My life in the fire……a prelude to the Flambeaux Fire show ‘The Calling’

When I was young in Scotland, gypsies would do fire-eating and breathing shows for the shocked villagers and  we’d burn enormous effigies – (a ‘guy’ we called it; a ‘Burning Man’ you call it) on the moor park on Guy Fawkes Night with everyone gathered around. It was magic for all, for for me there was a vitality in that magic – an urgency. 

For some, it was tradition, diversion. For me it was the whole  point of everything. A Calling.

I’d lean and stare into the coal fire which was central in our house, lean in so close that my sweater would melt and my mother would have to pull me back, smoking, and scold me for ‘losing myself in the fire’ again. I examined every glowing canyon in that coal fire burning in the hearth nightly, every erupting flame, every moment of combustion. It would connect me to God and the Universe.

I loved fire but I had no desire to destroy with it, only to build. No wonder I ended up doing what I do!

Back in the village, some people told me I’d go to hell, so my instinct was to get to know flames – my future cellmates – as friends. (Problem solved!) I had a dream of a man on fire – me – and that no-one could put out his flames except himself, and when he did, he was made new. And when I went to college, the Scottish witch-trials is what I studied.

 

So you see I know what I mean when I talk about a Calling. Somehow – I don’t speculate how – I had a vocation to pull inspiration out of fire itself. To seek its’ warmth and value instead of it’s pain and destruction. It’s ability to melt course metal, so that it may be reshaped into a world of our choosing. It’s ability to send a beacon of celebration in the night so that hope may be restored. It’s ability to transfix those who gathered around it, their faces alive with magic in the dark.

When I first performed with fire I was the only one who did it, and I was a young and drunken fool. I was a vagabond traveller with no responsibilities, living hard and doing only what I wanted to do! Though I treated it with great ceremonial importance, I still wasn’t mature enough to handle fire and I sometimes got burned learning, then burned performing, in those first 7 years. In those days, there were no groups, forums or enclaves No-one played with fire except me and a few lone-wolves in their own worlds. You had to learn the hard way and learn I did.

When I did get burned – once, extremely badly – I’d feel like there was no greater loser. 

“How could you have done this to yourself!?” I would lament internally, hiding from the world in a daze of pain and shock.

“Did you think you could play with fire but be the only one who wouldn’t get burnt?!”

And I’d think that I should never go near it again. 

At those moments, clarity comes to you by default. And strangely enough, in my moments of greatest clarity I’d know that giving up fire was not the answer. Going back to it, deeper, better, safer, was the answer. In that way, fire taught me to become responsible in my life as controlling my ability to handle fire became a metaphor for learning how to control the impetuous and dangerous madness that was my passionate youth.

I always believed in the fire’s magic, and the ability of that magic to heal and transform masses of people through shows and ceremonies and rituals. So I built that up, learning, trying new ideas, using more and more people in my ‘fire landscapes’ and bringing out the showman and the shaman in me. 

I got good through a long time then started making money off it. Now I could get an an apartment! I exercised those muscles, and came to live in the mainstream world naturally, moving through my imagination easier through the years. My calling was always the same since the age of 7 when I first saw the gypsies breathing fire. It never diminished or changed in it’s intensity. Only the circumstances changed. 

So what was and what is that Calling? 

Cos I know I’m lucky to have it and recognize it so clearly. Some people don’t know theirs’ even though it seems obvious what it is to others from the outside. It seems to be what people call a destiny, an future identity of what could be. You have to stop standing in it’s way for your calling is a pre-ordained possibility for you and the Universe to coincide. It’s not even that spiritual. If someone has a clear line between what they can do and the thing they want, everyday life will bring that calling out. 

And I am lucky to have it branded upon me – my Calling is fire.

What could be with me is a huge Broadway or Vegas fireshow. It is possible. 

Yes – I feel a clear line between me and the goal. 

And I feel indebted enough for, at least, this gift, to be able to use the fire to have others identify and make a goal of their version of The Calling.

 
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Wetbacks

I was only an illegal here in the States from Scotland for 11 years but in that time I ‘got it’. How could I really ‘get it’ coming from where I did though? My experience wasn’t exactly the same as some Guatemalan who walked a thousand miles across a desert! Well that’s true, but, coming up from Mexico where I was living for a year, and speaking street Spanish as I did, and being from the more gypsy-like traveling tradition anyway, my time illegally here was spent closer to the Latin American experience than most, and, now as a fully fledged American, I see things from that side and not the side people expect for a white boy.

People trash Mexico although it’s the coolest culture – very like Scotland in its’ outlook – Mexicans laugh at themselves as being worthless bueys and burros while they strike out on adventures that most Americans couldn’t imagine, let alone complete! Their stories getting here are epic, and you walk past them like they are nothing. 

That reminds me of something; the stories of the American frontier, of the influx of thousands of hungry settlers, straining and striving for a dream that was held in the ever-vanishing sunset that propelled people west to create the great American mythology. Just the same. Nothing different. Except Mexicans aren’t massacring Indians as they go. They’re just getting their cousins work. So not the same. Like me, everyone except the indigenous tribes are trespassers, and not that long ago either. When put in this perspective, why do so many Americans dare to denigrate ‘wetback’ immigrant culture? The only conclusion I can draw, logically, is that they are aware of the hypocrisy but don’t pay it no mind, adhering to the belief, therefore, that it’s ‘survival of the fittest’, and that ‘America’, as a melting pot, means ‘holding onto the turf you won’ . In other words ‘warfare’. 

So is this true? Is our society based on grabbing possessions and then holding them, regardless of ethic, of system, of ‘fairness’? Perhaps – it IS a capitalist society. But if so, then you white Americans must be prepared to wither soon watch your country turn brown as races intermix. It won’t stop if you curb immigration – they are in now and they will breed and the liberal side of society will undoubtedly relax rightwing laws that keep them boxed up, so they will escape their box, inter-wed, and soon, America will be brown. If you adhere to a system of ‘warfare’ then you will have ‘sot the war’. So I don’t think ‘warfare’ is the best system to live by. It’s a waste of good resources that could have been yours’ if there was ‘peace’. I think it’s time to make peace. It’ll work better for you.

But why am I focussing on white people? Illegality is opposed by the legal, not just the white.

I think the reason is that as I travelled; Texas, Nebraska, Tennesee, Maine, pick-up trucks and freight trains, heading for the next harvest, working in the fields with Pueblans and Michoacanas, I couldn’t help but be lumped in with them, and I got to see how white culture in this country still dominates, and still pulls the strings. Treatment can be harsh. Ridiculously harsh. And that is natural in life sometimes, but the problem comes with the following. They simply won’t do what the Mexicans – or myself at the time – would do. Every SINGLE time we had more than 3 white people in the fields on the team, the conversation (after about the first 3 hours of work) would start to heat up and slow down the working. Conversations between all three of them out the Mexicans surrounding them, who would ignore it and politely get on with what they were doing. Then, conversations about unions, about how bad was the pay, about resenting the fact that they were toiling. IThat they were, essentially, degraded by circumstances to doing what a Mexican should be doing as they were, after all, nonhuman. It would become annoying and distract the rest from doing what they do – working – like slaves. For you.

 

Wait! Is this going to turn into an anti-union rant?!  Not likely. My grandfather was a trade union leader and I have had my head smashed by quite a few batons during union protests. So it can’t. Im Scottish and that would like cutting off my manhood. Unions exist as a necessary safeguard of the collective worker against the forces of profit which will ALWAYS over-exploit them if left unchecked. They are a natural and healthy reaction. But humans are humans. When they gain the upper hand, they use it, and unions exploit too – exploit back – often decimating economies whereby, everybody suffers. 

And you don’t like it. 

I like it fine, when Im working a union job. In my legal life I had a couple. 

So I like it just fine!

But white America doesn’t. 

It complains endlessly about how high prices rise when unions demand all kinds stuff for their workers (like pay benefits and conditions). Then it looks at wetback culture, which asks for nothing,  and it drools. 

The wetbacks say “We will do it! You said ‘send us your poverty stricken and your sick’ Well that’s us and we will work your jobs. We are happy to do this for less and one day we will be legal and American and will go into politics and we will help run this country”. 

And, by default, America says ‘YES’. And prices stay low. And Mexicans become more American than us gringos.

 

Again I am faced with a challenge. How can this be explained? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that wetback labor in America keeps our prices low and keeps the economy fluid – which America demands. So why the ranting when you can’t have it both ways? 

Anyone who says ‘That’s bull. In MY area, we would take those low paid labor jobs!’ does not have the 11 years of daily experience that I have. No they wouldn’t. I saw it. I have the proof. Don’t try to convince me. Really – Texas, Nebraska, Tennesee and Miane. They are not rich states. White folks did NOT wanna do it. Only farmers who were small and had their own families and people come work the fields would have locals. Only locals who were motivated by helping Uncle Jimmy bring in his harvest would dare work. In open business?…. not a chance.

 

Again – theres an inherent flaw in the logic of these two contradictory understandings. So what the *** is going on?

 

I think people who oppose the influx of immigrants and even wetbacks are, for the most-part, thinking tribally. It’s understandable. We all had to come here and protect our own and maybe we still do. Erasing their consciences of the eradication of 95% of the indigenous population quickly and easily, they need a scapegoat by which to justify their own short-comings. I’m talking about my own people here. I have it too. Scottish, Irish. Often 3rd/4th generationists. Their life was way hard. We were coming from clearances, massacres and artificially induced famines. We were indentured servants and used to push out the frontier for the rich to follow and mop up the profits. We were hungry and we went for it and we won but what we won didn’t always work out. Appalachia become the icon. It was poor, gritty and tough, so the people followed, bringing in their stalwart-ism from the old country, carrying it through till now. I love it. I am it. And I hate it too cos it holds us back and makes us condemn the rats beside us while we beg for acceptance by the elite. Who was spat on once now is privileged enough to do the spitting. And people did spit on me. For 11 years I was spat on, and it’s fine. If you can’t get spat on some and get up and wipe it off you shouldn’t be here. Go home. Repatriate your old country that your people came from. This is no place for you. And if you don’t wanna work then let the wetbacks do it. 

 

We have to open up now. Work. Ex-slave cultures too. It’s not gonna work, just complaining. Being down on them. You are good at one thing. Everyone has one thing. Admit it. It’s your calling, now identify it, work it out, rock it and soar. This is America. It’s what we do.

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Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

It just keeps coming up. And with it comes the bile. The Trayvon Martin case has the potential to cause much hurt in this country. And why not? It may need it.

Two people who met for a few seconds. Locked eternally in a struggle through the heavens, spinning with the stars, gritting teeth, finally pulling everyone around them into a a maelstrom. What happenned out there? In some sunny manicured suburb? With no-one watching? My answer is that I don’t care what happenned, cos it all came from the same place.

I came to the US from Scotland in 89, and one of the first things that happenned was an attack on our huge all-white ommune house in San Fransisco, by a team of crackheads from the housing project next door. I had already peered into the housing project with the eyes of a newbie who wants to know it all, appalled by the totality of the squalor, heart breaking open with empathy, and a desire to change the world. But what it was that really got me was that it was 100% black. When the crackheads attacked, they were out of their minds, smashing their ways through windows in a drug daze, unsure what they were doing, srong-as-hell, but completely uncoordinated. We repelled them as a group, and literally tossed them back over the fence into the project and I remmber it as a demeaning introduction to America, land of MLK and the Panthers.

“Aw shit!” I thought. ‘It really IS that bad here”

Now it was a pretty extreme case and I went on to be a liberal white kid living in many black hoods all over America, and extremity of the didvide wasn’t on my mind. But it did show it’s face just about everywhere at different times. America was the divided paradise, and everyone was trying to deal with the aftermath of what happens after civil rights liberates folks and folks struggle to live in the land of post-Jubilee, with a whole lotta still-racists glowering at em, with the whole world waiting for em, with a complicated new book-on-living to read and act on immediattely, struggling to cope. In New Orleans the public bathrooms of the French Market still had Mandingo carved graffitti on the walls from when it was used as a slaveholding cell before auction. In Mississippi, a land I loved, white folks still bought moonshine from ‘Niggerwoman McCloud’ who bore the name of the owner who raped her great granma. How do you get past that? In Scotland, we had our own shit. But America’s was sensational.

But though I travelled in many places that are the great subjects of extreme stories and adventure tales, the majority of my American education was on landscapes that are anything but cinematic. Coming from the old world, I could not understand the physical places I ended up in all the time, that were the average square milage of the suburbs. Suuure, Im talking about white-picket fence land, but more than that I’m talking about grassy knoll subdivisions and their trash compacting areas, electrical sub-stations 3 iles wide, suburban railroad yards that separated black hood from affluent white – THESE were the real non-photogenic places that the American dramas of white-on-black occurred. And this was the average, whimpering setting for the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. Gated community. Everyone’s white. Even if they’re black, they are NOT living the black life over there one mile away by the railroad yards and the trash compactor .site. you gotta be good here – respectable. Hoodies not welcome.

Either George Zimmerman realized that he’d just shot a white kid and HAD to suddenly turn his fists on himself to make it look like more than it was, or else this awkwardly quiet kid had a good streak of anger in him that came out in that way that streaks of awkward anger do often come out in adolescents, when he felt he was pushed too far by being followed or cornered. Either or. The courts will decide. It’s just another case. Hundreds happen every year. I do not know which it will be. But step back with me. See them tumbling through the imaginasphere, locked in struggle, teeth gritted. They are black and white in madern deadlock, and THAT is the issue. Whether they ever actually struggled, until American society addresses the simple fact that it is unspeakably shocking to imagine that in only the span of two long lifetimes, we have come to see black skin as more than a commodity completely owned by white people. Africa itself had abolished slavery in most states before the US did. A whole swthe of the population has to live with this fact, and their slavery in the US was worse than the enslavement of the majority of slave societies even as far back as the Egyptians – I know for I have studied this. Southern slavery was total and all-consuming. It allowed no leeway and obliterated all identity. Nothing was left excpet in vulnerable pockets that can only be described as a mistake or as a kindness so fragile that the removal of it was more painful than if it would never have existed. And the removal of kindnesses in Southern slave societies was basically inevitable. The American Indians destruction and the setting up of a destroyed African population in this land is one of the more extreme histircal overloads recorded. It has left us all fragmented and bitter, waiting for cases like this to happen.

Everyone knows it was not a cut-and-dry incident and it is not a cut-and-dry case. Maybe Trayvon DID attack. They say ‘He was quiet! He was timid, and when I hear the story of what happenned, I know it is made up completely because he wouldn’t do any of that! So this guy would HAVE to make this story up with no witnesses”. And personally, that’s what I suspect, but who cares what i think. Because when I look back to my childhood, Catholic in a Protestant village where te war between them both is fierce and cruel, angry with my inability to cope with young life, disturbed and sensitive to injustices, lacking is self-respect and subject to inner turmoil, I see someone who could harbour inside a landscape of turbulance, who would do things unknown to others that could be described as erratic at best, insane at worst. Violence? Certainly! Especially on the odd occasions when I could manage to be alone. Like a jailed resistor who knows his only power is sabotage and refusal to comply, I played dangerous games in a shadows of what was noticeable to adults, many inside my mind, and waited for someone to push me beyond ‘who I was’ and into the land of delicious automatic raction, wher eyou are super-human, and do not fear the consequences. I can see this yound having a hidden side, waiting to snap. I can see him, like me, even walking towards the drawn gun. I did that. Was I justified? Who cares. When the turmoil hits you, you can’t resist. And when you are 17, suddenly you see how not only are you crazy, but now you are strong…… nad people are starting to fear you.

Does this not justify the use of Zimmermans’ gun? This image of a tortured kid snapping and just deciding to head straight for him? After all, it was the state, not Zimmerman, who put in place the ‘stand your ground’ law. A person can’t be held accountable for acting on the fact that it DOES exist….. I tend to not know nor care. Perhaps so. But if ever there was a moment to reflect, it’s at that imaginary moment when Trayvon Martin turns and heads at George Zimmerman. Think into a mind…….

“It’s always like this. I’ve been followed every time now for a year. Isn’ this what they said wasn’t allowed to happen? Things are bad enough, but I get trailed like a convict every time I come through here. No-one’s around to see so he’s pushing it, cornering me. This is crazy – this guy with a gun is coming around in his car to cut me off. Things happen. People get shot in situations like this. To say they don’t usually means you’re white. This is crazy. This bastard is coming for me with a gun like a drive-by! What does he think this is? Does he think we are just gonna cower every time they pull a gun on us? I bet you he yells at me to stop! I’ll bet you he puts his hand on his gun and tells me to stop. Well fuck him! Fuck him and his gun. If he does, Im walking anyway, glaring at him. Cos he’s not even a cop. He’s some vigilante and he’s not got a right to tell me not to walk past his car. Go ahead. Shoot me. Who fucking cares! Im done with this! I’m done with it!”

Is this really so unreasonable? Is it truly an option to say ‘In this situation, you should just stop, cos if you’ve done nothing wrong, the fiendly peace officer will thank you, apologize and let you go”? Is it? Cos that will prove true in many situations depending on who you are. Is the person saying that really going to stick to such a laughable WHITE way of looking at the world?

However, maybe Zimmerman DID have previous experience that are justify his self-defense posture. Certainly, there’s a lot he would NOT be able to say publically. He couldn’t say ‘Look! What happenned was awful and tortures me, but the facts are that in this state, black on white violence is so statistically overwhelming that I didn’t know he was cool! How could I? X, Y and Z got mugged in the same way last year and I’m sorry but that DOES make a difference! If they don’t peace officers reacting like this, then why don’t they curb their society’s violent behaviour?!”

Would it be cool to say that? Not in the present cultural ettiquette of modern politics. But from real-life, boots on the ground perspectives where political correctness cannot help you stay alive when you are threatened, yes. It’s fair. This bog IS called Flambeaux ‘real life’ after all. Real life is really all that counts. Yes. Zimmerman doesn’t really appear all that racist. He has his own ethnicity. He’s tried to show he has a heart. I DO believe he had an authoritarian hero-complex and I do believe he racially profiled the hell out of an innocent situation. BUT…… the black population of the US is seriously struggling. Civil rights got violent and separatist in the 70′s, proving critics correct. Positive affirmation turned ugly and embarrassing and was it’s own form of sublimation. Society has done things to address the problem and lots is getting better, but………but it’s hard. TWO lifetimes. Slaves in the harshest sense. Owned and traded. Worked, raped and lynched. It’s too much. I was held up by a 12 year old boy in New Orleans who couldnt hold his gun up at me for too long because it was too heavy for him, so he did it in stages as I curiously got out my food stamps for him. And at night, we’d sleep on the floor by Desire housing projects to avoid stray bullets hitting us from the Uzi fights going on around our house. American slavery was all-consuming. It broke something and we are not admitting it. Forces a lot of people to embrace their more negative cultural stereotypes because the standard set has enabled them to gain more personally from doing so than to gain from collectively rejecting the notion. It’s not George Zimerman’s fault or even mine, what our ancestors did, and certainly the political culture of the 90s, wherin awareness of our tortured past was hip, is no longer in vogue. But members of the black population who manage to negotiate and rise above their pigeonhole in this modern society should be our modern-day peers. And support for Trayvon Martin’s family in their condemnation of Zimmerman has become the indirect, politically correct way of saying that. 

I’m 45. My crazy travelling days when rules were there to be smashed or bent are mostly behind me as I try to take care of my new life as a first generation immigrant who must make a family for the future. But it is a shame that after so much refusal to comply with the ‘order’ of Amerikah, I find that most of my friends are white, and that I live in a white hood. The more I entered into a phase of life where setting the world on fire could not be the priority I once made it, the more the rules bent me to their will. Black-white social patterns are getting better. We even have a black president. But still, a man like me is funneled away from ‘the other side’ and into the collectively approved vein of life to be the white guy he is, not the dreamer he was. And the whirling deadlock of black and white and the bitterness involved in that, continues overhead in the cosmos of American culture until we learn to calm it, talk it out, address it, halt it and turn it into a dance.

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Indigenous in Ecuador – first impressions of an outsider.

I headed to Ecuador to fulfill a dream of freedom in the high mountains and jungles. But also, I wanted to see what it was really like in a country with a huge percentage of indigenous that is presently developing its’ society. I used to live on Big Mountain Navajo Rez and stayed on other reservations in my travels, and it gave me a great interest in the indigeous experience in the Americas, and one day I’d like to twin that with Scottish clans. But also, the Amazon Basin starts in Ecuador, so I wanted to find out about attitudes towards preservation of the environment. Here’s what I found.

First thing I noticed was that indigenous society was full-on and strong and secondly, that it was genuinely linked to the ecology of the country.

Relatively communal in identity, it kept tribal and ceremonial clothing according to different peoples and often kept itself separate from the Mestizo population, (which, of course, was often as much as 60% indigenous itself) and occasionally non-responsive to outsiders even as they rode together or walked the same streets.

‘Awesome.’ I thought. ‘Hold onto that”

But talking to different folks throughout my time there I also heard how those who had broken from sepratism quickly adapted to the Mestizo world. They were very communicable to me – many of the old folks were particularly open to good communication. They never call themselves indians. That’s derogatory. They are very aware of how different they are from the rest of the world, but are prouder than many indigenous of other countries, having realized their political power of late, and revamped their identity using the support of the recent government of Rafael Correa, who’s’ picture is everywhere.

I asked both indigenous and mestizos about President Rafael Correa and heard very little bad stuff about him. *He is for the people. He brought new roads and infrastructure to the country, the mountains and the jungle. He brought electricity and good water. New bus & train stations. He stopped police corruption. He kicked out dirty politicians. He stands up to America. He invites Julian Assange from the UK.” He sounded like he could walk on water.

So I went up the Andes and paid this one indigenous guide the cost of a pizza to take me up Tungarahua volcano – the highest I’d ever been – and on the way up, we talked. All the way up to about 11,000 feet, the dwellers of the Andes farm terraced fields of crops that will survive at different heights. The slopes are sometimes unimaginable to us even to simply walk upon, let alone to till fields upon. It was explained to me that the indigenous people are not quite as developed as tribes as we may think, but as different ‘peoples’ and that land is bought and sold or simply swapped inside those peoples, then farmed on a subsistence level for food to live off plus surplus to take to Sunday markets, or just down to the cities on any day, to sell for cash.

“What about cropping on new land?” I asked.

New land was indeed constantly developed (or rather, old Incan and pre-Incan land because they had so much more of the mountains populated for farming than now) but it had to be agreed upon by the peoples and also by the government, who kept tight controls, for conservation purposes, on the development of the environment. In fact, in talking with many people, I got the impression that Ecuador was one of the most ecologically conscious countries there was.

In Banos,  the town catered to eco-tourists like me and to Americans and Europeans in general, and I could feel that while most were cool with this, a segment of the population deeply resented it. I travelled a few days in lower-Andes paradise, before I came to the Amazon and the little town of Puyo, where I stayed the night. The moment I got there, I had felt a great change and I was aware that the Amazon was different from other places. . There was a panful innocence, both beautiful and dangerous in the air. It could be felt in the huge rumbling trucks of the ore-mining and oil companies, and the nearby army base, filled with soldiers to be catered to. One just sensed that life here was more pure, but also more cheap.

No-one was cool there. It wasn’t about that. Puyo said ‘Go hug your trees silly eco-man. We are engaged in much bigger things. Give us money.” There’s a lot of money to be made in the jungle. Gold, oil, minerals, precious woods and gems. And the indigenous who come IN from out there to Puyo know that the game is on and that everybody is there to get something out of everybody else. Child hookers, drugs, liquor and machetes. In one night, I caught up on my entertainment, watching and hearing the fights and hustlers. It seemed a shame. Money gets involved and the purity is gone. Indigenous become ‘Indians’ again and folks start saying things that no-one should say. The Amazon seems beautiful until the dollar gets involved.

My next stop was Tena. A wonderful mini-city! More independent of outside interests. 80% indigenous. The innocence was back, and that precious clarity of communication that I felt the deeper in I got to the ‘selva’ showed itself. I’d live there in a heartbeat. I wanted to know though ….. if Correa was so cool with the indigenous, then why the hell did a helicopter open fire on an indigenous demonstration there in 2009, killing people? I saw the bridge, and over it, was an open-air political rally, so I went that night and had a great time with the singing and dancing.

Even though the rally was for an opposing party, everyone seemed to treat President Correa as a beloved boss. And everyone was dying to make excuses for him concerning the slaying of the protesters, saying that it was the state security, not the federal security, which had opened fire. But …. (they always sighed when they came to this point of the conversation)…. he tried to have it both ways, they said, both working for the people, and also reaping the money to do so from the exploitation of oil and minerals, which were being nationalized and which were eroding the indigenous way of life in the selva. He had passed a law to open these jungles up to new development to feed the state machine, and they were not going to let it happen. That was why they blocked the bridge to stop the heavy machines. And that was when they opened fire.

I got myself a mate from the local indiginas to take me to his village, and into the jungle. We trekked for a long time and the jungle got thicker, with him calling up into the canopy with different calls to attracts hordes and swarms of different animals down to us. Sound is more important than sight it seems in selva this thick. Monkeys and toucans, giant lizards and snakes. He ate the ant larvae but I wouldn’t cos I don’t wanna eat something which is still alive. We let termites crawl up our arms like black ink then rubbed them into the skin to keep away the mosquitos, and I climbed with him up into the canopy to watch the world up there.

“Do indigenous people like the Europeans and Americans that come here and tell them to stop chopping down the rainforest?” I asked. (Because I always saw it as arrogant. Like saying ‘Hey! We chopped down ours and got rich, so you have all the trees that are left, so you have to stay poor now and not touch them”.)

He got really serious and told me they were proud to work with them. They really did, he said, consider the jungle and forests to be the most wonderful gift they had and did not feel patronized. Also, it seemed, a line was drawn by the government. People below a certain income level, were allowed to clear small patches of forest, especially if it was their tribal lands, for subsistence farming. They were not the proble,. He said few people thought they were and if I had thought that, then I was mistaken. And for every old-growth tree, even on your own land, that you cleared, you had a legal responsibility to plant 2 more within 10 years. The government, the white eco-folks and the indigenous were doing a good job of preserving the beloved forest here in Ecuador, he said.

“OK so if Correa is so good, then what happened on the bridge?” I asked.

He sighed, and explained.

Correa was a double edged sword. The way he paid for everything was with state owned oil. I had ascertained that already, but he told me more. The Yasuni Reserve was the best example. It’s a great tract of land to the East that is heavy jungle and populated by an alliance of tribes. But a ways back they found it rich in oil. Correa couldn’t just move on into the jungle and wreck it, for he is the ‘people’s president’, and pro-indigenous. So he brought in a great effort to acquire the latest technology so that the oil could be removed horizontally through pipes below the ground. A little like fracking I guess. So they did that but the pollution was unavoidable and so now the indigenous live in the protected reserve, but with petrochemicals destroying their health through the water and food supplies. He said cancer was big. Well the initiative that the indigenous of Tena opposed was seen much like this, except it was based around water rights. The locals and the indigenous of the area were to have second priority as to the rights to natural water sources. They would be second to big new industry , oil and mining.

They blamed Correa for pushing it on them, even to the extent of shooting them in an open demonstration. All over Ecuador, Peru and parts of Brazil, he told me, a movement was occurring whereby the indigenous were growing as a political power bloc. And even though governments were trying to keep up with them and grant them rights, the indigenous were outgrowing their efforts. It sounded like the civil rights movements when it got more separatist in the late 60′s.

“So what happened after the incident on the bridge?”

They got through and started building the roads into the jungle. And they gave the tribes a gift in recompense.

He took me to see the gift – 5 pink, new suburban-American styled houses with plumbing and electricity, sitting in the middle of the swamp. Each house cost 5000 dollars and presently were all empty. I don’t know how long they’d been there.

We went to catch a fish and eat it with his family. They had turned their lodge in the village centering an open lodge so that eco-tourists could stay, so as we ate this delicious Tilapia, I asked La Senora about that.  According to her, the government had come to them and said ‘Look. We wanna help the indigenous. So let us give you money to start enterprises with eco-tourism to provide you with cash and with access to the outside. they accepted, made the parts of the village that eco-tourists would go to nice and clean and drinking-water-safe, then started to somewhat accommodate them. She said it had revolutionized her life, for that, and the 10 year rise before that, had allowed the people to have a reason to revive their traditions that were being lost – the making of ceremonial jewelry from local plants and woods, the artesanias, gold mining by the indigenous themselves for gold for jewelry, dances and traditional shamanic practices that they could include the foreigners in, and she said they had gained many supporters.

“So you don’t personally feel like you are in a cage to be stared at?” I asked, always painfully sensitive to how I remember feeling when Americans came to Scotland and asked us to ‘Braveheart out’ too much.

Not for her or her friends. It had preserved the forest and it had allowed them to stop working the land from dawn till dusk and she knew her grandchildren would be able to go to college and would bring their knowledge of nature into bearing with a background in science.

I left them all and came away with a feeling that it depends which indigenous you are in Ecuador as ti what your experience is, and I hope to find out more another day. But, without any particular corroboration of these perceptions as fact, this was an outsiders’ perspective. Please feel free to comment on any additional info or other perspectives, as I want to return through time and get more involved, as I feel a great kinship with indigenous people in these parts of the world.

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