Last 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.