Student studying in Ecuador feels impact of globalization

By Willa Simmet 2008

“Trade me your rubber boots for my basket,” the handsome young Shuar man said to me as we sat together outside of a hut in Miasal, discussing the progressive changes the Shuar people have made throughout the last 50 years. I accepted his offer, eyeing his son’s bare feet, and added some zip lock bags into the deal.

I had begun the journey to the end of the road a couple of days ago, after riding in a bus and in the back of a couple of pickups, down into the Amazon plains that stretch from Ecuador through Brazil, arriving at the port town, finding a guide and hopping into a canoe where we would be beginning our journey down the Morona River. We arrived at a group of native huts and settled in for the night.

As night settled over the papaya trees, the jungle began to come alive. The screeching nocturnal monkeys began hunting for their food.

The frogs chatted in low-pitched ribbits as they played in the mud along the banks of the river. The cicadas mated, and the rain danced against my bamboo hut. I couldn’t help but stay up all night, experiencing the adrenaline of a night lit up with so much life.

The next morning I woke up to the smell of grilled banana, slipped out from under my mosquito net, stepped outside the hut, looked out into the river and saw pink river dolphins playing in the early morning sunshine.

My guide and new lifelong friend Abel, a local who lives in the area with his two young children and his Shuar wife, took my hand, excitedly whispering how lucky I was to be able to share time with the dolphins.

I looked at him and smiled. I told him to close his eyes with me while we imagined that we were also dancing in the river with the dolphins.

The next couple of days were spent sitting in the community of Miasal among Shuar elders and learning traditional songs from the village children, eating slugs, drinking coconut milk, exploring caves and observing crocodiles.

During this excursion to the end of the road, I had the chance to experience an immense connection with the land, through the mannerisms of the native people, the alertness of the wildlife, the abundance of rain and plethora of greenery.

I also had time to analyze. My journey as an exchange student in the Amazon region of Ecuador has taken me to great depths, both mentally and physically.

The world is changing. Globalization is taking place before my eyes. Throughout the past 50 years, the Shuar people have become bilingual and have entered into modern society.

Those who have the chance to trade hand-made crafts for them or make money to buy them have modern conveniences like tennis shoes and battery-powered CD players.
The children are attending bilingual schools, and their economy is slowly burgeoning into the modern one.

The effects of global warming are tapping on my eyes and falling on my skin. The Morona Santiago province is the only province left in Ecuador with rivers that have not been contaminated by petroleum, mining or hydroelectric companies.

The storms this rainy season have been the most intense that the oldest of the locals in Macas (my home town during my exchange year) can remember.

The armadillos are becoming extinct, and it is almost impossible to find monkeys in the trees surrounding my home in Macas, when only a few years ago the population was so abundant.

While flipping through a National Geographic on the bus ride home, I came across an article written about Basho, a Japanese poet, who walked 1,200 miles through Japan in 1689. I stopped and let my hand trace over his words, “Life is a journey and the journey is home.” This is a good message to keep in mind as life continues marching on.

Each day of our journey is home. Each action made and piece of land touched is home.

As our world changes, we need to journey with it, dance with the positive and protest against the negative.

We need to preserve the liveliness of nighttime in the jungle, the art of an indigenous language, the dance of the river dolphin and the fact that the end of the road really does exist.

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