Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Embera Way of Life

We joined a tour to visit a small Embera village on the banks of the Chagres River in Panama.  But while the young man talked about the traditions and crafts of his people, I found myself drifting in and out.  The children behind me were laughing and playing; the colorful fabrics swaying in the the wind.  The plants were bountiful and lush.  Hummingbirds were everywhere.  I was simply too distracted to pay attention.  A few, rather embarrassing questions were asked and the young man paused.  I recognized that look.  One of my sons has that look.   He always answers, however, with grudging respect no matter how stupid my question may be.   I perked up.

"We are not forced to stay here," he said.  "Some of us don't.  Some of us go to college.   To America.  We become doctors and lawyers.  We marry outside.  Some of us come back.  Some of us don't."  He went on to say that living in this village is a choice.  He was 24 years old.  He had lived and worked in Panama City, but left because of poor wages, noise, traffic and pollution.  He was now married and had a beautiful baby.

It made me think of a story my travel buddy likes to tell.  A Wall Street type goes down to Baja on a fishing expedition.  He meets a local fisherman and begins to chat.  "So how do you spend your day?" he asks.

"Well, I get up early and go fishing.  Around noon I return and sell my fish.  Then I go have a siesta with my wife.  And then I go drink beer with my buddies."

"Man, that's not very ambitious," the Wall Street guy said.  "You should buy a second boat.  Eventually an entire fleet.  Have dozens of men working under you.  Start a corporation."

"Then what?"

"Then some day you'll have enough money to retire.  You can take a siesta every day with your wife and go drinking with your buds."
After a music and dance demonstration, we had an opportunity to buy crafts.  Each family had their own table.  My travel buddy bought a basket and I bought a hummingbird necklace.  This is their sole source of income. They are weavers and sculptors, fishermen and farmers.  I found it interesting that someone had come in and built a house with four walls, windows and doors, but it remained empty.  The Embera live in homes with thatched roofs and no walls.  They follow a strict code, a code that has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries.  A shaman takes care of health issues.  They have their own form of government.  Although there were smiles all around and the atmosphere seemed joyous and peaceful, I know that they have worries and anxieties like us all.  And yet  . . . here I am, dreaming of the day my travel buddy and I can retire and move down to Baja.   Fish in the morning, sleep in the afternoon and then drink margaritas while watching the sky burst into flame like the fabric of an Embera skirt swaying in the wind.

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