March 25, 2012
I recently returned to Windward after spending a few weeks in the Ecuadorian Andes, the region where the interplay between the human- and eco-systems inspired me, at the age of 18, to seek out and help to create a place like Windward.
The purpose of my travels this time around was to serve as a Spanish-English translator for a group of physicians, nurse practitioners and physical therapists that provide health care to people living in remote regions that have difficult access to health care or otherwise cannot afford it. The group has been traveling to Ecuador for about a decade, and this was my third year providing translation services.
A Pediatrician assessing a child's respiratory system
Yet despite spending all day talking about arthritis, headaches, back pain, poorly healed broken bones, failing eyesight, burning urination, menopause, parasite medication, blood pressure and poor appetite, by the time I fell asleep each night I couldn't help but be impressed by how very healthy this population, primarily comprised of subsistence farmers, is.
As someone who is choosing to live a life far closer to how these Andean farmers live than the lifestyle of a typical American, I am well aware of the physical demands such a life puts on the body, and I am not trying to trivialize their pain or romanticize their life. These are people that work hard, and with few modern amenities to ease the labor, their bodies show the wear and tear, at what we might consider a relatively young age.
But they also suffer from relatively low rates of what are often referred to as diseases of affluence: obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol etc.
A 91 year old
However, by the age of 60, what many of the patients want the most is a pair of reading glasses because, as one older gentlemen said to me while he laid on the floor getting an injection in his leg to reduce the inflammation in his severely arthritic knee, "to seek wisdom is to live a good life".
(about to get stuck crossing this stream washing away the road)
The perspective I provide above assumes that words convey a fundamental meaning, as opposed to having meaning in and of themselves, and that meaning is relevant only within the context or the frame of reference in which it is experienced or understood. Additionally, while it is well understood that people can communicate and share information about themselves without using verbal communication, different cultures have developed distinct mannerisms to convey the same sentiment, thought or emotion. So interpreting body language and gestures across cultures, particularly if using them to identify symptoms or diagnose illness, can be a misleading practice.
Providing health care on a local bus
While this may appear esoteric or off-topic, being stewards of the land means we are in the business of translating and communicating with the world around us, the world that is our home and that provides us with the resources we need to live. We need to be responsive to its needs and promote its health, yet for most of us the language of the natural world is a foreign language that we hear with all our senses and speak with our actions.
If we only listen to the metaphorical words of the natural world (e.g. individual data points strung together in a series), as opposed to seeking to understand the meaning conveyed, and if we assume the meaning such signals carry is the same across habitats or regions, we become vulnerable to getting lost in translation.
More beatiful mountains