. They switched them frequently. After the end of October, once it was clear the skin graft had taken on my leg, I got cut down to one antibiotic daily, taken orally. I did bactrim for a month, two 1500 mg pills daily. In February and for the last five weeks, I've been on ciproflaxin, just 1000 mgs daily.
    My stomach never went bad from the antibiotics, but I will tell you that it was swollen badly. And my joints hurt. I mean, it hurt, particularly when I was on cipro, in my bones, like they were all dried up. I hurt getting into the car, getting out, standing up, bending over. I'm hoping those symptoms go away now that I'm on my first day free of antibiotics in a long time. I look forward to wanting to exercise, not dreading it. I look forward to getting back to walking a few miles daily rather than being frightened of even trying it for the pain. I know other people have it a lot worse than I do. I hope their pain goes away before mine; I don't mind standing in line. But some time, I would love to not feel bloated, not hurt just typing this, not dreading having to get out of bed at 3 AM to take a leak because my ankles hurt so much.
    Silly, right? But I'm telling you, I forgive everyone I ever thought was faking it with chronic pain and I hope they find it in their hearts to forgive me. This shit stinks. It makes life unenjoyable much of the time. If what you spend your day doing is trying to stop hurting, well, that stinks. And I'm hoping my rehab is ready to start and my medications are over. I see the surgeon in 13 days. He'll tell me if I have to go back on antibiotics. I think I'm okay, but I'll take his word. He's a genius in my book. Saved my leg. I adore him. But I'll hate him if he puts me back on.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Forward to a Friend's New Book on Ayahuasca

Well, I'm back from Peru. I hope all of you had a fantastic time while I was gone for the month. My boss didn't want me to go because, as she says: "The jungle is trying to kill you." My wife/ex-wife Chepa puts it another way: "Oh, the jungle loves you. The only problem is she loves you to death."
    They both might be right. The list of things I've caught, been bitten by, had invade my system is a list of nearly every ailment one can get in the jungle. Still, this time my bad leg held up, I don't think I've gotten any parasites or new flesh eating bacteria or spider bites, no snakes bit me. Hoping I'm not jinxing myself but I think the jungle was very gentle with me this time out.
     Now there was good news and bad news when I got home: My beautiful Madeleina is going to State, the state of Texas competition, both as a solo flute player and as a member of a 13 piece ensemble, one of only a couple of dozen kids in bands across the state who can boast that. The bad news is that in practicing for the contests she skipped a few days and so she and I got summoned to truancy court for a March 5 appearance. That's gonna cost me several hundred bucks. Damnit!
     Now while I was in Peru, my friend Alan Shoemaker's new book, "Ayahuasca Medicine: The Shamanic World of Amazonian Sacred Plant Healing," came out. It's published with Inner Traditions, a good house and I hope he sells a million copies. I happened to write the Forward to it. But also while in Peru, another friend, asked me to write the Forward to his upcoming book, "Diary of an Ayahuasca Skeptic". I said okay and today I got down to it. So here it is.
Diary of an Ayahuasca Skeptic

Forward by Peter Gorman

I first met D.L.Walker in early June, 2013. It wasn’t a pleasant meeting. I had just flown into Iquitos, Peru—the Amazonian city which can only be reached by plane or boat—to take a couple of groups out into the deep jungle where they would have the opportunity to learn about the Amazon river, Her people and medicines over the course of a couple of weeks. Among those medicines they’d get a chance to utilize was ayahuasca, an extraordinary elixir that can give the user the chance to get through the equivalent of five years of psychotherapy in three or four hours. More on that later.
     My team of workers met me at the airport when I came in and we’d gone directly to the Belen market—the sprawling heart of the heart of Western Amazonia—to begin supplying for the first of the two trips. That done, my team retrieved the dozen or so large plastic containers that held my basic jungle stuff out of storage, brought them to my room, and we’d spent several hours going through hammocks, mosquito nets, blankets, towels, boots, rope, medicines and a host of other necessities for taking groups into the jungle. By the time that was done I was exhausted and went to the Boulevard, a touristy park lined with expensive restaurants, to have a drink.
    Several people I know were having an animated political discussion at the next table. If I wasn’t so tired I might have joined them; instead, I said my hellos then sat and ordered an aguar diente—cane liquor—with lime and a side of water. I was wrapped up in what I needed to repair and replace and needed to be alone for that.
    Suddenly I heard the discussion turn to President Obama and the tone was pretty negative, I thought. Actually, I thought it was fucking outrageous and I told the lout who was making the comments, a big fellow I didn’t know who had his back to me and who wore a hat and had a salt and pepper pony tail, that in my presence Obama would be referred to as Mr. President and treated with respect—whether the guy liked him or not. Well, the guy—who turned out to be Dag Walker, took umbrage at my outrage and told me to go fuck myself. I responded in kind and after a few moments he stormed off, pissed off.
    I asked the others at the table—guys I’d known for years—who the guy was: They said his name was Dag Walker and he’d been in Iquitos for months while I was not there, was a writer, and a good one, and that I should have kept my mouth shut.
    I was probably on my third drink by then and said I didn’t give a hoot whether I’d pissed Mr. Walker off or not.
    Next time I saw Dag—who doesn’t drink alcohol—I was again tired and slightly in my cups. He sat and we introduced ourselves and he explained that he’d read—or tried to read my book “Ayahuasca in My Blood—25 Years of Medicine Dreaming” but that while it was well written he couldn’t get through it. Thought I was full of shit, basically, and had made up a whole lot of nonsense to sell tourists on coming on my trips. That set me off: I loudly explained that for the first 15 years of coming to the Amazon I’d been a collector of indigenous artifacts for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, a collector of medicinal plants for Shaman Pharmaceuticals and whatever other credits I might have. Then I began to tout my national writing awards and so forth. Dag Walker wasn’t impressed a bit. In fact, he was so appalled that I needed to justify myself that way that he would shortly write—and publish in the local Iquitos English language newspaper—that shortly after my outburst I fell off my chair in a drunken stupor and lay with a stray dog on the sidewalk, blissfully asleep. I still hate him for that exaggeration.
    But while we still sat at the same table, he with a Fanta and me with an aguar diente and water, he announced that in his opinion the whole tourist trade centered on ayahuasca in Iquitos—which is huge these days—was hype, phony, a complete lie because, in his opinion, ayahuasca did nothing for anyone except help river people puke to eliminate stomach parasites and worms. He was so sure of it that he himself was writing a book about ayahuasca in Iquitos and to that end he’d interviewed more than 100 people who’d used the stuff. He said he’d heard nothing of interest other than some stories of people who claimed to see demons or gods or both—things he was certain they’d conjured to justify having spent all that money to come to Iquitos to drink ayahuasca and see those things.
    The next time I saw Dag was after my group came out of the jungle. He asked them what had happened and while most of them loved the overall jungle experience, only a few claimed life-changing events occurred with ayahuasca—and those he later dismissed. But we didn’t argue that night, which was good. And the next day when my group had returned to their homes in the States and Europe, and I was reading an Elmore Leonard novel, he paused at my table to say that at least I had good taste in writers, as he was a Leonard fan. I offered to give him the book once I’d finished. That made him happy. It also eased the tension between us.
    He soon told me that after talking with all those people about ayahuasca, he’d realized that he would have to try it himself to give his book legitimacy. By that time I was ready to take the second group out. Unfortunately, I’d developed a bacterial infection on my lower right calf that was eating my flesh—I was on intravenous antibiotics—which was getting nasty. And by the time I got the second group out of the jungle, my leg was pretty awful and Dag said he’d drank ayahuasca a couple of times. He didn’t like the look of my leg, and he didn’t like ayahuasca. “Nothing. I got absolutely nothing from the experience except to confirm that there is nothing to it. Complete sham invented by people trying to make a buck off suckers,” he said, or something quite like that.
     I disagreed. I didn’t disagree that many of the folks building lodges where their guests could drink the medicine without ever getting a single mosquito bite had no business doing that because they lacked sufficient experience. I also didn’t disagree that with so many ayahuasca lodges having recently opened in Iquitos and environs that many if not most of the curanderos, the healers, actually serving the medicine were complete fakers, who’d never actually had the medicine but had none the less hired themselves out as curanderos to those naive lodge owners without the experience to know the difference between a legitimate healer and someone who’d learned to sing a few songs and fake a ceremony.
    What I disagreed with was Dag’s insistence that ayahuasca had little value other than in cleaning out parasites. I explained that in Northwest Amazonia, the general belief system among locals regarding illness and bad luck is that illness, bad luck and so forth are seen as the symptoms of a disturbance on another plane of reality. That was what my mother-and-father-in-law believed, as did their friends and lots of locals I’d met over the years. But my mother-in-law and the others could not access those other levels of reality, so they went to the curandero, told him or her their problem, and the curandero would then drink ayahuasca and access those other levels of reality. Up there, he or she could talk with plants, animals, spirits and they would help him or her to see what the disturbance was that was creating the illness or bad luck on this level of reality for the patient. The curandero would then ask those spirits what the patient needed to do to quell the disturbance, which would lead to a disappearance of the symptom. Armed with all that information, the curandero returned to this level of reality and told the patient—or patients, as many times curanderos will see a dozen people at a time on the traditional Tuesday and Friday ceremony nights.
    The example I gave Dag was this: Years ago while I was visiting my friend and teacher Julio, the curandero or local healer on the Aucayacu River a man came up in a dugout canoe. He said he’d heard that Julio was a powerful curandero. Julio chuckled at the complement. The man said that someone was giving him the evil eye. Julio asked how the man knew that. The man explained that every time he sold his yucca or chickens or anything else the man fell down and got hurt. It was often his knees but sometimes his elbow or head as well. “You need to see who’s jealous of me and tell me and I’ll stop them,” the man said, or something like that. Julio said he’d try, and that evening he drank ayahuasca. When he came out of his dream, he was chuckling and the man wanted to know what he’d seen that was so funny. Julio looked at the man and said that no one was giving him the evil eye of jealousy. He said that he’d seen that every time the man went to town to sell his yucca or chickens and had gotten his money, he went to drink at a little cantina with a broken step he fell on when he was drunk. “So you have two choices,” Julio said. “You can either stop drinking at that cantina, or you can fix the broken step.”
    To me, that’s classic ayahuasca healing. Julio really “saw” the man falling and the broken step in his dream and came back to explain how the disturbance could be fixed to eliminate the symptom of falling and getting hurt.
    The problem, I said to Dag, was that when Westerners got wind of ayahuasca, they demanded that they drink it, rather than just the curandero drinking it. So we’ve stood the paradigm on its head, and as a result, some people have such vital experiences that they become instant true believers and feel the absolute calling to open lodges to serve other potential true believers. Which can really water down the whole thing after a while because there are not very many good curanderos out there—certainly not nearly as many as there are lodges.
    Dag was unconvinced but said he’d determined to keep drinking until he either “got it” or felt he’d proven it nonsense—at least the way Western tourists were doing it.
    I went home shortly after that—after giving Dag a second Elmore Leonard book—had several operations to save my leg, and didn’t see Dag again until six or seven months had gone by and my doc gave me permission to return to the jungle.
    When I did see him again, he asked if I’d read his ayahuasca manuscript, which I reluctantly agreed to do. While I read, I began to edit a bit. I edited because Dag’s storytelling was very compelling but he kept feeling the need to quote academics to the point where I wanted to shoot him. By the second section of the book I was eliminating whole pages of quotes that seemed to me to interfere with a wonderful, surprisingly wonderful and insightful take on the ayahuasca phenomenon. The less he quoted others, the better the read and the pages began flying.
     There was just one hitch: He’d decided that to complete the manuscript he’d need to drink ayahuasca with me. That was a terrifying proposition—firstly because I prefer other people run the ceremonies, and secondly because as he already described me as an obese drunk who lay on the ground and cuddled with flea-bitten mangy dogs, I didn’t want to open myself up to what he might write if I served him ayahuasca and it had no effect. “Gorman proven phony! World’s biggest liar! Tourist money thief!” Except that he’d be much more colorful in his negativity toward me than I could ever be.
     Nonetheless, I agreed to serve him after my tour group had finished. By chance, the curandero I work with had come to Iquitos with the rest of my team—they’re all one family—and I asked him to run the ceremony, which we were going to do in my large room in the middle of the city.
     On ceremony night, the curandero sang for about an hour and then I took over—if I was going to get blasted it might as well be me doing at least some of the ceremony—before turning things over to the curandero to finish up.

     Dag has not said anything to me about his experience that night. And he has not shown me the chapter he was going to write about it. So I’m writing this Forward having read most of this book. And I will tell you that it’s a damned good read. How it ends, I have no idea. I’ll only say this: If it ends with me sleeping on the street, he’s making it up. But the rest of the book? He’s done his homework, been his own guinea pig and written something pretty special. Enjoy it.