Tukupi finale

Trip Start Jan 23, 2008
Trip End May 23, 2008

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Our last day in Tukupi was another gem of learning.

In the morning, we were put in charge of a primary school class for 20 minutes. This came as a bit of a surprise, but I think we improvised pretty well and the kids were perfectly behaved. To start off, the students sang a Shuar song about their town Tukupi, led by a brave little girl who got up in front of her classmates. We told them a little about the US and taught the kids a little dialogue in English. We then gave out some little gifts we had brought, rewarding the best students in math and grammar with a notebook each, the best artist with crayons, and our brave singer with moisturizer lotion.

Then, we stopped by to watch the constuction of a traditional shuar home. Traditional homes are constructed with a timber frame, bamboo walls (although not all had walls), and a palm thatch roof. With proper maintenance these homes will last around 5 years. This means periodic repair or reconstruction, but consider that:
a) there entire home is compostable.
b) thatch is actually MUCH cooler than the metal roofs, and can be just as watertight.
c) the traditional home uses more bamboo (quickly renewable) and less hardwood (slower to regenerate) than modern construction
d) with the possible exception of the woodsmoke, itīs entirely non-toxic. No VOCs, no asbestos, no fiberglass irritation.

We stayed with one family in their traditional home for 3 days. The home was in the shape of an oval. On one end was a raised platform for sleeping. The center of the house was lined with benches, and a table with traditional chairs made for a nice social area. A constant fire was kept going in this area as well....not only is fire used for cooking, the smoke helps to preserve the thatch roof, and it keeps the mosquitoes away. On the other end of the house was the cooking area where food is stored, and prepared. A small propane stove served to supplement the fire when needed.

Then, we headed off to work in the family field (chakra) with a mother and daughter. I was given the job of carrying the basket as well as the fire. A little packet of embers is packaged up and serves to create some mosquito-repelling smoke. It also serves as kindling for the burn pile of the stuff we slashed. (Yep, slash and burn is alive and well.)

The family plot was a good 15 minute walk from their home. En route we passed by other plots with coffee and cocoa, splashed through a cool clear creek, and eased across a wide mossy log spanning a ravine. The plot was roughly triangular and covered about an acre. Most of the jungle vegetation was cleared, but a few trees remained, their slim white trunks rising austerely to their high dense crown. Below were a variety of edible plants, mostly yucca. Our task for the morning was to plant some starts, gather some food, clear away weeds and put them on the burn pile.

The last is where the slash and burn comes in.

This practice is alarming, as the soil is a thin layer of humus over sterile clay. With the trees cleared, the soil loses its constant source of nutritious litter. Composting the weeds and garden waste might go some way to replace this nutrient source, but they very strongly prefer to burn the cleared plant material rather than compost it. Not surprisingly, they have to abandon a plot after about a year. They may come back to it in a few years, but in the meantime, they may need to clear an entirely new area.

Little by little, this is partly how the rainforests are disappearing.

So when we returned to the village, e found that school had been dismissed early for Holy Week and all the kids had been set to the task of picking up litter and clearing away construction garbage from the new basketball court. It was pretty funny, because just the day before the kids had gotten cookies at school, and ALL of the rappers were tossed nonchalantly on the ground so that the area around the school glittered with the metallic wrappers. I actually thought that the teachers should have the kids clean up the village so that they might be less likely litter, but figured it was pretty arrogant of me to even suggest such a thing. So I was just tickled to see them doing just that! Whatīs hilarious is that the kids were having a heyday picking up the very litter they had created the day before. This was a GREAT game! We jumped right in the fun, and cleared away several large bags of little and quite a few wheelbarrows of construction waste. It was the perfect way to wrap up our stay in Tukupi!

You know the point in the plotline when a character has an epiphany, a significant realization or recognition? Well, slowly it dawned on me that the bags and wheelbarrows were disappearing in the general direction of the river. Yep, EPIPHANY: the kids are dumping this stuff in the river. In an instant my elation was sullied by the image of hundreds of glittering metallic wrappers floating down the river. Bill found Florentino, who acted quickly. He put an end to the dumping, but then we learned that the only other option was to burn the plastics and papers. Florentino took all the metal recyclables he could carry, but we left a lot of nasty stuff to be burned. Canīt win for losing. But gotta keep trying.

Before we left, Florentino gathered all the kids and spoke to them about keeping the river clean. To thank them for cleaning up the village, we handed out candy to all the kids...AND collected each wrapper, some from the kids, some from the ground. *sigh* smile*
Then we headed off for a lunch of armadillo stew. What a day!

Tukupi really has so much going for it, that it seems sustainability would really work here to improve quality of life and place. Improved farming practices would help them replenish their soil and slow clearing. Solar energy could do a lot. For cooking, it would reduce the amount of wood harvested. It would also allow for refrigeration (a luxury few can afford and then only for 2 hours a night when they run the generators for light). Solar would also provide all families with clean quiet light at night. Waste management would help keep the river (food and water source) clean.

And with all of that, I need to recognize that my consumption of natural resources and production of waste is FAR greater than that of these families. In fact, even with our modest lifestyle in Seattle, my ecological footprint is 2.3 planet earth equivalents (meaning that for everyone on the planet to live my lifestyle would require resources equivalent to 2.3 planet earths).

So while I concern myself with what the Shuar of Tukupi do to simply live, I need to also concern myself with living more simply myself.

Check out your footprint:
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