January 24, 2012

Texaco Recipe

I was inside, cooking a meal with my daughter and we heard the younger children’s shouts as they played in the waters after their baths splashing in it, swimming in it, drinking it. We all thought it was water until that day.

As I cooked in silence the children’s voices mixed with the hiss of my stove “Look! There is a rainbow in the water!” hisssssss. Such words sound beautiful at first. Like words in a lullaby. I thought, it is possible a rainbow has appeared in the sky and is so strong that they can see the rainbow’s reflection in the Aguarico.

But the sound of my food bubbling and boiling in the pans made me think of the way the earth has been feeling beneath my feet for a while now. There is a discolored sludge around many of the new homes that have been built. It seeps up to our toes and draws us down as we walk. Some days I feel like I am fighting off my own burial, I sink so low.

I know it has to do with the oil drills that have loomed over my community for years I have watched my land become a kitchen for Texaco cooks. And it is true; they came to the Amazon, and found a place full of ingredients and supplies, but they are the worst cooks and do not know what to do with our appliances, so they have brought their own and they have chopped up our trees and sampled our waters as broth and created a stew. The stew is toxic air, liquids, and earth combined and they are spilling it all over my ancestral lands. Gaseous and curdling, it spreads, and I fear we have no choice but to eat it.

So I knew all of this, and I listened to the children talk about rainbows in the water and I felt a panic hit my throat. I think I cried out, because I remember the shocked look on my daughter’s face. But my ears were ringing with the hiss and bubbles of the stove and my mind kept flashing the vision of a gigantic oil drill’s outline against an orange sky.

Behind my home, there is a stream. I left my daughter in the kitchen and ran to the stream. I looked at my reflection and saw nothing but swirls of rainbow on top of a thick, dark mirage. My face looked strange. I felt I was in a bad dream. I reached my hand through the black and rainbow surface to search for the water below and cupped it all in my hand as if to take a sip. But I knew I shouldn’t, because of the smell—a distinct odor. I ran to the kids who were then drying-off on the banks and grabbed a young boy’s arm and held it to my nose—the same smell. I felt dizzy. The Texaco cooks have prepared for us a meal of contaminated crops and animals. Now, they fill our water pots with poisonous rainbows.

To live in San Carlos means living at the intersection of two powerful rivers. Living in this town once had some blessings, and now there are just burdens. Texaco’s main production site is just 10 meters from my home. Cancer has found my body and my daughter’s liver. I know it is not my cooking that her liver is unable to process, but that of Texaco’s. My daughter is eighteen and recently married. I was just thinking how fast she is growing up! Now, all I can think is that she is still just a child, too young for cancer, too young to have problems eating. There is something wrong with the food. I feel trapped into poisoning my daughter. I boil the water, but every meal I make seems to be a Texaco recipe.

Contributed by Renee Copeland



Texaco Recipe is closely inspired by the story of Maria Garafolo, a woman interviewed in the documentary titled, Crude. The oil company Texaco, now called Chevron, began drilling all over Ecuador in the ‘60s. Their promotional video made in the ‘70s claims that Texaco the pioneers “bring muscles and machines to a territory untouched by civilization.” The reality is that the Siona, Cofán, Huaorani, Quichua, and all indigenous Amazonian people, have suffered through displacement, loss of culture, and illnesses and death due to the unethical installation of this billion dollar oil industry, set up by colonizers and most often worked by locals.

In 1992 Texaco/Chevron handed their operations over to PetroEcuador and supposedly got out of the country. While PetroEcuador’s methods and facilities are still harmful and not much of an improvement, what is so shocking is the existence of thousands of toxic waste pits that are full of drilling mud, solvents, and chemicals that came from drilling the initial well 40+ years ago. Texaco/Chevron claimed that they had a Government-supervised, highly responsible and expensive clean-up program, so why, after a supposed 10+ years of their absence, is their presence so dreadfully obvious?

Maria’s interview took place in 2006. I wonder if she and her daughter have made it. Their cancer treatment is expensive, demanding that both of them still work in the fields, and they must travel 18 hours by foot and bus to reach the chemo center. It was evident in the film that both of these tactics for recovery are also causing more exhaustion and sickness.  I wonder if that’s what Texaco had in mind in the ‘70s when they chimed: “Take the glorious gamble and drill!”


References and other important sites about oil in Ecuador:


Crude. Joe Berlinger. 2009. DVD