As our team adapted to the construction constraints of our limited materials, the project slowly creeped to life. With the addition of two local construction workers to help with the concrete and rebar placement, we were off to a solid recovery. In a short amount of time I began to see the depth of strength that held the Tsachila community together. All those hundreds of bricks had been moved and laid out for us in advance by the ‘Padres de la Familia’, the parent group of the local school. Their pride for their family and educational system radiated from concerned faces as we passed by the locals on the street, growing more familiar each day. It was very apparent that this was a community that loved their children, valued their friendships, and trusted their neighbors. Children gathered in the road to kick a ball around, they chased each other between dwellings, crossing imaginary fences we would have built. How foreign this open sense of space seemed to me, was truly a reflection on the values for boundaries and ownership instilled in me at a young age. The village was linked together, almost seamlessly, joining one home to the next with laundry lines and banana trees as the only barrier.
We were different in many ways. We were pale. We were tall. We laughed loudly. We wore funny hats. We were the village spectacle, and our morning runs were just icing on the cake: colorful spandex, sneakers, bandannas, and for god sake why would you ever want to run unless something was chasing you?
Well, most of the time there WAS something chasing us.
Earlier that week one of the Yanapuma volunteers had spent a day in the hospital getting a rabies vaccine after an unsettling canine attack. We elected to carry rocks in our hand during these outings, to whack at the perros that came too close. Most mornings we rose early to fit in our run before the heat set in, a failed attempt at dodging the guard dogs.
As an avid runner, I had become fairly dependent on my music. But traveling with only the bare essentials, sans headphones, I reverted back to a pre-technological era of athleticism. I dove inward, and honed in on a sharpened state of being – the state one acquires from complete abandonment into subconscious concentration. Energy is expended solely on forward motion, focus aimed on the air entering and leaving the lungs. One knows only the burning of the legs, the timing of the foot striking the uneven ground. The rhythm bridged between pace and exhale. The capacity for prolonged momentum – the body a constant vector driving forward. The earth blurring below a steady gate, escaping my view as I tilt my head upwards to enjoy the new taste of a different morning air.
Returning for a quick swim in the knee high water of the Pucta was quite refreshing – after the initial shock of the tickling minnows escaped your calves. You never really get dry in Bua, sweat becomes a state of being, comfort – a state of mind. With our limited backpacking garments in constant rotation, we learned to wear our clothes in shifts. There was the morning variety – light shorts, dryfit tee or tank, and bandana, which transitioned into long hiking pants and a light fleece to fend off the evening mosquitoes. Even 2 days after being washed in the river with our ‘magic hippie soap‘, all fabrics remained damp on the line.
Getting to and from the school grounds everyday was… like a box of chocolates – ‘you never know what you’re gonna get’. There was your standard reliable flavor, a basic bus ride described in an earlier post. Then, there were the more daring varieties – the ones with nuts. Truly. The first time we set foot on a Chiva, was like getting on a rickety carnival ride with no seat belt and a drunk operator at the helm. Let’s just say Ecuadorians are resourceful. They manage to cram every square inch of those things – top to bottom and side to side. After every bench seat gets full (no door style, like a jeep-bus, but without all the cool jeep-like qualities), they start to cram people on the roof – don’t worry, there’s a convenient ladder to climb up on the back…..but most of the time this task must be accomplished with 2 bags in each hand, wearing flip flops, all while the bus takes off bouncing down the pothole filled road.
For the more daring folk, there’s the pick-up truck flavor – hopping up in the truck bed and clinging to the roll bar as the mildly intoxicated driver swerves potholes. And lastly, the method I avoided, hoping on the back of a Moto – and trying not to scream as you wrap your arms around the stranger in front of you to keep from falling off the back. Most locals managed a whole family on one bike with the kids sandwiched between Dad and Mom. No helmet required.
Our meals typically involved rice, bananas, fried platanos (plantain chips), yucca, and occasionally a portion of meat. My favorite was the fresh caught Tallapia, wrapped in palm leaves whole and cooked on coals. The cheeks were particularly delectable, but the eyeballs I could have gone without. Dinner was our favorite time of day, the heat fading off to relax in the company of our gracious hosts. The slow evenings were a comfortable way to get better acquainted with Alfonso’s family. Entertainment by candlelight gave us the opportunity for a lazy hammock session, catching up in our logs, and learning more about the Tsachila culture. I made it a habit to sneak back to the kitchen to look for the sloth, and help Isabel with the dishes.
There are some things that seem to transcend all cultural barriers; women working collectively in the kitchen and chatting about the men, is definitely one of them. I felt more a part of their way of life during that time of the day than any other. I saw how they stored their food, where they put their dishes, what they told their children to get them to bed. I saw how they invited visitors into their home, unannounced neighbors stopping by to chat; and how their children were treated by others, as if they were their own. I saw, through the Tsachila way, that it really does takes a village to raise a child.