Life with the Achuar

Right now it’s only 7:30 and it’s pitch black out. It feels more like midnight really. My computer screen is full of tiny bugs that are attracted to the only light in the house – the only light in the whole of the Amazon it seems.

The view is incredible, right from my kitchen window – they built a dock in front of our house, so the trees have been cut down, giving us a fantastic view of the river. Sunrise and sunset are gorgeous, which I can watch from my huge porch.

If I just sit outside, I can see birds and monkeys saluting me from the trees, and butterflies everywhere of iridescent blues, incredible reds, and fluorescents. It’s pretty cool when I butterfly lands on my school papers in the classroom, on my laundry hanging on the line, or even on my hand.

And the sky at night. Wow! The stars are the most incredible thing I have ever seen. Looking at the wide expanse of sky, I see the constellations, bright shooting stars , and I can see why so many myths are about the stars and the sky. The space between the land and the sky is lit up by fireflies. You wouldn’t believe how the night sky sparkles.

There is just something relaxing staring at the different shades of green; going along the river in the motor canoe (my favorite thing – no bugs in the canoe!), feeling the fresh breeze cool my face, and watching the birds and butterflies. Outside my windows frogs and monkeys lull me to sleep. I even have fireflies in the house, when I stare up at the ceiling (the house has lots of cracks to let bugs in) they twinkle at me, like my own personal stars.

What an incredible lifestyle the Achuar lead. They have their land protected as official Achuar territory. In fact, no one is allowed to be flown in without special permission. And they have been very careful about environmental preservation.

Here in Kapawi, the lives of the Achuar are so intertwined with nature. They just open their doors and breathe in fresh air, and they have banana, papaya and pinapple trees that provide them with the sweetest and freshest fruit you can imagine. They know everything about the land, the plants, the animals. Yesterday I was scared of a bee, (what a surprise, right?) but my student just grabbed it in midair and showed me – it has no stinger. It’s a non-dangerous bee!

Achuar 13

I feel like things are really put into perspective living so closely to nature. Life becomes calmer. (I’ll try to remember that I wrote that when a bug or a shadow startles me half to death later.) There is no stress, road rage, bad customer service, pressure about your appearance, financial worries. The land provides for the people here. From the land, they get their food, which they have to work for but it’s not work in the sense that we think of it.

They don’t work just to get the job done, and then to go home to their families or hobbies. People work together with their families and friends; their work is their hobby, hunting or planting papaya trees or building a house. As they work, the air is filled with laughter and jokes, and when someone wants to rest, s/he rests. People work out of necessity, and they are motivated to do a good job because their existence depends on it, and they don’t want to let down their family and friends.

The concept of time is different here too. People rise with the sun, eat when they are hungry, and sleep when it gets dark. Some have watches, but they can’t really conceptualize how long things take. ‘I’ll be back in 5 minutes’ often means 3 hours.

Things take as long as they take. There is no rush, no schedule. Of course the classes have a set time of 45 minutes, but this too varies. A teacher rings a handheld bell to alert the start and finish of class. But sometimes the bell rings 5 minutes early, sometimes 10 minutes late. When class will end is always a surprise.

I love the daytime here, rising early, feeling the fresh air on my face, seeing the gorgeous view out my window, feeling the grass on my feet or the mud squish between my toes as I go to work barefoot. I have nothing to think or worry about, just feel, smell, see, and experience the world around me. It’s a very mindful existence. It’s really a refreshing break from the normal daily stress.

I won’t lie when I say it can be exhausting living in the jungle, and I don’t like bugs that come out at night. Volunteering here is hard work – not just adjusting to remote living, but also preparing classes for a culture so different to our own. Challenging but rewarding, and I get to do it in such pretty surroundings too!

To me, being close to nature is very comforting. It reminds me of where we came from, and what is important. Watching the stars shooting across the huge expense of sky makes me realize how tiny we really are in this universe.

Learn more about the Achuar

Amy RemondiAbout Amy Remondi: In college I studied anthropology and, being part Native American, I’ve always found other cultures, especially indigenous ones, to be very interesting. I’m currently volunteering at a high school in the Amazon Rainforest with the Achuar tribe; working with amazing people and combining my love for learning about new things, nature, indigenous culture, teaching and helping others. Read more on my blog at Amy’s Volunteer Adventures.