Friday, January 28, 2011
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Saturday, January 15, 2011
'Back home in the West, many strong-minded, feisty women tend to intimidate guys - they focus on their careers and neglect their personal lives - but many black men seem to like and loudly express an appreciation for headstrong, independent, bantering and financially sound women. It does not take a great sex siren in these places to draw men like a magnet.'
Friday, January 14, 2011
For three years I had been in more or less the same position as Eloy, but on a much larger scale, and for three years I had been obsessed with trying to define the realities of my position in the town. What is love? If it is the answering of one's needs, is it as legitimate if those needs-grounded in hunger, disease, and desperation-are centered on your strongest personality trait, the money you carry in your pocket?
This is one of the Peace Corps traps. It can be absolutely shattering to the ego to realize that it isn't your own inherent lovableness that has all the people in town wild with passion for you, but rather the one hundred dollars a month that makes you by far the riches and most powerful man in town, the new patron whether you like it or not, and the only one who can in some measure solve the problems of their despair. Or even with a phrase, "No, I haven't got any," condemn their fevered children to death.
To work harder a man has to eat better; to eat better had has to produce more; to produce more he has to work harder. And all of this is predicated on a growing knowledge of nutrition, basic hygiene, and the causes of the diseases that ravage his body; an understanding of agriculture and a respect for new farming techniques, new seeds, new ways to plant, new fertilizers, new crops.
Two years after I arrived in Rio Verde to live, the time had long passed when my presence was looked upon as exotic or extraordinary. I was a fixture in the town, and the population no longer gathered on the dock to cheer and wave when I left or returned, and at night the house was no longer filled with people sitting around on stools and boxes watching me opening a can of tuna fish or sending billowing thirty-foot flames into the darkness as I tried to light that mad Portuguese stove.
I was pretty much accepted by the town; I even had enemies. But I was still something quite special, unique, and apart from the town's life, and perhaps only Ramon knew that I had more than my share of faults and that under certain conditions of duress I could be a quite ordinary old son of a bitch.
Within three months, the new that Rio Verde had a new co-op spread to all parts of the province, and people whom I had never met-agronomists from extension, officials from the Junta de Fomento (the Ecuadorian Department of Development), and small farmers from up the coast-would stop me on the street in Esmeraldas either to wish the co-op luck or to tell me that the coastal people were the laziest, mos worthless people in the world and that no one would ever be able to help them. I had been listening to this sort of trash, 90 percent racial, all my life, and it didn't much impress me. I had discovered that when I was forced by circumstances to eat the same things a poor man eats for more than a couple of days, I ended up not only lazy, but probably flat on my back in bed. And I was not burdened by the debilitating effects, as everyone was there, of a body crawling with worms-stomach worms, hook worms, kidney worms.
Living poor is like being sentenced to exist in a stormy sea in a battered canoe, requiring all your strength simply to keep afloat; there is never any question of reaching a destination. True poverty is a state of perpetual crisis, and one wave just a little bigger or coming from an unexpected direction can and usually does wreck thing. Some benevolent ignorance denies a poor man the ability to see the squalid sequence of his life, expect very rarely; he views it rather as a disconnected string of unfortunate sadnesses. Never having paddled on a calm sea, he is unable to imagine one. I think if he could connect the chronic hunger, the sickness, the death of his children, the almost unrelieved physical and emotional tension into the pattern that his life inevitably take he would kill himself.
I South America the poor man is an ignorant man, unaware of the forces that shape his destiny. The shattering truth-that he is kept poor and ignorant as the principal and unspoken component of national policy-escapes him. He cries for land reform, a system of farm loans that will carry him along between crops, unaware that the national economy in almost every country sustained by a one-crop export commodity depends for it success on an unlimited supply of cheap labor. Ecuador needs poor men to compete in the world banana market; Brazil needs poverty to sell its coffee; Chile, its tin; Colombia, it cacao and coffee, and so on. The way United States pressures shape the policies of the South American governments can make a Peace Corps Volunteer who is involved and saddened by the poverty in his village tremble to his very roots.
Death, of course, is the great release. I lay in my house on night trying to sleep, while up in the hill a fiesta went on until dawn-drums in an endless and monotonous rhythm connecting a series of increasingly complicated songs, some changed by women, some by men, some by mixed voices. It gradually became beautiful and moving, but I was puzzled because the celebration was just a week before the great Semana Santa, Holy Easter, a fiesta that everyone saves up for and that leaves everyone broke and exhausted.
"Why were they bombiendo all night on the hill?" I asked someone.
"They were celebrating the death of Crispin's first-born," I was told. "He was born dead, an angelito." There wasn't a bit of sadness in the town; it was a real celebration. Crispin's son had struck it lucky; he was one of God's angels without all of that intervening crap.
Ecuador is cut into two parts by the equator; and sine the sun, within narrow variations, always slices directly through the middle of things, the days and nights are equal, there are no seasons, and the spectacular sunsets are short and violent. The first few times watching the sun rush screaming into the ocean, about 50 percent faster than it does in, say, Seattle, Washington, you are totally amazed. You have the crazy feeling that the celestial watch has broken down and that your life is passing at double speed.
This impression was reinforced when the Peace Corps office in Quito invited me to to take part in the termination proceedings of my group. I would be practically a guest, since I had been sick and I still had five months or so to make up. But in a rather untypical example of mindless Peace Corps bureaucracy, I was told to go through the motion of terminating, just as though I weren't going back to Rio Verde.
My God, was it almost over? This was one of the few things we had in common, a feeling of amazement that the contract was almost fulfilled and that it was time to go home. It seemed only yesterday that we arrived in Ecuador secretly convinced that we were going to change everything and solve all problems. Well, Ecuador was still pretty much the same-but some of the members of my group were scarcely recognizable. The baby fat was gone for one thing, and for another, though it sounds sentimental and corny to say it, there was a raw and vulnerable look in many of th eyes; they were visibly marked by the suffering they had seen. They were all anxious to get home, bit it was confused by the sadness of leaving their villages and by a queer, sand dissatisfaction with a lot of uncompleted projects. We tended to overemphasize our failures, thinking more of what we hadn't done or what we had done badly than of our successful projects.
I had always been aware of the jealousies in the town, but now I began to see that I had underestimated the power to order the live of the people. It began to get through to me. Ramon Arcos, drunk, buttonholed me on the street. He wanted ten sucres to get drunker and when I said "No," he said I was a bad man who helped only the rich like Ramon Prado and Alexandro. "Rich?" I cried. "They're the poorest people in town." But, of course, it wasn't true anymore. Ramon was about to get his hundredth chicken, and Alexandro was up to seventy. A year ago they had been among the poorest people; now they were about to be the riches. There was real dissatisfaction in Rio Verde about the job I was doing, and every day I heard reports of my favoritism. Rumors reached me that a couple of old wise guys who knew all about the Peace Corps were telling everyone that I was making money off the people, that the chickens I sold should be gifts, and that the loans I was making did not have to be repaid. It was part of my job to give people money, they said.
Wai could never understand what the Peace Corps was all about. It went against everything he had learned about life; there was something preposterous, something dangerous, about a rich white man living in his town and talking about working with him, helping him make more money-for nothing. He knew that there were strings attached, that he would end up compromised, his integrity flawed. No, no, no. No thanks.
I hated to get involved with the Policia Rural because justice in Rio Verde was often simply a question of who you were and had little to do with the realities of the situation. But at supper I talked over Ramon's problem with Alexandro, who told me that Mageen was tormenting Ramon to get money out of him. It was Mageen's idea that the Peace Corps gringo would not stand by and let Ramon be tormented, but would pay well for peace. We decided that if Ramon would agree, the police should be used as a weapon of terror against Mageen. Ramon agree; he was passive at the point where he welcomed someone else making decisions for him. "But I don't want to put him in jail," he said. " I just want him to move that house off my land." Three of us went across the river and found the Policia Rural; we gave him ten sucres, and he came back with us. Mageen was drinking puro in front of Alvaro's store. I don't know what the Policia Rural said to him, but it was very effective. By eight o'clock the next morning Mageen had moved out of the house and was staying with friends in town.
The word got around that Mageen was going after Ramon's chickens with rat poison, and for the next few days Ramon never came into town without his machete. He told me that a year before Mageen had gotten into a fight with a neighbor over a hog and finally he had said, "Well, since we can't decide who it belongs to it's better if no one hat it, " and had killed the animal, slashing it twice in the back with a machete and severing its spinal column. If King Solomon had had to judge that conflict, I decided, he would have come out looking pretty idiotic.
At darkness the banana buyer, impatient with our slow progress and made generous by the aguardiente, hired two kids who were sitting on the bank to help us pole. It started to rain lightly. The feeling of living in the 1830's grew. We were poling our way through the outpost country, a country of lonely, isolated farms, of messages that never arrive or arrive too late, of sudden sickness and inexplicable fevers and death, of snakes and bugs and downpours of rain, of loneliness, of women living and working alone all day in hacked-out jungle clearings, hauling water in gourds, pounding clothes on rocks, caring for sickly children, worrying. It was a country of distances, separations, longing, of deferred dreams, of small reward; of muddy trails, stumbling horses, plants, that grow two feet a day and choke the crops, armies of ants, blood-sucking lice on the bodies and in the eyes of the livestock. It is heroic country, to.
But when you ask yourself why anyone would live here, completely cut off from the world of comfort and security, there is no easy answer. Perhaps it is man's deepest wish to struggle against great odds, or perhaps the answer lies in that little band of grandchildren swarming around Don Julio. Maybe it is all for them.