Friday, January 9, 2015

Leap and the Net Will Appear

Leap and the net will appear. - a Zen Saying

I don't know anything about the history of the above saying, but it was one of the first things I saw during my first visit to Earthaven in September 2013, and it's stuck with me: sometimes it's impossible to plan from a great physical or temporal distance; the only way to see what's possible is to jump in and make something happen. Interestingly, this was also the business advice of the CEO of my last company: when people came to him with business plans, he told them, approximately: "Don't show me your business plan; show me the business you started."

What I'm trying to do here in Ecuador - find an indigenous community to integrate with, learn from, and contribute to - demands trust relationships that I knew I couldn't make from afar. I had to get here and try to make them happen. And this past weekend, I had my first stroke of luck!

I was out playing harmonica in the woods, and on the way back into the city I stopped to poke around in some plants by the road to see if I could find any I recognized. A couple walked up and asked what plants I was looking for. Soon they were identifying all the plants in the patch and describing their medicinal and edible properties to me. It turns out the man is a naturopathic doctor who works with the indigenous and poor to bring free/low-cost medical care based on local plant-based medicines.

Then a whole bunch of crazy things happened - I described my goal for my time here (of integrating with an indigenous group to learn that way of life), and the couple recommended a particular community of indigenous down near Cuenca (southern Ecuador), including the names of particular people that could welcome me in. It turns out the wife is a 2nd or 3rd cousin of several families there, and said I should tell them that she sent me! So an indigenous woman just recommended me to her community! Whoa!

Not wanting to lose the connection, I asked if there was any way I could volunteer with them to help gather plants or make medicines, totally for free of course. They asked, 'What are you doing tomorrow?' "Nothing." "Want to meet us at 8:00 and join us in gathering plants?" "Ummm, most definitely!"  At least, I'm pretty sure that they planned to gather plants. I didn't quite understand, but I knew my answer was yes!

We parted, and after about 10 minutes the guy came walking back to change the plan slightly. Again I didn't quite understand the new plan, but it sounded similar and my answer was still yes. He invited me to join him walking towards his house, and on the way we identified another 10-12 plants, including several I could eat right then! Nuts, leaves, berries... We got to his home and the woman brought out a book called Plantas Cultivas, a visual dictionary of edible and medicinal plants of the Ecuador region. He took me through the book for maybe 20 minutes, and I'm excited to get my own copy. Finally we parted again, and I floated all the way back home.

I actually cried twice on the way home as it really sunk in that I'd been invited to live with an indigenous community by a member of that community.

A Day of Plant Walks
The next day, I met the man, Ivan, at his home at 7:30. We walked to a local cathedral which was quite breathtaking.

It wasn't until we got inside that we realized he was atheist and I'm... well, it's a topic for another post, but perhaps 'animast' is close. So we agreed that the Catholic Church was hypocritical for not using the millions of dollars of gold decorating the Church to help the poor as Christ would certainly have done, and then we left.

A Long Plant Walk
Ivan turns out to be a jack of many trades - his only commitment for the day was teaching a rock-climbing class at 10:30, but for 3-4 hours before then he and I hiked up and down mountains, occasionally bushwhacking, and he showed me tons of plants and their medicinal and edible uses, including some that locals heavily rely upon. He's also a mountain-climbing and local plant-guide as well as part time naturopathic doctor, having retired from full time medical work a few years ago.

A view of Quito from the north east. The city continues to roll over many more hills after the one you see.

At 10:30, Ivan and I met his wife and daughter and a dozen other people at the rock climbing spot, and by 12:30 it was time to go.  We passed some more beautiful places on the way out.

You can clearly see a waterfall on the right. If you zoom in, you can also see a bunch of smaller waterfalls in the dark brown area in the center and left of the picture. Far above this big chasm, there's a ledge you can just see in the foreground. It is a nice place to make music away from the noise and smog of the city.
We walked back into Quito and sat at a bus stop together for an hour just getting to know each other better - me, Ivan, Isabel, and their daughter Abigail. After an hour at the bus stop, I realized I was only 30-40 minutes from home and said I felt like walking home. They felt the same, so we left the bus stop together on foot. Eventually we parted and agreed to meet again soon.

I'm both excited and humbled that I may have found an opportunity to integrate with the sort of community I've been seeking. I may have other leads now as well, so I'm not sure where I'll go from here. Still, it's heartening to see theories and fantasies of an indigenous life turn into concrete options.