It’s a humbling experience washing your clothes with a brush and washboard in the river**

While the lot of us Americans sit in revolving office chairs eating Funions in front of a fluorescent computer screen, our muscle mass falling off our shoulders and sliding like a slow-motion avalanche to settle somewhere around our waistlines, paleness plaguing our aesthetic in the distinct geometry of our Saturday leaf raking outfit, body hair too, abruptly and unnaturally cutting off where our office socks end, the Indio has an impeccable body. When Riquard takes his shirt off at the end of his work day, I feel like I’m looking at the body of a 30 year oldOlympian boxer. I still don’t believe I’d pick this mule-haul over the contemporary,technologically integrated one, but to give credit where credit is due, they sure know how to do things with their hands here! I keep recalling this short story we read in Mr. McCullough’s high school sophomore English class, about the machine- about the irony of feeling such a sense of entitlement with owning and using machines when we know virtually nothing about how they work- how they take input and transform it into output. And we eagerly snap photos with this mysterious box, thinking little of how the scene before us was captured in a physical two dimensional image. And whereas our life energy is relocatedto intellectual inquiry, artistic, cerebral abstractions, here it is grounded in functionality; competence in wild-life survival skills. Walking through the rainforest basin with Pedro I am oblivious to the particularities of the plant and animal creatures around me, my mind absorbed in Alice-in-Wonderland thoughts- the almost synthetic brilliance of color, and right before I land my foot on a venomous snake Pedro grabs me by the shoulders and pulls me abruptly back- like the first-time visitor to New York City who can’t tear his eyes from the height of the skyscraper. “Mira!” he will say, “Look! A zapote grove,” “A hagua tree.” And even as I stand in front of him, following his line of sight down his arm and beyond his pointed index, I can’t find what he sees. So many things they can see which elude me, and hear.“That’s my father,” he will say, hearing the sound of a chainsaw in the distance. He can tell by the distant coordinates and by the subtle difference in tone of the machine hum from his uncles. The vine of the yam and the stalk of the yuka, the spine of the cocoboloplant, which is the most valuable tree for building hoses for its strength and beauty, … But even buried two hours deep into the woods, Pedro will pipe up, “Want some sugar cane?” Apparently we are in a sugar cane grove. I never would have identified the brown thicket as such.“Don’t you ever get lost?” I ask. “No!” he exclaims, “I’ve been traversing these backwoods alone since I was six.” And three more hours in to the twists and bends around uniform bodices of trees that stand stoically like great grandfathers, under the overhang of webbed branches, through rivers, over felled trees, down rock faces, Pedro will still say things like, “this here is my father’s” pointing to an apparent grove of orange trees on our right- and apparently property is still demarked in such seemingly ambiguous area.. Pedro clearly has his orientation staked out in his head. Looking up atthe sun, “It’s 3:00: Norwegian orienteering minus the compass. Left in the wilderness, with one companion with whom to survive I would undoubtedly pick the Indian.It is sure humbling to offer to help even the women with work in the field, and find that you can’t carry back the basket of corn you collected because it is too heavy- and have to hand it off to the ten year old to carry while your host mother- a woman of sixty years, carries a basket of a larger size with ease on her head. Or to give up after half a work day because you can’t bear the sun, while women persist, barely breaking a sweat, in parumas tightly wrapped skirts), barefoot.

In the evenings the sun at it sets on thewestern corner of the beach, will pull me towards it as if my magnetic force, and towards “la punta” at which the river runs into the ocean. Here I take off my clothes and descend into the river. Children from the bend of the river in the distance will approach in hollowed-out tree trunk canoe, looking like Lewis and Clark with a backdrop of a smoky mountainous skyline. In the light of the sunset the trees reflect the deepest wells of their greenThe sky, its blue… a brilliance that looks almost animated. The clouds reign over us, sharp and white strokes of oil paint with a knife, carving a city-scape of onion dome and Eifel tower silhouettes .And often at this time, a phenomenon particular to the present rainy season, a rainbow, or two or three will drop their banners from the heavens. “Archoides,” the Spanish word for rainbow is my new favorite Spanish word, for its sonic resemblance to Greek, its wonder trans-lingual.

 

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