33. Volunteer

How far would you go to accomplish what you want?
 
Mera, Thursday the sixth of April 2006. It is 8:30am when I start writing this story. On the back plays a cd. It is a cd called Magnolia and one of the songs says: “One is the loneliest number that you ever do.” This says something about my feeling right now. My friends just left to take a little break from all the problems around Merazonia and I stay here to take care of the dogs. But is that the only reason?
 
Let me tell you what happened before:
 
When I left Merazonia in January I felt sad and a bit disconnected. Merazonia had become a bigger part of me than I expected. I even started to like the “boring” little village of Mera. However I still thought that it would be difficult to give up my freedom to live in the jungle, working with animals and no electricity. I think I would get bored. But on the other hand, I haven’t been bored in the last half year. I even had a great time! I could lose my energy in this project. I had fun trying to find solutions for things that are normal at home, but difficult in the jungle. Like how to make a toilet.
Maybe I would like to live/work in the jungle? Maybe I can become an associate? No more outsider, but one who can really share in the emotions and discus about the problems. I could keep on doing tour-guiding to support myself and to keep contacts with the “Modern World”. I could use my contacts to do marketing for Merazonia and when on the land I could build and fix things. I think there will always be something fix, I hope.
 
But “Maybe” is not good enough. It is a big responsibility and I can not jus “maybe” take that. I have to know for sure. Like I don’t maybe start a relationship ;-) I only start something when there is a good change that it will work out.
Stepping in this project will mean that, at least within the next few years; I wouldn’t be able to travel outside my work; I would need to be able to live in a place where there’s not much more to do than working on this project; I would have to learn more about animals; I even have to find out if I would be able to work together with my friends. We had some different opinions about how to do things. This can give a fresh look on problems, but it can also create new ones. This is something I need to find out before, because I don’t want Merazonia to become a second Inti Wara Yassi. I put my heart in it only to find out that their way of working is to difficult for me to go along with. No, if I step in I have to stay in and make it work.
 
I decided that I would use this whole year to observe Merazonia and the Merazonians and to  save money for what ever decision I would make at the end of the year.
I would go back to Mera and help again, but now I would keep more (personal) distance. See how my friends do things, see how they work and solve problems together.
I guess this will also be a test for my curiosity and patience. I always want to have something to do, say or arrange. At the end of my last tour there was even a woman who told me that I had to be careful not to do to much for the members of my group. “Be careful that they don’t take profit of you”. She didn’t had to worry about that. It’s me who takes the profit. If I have an easy tour with no special requests or problems, I guess I wouldn’t feel useful and I will get bored.
 
Back to Merazonia:
Last time I wrote that the Merazonians gained the right to be the only one living on their land. So the house of the Brothers (Daltons) got burned by the police.
Things went fine for over a week, until Jennifer went, in a weekend, on her own to the land. One of the brothers was back again! She took pictures of him as a proof, but then he robbed her camera!
When the police finally got to the land they couldn’t do much without a court order. Apparently Ecuador has some western rules as well: Everyone is innocent, until guild is proven, or the police sees different…
This gave the brothers confidence. If they seem to get away with stealing a camera, why would they let themselves chase away of the land? In fact, why would they even allow the Merazonians on their land? So the Merazonians got chased of their own land and the Brothers started to build their house again. They hired workers, cut a big part of forest and even started building a second house!
 
What did the Merazonians do? Every time when they wanted to enter the land they got treated with machetes and the police came up with different excuses for not helping. The Merazonians tried to hire two guards. But at 8pm the same evening they knocked on the door of the volunteer house in Mera. Apparently the brothers came up with a group of 15! These guards were no official guards, who are allowed to use their gun (official guards are very expensive), so they couldn’t do much against such a big group.
 
All right, if that’s the situation I go back to, then that’s how it will be. I made up my mind and I will go through with my decision. Anyway, I don’t get intimidated that quick. We will see if they can scare me off the land. In the end they’re no criminals (yet) aren’t they?
 
The day I came back in Ecuador, Frank came back as well and we went all (Jennifer, Alex, Frank, Guido and I) to the land. Damn, they had really cut a big part of forest and by the sound of a chainsaw they were still cutting!
We went walking over the land and got spotted by a woman (sister of the brothers). She went to get her husband and a brother (the one to whom belonged originally the small house). We went to our house. When we stood talking there, the three of them came down to tell us that we had to leave. We refused and tried to ignore them. They started to treat us, so I took some pictures. For this action I had to bend quickly, or a machete may have hit me. I put the camera away and we formed a group in front of the house. We didn’t want to leave, but also didn’t like the idea of fighting against machetes. How far would they take this? We started to ignore them again, which made them more angry, especially the brother in law. When we didn’t respond to them, they went to get a stick with a piece of leather belt and gave this to the sister. She started to swing this in the direction of Guido and when she hit Alex, the situation started to escalate. The brother in law swung his machete now so close to us and with so much aggression, that even the other brother seemed not to know what to do. It was clear that it became to dangerous now. Unfortunately we couldn’t do much more than going away.
Off course we went straight to the police. But to make a long story and a long day short, the result was nada. Yes, we gave notice and have a possibility to go to court with that. But with only one bruise and no (police) witnesses it’s our word against theirs. A sad way to use the human right: innocent until guild is proven.
It even seems to be that if you get attacked without a piece of paper from the police, that says that you’re protected (a Boleta de Auxilio) and without a police witness, the police can’t do much. Nice to know that the police follows the law, but is it not the same law that says that those Brothers aren’t allowed to enter the land of Merazonia?
 
After a lot of talking in the next days, we finally got the approval that next week there would be a “Desalojo”, in which the police would take the brothers off the land again and break down their houses.
Unfortunately in that week there was a big Paro (strike). Most of the roads were blocked in a protest against a trade contract with the US. So the police was busy and had no time for us.
However, after the Paro, nothing happened either. The police always came up with different excuses.
So how do you get those brothers off the land without help from the police and without fighting? This was the big question in the last month, and still is.
 
The Merazonians went from office to office, spoke hours with their lawyer, different authorities, the police and even the court. They also got two more inspections done on their land, of which the results still have to prove themselves.
To try something different I went on my own to the land to try to get the Brothers and the Merazonians back to talk. They actually came to talk, but were totally not reasonable with the amount of money they asked for leaving the land. No more talking happened after.
 
The results of the month March were a few more documents in the benefit of Merazonia and the lose of more than 800US$ to pay the lawyer, Guido, for some inspections, costs for living, etc.. But still those brothers were on the land and the Merazonians couldn’t enter.
Maybe the situation will change next Monday (the tenth of April) when the first court-case against the brothers finally starts? The judge will ask first if both parties are willing to get to an agreement. Maybe this is the last option to get a diplomatic solution?
 
Last night the Merazonians finally had a bit of luck. Apparently the brother from whom they bought the rights to live on the land, had no right to sell anything. There was no proof on the land that he had been living/working there either, within the last few years. This means that he also lost his rights to be the only one on that part of the land. Now the Merazonians could try to get all their money back, maybe even the money that they invested, but it is a nice guy and that isn’t the goal. The Merazonians just want their piece of land without problems.
They got to an agreement that the guy would first pay half the amount of money back that the Merazonians had paid him. This money will give the Merazonians something to negotiate with the other Brothers in court.
 
After this deal the Merazonians decided to take a little vacation/break until Monday. A few days away from the problems of Merazonia. This was the moment I couldn’t stand back anymore. The last few days were already difficult, but I had made myself a promise. I would let my friends do their things together, don’t give my opinion to much and not go in discussion. It made me feel really powerless. I couldn’t do anything and I couldn’t mentally support them, because it is not my project and I can’t know how I would feel in their position.
But now it felt to me that the soul had left Merazonia. The way the Merazonians handled things, the things they did, or didn’t do, how they took their responsibilities, no plans for the future, all together it seemed to me that there was no more spirit.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t say that they do it wrong. Maybe they follow the only right way, no-one knows at this moment. It only seemed to me that all the problems had extinguished the fire of Merazonia and that made me sad. I had to spit it out now, because it was killing my mood. So finally I talked about it with my friends and they ensured me that they still want to continue with this project. They just have different ideas and different ways of doing things. Because they’re still my friends I believe them. But where does this put me? If they all have the same ideas, it will leave me out again. It seems the year is still fresh and I already reached the point I was hoping to avoid, getting to close to something that isn’t mine.
 
I’m stubborn, have my own strong principles (who knows me better knows how far they go) and now it seems that our ways of thinking and working are very different. I think now that becoming an associate will be more a weight than a help. That’s sad and I have to admit that I had some tears in my eyes last night. On the other hand you can say that my test worked out. I didn’t expect a result that fast and I’m sad that it isn’t positive, but I think that it’s better to find out now than when it’s to late.
Now I know where I stand again and I know that I should only come back to Merazonia if the Merazonians have building projects I can work on. And either they have to make the plans or I’m allowed to make them. If there are no project and/or plans I will only pass by to say: “Hallo” and leave again. That’s best for everyone.
 
All right, it is now Thursday morning, or already afternoon. Maybe I should have gone with my friends this morning, have some distraction. But he, it’s to late now and maybe it is good that way. At least I’m useful again ;-) The dogs are now looking for protection at my feet, afraid of the firework and the Merazonians needed some time off. Guido wouldn’t be able to “dogsit” since I just saw him in the Parade. This parade is part of the festival weekend in Mera.
 
To give this story at least some happy end, I want to end by writing that I do have something else to look forward to. My agency needed someone who could take over two tours in Central America. They asked me if I could do them and I said yes.
It will be two tours of 23 days which will follow the “Maya Route” through Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras en Belize. This will be a nice challenge, since it is some time ago that I’ve been in these countries. I will have to work with an other agent and I will travel with a group of 20 persons! Yes, it looks challenging, but promising as well and I’m already busy studying and working on the travel-schedule.
 
I hope the Merazonians can cut a deal with the Brothers for a save future and I hope I didn’t bore you too much with my personal problems. I promise that my next story will be less personal. I wish you all luck with what you’re doing.

 

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