Sunday, 13 April 2008

Community

In a culture so socially and structurally different to the realm of contemporary western experience as that of developing indiginous communities like that of the Shuar in Tsuraku, outsiders are naturally drawn together.

Being able to share tips of places to go to do laundry in the town, or a cafe that sells coffee made from ground beans, to hear of experiences that are at the same time both cautionary tales and amusing anecdotes, to talk about visas and leishmaniasis and other technicalities, and to try to unravel the puzzle of sustainable rainforest management and community development with people who are also confused, and exhausted, and awestruck, is a great tonic in a situation that can be very isolating.

There were three of us volunteers at Tsuraku until the welcome arrival of three more on Friday. We were beginning to develop cabin fever from living and working in such close quarters with no one else to talk to and nowhere to go for some time alone. The Shuar are very familyand home-oriented, and so even if the language barrier disappeared there would be little likelihood of them socialising much with the foreigners in the evenings. The volunteer house is too small to spread out, and so there is no option but to live on top of one another. By Friday some conversations had reduced to grunts, and the irritability level was high. It was not unremittingly unpleasant; there were lots of interesting conversations and amuzing moments, but even the most tolerant of people will find themself tested by having to spend almost every waking moment with two strangers from different backgrounds and different personality types. As soon as the three Americans arrived we all perked up. Sentences were formed, there was no silence at mealtime, and the permeating fug lifted.

There is another small community 25 minutes walk to the north of Tsuraku which also has a volunteer project, and currently has four volunteers; all English girls. This weekend I and five other girls have come to a town called BaƱos, which is located in the valley of the volcano Tungurahua (the one that errupted again earlier this year). We shared a dorm, boiled and froze ourselves by turns in the thermal baths, went on a three hour hike up the mountain to get a good view of the town, went dancing in a nightclub, and had a massage with hot stones amongst other things. I wouldn´t have managed to do even a portion of that, and certainly wouldn´t have enjoyed it as much, if I hadn´t the company of the other girls.

I am just about getting used to the fact that I am the oldest, and that some of my experiences or thoughts might not be the same as the younger ones. I have dated someone with children not much younger than two of these girls, which makes me feel slightly odd, but then I suppose that sort of thing is only going to happen more often from now on.

I just wish I knew what happened to that wisdom that is supposed to come with age.

2 comments:

Clive For Nothing said...

It sounds like Big Brother. No wonder they all pounce if they get a new housemate.

Ha, Reading that last bit, for a sec I thought, 'She dated someone with children? I didn't know that.' I'm such a nob.

Rachel R said...

Hehe, my first thought was 'Big Brother', too!

Ooh, I do love reading your blog, hon, it really makes my day when there's an update!