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On August 2, 2003, Colin Doyle left for a prolonged stay in a sustainable community in Venezuela (see original story). On December 24, 2003 he wrote in with an update on his progress:
Update 1 From Ishmael Reader Living in
Sustainable Community in Venezuela
December 24, 2003
Katukete? How's it? This is Colin Doyle, the American moving to a sustainable community in
Venezuela. Time to update you on how it has gone.
I am now in the U.S., here for Christmas and to see my family and friends
and enjoy the food and drink and society I fully understand.
The last time I wrote you was in September. From late September until
early December I was in the "caños" (the delta in local terminology) the
whole time. I went through Tucupita, the large town/small city on the edge
of the delta and its hub, and Caracas, on the way to the U.S.
The four months I have been there I have been living in a village very
near the one mentioned on the website. I have been in Barranquita, as
opposed to Jubasujuru, but both are under 100 people and many people are
related. When I return I may stay in either one.
Every day there I study Spanish and Warao language. My Spanish is
intermediate and my Warao sanuka witu (very little), but I can say basic
things in Warao. I have learned better the patterns of everyday life and
activities, and have learned about things like making canoes and making
paddles by watching others do it. I don't have the knowledge or experience
yet to contribute meaningfully to male activities such as building a house
or hunting, but this is my hope for the future. There are many methods of
fishing, and I now know a few of them, but am not yet a good fisherman. :^)
I have no teacher for fishing or Warao language, and feel like maybe I am
a burden when asking to accompany on a fishing trip or requesting help with
Warao. I know what everyday life is like, but have not learned much
first-hand about religion or what is in people's heads.
The family is open, and I am viewed somewhat as a visitor and somewhat as
a normal member of the family. The other people of the village often smile
or laugh when they see me doing things that non-Warao Venezuelans, let alone
white foreigners, don't do, like paddle and fish. But the humorous novelty
has died down some, and some people now ignore me as I paddle by, as they
would ignore anyone else. Everyone knows my name.
The Warao, and this
family (the Gomez family) have some experience with anthropologists.
One correction from what I told you before. It is rare that people catch
extra fish and then sell it for money. If there ARE extra fish, it's often
given to family or relatives or eaten. Some people get money by making
baskets or extra hammocks (by women) and selling them in Tucupita; this
takes a long time to make, but earns some money.
One of the biggest problems for me and for the Warao, in my opinion, is
television. Some houses in large villages, and the one I have stayed in,
have satellite TV. In our house, they watch TV almost every night, and
often people come from other houses and even another village to watch it.
There are 5-60 people watching TV per night, instead of sleeping in their
electricityless houses (the house I stay in has a gas generator). Instead
of news or nature programs, what the people usually watch is telenovelas
(Venezuelan nighttime soap operas of bad quality) or violent American action
movies. Both feature lots of yelling and tension, and Warao of all ages
watch hundreds and thousands of murders and explosions.
Nowadays crime has
come to the caños and is much worse than before in Tucupita; I think this
and television are related. There is certainly no Warao language on
television, nothing about Warao culture or that would even reinforce it.
And there are advertisements for beauty products and other things that no
one needs. Warao traditionally make wood carvings of canoes and birds, but
now kids carve pistols and assault rifles. It is very sad for me to see the
Warao culture (and peaceful way of life) die in front of me. I have talked
to some people about it, but it is difficult for me, an outsider, to
directly criticize them about it. I act as a role model, leaving the house
when the TV is turned on, and avoiding it every night.
Days are peaceful, sometimes sunny and sometimes rainy, often spent at
home and occasionally there is an outing, for example to cut down a large
tree for boards or a canoe. Women go every day to the canuko, a field cut
out of the forest, to harvest ocumo, the root crop that is the basis of the
Warao diet nowadays.
Mealtime, which is generally twice per day, is nice because the whole
family (in our case a dozen people, from grandparents to babies) is together
in the kitchen awaiting the meal and then eating. They speak Warao very
colorfully, often with sounds that would be hard to transcribe.
One of my biggest problems there is difficulty communicating. My Spanish
and theirs are adequate, but there is something missing between us. For
example, I may ask a very simple question and get silence or a half answer
or an answer that later I find out was wrong. This is frustrating.
Hopefully when I return in January I will live in Jubasujuru with
individuals with whom I can communicate much better.
I generally do not know when things will happen, such as trips to a
different village. And when something IS happening, I often don't fully
understand it. By the end I've usually pieced it together, maybe with some
What do I do for work? Well, I would like to do the work men normally do
but am generally not yet qualified. I often state, and they know, that I am
willing to help with anything. I do little things around the house that are
not difficult, such as getting water to drink or filtering it, splitting a
pile of wood to be used to cook, getting water for the kitchen, cleaning
something, or cutting back the growing vegetation near the house with a
machete. I often worry that I'm not working enough.
Speaking of worrying, while there I worry multiple times every day about
whether I've made the right decision and am doing the right thing.
In the delta it's great to be away from so much of the extraneous crap of
U.S. life. There is more silence and quiet time there, more relaxing in
hammocks and keeping an eye on babies. Lush nature surrounds us, and there
are many places, along tiny rivers in the forest or elsewhere, in which there
are no signs of humans, and one could be alone in the wilds, paddling along
with only a bathing suit and fishing pole. The delta is a great place for
the soul and for regaining balance. With the exception of television and
alcohol, it is very sane and sensible. And easy - most trash is organic,
and the tide washes things away, and it never gets very cold. No need for
tissues, vaccuums, cars, makeup, sexy clothes, or so many other objects. I
didn't use money for over two months straight - that's nice.
Overall I'd say it's going OK. I will return in January and continue
living, getting more knowledge and experience and better language skills.
And we'll see how it goes. Mate mikitane/Vamos a ver/We shall see.
I have ordered a copy of Ishmael in Spanish to give to the family (there
are enough youth and adults in the family who can read).
Well, this is my update. Let me know that you got it, and ask questions
or make comments if you have them.
You may email Colin directly for more information.
Learn more about sustainable communities inspired by Ishmael and Daniel Quinn.