This page has moved to a new address.

The Means were the End

In the "Cult of Escapism": The Means were the End

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Means were the End

Over a month ago, community friend and work counterpart, Ruben, invited me to hike north and advise a new cooperative. At this point in my service, I enjoy working with cooperatives about as much as a swift kick in the chin, but I do enjoy hiking north in the dry season and spending the night with the really rural Ngäbes.

When hiking north with a counterpart, I usually keep up through sheer pride and force of will. The mountain Ngäbes walk like machines – not that fast, but absolutely never stopping or altering their pace or drinking water or eating. Sometimes they don't even sweat – that's when I lightly cut them with my pocket knife to make sure they bleed red blood.

However, Ruben is what we agreed to call “well fed” and also has a hurt leg, so this time I set the pace. We also left so late that we had to hike two of the three hours at night, which means its cooler but that we're more likely to see snakes. Luckily, we only saw one snake, about 27 feet long, and I killed it with my bare hands. Then I did a bunch of other manly stuff.

We arrived at his cousin's(?) place and had roughly 12 cups of coffee while they talked about local politics in Ngäberre. I got bored and lost after four seconds and busied myself staring at my over-caffeinated, trembling hands and the embers of the fire. Eventually, I dived into the conversation and we covered a couple of pretty important topics.

Sleeping accommodations in the mountains
They were complaining about lack of government assistance and I pointed out that they live in a semi-autonomous region that they fought hard for and don't pay any taxes to the government, so in a sense, the government doesn't owe them anything. I've been here before and usually the listener will either not know what taxes are or bring up something about the hundreds of years of forced relocation, rape, murder and trickery committed by the Spanish and then Panamanians. Which is a solid argument. But our host had a better one:

“We could pay taxes. I could pay taxes on my land and the money I make. And the municipal office would gather our taxes and promise us a road and then never build one. I don't know exactly what they would do with the money, but we would never benefit from it.”

True dat, mountain Ngäbe man.

He had another intuitive thought:

“In the Bible, it explains that we all now speak different languages because of the tower [of Babel]. But I read that story and there were no Indians building that tower. Why do we have to speak a different language then too?”

Good question, brother.

I offered that God was covering his bases, making sure no one tried it again. He retorted that Ngäbes would probably never try to build a tower like that and his tone implied that they wouldn't abstain out of respect, but because it just seemed like a silly idea in the first place. Love these mountain Ngäbes.


Morning view from our host's house
Our host's house is on the side of the crest of a mountain that creates two valleys – the one I live in that eventually leads to the ocean and the one leading to the gigantic Mordor mountains that create a living border between provinces. At night, you can see the lights of highway towns and in the distance, of David, the second largest city in Panama. In my valley, which is way more developed, the night is just dark and if you shine a light, you see jungle. But up there, in the poorest and most rural place I've ever been to, you can see the lights of the city in the distance. I wonder how this makes them feel. Tempted? Fascinated? Jealous? Wary? Or maybe they don't think on it – maybe it's just part of the landscape. All I could think was how such extreme differences exist, while still being close together.


In the morning, I noticed that our host had an unused light bulb hanging from his roof and I asked him about it. He pulled out a broken generator, which prompted the three of us to do the manly task of standing around the generator, looking thoughtful and pretending to think about possible solutions, when in fact we were hoping an actual manly man would come along and fix it and we could live vicariously through his biceps.

I even asked Ruben if he knew how to fix it and he said no, but that of course didn't stop him from opening the generator and poking at it with a screwdriver. Meanwhile, I viewed the generator from multiple angles, looking thoughtful, but not even mentally attempting to find an answer. It was the manly thing to do.


The walking robot (right) and Ruben dig the view
Later that day, I hiked down with a man who was walking two hours down to another town so that he could get three sheets of zinc and then immediately, without resting or eating or drinking water, walk five hours back up the mountains to his house. I cut him with my pocket knife and saw circuits.

My bathing tank was empty when I got home, so rather than wait for it to fill, I just hosed off. The dirt and sweat seemed to be competing for most square inches of body covered and they somehow both seemed to be winning.

I also brushed the coffee out of my teeth. I think I honestly drank about 17 cups of coffee in 24 hours.


You'll notice I didn't mention the meeting with the cooperative. The actual meeting was not even worth mentioning, so I skipped it entirely. The above interactions and the 24 hours of hiking, amazing views, simple life and extra-stoic Ngäbes made the trip worth taking. For me, the means were actually the ends.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home