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.
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.
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).
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.