First of all, I am sorry it has taken so long to post. I am in the jungle without internet access. I know promised many of you that you would hear from me at least twice a month. I hope you can forgive…
I have never been as turned around as I am in El Poste. All the roads look the same – countless miles of rocks and dirt lined by plantain trees, yucca, cacao and hearts of palm. A slight drizzle greets me every morning but never lasts long, although the clouds always remain. I was first enamored with the thought of living in a chocolate forest – the cacao pods first plucked off the tree and cracked open taste sweet, almost citrusy, but once laid out to ferment smell sour and yeasty. It’s amazing that something as delicious as chocolate must go through so many sensory phases.
The houses in El Poste are spread far apart, there is no real center to the town, and are only connected by these dirt roads or paths through the cacao. I have been staying at the cultural center with the cultural leader, Don Jose and his family. At 36 years old, climbing up to the top bunk every night with cockroaches scurrying below, I think perhaps I’ve become too old for this kind of travel, but this is only a fleeting thought and soon I hear chanting from the area behind our cabin where people come from far and away for spiritual cleansings. Some involve a native plant (a vine) called ayawask that causes hallucinations, others a sauna with local herbs and I am reminded of the complexities of this world. Especially the time when I was awoken at midnight by 3 large, brightly colored buses that managed to make it down the rocky road (30 minutes from the nearest town) so that the buses could get blessed. Yes, the buses. As the students work on media projects exploring the loss of Tsa’chila culture to the modern world, I can’t help but chuckle at the need for “modern buses” to get blessed by Don Jose.
The Tsa’chila’s way of life, their culture, is yes dwindling due to the rapid encroachment on their land by mestizos and by a rapidly developing world. Up until the 1950s the Tsa’chila were still hunting and gathering and living their life relatively undisturbed in the jungle here. And then land was bought up and cleared for cultivation and since then, there is just too little jungle left to maintain a hunter gatherer lifestyle. The Tsa’chila converted to subsistence farming – cacao, yucca, plantain. I think about how homogenized our world is becoming, especially as I watch the students rush to the one local store here every day after lunch to buy Oreos and Coke – here amongst the cacao and plantain. And now, the Tsa’chilas try to hold on to their culture by basically being entertainers to the buses of foreigners who want a glimpse into an indigenous lifestyle (as I too had before arriving) and yet it feels like the cultural center is really the only place where they actually maintain tradition.
I’m traveling with a much larger group this year (18 students!) and it has proven, thus far, to be much more work than last. As it now stands, I see my work and greatest learning to come in the form of patience and empathy. My co-leaders are great and we find ourselves laughing a lot…especially when things are feeling hard, when we’re sick, when the food continues to lack nutrition, when cockaroaches scurry out of bags, etc. and they are always up for an 80s dance party
And now, I´m ready to leave the chocolate forest, the beautiful birds, the lizards on my wall at night, the sound of the wind rustling the feathery leaves of tall bamboo trees. It is time for a change of climate. I´m better in the mountains. Off to Peru in less than two days!!
I hope this finds everyone doing well, enjoying the late fall weather, carving pumpkins, drinking hot cider (ahh, that sounds quite lovely right about now) I would absolutely love, LOVE to hear from all of you…I am deeply missing my peeps from home. Oh and I’m going to be adding a new page to the blog to document TBB learning as I see it along the way. hope you enjoy…