Initial Conversations with Don Machinga
I first properly met Don Machinga in the late evening of Thursday 31st January 2013. Maestro G., who knew him well, had introduced me to him briefly for each of the four previous days, but the real meeting occurred that night.
His presence was huge, powerful, and formidable but not threatening. He filled the space. I was an ant in comparison. One of the first things he told me, once I had adjusted to the scale of his presence, was that he wanted to be an ally in the work I am doing. My ego, which at this point was running around like a three-year old child, was delighted to have such a powerful friend and ally and a huge smile crept over its face.
My second meeting with Don Machinga was not at all what I was expecting. Firstly, he was angry. He did not like the wooden floor of the building I was in. He told me to get off my mattress and feel the floor.
In so doing, I could sense the floor as cold, inert and lacking living spirit. Later, it transpired that the wood, which had been used to make this floor, came from an unspecified source, which was most likely the result of illegally clear-cutting the rainforest.
He was also angry with me about the wood that the organization I work with uses. It is very likely that this wood comes from similar sources. He told me I should be taking care of this important detail – how can we argue against extractive industries in the rainforest when we use the cheapest wood available without any idea of its provenance? It was obvious he was right.
I could see that, in contrast, he really liked the floors in the two buildings constructed by Maestro Gonzalo. This is because Maestro Gonzalo has a personal, craftsman’s relationship with the wood he uses. He goes to the forest himself, chooses the tree he will fell, and then uses his chainsaw to make beautiful floorboards, which he then installs in his or his daughter’s house. All this, of course, takes time. I could see that Don Machinga really likes Maestro Gonzalo for this and other reasons.
In my next shorter encounter with Don Machinga, he indicated to me that he really likes my son’s dog, Lenka, a female Belgian Shepherd. I reflected on this afterwards. I wondered if it is because they are both guardians, highly protective of the worlds they are part of.
In the same encounter, I also learned that he is on very good terms with Noiyarao – a kindred spirit, I had also recently met. They could almost be brothers. Whereas Don Machinga’s presence spans, envelops and protects, Noiyarao’s soars and uplifts – it’s rare to be in the company of such an inspiring and exalting presence.
My fourth meeting with Don Machinga continued to break any expectations I might have of him. Initially, he was very chummy and much more youthful in manner. Up until then, he had seemed like an old, stern, wise patriarch. He checked in with me briefly and said that later we would talk more.
When the time came to talk more with him, I asked him about the idea that had occurred to me of a writing project I wanted to develop called “Conversations with Don Machinga”. I was hoping for at least approval if not outright support. He quite took the wind out of my sails by telling he could not care less about this project. I laughed out loud. Of course, he is not seeking publicity nor does he need a marketing assistant.
After this short conversation, he invited me to his home. It was a huge, cavernous, hollow, wooden space. It was also mostly dark and I could not see clearly. The only detail I could clearly make out was a descending spiral wooden staircase in one corner of the space.
It was easier to talk outside so we went outside with some members of his family. When we were all assembled outside, he presented me to his niece, a beautiful, shy, young Shipibo woman, possibly about fifteen years old. I was not told her Shipibo name but I mentally gave her the name of Eva. Don Machinga told me he wanted me to marry his niece.
I felt deeply honored. I realized that I would have to court her and make myself worthy of her. Part of doing that, I now saw, was to engage in this writing project.