It’s easy to arrive to a new place with a different language and culture and history and come to fast conclusions. Most of them will be ridiculous if you hang around for long enough to realize it. This has been my experience here in the mountains of Chiapas.
The first things that impacted me were the material poverty. A team of children carrying heavy wood with their parents. A task that takes 4 hours and an infinite number of calories that could be solved by a gas bottle replaced every couple of months. Too many kids. Limited land use. Suppression of women. No access to medicine. These were probably all problems that crossed my mind in the first days I was here. The situation seemed quite desolate despite the people being nice and the children vibrating an innocent exuberance that seems lost in the more troubled "disney generation."
In total I have spent about 8 months in this region of which about 6 months have been spent living with the Tzotzil indigenous in the mountains and 2 months in San Cristobal de Las Casas where things are a little more like home, for better and worse. I’m about to leave the region to go take a new path in Oaxaca which is more congruent with my vision for the future for myself and for the world. My pending exit has caused me to reflect on my time and truly consider who these people are and what is going on here.
I no longer think that children carrying wood or harvesting coffee is something which should be fought against. In fact I think it should be embraced. In this region it’s the real education, a direct contrast to that which is dealt out by the state where the young are encouraged to leave home to get ahead and turn their backs on the way of life of their forefathers. Indeed it is the life of their forefathers which offers solutions to the world!
Today the team of 6 who had been working on systemizing natural medicine production and passing on knowledge found out that the area of land where they have invested about 240 hours of collective labour and most of the small fund they had for the project will be bulldozed. "Progress" has called for a road to be put through the patch to allow cars to get to a community of about 400 people who live 2-3km down a steep slope from the road.
The group discussed the pending destruction and the loss of the recently born project. They spoke about who was responsible and what could be done and collectively agreed on the path to be taken. As is the way of these people a smile rarely left the face of any of those putting ideas forward or countering. They have an amazing capacity for listening and arriving at consensus which plays out almost daily as problems arise and are dealt with. Then they went outside and planted.
A new patch dedicated to the health of their community was created on the spot with what was available which included a few plants brought from one of the members own gardens and other medicinal plants that grow naturally in the region were collected to be able to have them at the ready to be incorporated into suspensions and tinturas. The land available was a slope covered in weeds. It was quickly slashed with a machete in the time it would have taken me to get to the shed and figure out there was no fuel for the weed wacker (whipper snipper). One of the men then went to work building terraces according to latest permaculture trends or ancient knowledge depending where you got your education.
And so a new patch was under way.
While there is certainly a feeling of loss over the work and growth that won’t bear fruit, I’m confident that the best is going to be made of a bad situation. As much as can be rescued and harvested from the existing patch will be taken advantage of and no momentum seems to have been lost in what could have been a terminal setback in other circumstances.
So it turns out while there are many problems here those which first seemed most pressing now seem less important or perhaps they aren’t problems at all while a number of deeper ones have become clear.
The sugar hit and in communities together with the "green revolution" have destroyed water sources and blood chemistry alike bringing a huge increase in cancer and diabetes where it was almost insignificant in the past.
Those who don’t have to spend hours of labour getting wood and harvesting crops are much more likely to be alcoholics who have lost touch with their children. Those who have left their communities to "get an education" are much more likely to stay in the city performing low payed work. Their children are likely to learn Spanish as their first language and have little interest in the magic of corn cultivation which has been on par with the most important spiritual knowledge for thousands of years.
Hollywoods most violent and brainless movies create an image of the world for young minds who have no point of reference to be put them into context and rarely understand the dialogue. For those that do understand the invasion is deeper.
There are people here who have never been put through competitive schooling systems. They haven’t been brainwashed to measure themselves against the images of advertising or the "Friends lifestyle". These people have a purity of spirit my words can never reach. You know when you meet them that so much that is inherent in Western conscious development hasn’t touched them. If you haven’t met someone like this maybe you think I’m crazy but the values of competition and a branded have had such a deep impact that it’s easy to identify the difference between those who have lived in the city and those who haven’t. It’s not all bad for those who have left. Those who have developed consciousness and have an understanding of both worlds are in a powerful position to create change and some of them are exercising it.
In the same way Mexican’s who speak English well are different from the rest and those who have watched a lot of TV are different. The cultural takeover that has taken place in the schools and homes in the city is arriving to indigenous communities. The young are caught between the two worlds and are living the results of hundreds of years of repression and discrimination which today leads them to reject many aspects of their own culture in favor of mainstream Mexican culture which is increasingly Americanized.
These mountains are beautiful. In any other age they would have been recognized for their extreme wealth. An ample water supply, different microclimates that vary with altitude to support a huge diversity of species each with their own role for supporting human and other life in an intricate web. Indeed these mountains bore cultures which knew many things today we have no understanding of. They knew about planets and weather cycles and how to live in harmony with them.
There has never been a perfect culture and I’m sure I haven’t found it here. What I am sure of is that the capacities and knowledge of these people should not be lost in order to create a new generation of chewing gum vendors and street sweepers in the city.
Capitalist consumer driven ideology must be defeated starting with each of us changing our ways and joining the struggle for the creation a multi polar world where they determine their own path and more than one culture can exist.