Joaquin (aged 69) has been our closest collaborator since we’ve lived in the rainforest. He is a real “campesino”, to use the local term – someone who is fully of the land, fully part of rural culture, and has never lived in a city. He was born in a time when rural Colombia had no roads, no electricity, no established medical services, or any of the attributes of modern living. He once told us that his parents had never owned shoes and remained barefoot their entire lives, even when walking to towns through the thickly rainforested region where they lived. He remembers a childhood of abundance, of a great variety of foods and crops growing on the family domain, generous yields from the earth, pockets of super-fertile orchards and vegetable gardens nestled within dense natural surroundings. Whenever Joaquin was ill, his mother would walk into the woods or the garden and find herbs, roots or plants to treat him. She always had some kind of herbal medicine for any kind of illness. Water came from a natural spring on the land. The home was built with earth, wood, bamboo, and thatch, all materials abundantly available in the surroundings. His mother gave birth to all her children on the family domain, without the assistance of modern medicine. Joaquin was enrolled into primary school, but it was such a complex operation to go back and forth that he stopped attending at the end of his first year of education. The rest of his education took place in nature, learning about plants, growing foods, connecting with the cycles of weather and land, and exploring the wildness and mysteries of the rainforests. When telling us about the biggest tree he ever saw, he described it as being on Earth “since the time of the Great Flood” as described in the Bible. He said this without metaphor. His view of the world is that nature is a gift from God.
In his lifetime, Joaquin has seen radical change in his country. After being raised in the countryside, his children now live in the big city (Medellin). They are part of a massive exodus that has been taking place over decades, from the countryside to the urban centres. In this transition, the life of those leaving rural life has been greatly monetized. They must now pay for water instead of receiving it as a gift from a spring. They pay for food, instead of growing it themselves. A monetary exchange is due when they need medicine, building materials, childbirth, entertainment, and so many other aspects of modern living. This generates in most city dwellers a hand-to-mouth existence, with a constant leakage of resources. Many require loans to make ends meet and often feel trapped in this financial chain. This constant feeling of scarcity is in stark contrast to Joaquin’s stories of childhood, where there was no “rich” or “poor”; there was simply the bounty of natural living.
How can it be that within one generation in this part of the world, the life experience of people was transformed so radically? It feels astonishing that in one human life, a person can experience something of what has been developed in other parts of the world over many generations. Here in the rainforest, these changes are still palpable. Through the sharing of these stories alongside living in the wild, one starts to sense how incredibly abundant life can be and how this can be as much or as little as changing the lens we see through.