Sunday, October 23, 2011

Children at Play, or Kids These Days

The other thing that´s been on my mind in Los Naranjos (the village we stayed in) is the total shift in cultural knowledge-in this case, how traveling flips normal societal roles on their heads. When we are safely in our home culture, it is assumed that adults are more savvy than are children than are babies. But what about when we go somewhere new?
We are a group of high school graduates, all headed for college in the years to come. In Los Naranjos, however, we can´t figure out basic tasks like using the bathroom (you get a bucket of well water from outside and throw it in the toilet to flush) or walking home (take a right on the dirt road surrounded by plantain trees). Thrown into another culture, even the most well-educated students are as lost as toddlers (literally-my directions above are a bit tougher when you realize that all the roads are dirt roads surrounded by plantain trees).

By contrast, the actual toddlers here know exactly what is going on in any given situation. Kiara, the four year-old from my house, is a pretty normal kid, except that instead of going to daycare she runs around the plantain trees all day harassing my family´s chickens.
The truly astounding girls, though, are the three sisters who live in the center of town. Milena, Diana, and Anai are eight, six, and three years old respectively. But they wield machetes like pros. They took Sarah on a trip into the forest for cacao, using a machete to hack down the fruits from the top of a tree, then cracking them open and sharing them with all the students! They easily do laundry, paint hair with the traditional Tsachila achote dye, and shoo away hungry dogs. At the same time though, they are utterly normal kids. They love stealing our backpacks and playing with the puppies that were born during our first week in Los Naranjos. It´s amazing to see little children who are so fluent in a culture that I can never fully understand.

I will miss Kiara and those three girls a lot now that we´ve returned to Quito, but just spending time with them in Los Naranjos was as much of an education as speaking with the adults of the community.

Oh, I also want to say sorry for not including any pictures in these last few posts. I do have them on my camera, it´s just a hassle to transfer them from there to the computer to the blog. I promise to illustrate more later. Adios!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Giving Trees

Hey readers, long time no see.
For the last three weeks I’ve been living in the Tsachila community of Los Naranjos, which is about an hour from Santo Domingo, Ecuador.
I’ve been staying with an incredibly nice host family, consisting of a young couple and their four year-old daughter Kiara. In the afternoons Kiara bounces off the walls, but in the mornings she is usually too sleepy to say goodbye to Nicki and me when we leave for work.
Monday through Thursday mornings, we plant trees beside a river in a nearby town, as part of a reforestation project. The gist is this:
Years ago, the Ecuadorian government passed a law saying that any land that a farmer cultivated would henceforth belong to that farmer. The measure was probably well-intentioned, but it ended up giving farmers an incentive to clear every foot of land they could, prompting them to cut down the very trees that maintained the health of their local river. Residents of the area depended on the river for washing, bathing, irrigation, and sometimes drinking water.
In taking advantage of the new law, the local farmers destroyed the vegetation that was holding the soil of the riverbanks in place. Without plant roots, the sediments of the shoreline began to erode. Further, the water level of the river dropped, harming both the environment and the community-fish could no longer survive in some areas, so the Tsachila could no longer depend on them as a food source.
Every day our group carries baskets of saplings, digs holes, and plants trees along the edge of the river, with the goal of helping to restoring the river’s health.
It’s easy to conclude from their actions that the farmers or the Ecuadorian government areshort-sighted, and perhaps they were in the past. But the farmers who cleared the vegetation originally are now helping us replenish it by giving us access to their lands for reforestation.
We are usually plagued by thorn bushes and mosquitoes as we plant, so the project can sometimes be frustrating. But we only work in the mornings, and in the afternoons we return to Los Naranjos for lunch and seminars. In the evenings we hang out with our host families (Kiara’s favorite things to play with are her stuffed smurf doll and my electric toothbrush), and the next day we start all over again.
Everyone we’ve met here has been so friendly that it’s easy to imagine spending another month in Los Naranjos. Next week, though, we’re departing for Quito and traveling from there to Peru. After that, it’s off to China-I’ve never been to Asia, nor spent a month in a city, but if my experience in Kunming is anything like the time I’ve spent in Ecuador, I’m going to love it.
Ciao ‘til next time!