Gary Bryner died yesterday. Cancer.
How to deal with the loss? Memory may be the best recourse.
In 1995 we took students to Peru, to work for two weeks on Taquile Island, at 13,000 feet, in the middle of Lake Titicaca.
Here a few notes:
A sun-drenched breakfast in the courtyard of a little restaurant. The woman wouldn't take my 5,000,000 Sole (5 new Soles) bill because it didn't have flowers in the right spot. Five years ago, Gary says, the rate of inflation was 7500% per year. In Germany, that kind of inflation helped fuel the Nazi rise to power.
I'm impressed (as I have been before) by Gary's command of the facts, facts gathered with intense energy and focus. He just finished a law degree while engaged in full-time research and award-winning teaching. And he recently turned down a prestigious position at the University of Colorado out of a sense of commitment to the graduate program in public policy he has recently begun at BYU.
We gather at the school. A Taquileno blows a referee's whistle to summon people from across the island to work on the two new rooms.
Early afternoon, exhausted by three trips up the hill carrying floorboards -- heavy Amazonian hardwood. Two cokes (who carried them up the hill?), a liter and a half of orange drink, a powerbar (hauled up the killer steps in my dufflebag), and five bread rolls later I feel like I could maybe do one more trip. Halfway down the trail I pull off and sit on a huge stone.
A woman in a red dress carries a bulky load on her back as she walks along a row of eucalyptus trees far below.
The lake smooth in large patches. Elsewhere slightly ruffled.
A bird call.
One of the Taquile community's blue-and-white boats arrives quietly from somewhere.
A slight breeze.
Thumps -- people coming down the stairs. No, it's a small bunch of sheep, herded along the trail by a young man, a load of cornstalks on his back and a radio in one hand tuned to a news program.
More bird sound.
The boat leaves, its wake an arrow toward Puno.
A little girl herds a few sheep across a terrace below.
Bright clothing drying on a rooftop.
7 p.m. In Faustino's restaurant. Close, stuffy, claustrophobic with the sound and smell of a kerosene lantern and thirty closely packed bodies. Gary comes in late. He's bundled up in several layers of clothing, including a tan parka. Its hood is pulled up over a stocking cap.
Who has diarrhea? Cindy asks for a show of hands.
All day we worked like piss ants hauling wood up from the pier. Five trips up and down was all I could muster. Fifteen boards. A tiny pile after an enormous effort. At five the head man blew his whistle and we stood there while a couple of men gave speeches in Cacao thanking us for our work and praising the community effort (at least that's what I think they were saying). Then the children came out of the school and stood in lines, the boys in black and white, the girls in colorful dresses and their head scarves. The teacher, with whistle and cap and an American flag on the front and a satin soccer-uniform shirt, stood and gave a speech. then Percy, the school president, gave a speech, then someone else, and finally the children were set free. In the meantime the schoolyard had fallen into shade and I was left shivering in the thin air in my sweatsoaked clothing. Gary too, it appears.