Billy Coffey
Billy Coffey

Where you belong

July 20, 2011  

uncontacted-footage-thumb-01_article_largeLast January, satellite pictures of the Amazon rain forest revealed the presence of a hidden community living in three clearings in the Javari Valley, which lies near the Brazil/Peru border. Subsequent flight expeditions over the region confirmed about 200 people lived in the tiny village. Not a big deal, really. Despite notions to the contrary, the Amazon is home to many communities. What set this community apart, however, was that it had never been seen before. Scientists had stumbled upon a tribe of people unknown to the world.

I confess to a geeky side. News stories such as that one rock my world. Imagine that in an age of telescopes that can see into the farthest reaches of the universe and submarines that can reach the very depths of the ocean, there are still entire cultures that have somehow managed to remain hidden in the untrodden places of our fair planet. Cut off from civilization, blissfully ignorant of things like debt ceilings and Charlie Sheen and Jersey Shore. It’s a storyline straight out of Indiana Jones.

It’s enough to make me giddy.

It’s also enough to make me wonder what happiness they must enjoy. Imagine being able to live life unfettered by nasty things like time and career. You rise with the sun, venture into the jungle to either kill or dig up some breakfast, and eat it in a hammock surrounded by your family and friends. Repeat again for lunch and dinner. Maybe weave a basket or have a dance. Watch the kids play with critters and pets. Make sure the fire has plenty of wood. Go check the crops, then maybe visit your buddy who lives in the next hut to shoot the breeze and engage in a bit of gossip. Watch the sun go down. Go to bed. Do it all again the next day.

No taxes to pay or commutes to endure. No 401k to watch as it shrinks into oblivion. And who cares about gas prices when you’ve never even seen a car? No, the busy world you’ve never seen simply passes you by and leaves you alone. No muss, no fuss, just a hammock and the jungle around you.

I’ll be honest, I envy those people. They don’t know how good they have it.

Regardless of how much I long to chuck it all, fly to the Amazon, and apply for admission into the tribe, it won’t happen. The Brazilian government has a strict policy regarding uncontacted tribes. They are not to be bothered.

But just in case I would get that chance, I could see myself trekking down some forgotten jungle path and coming across the tribal chief, who would invite me to his hut for a little food and a lot of talk. And more than likely, he’d look at me and laugh.

“What are you doing here?” he’d ask. “What, you think WE have it good? Really? Tell you what, you try growing all your food in the jungle. Doesn’t always work, you know. And it’s not like you can just run down to the Food Lion for some chips and dip if the animals and the weather take your crops. Which happens, like, ALL the time.

“You can go hunting. Lots of animals in the jungle to eat. Of course, most of them will just as soon eat YOU. Try stepping on a snake or a spider or running across a panther. Tell me how that goes for you. And you better hope you don’t run into anyone from the tribe down the river, because they’ll just as soon kill you as let you pass.

“Can’t go to the hospital, either. We don’t have one here. We have a doctor of course, and he’s a real smart guy, but in the end the only thing he can do is pray to the gods and give you some plants to eat. Plants don’t cure everything, you know. And the gods…well, let’s just say they do their thing and we do ours. We don’t understand them, we just try to keep them happy.

“Sure, you can stay. You’ll probably live a few more years, most of us make it to 50 or so before we’re so worn out that we drop. That’s assuming you don’t get bitten or eaten or killed, though. Actually, why don’t you just run on back home where you belong.”

At which point I probably would.

And I would take with me this lesson: Life is tough. Doesn’t matter who you are or where you are. We’re all looking for something better, we’re all stressed, we’re all struggling for a little hope.

In a world that seems determined to point out our differences, those are similarities we will always share.

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15 Responses to “Where you belong”

  1. Betsy Cross says:

    And you just made me laugh! Quite a little conversation (in English, too!) between you guys. Very good. Anything that can make me laugh makes the stress bearable. Thanks so much Billy!

  2. Deb says:

    Great post. The grass is always greener on the other side… until you get there and you realise the grass is growing out of a puddle of mud. :)

    Nothing like being home, where you belong.

  3. Gary says:

    Caught me off guard this hurried morning (and as I imagined running through the forest with my shower shoes to find a pig, or fawn, or snake, or Macaw eggs, or tubular roots to feed my six children…now THAT is a legit hurry, or my family doesn’t eat). The one line was just right for my ever-pressing angst over the unreached peoples of the earth and of the extreme poor who die in diseases we simply take a pill for. In fact, I thought of this as an opening thought in whichever chapter (of Generational Fathering) I talk about family as the hope for the darkening future: “Life is tough. Doesn’t matter who you are or where you are. We’re all looking for something better, we’re all stressed, we’re all struggling for a little hope.”

  4. Ed Blonski says:

    I’ve been a big proponent of people (men in America especially) of finding their God-given purpose in this life.

    Do these indigenous people have such desires or concerns? What kind of purpose can they find when all they do is really just try to survive?

    Is finding a purpose more of a cultural thing than a human thing?

  5. Great post as usual, Billy! I like your last sentence: “In a world that seems determined to point out our differences, those are similarities we will always share.” This is so true.

    Deep inside, we’re all the same, regardless of our cultural backgrounds. And I strongly believe that focusing on our similarities is the key to world peace. Fighting about our differences won’t lead us anywhere.

  6. Joanne Sher says:

    Just fascinating. Thought-provoking. True.
    Thanks, Billy.

  7. Oh man! That was awesome. :) I tend to over-glamorize the life of the Ingalls family and think I’d LOVE to go back to those days…

    But then there wasn’t internet access or iPhones. So that’s a hard one. 😉

  8. Hazel Moon says:

    The jungles of Ecuador and the natives that did not like company, took the lives of Nate Saint, and four other missionaries in 1956. I wonder if those today would be any different. Enjoyed your post and the conflict of wondering if their way of life would be any better than ours. I do enjoy my computer, and would hate to give that up!

  9. Kay says:

    The jungle’s always greener . . . ours to them, theirs to us. When one of the Auca indians in Ecuador traveled to America with some of the missionaries from there (after Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully, and Peter Fleming were killed by them – don’t know if you know of them or not), he returned to his tribe telling of the wonders of America. He described giant houses where there was food from the floor to the ceiling, and anyone could take the food as long as they had the a card with them to prove they could take it. He described houses where you could drive up to the window and say what you wanted and people would give you food right out the windows of the house. That’s how he saw America. You look at the jungle and see people who don’t have to worry about taxes or gas prices. They look at America and see giant piles of food just there for the taking. They don’t understand how we work for our food, we don’t understand how they work for theirs. And I will never understand: why does so much of life revolve around food?

  10. Amy Nabors says:

    I always find myself holding back in sharing when I’m having a tough day. I look at families who have lost children to disease and think to myself I have no right to complain when I’m just having sad day brought on by hurt feelings. Then I think how we all hurt in one way or another and I’m not sure if God sees it as greater than or less than like we do.

  11. […] You Miss 100% of the Shots You Never Take – From Lara Casey at MTH2011 • Where You Belong – From Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today • The Valiant Woman – From Danielle at […]

  12. Helen says:

    Not hearing anything about Charlie Sheen or Jersey Shore DOES sound tempting though! 😉

  13. Beth says:

    Ha. You’re a mess Billy. No way would I want to trade places with a jungle woman. I prefer licensed doctors to witch doctors. Ha.

    Me no like’em spiders either! Ok, I said it that way on purpose. Ha.

  14. I reviewed the Daveys’ book, “Your Witchdoctors are Too Weak,” on my blog in early April and marveled that isolated communities like this still exist. In a world we think of as an open book, there are so many words we cannot read.

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