The Tools of Living

Obviously, when he first got to South America he was a tourist. Tours, treks, hostels—he burned through money and felt joy in doing places—”I did Santiago last week. Did Patagonia…Did Peru…Columbia…I really want to do Brazil next.”—as if an entire country could be summed up so easily. It was less the experience as it was being able to say he had done it. He met friendly locals, cool business owners, and other tourists from all over the world. There was a real tourist culture that came from the feeling of knowing that you were all travelers—that you had left your old lives behind. You had balls because it did take a lot of courage to go out into the world on your own, or even with a close friend. Not groups of friends though, the experience was different. Easier, muddled, disconnected from the culture you traveled to. Yes, being alone was where you proved yourself.

The locals had a special tourist culture as well. They knew how to read foreigners, and how to sell to them. It was a salesmanship at least understandable, and at times the most unique, adaptable, weird bearded guy you’ve ever met. These guides, moto-taxis, hook-ups or “friends” could see a tourist coming from a mile away, and knew just what to say to force them to stop their intended march past. They knew how to surprise, how to joke, and how to convince in godlike ways.

The superficial hostel hoping didn’t last long. At around two months he became bored, started to see through the monotony of his travels. It takes a certain amount of unhappiness to motivate a person to reach for the next good thing. When his travels started to feel repetitive and mundane he realized it was time for the next adventure.

Jamie Howard came to South America after years of sitting on the desire to go, letting it build till it was ready to explode. It wasn’t that he was afraid to leave the country, he just kept getting held back. School, though unnecessary in his own mindset, could be useful in the future. It could make life a little easier down the line, and make getting a job teaching English a possibility. School was slow because he also had monetary restrictions—meaning he was broke. He had to be really. If he wanted the government to pay for his school he had to be poor, very poor, and he was not rich enough to pay for school himself. He was trapped on the cusp of poverty and comfortability. Real poverty was never an issue though, not in America. Jamie was always saving, he could save in nearly any situation, but from his income those savings equaled—not very much. The secret, he would say, was to live below your means, no matter what those means were. Jamie saved for years at those low means. South America was to be an escape from money and restriction, at least the way he imagined it. An educated guess he would say. In South America he imagined he could live cheaply, experience something new daily, and get a good paying job merely because of the language he spoke. He imagined money would not be a worry, and his life would be filled with a sun-soaked happiness.

Jamie found volunteer jobs on the internet. He had intended to wwoof from the beginning. He traveled out to local farms and got room and board for his work. He wanted it to feel like old cowboy times; just working the meal line; an honest day’s pay for and honest day’s work, but most the of the time it was more of an tourist operation. They were real farms, but there was an air of fakeness to them. That salesmanship again, present in the way he was treated. Maybe there were too many other white people there for him to feel special, he wondered. So he worked his way to new places, got better at searching out farms that felt more authentic, improved his Spanish, and made friends who pointed him in the right direction. Eventually he found himself a part of a family. A community too. A small rural town in Chile. He would help in their grape farms and the smaller family garden, which at two acres was not so small at all. He didn’t work too hard, and didn’t get paid at all, but his family was generous. The meals at home were delicious, and they even took him out to restaurants once in a while. When they did the family’s table was always the focus of the restaurant. His skin color made him a celebrity, and his new family by association, but it was not as bad as it was in other places. Here it was respectful, not greedy. His new family was poorer than he, but they did not try to take his money. He justified that it was a fair trade: he gave them work and made them special in town; they fed him and gave him a way of living that he could not achieve on his own. The truth was that the real trade was in the friendships they gave each other, the trade of cultures that enriched both.

Jamie told himself that he would write once he had the time and space to do so. South America was to be that space. He knew that there would always be other obligations, but he figured it would be almost easy while traveling. So much inspiration lay in wait for him on his journeys, and so much free time. There’s a big difference between writing for pleasure and obligation. The words just come out differently; they lack heart when they are forced. He had hoped pleasure lay in South America, and it did much of the time. He would wake up with the sun, the cultural norm where he now lived. Some days he had a hot cup of coffee, others tea and breakfast. He would go sit in the field soaking up the sun and looking out at the crops to be worked, or the mountains in the distance, their forested peaks behind flat farm land were picturesque. Or he would sit in the cool square shack he called home, big enough for his one person bed, a desk, and still room for working out or yoga. The floor was dirt, his bare feet planted on the earth. He spent plenty of time at his little desk in front of shutters that opened to fresh air and sunlight, without the barrier of a window separating him from the outside world. Some mornings he went on long walks, or went to town to get breakfast and be visited by curious townspeople who wanted to practice their English. Jamie did not write a novel, this was no writer’s fantasy of easily completed books, but he wrote what he felt and enjoyed the writing. It was beautiful like his surroundings. Beautiful like the beauty he began to find in his heart. A happiness in him that could well tears to his eyes at unexpected moments of overwhelming emotion. He had reached the point where his expectations, even the long-shot possibilities, had been surpassed. Where to go next, and when, were a complete mystery to him.

One morning, as the sun rose with Jamie, he had the urge to work. His shorts lay bunched on the chair beside his bed. He slid into them and walked out his door into the field without a shirt or shoes. He walked till he found root crops in need of weeding. He got down on his hands and knees, and dug his fingers into the soil, pulled it up and sucked the soil smell into his nose. So clean, he though. He worked for a few hours allowing himself to be side tracked with the movements of little insects foraging and worms wriggling in the upturned soil, with the good morning waves from his family, and with moments to take in the feeling of the breeze rushing across his bare sweating skin. His back ached and it felt good. He worked till he was done, a feeling he knew only when it came. When it had, he stood, breathed a deep and relieving breath, and went to the house for breakfast and cold tea. He had a full day ahead of him, what would he do? The possibilities are endless, he though.

A Quick Essay on an Essay for a Class Essay

In N. Scott Momaday’s essay “The Man Made of Words” he says, “Do you see what happens when the imagination is superimposed upon a historical event? It becomes a story. The whole piece becomes more deeply invested with meaning.” (89) What Momaday means here is really quite complicated for us to contextualize. He is saying that the mere facts of history, though important, hold less value to us than they would if they had an emotional connection. When we add some imagination to a historical fact, we add some background frame work to it that lets us humanize it and relate it to more personal experiences.

His larger picture in the essay has to do with words and storytelling. “Language” he says, “is the element in which we think and dream and act.” (83) It is how we can communicate ourselves to the world. Momaday wants us to realize how much more of an impression a story can make on the world rather than plain historical facts. I find the meaning of this to be that we as human are truly invested in our emotional presence in the world. The facts of an event only hold value in that before them and after them there is a much larger story to be told. The death toll of WWII is only important in what more it can tell us. Why do we learn this information, these statistics? It is not taught to us so that we can write the number on paper and think no further on it. It is the story that is important, the dead people’s families, the wives they may have had back home, the children, the parents. What brought them to the war is important, the content of their character, the struggles in their life and the beauty. In the moment of their death, and the events leading up to it, what did they feel? These are the questions we are compelled to listen and learn from, although we learn historical facts it is as a means to know the story behind it all, and further than that to feel some emotion about those stories.

Momaday tells us the story of Arrow Maker, a story passed verbally down through history. Within the story are universal truths, and insights for listeners to make. His paper as a whole talks of Native beliefs on helpers in times of change and on our current need to connect back with the earth in our time of technological revolution. He talks of the stories of his people and the value that those words held. He makes clear that, as this quote outlines, when we use our imagination on the past, on a historical fact, we are able to see more and see deeper. We can pull out more meaning, and this is directly related to the emotional connection we feel to it. As he says, “Man achieves the fullest realization of his humanity in such an art and product of the imagination as literature.” (88) By literature he means storytelling. We are indeed in a time of change in this world and as we look at our history and the histories of others, we should keep a connection with the emotions of those histories and with the emotions within ourselves. We will find much more value and this way as opposed to solely facts.  

(I found the essay in the anthology Noting But the Truth, by John L Purdy)

Manduk Village

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I guess the village is about 200 people but I’m not really sure. Most are farmers but the crops are varied; red and white rice alternated every six months (every crop), or cloves sold to cigarette companies, and coffee, they roast it here too. There is also a lot of cacao but there is a fruit fly problem killing more than half of the fruit on most of the trees. These are the major ones that I know of, but they also grow other spices like nutmeg, shallots seem common, today I saw zucchini, cauliflower, lettuce, green beans, chili and many different leafy greens, but I assume these are for local consumption not for export. For fruits I saw Pineapples, papayas, dragon fruits, avocados, bananas and coconuts. I’m sure they grow much more but this is what I’ve seen. It seems like they use most of what grows naturally, not just the very common banana leaf for a plate, which is great, but many leaves can be used to heal and roots, fruits, and flowers. They have learned through the generations what can and can’t be used. I think if you get cancer or some can’t be killed without radiation disease, this is the place to come to get better naturally, or at least to die in paradise.

Despite their herbal cures and healthy variety of food, many still believe that if they get sick it is because of the spirits or bad karma. We went by a house and the girl inside was sick. Obviously I am no doctor and Ary, who I was with, was not either, but all the same Ary tried to comfort her and talked to her, she tried to find out the cause. It seemed like she needed to be asked what she had eaten or been exposed to, to follow a normal line of deductive reasoning that you would ask a child, but it was uncommon here, the girl wanted to see a spiritual healer. In the modern world I guess we are pickier eaters or don’t live directly off the land.

There is a sort of village healer, and old woman about 60, she has a big smile and seems chipper and in good health. She offered me snacks which I liked and remembered me when she saw me walk past her house in the woods. She would know what plants to use to heal different sicknesses and the old natural remedies forgotten in our modern world, not scientifically tested but tested through time and many generations. I would imagine that sometimes she probably heals with a placebo effect, her patients believing in her powers, but I also believe she would know secrets that science either doesn’t know yet or has forgotten.

The village has two chiefs. One is from the government and the other is more related to the church or you could say tribal. The village by the way is basically all the people in the town. The church and the village seem to be one. It turns out I’m staying at the village chiefs house. He seemed a powerful fella and Ary said he was a bit feared and respected, but I just thought he was a rich man, as he owns the restaurant where I stay, a guest house somewhere, a coffee plantation and a rice plantation. They are not huge but they bring in money for sure. Now that I know he is the chief I see he is a bit more than just a rich guy, I see that he holds himself as a man of wisdom and power. He is nice, friendly and incredibly relaxed, but I don’t know if he doesn’t speak English or just doesn’t say much to me. There are often people here talking to him and he always seems very important. His attitude fits his position. The positions of chief, both of them, change every 5 years. The government one is not so important here as things don’t go through the law as much. If there is a dispute they don’t usually go to the law and get witnesses, they go to the village chief and talk it out and a solution is decided upon.

Every new or full moon there is a three day ceremony. Last night was the last night of the full moon ceremony, so he and the healer woman were up until 4 am. I don’t know what the ceremony consisted of but I assume it was like the one I attended the day before: music, praying, dancing and offerings to the gods, but it would be on a smaller scale. The ceremony that I witnessed was four villages combined and the day that most people go. Last night was a private church for this village alone, Munduk. You would probably need to be very dedicated or in need of some serious good luck to be out all night.

The town has many guest houses to make money. It is a bit sad because it equals people coming in and taking pictures of their culture but having very little to do with it. It is also very expensive to tour here. As far as Bali goes there isn’t much culture left that has not been altered by the tourist trade. Today I walked through different farms in the town. I saw where they make fertilizer, and also a small garden next to it . There was a guy who lived there with a wasp tattooed on his forehead. He was a friend of Ary’s so we stopped and talked to him. He made us coffee and cut some cacao for me to eat. It is orange and oval shaped, gourd-like but not perfectly oval, it’s ribbed. The part you could eat was a white coating around the bean, kind of like pith around the beans, very sweet full flavored and a little citrusy and rich. It was really delicious until you bit into the incredibly bitter seed, or bean, which is what makes the chocolate. We met another guy who gave me some red rice seeds to plant at home. There are lots of workers in the village who go from crop to crop as harvesters. I guess the village chief pays more than others, he does 1/3 of profits for red rice which is normal, and 2/3 for white which I think is a bit high for here. The workers usually take product as pay rather than money.

Our mission for the day was to go to his coffee plantation. We went past a sixty-or-so-foot waterfall that I had seen the day before, and met a woman and her son, and a dog named Bobo with his two very amusing puppies. They invited us in for bananas, coffee and to talk. We then met the husband and their younger daughter who was very cute. I watched the dogs and chickens mostly, as I had no idea what they were talking about in Bahasa, then Ary said it was time to go back to the house. We were at the coffee plantation and I didn’t even realize it. So the guy offered to take us into the property further to see more. I’m sure this made Ary happy too, but I think she waits till things are offered, and isn’t pushy, so my innocent unawareness was a bit helpful.

I didn’t see too many trees, because I don’t think it was a very big place. Maybe plantation just referred to the fact that there was a land owner and someone who worked the property and lived on it. It was on a many levels, built on the side of the steep hill just like the rice fields and everything else, in a stair step pattern. We past some workers who offered…more coffee. No thanks, if I had had the three cups offered so far, I would be so jittery, but I had declined them all because I drank one at the house already and caffeine hits me hard.

The man showed us how he was splicing in a new strain from a different area. It was organic as was most everything here. He cut off a branch, then cut the stem diagonally about an inch, then the same to a small piece of new stem, connected them, cut sides touching, and finally wrapped them in a thin strip of plastic. Then he put a small bag over the top, though I’m not sure why, maybe to keep in moisture, and make it humid. Another way he did it was to cut the new stem diagonally on the left and right of one side. Then he just cut a slit down the still growing stem and slid the new into the old, then again the plastic bandage and the bag over the top. The coffee tree starts to yield at about year three and is about 4 ft tall. Its branches grow wide and the new leaves are really shiny green or reddish green. Because of their shininess my first thought was it might be some versions of poison oak. You can only harvest the coffee beans once a year but it is still a profitable business and Indonesia produces tons of it. Why do you think we nicknamed coffee Java?

Then we walked back home. It’s a slow, quiet, peaceful walk with Ary. The forest around us is lush and green and dotted with colorful flowers. We pass houses and can look inside of them and see people now and then. And step over a steam now and again too. When we see people they are happy to see me, nod hello and continue on with what they are doing.

The Forest

You are the strength I find from supernatural powers.

My grandmother waving in the breeze,

aged and wise.

You are the green maze of happiness.

You are an ocean of noises. Life sneaking by.

You who can only be tamed by the cries

of and owl. Or the lonely eyes of camper

staring out through the flames of the fire.

You weep and creak but know nothing of pain.

I live and die in but the blink of your eye.

You’re the duct tape to my boots, the calm in the

chaos.

Run away with me?

Let’s be brethren or lovers.

Let’s hitchhike to the next place and eat with the locals.

Why don’t we disappear

into the land that time forgot,

a jungle of dinosaurs or old Inca tribesmen.

Let me listen to your silence

when I’m in need

of the peace that you bring me

and the acceptance you are.