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Crossing the river before summiting 17,500 Pico Austria. Photo by Ella Williams (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest, 2nd Place), South America Semester.

Why we should stop ,overthink and learn – reflections from the amazon

What do you think of ,when someone says the word “amazon” ? Probably stories of the wilderness, the incredible variety of fauna and maybe also the hard living conditions ,we are not adapted to.

I have realized during the time we spent in the selva in between the Brasil nut trees and tarantulas walking past my bed during the night and relaxing in Rebecca’s shoes, that those imaginations meet in some ways the reality but on the other hand the amazon is so much more. The immense diversity of insects (indeed a lot of bugs there! ), flora and climates was and is still now overwhelming, but with everyday I got more used to the water drops constantly collecting on my damp skin, the frogs I showered with and the fact that the thunderstorms feel like the sky is falling. I remember the night when around us the strokes of energy were hitting the ground, the rain was turning the dry ground into sticky mud and my shoes got completely soaked. When the wind was blowing through my mosquito net and I felt cold for the first and last time in this climate. Every time the lightning struck, the earth vibrated , making me feel unimaginably vulnerable and small in comparison to the power of Mother Nature.

Unforgettable to me seems the image of the Brazil nut tree crowns 30 meters above my head, when you stare up to sky and your breath stops for a second due to their beauty. Everywhere in every corner you hear insects, see fungi and in every corner of this setting there is a story going on. The ants collecting parts of a dead butterfly from the ground, next to it a frog hiding so well on a brown branch that you are not able to see him and fungi growing on that same branch at the same time. Everything grows and flourishes due to the extremely humid climate – Papayas , Pineapples and Passionfruits in the middle of the wide jungle – perfectly adapted in colour, form and smell to be fertilized and protected, to follow the rules of nature, the rules Darwin discovered.

But the amazon offers so much more than “just” the rainforest we were walking in for 5 hours to get to Walter’s house. You might ask yourself apart from animals and plants what else lives in the amazon, if we don’t define ourselves as animals.

Humans – as simple as it is.

By now a lot of native, in the past uncontacted tribes and communities – such as the one we were living in – have opened up to learn from peruvian culture and interact with us visitors. During the process of opening up to a different culture assimilation inevitably happens, native languages might lose their value as well as the way of living can change for example. But still today there do live uncontacted tribes in areas of the amazon, that are not to be contacted by Peruvian law, who live as they always did – how we don’t know in detail. We questioned in how far it is bad though when tribes are opening up and try to learn from our culture ,in some ways adapt. I for myself have come to the conclusion that it isn’t bad at all ,that they have a right to learn from us as we can learn from them – why should they be denied the right to learn from our education system for example ?

But exactly with this thought I struggled – do we always try and learn also from them ? Often it appears to me that the western cultures unconsciously suggest that they have the right to supply those communities with knowledge and their system although they don’t even want to, that the western culture is at the end forced on them. Brian has inspired me during this trip in many ways due to exactly that idea – it appears to me that he is one of the only people I have ever met that are also trying to learn from native communities and are trying to integrate their habits into their life. I have realized that exactly this is what is often missing, we from the “western world” are not trying enough to understand that our world, only because we have a stronger position in the global market, is not perfect and that we might (definitely actually) be able to learn from those communities, their values and habits. We should question more often to what extent our way of living is legitimate and right, compare our behavior and thoughts to others and always try to improve – to learn from others and stay open minded, willing to change.

But not only from humans we are able to learn, the plants and rhythms of the jungle say so much about the rhythm of life. The rhythm which is often dominated by stress, pressures and anxiety in our world, where money seems to be more important than happiness and personal fulfillment. Living in the moment, in the current situation often seems to be just a phrase in a world where we are constantly planning the tomorrow and living in the past. In the jungle though there is only the “now”, every plant and animal only lives in the moment – maybe only to survive ,but still they actually live. I have realized while walking on the muddy ground that we don’t live when we spend every second in the past moment, when do we actually experience our feelings then ? When are we able to actually understand the situation and people around us?

Breathe through your nose, breathe out again. Feel your skin, feel your fingertips, start to hear again who talks around you, don’t only hear the loud voices but listen to the small things. Just come back from the past or future to your life that you are living right now and will affect your future and your future past more than your reflections on them will ever be able to.

When I leave this course, I know that I am going to try to learn and observe the people around me and to question without any prejudice to what extent their behavior and their ideas are different. Open for changement, to break the rhythm of daily life through fresh inspiration by people, places and the immediate world around us.