“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." - THE LITTLE PRINCE
It isn’t every day that I find myself in rubber boots, following a machete-wielding woman, Carmenita, up a muddy trail, through jungle brush, and into a clearing with butterflies. Gorgeous butterflies. And tropical flowers whose names elude my brain.
Twelve of us have come to experience the Machaku Yuku community, an indigenous Quecha people who live near the headquarters of the Amazon in Ecuador. For two days, Bill and I share a house on stilts with Marta, the wife of the head of the village. I suspect we are given this honor because Bill is the oldest in our group.
The Machaku Yuku are opening their houses and hearts to allow us to experience how they live, what they eat, and how they cohabitate in an environment that offers everything from poisonous snakes to healing plants.
Carmenita shows us the huge ant nests that hang from leaves. She places a gigantic ant on my arm which later, will be barbecued and we shall eat at their healer’s house. The healer is Carmenita’s father. When I tell him I think I have the start of bronchitis—a chronic condition for me—he mixes a brew of various leaves, hands me the corked bottle, and says to take it twice a day. Heck—if I can eat an ant –and later a grilled worm—I’ll try it. It stopped my bronchitis!
We rise at dawn to sit with community members who gather to share any dreams from the night before. Certain members serve as interpreters of the dreams. The community shares horchata tea before scurrying off to get the children ready for school. The older ones walk 2.5 hours to get to a road for the school bus while the younger ones are taught in a single room.
For our last night, we sit in an open-air circular building. We’re requested to NOT sit with each other but to choose members of the village. A tiny girl with gorgeous black eyes, nestles under my arm while another one sits on my lap. The village musicians perform their music and dance for us. Then, we are asked to join them in dancing which is quite easy to do because it seems there are no prescribed steps. The finale is to get the three couples in our party to stand and to be re-married in Quecha style. It is such a sweet invitation and so incredibly simple. Our three men are each escorted by male villagers as their sponsors. They are given white ponchos to wear and a hat. Three times the men approach us (the wives) and bow. On the third time, we stand, each with a female escort, and join the men.That’s it: married! Had this been an actual ceremony, we would have been sent out to the jungle to have our first night alone. (I’ll take my little bed with the mosquito netting, thank you!)
Here’s the point. I write so you can see what I saw. But what I felt—the invisible—ahhh, that was the lesson.
Without pretense, apology or guile, this community accepted us on equal terms, trusting that our hearts would open just as theirs did. Marta proudly showed us how the bark of a tree could be shredded to make a fine thread that she began to weave into a basket. My little under-the-arm child held my hand and stroked my thumbnail, smiling all the while. And when it was time to leave, sure they offered items that they had made for us to buy. BUT it was not a condition of engagement.It was just that—a simple offering.
Question: How do we bring the stranger into our home? The stranger who does not speak our language? Would we open our bedroom, serve them at our table, take them on excursions that might seem foreign? Would we sing and dance for them?
Something to ponder.