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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

On the Amazon Homestay

Yonathan is laughing with his mom, Berta, on plank board they use as a bed. She is braiding seeds into a string as jewelry to sell to the growing tourism project in the Amazonian pueblo of 120 people; Huacaria. The kids, 3 & 5 years old, make games out of whatever they can find, including their mother´s handmade jewelry. She gave up her only mattress with a bug net to us and sleeps with her whole family in the other bed. “Hijito!”, she frequently shouts, as her mischeivous son picks up knifes and pieces of food to play with. Her daughter sits on Brooke´s lap and intently watches her draw. Currently, I am learning to braid seeds into string, but it is proving much more difficult than it looks.

A traditional palm leaf roof is somehow engineered perfectly to protect us from the rain, and a series of wooden boards and bamboo sticks lift out of the dirt floor as walls. The radio is blasting, and you can hear the river flowing close outside our door.

Berta is tired, kind, and young. She maintains almost all of the responsibility for her children and the tourism project, while her husband spends most of his time in the closest town, Pilkopata, working and buying food to bring back to the family. He is quiet and sturdy, and the kids are always ecstatic when he comes home. A makeshift fireplace, a few pots and pans, oil, and salt sit in the corner of the house, creating a kitchen. Beside the kitchen sits and entire banana branch of ripening bananas which can be eaten plain, cooked directly in the fire, or mashed into a soup. Berta and her children cross the river multiple times per day to arrive at the town center to sell her jewelry and attend meetings about the new water system. They are wholly unfazed by the giant cockroaches on their walls and snakes near the river that make my heart stop in its tracks.

What does it mean to have a hard life versus an easy one? Complex versus simple? Coming into communities so vastly different from our own, it is natural to feel discomfort and it is natural for us to want to name our discomfort. Initially, we want to call this type of life hard. Lack of amenities like bathrooms, floors, mattresses, and bridges make things more difficult for privileged people unadapted to the conditions. Then, after some reconsideration and acknowledgement of our privilege, we change our identification; living a life without excess isn´t necessarily hard, it´s actually quite simple and beautiful compared with a Western city dweller who works long hours, suffers a traffic filled commute, and has an apartment full of superfluous things.

After spending time in rural communities in both Bolivia and Peru, in the high Andes and deep in the Amazon rainforest, I have come to comclude that it is not our job to label or judge these communities in any way; positively or negatively. It is important to talk about what we experience, but labeling a place as simple, or impoverished, or difficult, or easy oversimplifies their existence and creates a single story. Human lives are human lives, and communities are each filled with complexities, personalities, hardships, laughter, amd cultural histories that defy labels and make each place completely unique. One thing I have noticed in every community I´ve stayed in, though, is that unconditional love for your family and community members is universal. And, in a world based on the difficult process of creating genuine human connections, the playfulness and innocence of children will always speed up this process.