27 January, 2015

{this memory} 124

This is the story behind last Monday's {this moment}.

The caption on this could be, "I'm a vegetarian, but every couple of months, I chop a chicken's head off with a machete."

I am not a vegetarian and not the girl crying as she holds the chicken's detached neck or the two with their hands clapped over their mouths. I'm the one in the horrible blue Hawaiian shorts, standing nonchalantly off to the side, perhaps waiting for my turn with a machete? Actually, I'm pretty sure my only thought at that point was, "When can we cook it?"

After more than a week hiking through the dense Costa Rican cloud forest, and mostly living off fruit, bread and rice (since I've never liked beans or plain avocado slices - why is that different from guacamole? it just is), I was pretty ecstatic to be eating meat. I probably wouldn't have balked at killing the cow too, except when you are carrying everything you need in a backpack for three-plus weeks, you can't really spare an extra set for soaking in blood. (Apologies to the squeamish. I'm a hematologist...blood is kind of my thing.)

This might not seem like a profound moment, but it was the first step of the transition from teenager-who-can't-boil-water (and definitely wouldn't touch raw meat) to Michael Pollan-obsessed grown-up who would really like to learn to hunt her own food. (This episode happened shortly after the trip to Costa Rica.)

My fellow hikers and I are at the home of a host family, the older brother of our guide, his wife and their five young children, somewhere on the western slope of the Sierra de la Muerte in Costa Rica, in May of 2001. Within an hour's hike of their home was the home of our guide's parents, where he and his brother were raised with their 16 siblings. There was a very, very small village closer to their home, and a newly constructed school with an American volunteer serving as schoolteacher. We could barely walk down the rain-drenched hillside before we were caked in mud (and by this point, my hair hadn't been completely dry in several days), so I was astonished to see the children dash back from school in perfectly clean, crisp white uniforms.

The house had running water, with pipes and pumps constructed by the family, and an iron stove carried by two men from the nearest town with a road, many miles away. Because there were no villages above it to contaminate the water source with waste, we drank the water without purifying it. (And it was delicious.) We also picked manzanas de agua (water apples) and cashew fruit off the trees and ate them sitting on the deck, where we slept at night gazing at stars in the darkest sky I'd ever seen (malaria = not a problem). A hotel chain was exploring building an eco-tourism resort there, but the family was unanimously opposed to it, because of the potential for contaminating their water supply and damaging the delicate ecosystem. Though the resort would bring roads and easier access to towns, cities, secondary schools and hospitals, they preferred the quality of life provided by an undamaged environment - a trade-off that often seems neglected in discussions of development.

This trip encapsulated more than one of the most formative moments in my life. As I mentioned in this post, I was absolutely terrified to go on it, although I'd been dreaming of "seeing the rainforest" since I watched Medicine Man when I was ten (not such a great movie, great score). Recently, I discovered I still have a CD labeled "Conducir a Costa Rica" ("Driving to Costa Rica") that I burned for the 4 AM drive from Charlottesville to Dulles airport for my flight.

To be continued...hasta mañana!