Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Out of the jungle...

...and into another.  Another jungle that is, except this one is paved with concrete and displays billboards at every intersection.  You see, the junlge, the real jungles of the Amazon, are what one might imagine when thinking about jungle life.  Having spent years traveling into the rainforest of Ecuador, I am keenly aware of jungle life.  And while I think many of us think of the jungle as a difficult place to exist, I now tend to think that the jungles of civilization are far more difficult.  Sure, it is indeed a hard life in the real jungles of the Amazon, the least of which require bathing in rivers, eating very strange foods, sleeping on hard floors and trekking through slippery paths that are lined with animals and snakes (and I still, after over 25 years of doing travel and research in the Ecuadorian Amazon, have never conquered my own fear of snakes!).  Go figure, yet I remain committed to returning to a place that, while steeped in daily obstacles of survival, are also steeped in traditions that draw a person back year after year trying to better understand and grasp the very nature of life in such a remote location.

For me, the real struggle of travel within the rainforest is realized more and more as I age.  It is far more difficult to trek up slippery slopes, sleep on those hard floors, and swat away mosquitos at an alarming rate now than it was 20 years ago (and did I mention the snakes!?)...or at least I keep telling myself that.  I am not as flexible as i once was, and each year I tell myself why am I doing this since it seems to be harder and harder, at least physically.  Yet here I am, having just returned from yet another adventure in the Ecuadorian Amazon region, feeling a bit stiff and sore, thinking again of another trip down the road. Am I nuts!?

Well, maybe the secret is not my inability to realize I am aging and this stuff is getting harder, but more so my ability to realize what I am seeing and experiencing.  Making indigenous friends along the way, working with women potters who are in their 80's and still creating pieces that speak to a social and mythological consciousness, and feeling truly alive, something that comes only by living on life's edge, is what seems to provide the fuel to keep me returning. It is indeed a jungle out there, and while it is a very different type of jungle than what I see back home, it is still a place that allows me to keep learning about people, their daily lives and values, and the work they produce that helps define a type of cultural ethos we (artists at least) long to find in our own creative work.  So yes, I am indeed getting older, but the traditions I see in the Amazon jungle are older still, and ones that existed long before I arrived and serve to help me better understand my own place in the world.  For that, and the many indigenous friends I have made along the way, I am grateful.  And with that, I am sure to find more reasons to return.  But still, those snakes...!

For a recent look at an article in Studio Potter magazine (titled 'Preserving Culture...') on our work in the Amazon, go to:  http://issuu.com/studiopotter/docs/sp41_2web_32bf155af6b14e

Kichwa potter Rebecca Gualinga
in the village of Sarayacu

painting a mucawa

sleeping quarters

Cup of the day-101...

Chandra DeBuse