New York to the Andes image

From New York to the Andes: A different life with my indigenious friends

Deborah, Ecuador

I am Deborah, and I live in the Andes of Ecuador. When I signed up to “Living the Change” several years ago I was a practicing Buddhist and concerned about global warming while living a modest average-consumption lifestyle in the suburbs of New York.

Since that time my consumer habits, needs, lifestyle and carbon consumption have all changed dramatically. I want to contribute what I hope is a welcome perspective here.

I realized after reading the Stories of Changes and potential resolutions that where one lives and whether one must earn an income to survive may be the most critical factors in one's ability to make significant changes in consumption. Additionally, the renunciation of the consumer materialist values that rest firmly at the core of US culture may be very difficult for some folks, but I think this is necessary. A willingness to do more daily physical labor and live with fewer physical comforts also is important. Small changes are helpful, but I believe that big changes that take us out of our comfort zone are going to make the difference.

Finally I needed to make a huge spiritual shift in my relationship with nature. I went from perceiving the Earth as a resource to benefit humanity to one of respectful reciprocity by learning we humans are Nature rather than separate from Nature. We are one. I retain many of my Buddhist practices while having adopted the spiritual practices and beliefs of the indigenous Andean people sometimes called the Andean cosmovision. At the center of their spirituality is reverence and gratitude for nature, a living Earth called Allpamama or Pachamama that provides us with everything we need to live well. Five years ago at 65, I retired and soon chose to live with my indigenous friends (Kichwa runa) in one of their rural mountain villages in a very small simple house just like theirs. I learned their languages and I learn more about their traditions and approach to life and nature everyday. Indigenous people could teach us so much if we are willing to stop being leaders and innovators and become learners and humble followers of people who have lived in harmony with nature for thousands of years. Like my neighbors, I have few labor-saving appliances and little interest in "home decor" or "remodeling" after upgrading from a dirt floor to a cement floor. I stopped shopping for entertainment and now purchase only true necessities and perishables. Nothing needs to be matching sets or color-coordinated or "in good taste." Nothing I own is on display for other people or an employer. Nor is anything a unique expression of "the real me." It's all simple and utilitarian stuff and there's very little of it. I share my neighbors' commitment to sustainable organic agriculture with compost, handmade wood plows attached to cattle, hand sowing of seeds, weeding with hoes, and harvesting crops by hand. We rely on rain rather than artificial irrigation systems, and we raise as much of our own nutritious food as possible. Their centuries of agricultural wisdom is now being challenged by climate change created by foreign populations who enjoy material conveniences and luxuries they have never known. After driving my own car for almost 50 years, I now walk everywhere unless I am using public transportation to the nearest city about once per week. Walking on peaceful mountain roads with almost no traffic helps me maintain muscle mass as I age and sure beats working out in a gym! I learned in this new home to never take electricity and running water for granted again. I learned new ways of managing water consumption because poor indigenous communities often have hours or days without it. Significantly lowering one's carbon consumption requires a willingness to endure some discomfort and inconvenience while redefining what is truly necessary for a "good life." I learned that eating only the plentiful cheap healthy local foods (grains, tubers, fruits and vegetables in endless varieties along with free-range pigs and chickens) available year-round made for a great improvement from my US fast food diet, but a 100% plant-based diet is not part of indigenous life. Especially without a refrigerator. Again, my wonderful diet is possible mostly due to where I live (region). Not everyone can afford to move to other countries or regions. My heathy diet would be unaffordable in New York. Five avocados for a dollar and fifty cents for a pineapple is affordable food. No need for heat or air conditioning because regional temperatures are not extreme. Layers and a change of clothing is sufficient to stay comfortable on what they call hot and cold days, but we would call it year-long spring weather in New York. By choosing to live in a region without extreme temperatures, I no longer need to consume energy for the purpose of staying cool or warm in a house. Indigenous homes don't have central heating. My greatest luxury in life is a washing machine (most folks here hand scrub for hours in a water canal or cement outdoor lavadora). One other thing I could do to lower my carbon footprint would be to wash my clothes less often by wearing them a few days before sticking them in the machine. Washing clothes after one wear seems wasteful now. Clothes in these communities are always sun and wind dried, usually within a few hours. I would not have been able to make most of these lifestyle changes if I still had to earn income or if I could not find enough money to fly (once in my life) and start life over again in a new country.

What are others doing?