Constructing a death: Our relationship to La Naturaleza

25 de octubre 2008 (2 months until Christmas and I have already seen reindeer Christmas lights in Quito. Wow…)After a day spent in the clouds of Bomboli I began to wonder about my impact on this earth.

The view at Bomboli. We were at the same level as the clouds in the backdrop.

I have never considered myself a true environmentalist. That´s not to say I don´t respect those who live in harmony with the earth; I can identify with their causes and the call to live simply, but due to laziness or perhaps hypocrisy, I have never implemented these values into my daily life. Today our BCA group took a day trip to Bomboli, a bosque de nubes, or cloud forest two hours away from Quito. We were at such a high altitude that, obviously, we were amongst the clouds. There we met an elderly gentleman and his wife who welcomed us into their home and shared with us their passion for la naturaleza. As the gentleman (sorry I´m terrible with names and have already forgotten his) began the tour, he started off by telling us everything all species need to live: agua, comida, un ambiente saludable y amor (water, food, a healthy environment and love). This goes for humans as well as plants and wildlife. It wasn´t necessarily revolutionary to hear, but the passion this couple had for his work and lifestyle made their instruction all the more poignant. They moved to Bomboli some 23 years ago when all of the region had been virtually destroyed by human intervention (Deforestation and mining is a real problem in Ecuador. Some of the wonderful and beautiful mountains of this country have been completely destroyed to mine dirt to make cement and other things. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the mining companies are internationally owned.). But through their work and the work of many college students that have lived, worked and studied at their house, this family has helped to care for nature and Bomboli now thrives as a secondary forest.Not only have they worked with planting and natural fertilization, but this family chooses to use nature for everything that they need–living in a truly self-sustainable manner. They live without a televisión or electricity, make their own cheese (which was absolutely wonderful) and dulce de manjar (a sweet dessert spread that was even more amazing). Not only that, but they salvage scraps from lumberyards or mining companies that would normally be thrown away and put them to use. They have made tables for nearby schools and mantelpieces inlaid with mirrors for their house. To produce these works they use a chisel and a mallet—basic and simple tools. The gentleman really stressed the importance of using what we have around us, what we´ve already been given in nature, instead of trying to produce and produce excessive and unnecessary goods. One quote in particular sticks out to me from this experience: ¨ Nosotros matamos a la vida y construimos la muerte. ¨ We kill life and construct death. To put this quotation in context, he gave us an example from his own experience. The family cares for horses and has a pasture for them. But, instead of constructing a fence around this pasture, they planted trees—they used something that was living and simply helped it to keep living. This contrasts sharply to the normal manner of constructing fences, when we cut down trees, kill trees, and build a fence with something that is already dead. He pointed out that usually parts of the fence will fall, and we will have to keep reconstructing it because we have tried to create out of something that we have killed.

Here is an example of a mirror that some college interns made during their stay at Bomboli. The wood was salvaged from the waste of lumber companies.

The former BCA director of Quito, Pablo, who is know beginning to experience the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, accompanied us on this trip because in all his years as BCA director he had never made the hike in its entirety. As we all shared observations after our hike, Pablo mentioned something that struck a chord with my pacifist roots. He spoke of the need to live non-violently in all aspects of our lives, and that our relationship to nature is one example of nonviolence.Again, considering my audience, I am sure that these ideas are not revolutionary or even new. But for me, it helps to be reminded. I highly doubt that I am going to move to the country or a cloud forest and live in exactly the same way that our hosts did. Perhaps because I am too accustomed to the many amenities and comforts of my life, but it isn´t realistic to assume that everyone can move to the country and start a secondary forest. That just isn´t the way our world works.However, I know that there are small things that I can change about my lifestyle to create a more peaceful relationship with the environment. It will start with recognizing the impact of my actions on the world, something that I think study abroad experiences help with greatly. I´ve been given the chance to evaluate my culture in comparison to another culture and when I return to the U.S., I will be given another opportunity to recognize the puntos de ciego or blind spots in my culture.

Here are my friends Sarah Cullinan and Kimberly Leininger enjoying la naturaleza at Bomboli!

A simple, but somewhat poignant example, of my materialism involved packing to come to Ecuador. There was a weight limit with luggage and I ended leaving many shoes, clothes and other trinkets behind at home that I thought I would miss. But I have lacked nothing. I worry that I will forget this all too quickly when I readjust to U.S. society in December, but hopefully this blog post will be some sort of way to keep me accountable. To seek peaceful relationships with people and as well as with our environment.Maya-bet-you-weren´t-expecting-a-blog-post-so-soon-Kehr