Day 13, Sunday, July 23 A luminous mountain morning. An inspirational landscape. Cloud mists drift above the mountains outside my window. The canyon below is draped in soft verdant green, with a sharp backbone ridge that draws the eye. Not a bad place to wake up. Giant grasshoppers, the size of small hummingbirds, fly across the open to the next tree. Black vultures ride thermals below. The social scientist team was up early this morning, talking animatedly about how to survey the local community, whether surveys should be conducted randomly and how to achieve that. At the Toucan restaurant the young social scientists talk about how to bring additional income to the community in a way that is fair to all families, and does not lead to local corruption. They are examining potential benefits of a Fair Trade scheme for shade grown coffee for communities in the buffer zone. They are very serious. As if the fate of the community is in their hands.
Two young local girls come by to visit while I sit at the Ecolodge picnic table. They are 8 and 13. My spanish is quite basic, therefore my conversations are limited to asking them their names, ages, and what time it is. I don’t ask what time it is, which would be silly since none of us have watches. We do a lot of gesturing, and they are quite enamored by everything that I have and that I am wearing. Que Bonita! the older one says over and over as she points to my KEEN brand red sandals, my opal ring, my bright yellow LIVESTRONG bracelet. The girls wear faded dirty clothes and are attempting to sell me some bracelets. Behind each drawn out que bonita! is a deep yearning to have pretty things too. I have been listening to my iPod, and wish there was some way I could transport these girls to a place where these are just things and not to be longed for, and that their simple life is Que Bonita! But I know that it’s easier to not want things when you have had them, or can have them. Just as I enjoy these little luxuries, so would anyone. The girls each take turns listening to the Dave Matthews Band on my iPOD. They smile brilliantly and nod their heads. They marvel at the incredible little gadget’s screen, lighting up the names of the songs. The children in Buenos Aires in general are quite small for their ages, due to malnutrition, I’ve been told. With Operation Wallacea’s presence for 12 weeks per year, there have been many new income opportunities. Locals can work as guides and cooks, making as much in a day as they would have an opportunity to make in a week under other circumstances. The pay is still dismal, however, $5 per day for some long days and hard work hauling heavy equipment and leading scientists through tough terrain. The guides don’t sweat, and appear mostly happy, grateful and eager to do a good job. There is some talk of guides refusing to go out with scientists after long days of guiding, but for the most part, the work seems to be a good arrangement. I believe the wage should be higher, more in line with UK or US standards of fair labor rather than an amount that is high by the pitiful local standards. At any rate, there is much laundry to be done and jewelry to be bought, so a fair amount of lempira is finding its way to this community.