I spent last weekend feeling closer to the earth than ever before during my suburban, East Coast and generally nature-disconnected life. I took the lead from my new family members in San Clemente, an indigenous community two hours north of Quito that my program lived with for three days.

Quichua, the language of the Incans, is still spoken regularly and Spanish is often barely known by the oldest. However, a lack of bilingual teachers in the local elementary school has precipitated a diminishment of the younger generation’s fluency in its forefathers’ tongue.

Members of the community are proud descendents of the Caranqui, a pre-Incan Andean culture whose fierce resistance against the Inca is still commemorated by the distinctive deep red of San Clemente’s traditionally-worn poncho.

These are men of the earth. They breathe its essence, feel its murmurs, respect its power, and pay it homage with modern songs and ancient ceremonies passed down for centuries. They are irrevocably connected to the earth in a harmonic symbiosis I’d imagine difficult for many Westerners to understand without witnessing it first hand. Community members, and those of other Andean indigenous communities who live autonomously and remote from excessive external influence, live by the life philosophy known as the Andean Cosmovision. This world-view assumes the connection between all things akin to that of Zen, which lies directly at odds with Western philosophy’s emphasis on individuality and subject-object relationships. In San Clemente, man and nature are one.

The community subsists on semi-communal organic farming, and utilizes ancestors’ agricultural practices. Tractors and insecticides cannot be found. To supplement income, the community has started a small-scale tourism service, and outsiders with seeking a different side of Ecuador are now welcome into numerous community homes.

Community members, such as the family with whom three of us stayed, were eager to share their way of life and thinking and dispel the stereotypic notions that indigenous people are dirty, primitive or unintelligent. I did not come in with these assertions, but I certainly left feeling overwhelmed. We were let into their homes as sons and daughters with no preconditions and no expectations. The unjustified generosity of a people so repeatedly persecuted by outsiders will never be forgotten.

My next few posts will describe specific ceremonies in which we had the incredible fortune of participating. Nothing will better demonstrate this communities’ intimacy or devotion to the earth and Cosmovision.

Lastly, I need to congratulate Ecuador on its new constitution’s overwhelming victory on the 28th – the day of going to the voting centers, watching polls and celebrating jubilantly with family and friends was thrilling, and almost as nerve-wracking as this November Forth promises to be. Progressive provisions for the inalienable rights of nature, water, education and health could finally give a voice to the silent, humble majority and hope for a new politics and a new Ecuador. Of course, the constitution is nothing without strong leadership to guide it…

If interested, check out this article on the constitution’s breakthrough on environmental policy. The New York Times’ coverage or the constitution’s passing is ok, but I found this CNN article terribly biased. As of yet, there is little to no evidence that President Correa will follow in Chavez’ footsteps. I’ll be on the lookout for more good English-language articles on the subject.