The village of Jodoimen˝a, southern Venezuela. Middle of nowhere? Think again: "The sun does not forget a village because it is small" - African proverb. Image ę Val Druguet.

Chapter 7: "New York, we have a problemů"

What do the Big Apple and a small village in the middle of the Amazon have in common? The next ten minutes of the rest of your life. And more.

Dear Blogosphere:

Welcome back to the monthly rant. We (My wife Val and I) have just returned from an indigenous community of native Yekuana 'Indians', in the town of Jodoimen˝a. Time spent teaching solar oven technology, doing research with the community elders for a school book on the ecology of the rainforest for the local school house, sowing anti-malarial plants and finally, creating a GIS map of a segment of Yekuana territory, transcribing their land area, water and other physical and spiritual belongings for the sake of demarcation and ultimately, sovereignty, continuity and survival.

Who? What? Where ?

Go to Google earth. Find south America (looks something like a giant Ice-cream cone). Shuttle to the north end, locate 'Venezuela', then point to southern portion of country (looks like a hanging sock, wedged between Brazil and Columbia). There, on the banks of the fast-flowing Ventuari river, ca 100 miles from the Brazilian border (bottom right hand corner), in the shadow of Paru Mountain (fat, looming table top mesa of 1,8 billion year old sandstone) and other minor but multiple mountains cloaked in steaming rainforest and yellow savannasů lies Jodoimen˝a, a dot on the map, a modest constellation of mud huts, of long and round houses and a mere 60 inhabitants founded twenty odd years ago by headman Isaias Rodriguez, aged 73. A town he named after 'Jodoima', culture hero and man-tapir of the Yekuana dreamtime (The Yekuana are a Carib speaking tribe of approx. 4000 persons).

Smack in the middle of nowhere, you ask? Nah. The center of the universe is always where you're at (no matter how small the dot on the map is)ů 'because that is always exactly where your perception of the universe begins' (quote lifted from the Dalai Lama).

And what does Jodoimen˝a have to do with urban ecology and the nature of New York? Everything. Let me explain; first, do me a favor and reclaim your mind from paradigms past. Don't think of cities in terms of separate, self-sufficient units, in terms of the 'city versus the country'. Way too old-school. So 20th Century. Don't think of villages as separate entities either; don't even think in terms of Nation States for that matter (they've been transcended by corporations, weather patterns, bird migrations and people alike). The world today is one connected anthroposphere, and more importantly our species today shares one same ecology: that of industry. Cities are mere organizational nodes ('Centcoms' if you will) within one big, fat, interconnected, meta-machine of global energy consumption and waste production and the ensuing trade and commerce thereof (not to mention the resulting disparity of wealth, nutrients, health, happiness and capital), the whole kit and caboodle run by a turbulence-prone, global casino known as the 'financial world'. Places like Jodoimen˝a may look like isolated villages, but in all ecological reality (from the perspective of thermodynamics, our economy is actually a subsystem of our ecology) they are not; they are the extralimital tendrils of the all-encompassing, totalitarian and parasitic system of the West. All have been subsumed by the cash economy and our fossil fuel ecology and the Fedexosphere. Phagocytosis has occurred. Expansionism taketh all. Jodoimen˝a, like every place on earth has been absorbed. One earth, one system. Globalization does not exist. Westernization does. Call it the anglo-sphere. New York City is its current capital. It was generated by Bacon, Locke, Hobbes, Descartes and quite frankly, almost everybody else (i.e.: the rest of us).

Within this global mess, everything is connected. Within this web, quite literally, cities like the Apple can (and do) decide the fate of places like Jodoimen˝a, at the flip of a dime, overnight. Example (just a minor one): the Yekuana are excellent navigators and boatman and have become completely dependant on outboard motors and gasoline. They have to spend oil to get more oil (3 days up river to the closest gas depot). Which means they need hard cash. So they sell beautiful traditional jewelry once made with colored stones now made with plastic beads. Plastic made from oil. Go to war on the other side of the planet and there goes the price of oil. The price of plastic. The rest is history. Horse manure. Conversely (and this is where we might find 'hope in the dark') a man or a woman born in a place like Jodoimen˝a could and probably will be the next MLK, the next Vandana Shiva, the Next Wangari Mathai, the next Gandhi. And that person (or more likely, that group of persons might even decide the fate of our world). New York City, fasten your seat-belts.

Fortunately for us, Isaias Rodriguez (the headman) is a personal friend of ours. To make a long story short, we met in 1998 during a MIRT/NIH program run by Dr Eloy Rodriguez of Cornell University (another friend of ours). At the time Val and I were working as instructors in tropical ecology and Isaias invited us, Eloy and a group of Cornell undergrads to stay and study in the village for two weeks, at the condition (of course) that 'we return!" You heard me, not that we leave them alone, but that we return.

Contradiction? Paradox? Let me explain: 'Indians' are tired of being observed by one-time exploratory expedition-ers, photographed, gossiped about, written about, 'explained' - for the benefit of one-hit-wonder headlines, National Geographic type glorification, the so-called 'society of the spectacle', Post colonial TV skits and grotesque advertising couched in equally Victorian layers of stereotypes, in one word: western sensationalism (i.e.: the fulfillment of Judeo-Christian fantasies of noble savages and the recovery of Eden within some isolated, 'Virgin' forest). Capice?

That said (from them to me to you) Isaias Rodriguez and the Yekuana have demanded that we construct a common project, an exchange program, whereby we return every year to the village with professionals, friends, students, whereas 'we' are allowed to satisfy our intellectual curiosity and quench our do-gooder moralistic bent (and publish this blog), in exchange for which 'they' can reap whatever knowledge, information, resources, expertise (or pleasures) we bring with us and that they choose to use and/or absorb and appropriate: medical and nutritional expertise; horticultural know-how; solar technology; economic consulting; reading and writing skills; contemporary, cutting edge eco-literacy. Some good jokes and a twinkle in our eye. The idea, I guess, is that we make the peace, definitively. That we resolve all potential conflicts, not by building some common, homogenized future, nor some bland shared destiny, but by creating a 'third, equally different place', greater than the mere sum of our respective parts. Call it pollination, an ecological relationship, a friendship even.

Tolerance, Levi-Strauss once mused, is not passive; it is a verb, a course of action.

Chief Isaias Rodriguez, headman of Jodoimen˝a. Image ę Dave Rosane.

8 years have passed and Val and I have never stopped returning to Jodoimen˝a. We have been back almost every summer, taken friends and pros alike. We have had the backing and support of NNYN, Cornell, Dr. Jim Wyche, Dr. Lina Fruzetti, Terry Tempest Williams, Nicolas Hulot and scores of others. Our families, even. We have invited doctors, engineers, anthropologists, biologists, art historians, students (research trainees). The underlying theme: sustainability. Health. Integrity. The goal: Build a safer future than the one they (we all) see looming on the horizon and or the front page of the NY Times. May I indulge? Pillaging, plundering, murder, war, treachery, rhetoric, lies, thievery, corruption, universal ecocide, monstrous deregulation, bottom-line realism, the usual.

The future is now. At the end of the day, we and the village of Jodoimen˝a try to create solutions for our respective offspring. They are our afterlife. We have many of them. The trick is to ask yourself a simple question: does anybody know where change will come from next? Nobody has in the past. Change can come from a totally unsuspected place. Today's economy and sphere of human enterprise and destruction are what system theorists call a chaotic system, a place replete with unforeseeable, local turbulences the likes of global climate change itself. In such a scenario, History is no longer linear, and like the weather, utterly and totally unpredictable. Radical change is just as likely to occur from the periphery of Empire than from within, where one culture mixes with the other, from a place of mutual inspiration. Emulation. From that 'third place'. From Jodoimen˝a, even.

The community map, carved onto a table we built, in the village roundhouse.
Image ę Dave Rosane

So Val and I have placed our bets and decided to fight global warming by using 6 solar ovens in a village of 60 (and see if the Pentagon follows suit). We have decided to repel future inter-religious mayhem and racism by playing volleyball in the evening in the village square(team USA got clobbered, so you know, by team Yekuana); by teaching cutting edge eco-literacy and systems theory to Yekuana toddlers first (to IVY-leaguers next); by fighting food shortage by working on sustainable horticulture and animal husbandry in the Amazon; and eluding brain shortage by avoiding TV, and 'stupid stupidity' by wondering awestruck at the work of Herzog instead. Capice?

Live outside the box and the atomized comfort of your home. Go plant a seed. In most non-western belief systems (or what's left of them) the future will happen thanks to a community, not a single person, savior, sun-god nor messiah. To quote Rebecca Solnit, this is Earth, not Heaven. Forget what I said earlier about the next MLK or Gandhi or whomever. Time unfolds with surges, spills and by regurgitation. It hiccups. It barfs. It produces volume. Movement. The future reads more like Isaias Rodriguez and his family and his relationship to us. A spark. A flame. A fire. Draw a map and call it the 'third-place'.

Below, for your enjoyment, a picture diary of our trip and all that we are trying to accomplish with the village. Thanks to Eloy (and NSF) and Ted for making it happen. Thank you Jodoimen˝a. And of course, thanks to everybody we ever met. See you next month back in the Apple,

Panarchistically, Dave and Val

PS: Big kudos to Uncle Harold, Selena and Jim, the Raggi family and community of Puerto Nuevo, Derrick, Hans, Shern and all the munchkins of Yutaje, too, y Gracias a Bob y Linda por el vino chileno, vale.

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