42. Travel Story

Different cultures, different habits?

First I want to announce and not without a little proud ;-), that I finally made a book out of all my (travel)stories from the last 3 year! I got the first 25 pieces printed just before I went back to Ecuador. It is not a perfect book, but it looks nice, reads quickly and I’m happy with it. What I’m now going to do with it depends on the opinion of the readers…

Since my last story I’ve been a month in Holland. Here people often asked for my opinion about the fast and stressful western way of living versus the go slow and layback mentality in Latin America.
If I have to choose, I would go for the western lifestyle.
A small example: In Mexico it took them 5 working days to bring my backpack from A to B and it was even the wrong B…
In Holland it took them 5working days from the moment that I delivered the materials for my book, until the first printed example got delivered at my house.
But why would we have to choose? Why do we have to stress in our western way of living and why do we have to expect that everything goes slow in Latin America? If Cubans in the Caribbean can live a more active live than their neighbors and still be happy, why can’t we relax a bit more in our western world?

An other discussion involving culture differences I had with a good friend of my. He said that if you go to an other country, you have to accept their way of living. This line I totally agree with and I even always ask my groups to do the same. But the next thing he said and which I heard from a Dutch agency in Mexico as well, is something I disagree with. They both blame all the misunderstandings and misexpectations between locals and foreigners on a difference in culture. They say that this is something that foreigners have to accept if they’re in an other country. If I do that, it will be an insult to a lot of good people…

Since I’ve been traveling I’ve been in different countries, experienced different cultures and met people from all over the world. Yes, most countries are less organized and yes all people have different lifestyles; Some people kill a chicken to heal a child; some killed an endangered black caiman, because they had to feed their family; Some are constantly high from chewing coca leaves, because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to work in the mines; Some parents will let all of their young children work on their land, to be able to feed the whole family…
In our western culture things are much more organized and these actions will be considered crimes, but this is their country and their culture. It is how they live already for centuries or even longer.
No, we can’t blame people for differences in culture we need to respect the real culture of an other country, but we shouldn’t blame the bad habits of some of it’s citizens on their difference in culture. Most of the misunderstandings I had/have with some people in Latin America were/are about telling lies and not keeping promises. I can live with the fact that time is less important in Latin America, I should. But I refuse to believe and accept, that any culture supports lies.
I also still think that it is good to at least try to change bad habits, cultural or not. I know enough examples of really bad cultural influences, which cause a lot of problems

Why I tell you all these things about differences in cultures?
It is a way to describe my feelings of powerless and unbelief about the strange and difficult situation that my friends of Merazonia are in.
Almost one and a half year ago four brothers and a sister (I just call all of them ‘the brothers’) came to the guy from whom my friends bought the rights for their land. They said that those rights belonged to their father, so they deserve a part of the money as well. They wanted half of the money that my friends paid to their brother. But the guy refused to pay them and that’s when things got out of control. The brothers violently took over the land and started to ask for four times more money.
We even had to carry a piece of paper with us that says that those brothers are not aloud to hurt the owner of this piece of paper…

Now it is almost one and a half year later and now my friends personally have to find the brothers. They have to go to their houses, tell them that they’re found guilty in the charges for  stealing and that they have the right to defend themselves. No, this is not a joke. We wish it was. My friends are aloud to ask the local police to go with them, but they have to show the papers to the brothers…

Luckily there is some new light in the darkness. My friends found out that the first brother officially already lost his rights on the land, so couldn’t sell these to my friends either.
Because they are kind of friendly neighbors, it wasn’t really smart of my friends to buy the land this way and they didn’t want an other court case, they didn’t start a fight about this case. But because things got worse and the guy still didn’t try himself to get a deal with his brothers, my friends threaded to start a case against him for selling something he didn’t own.
Under this pressure the guy and his family promised that they would offer their brothers half of the money again. It would take them some time to get the money together, two, three, maximal 4 weeks, but they would take care of it. They said that they also want to solve the problem. There is a rumor that the brothers might even accept this offer, so that will be great!

This was exactly three weeks ago and things looked very good, until today.
Supreme court also found the brothers guilty of violating trespassing the land of Merazonia, so officially the brothers will now have to spend 2 months in jail. The problem is that no-one knows what happens after? If they come out of jail and are still angry, only now again with nothing to lose. What are they going to do?
This time however the Ecuadorian system finally seems to work in the benefit of Merazonia. If my friends don’t do anything with this verdict, the police will not pickup those brothers and nothing will happen to them. In their last way out the brothers are now finally again willing to accept half of the money and cut a peaceful deal. They will sign a document that says that they have no rights at all on the land and that they will never enter it again.
We were now waiting until the first brother has the money back together, pays his brothers and ends this fight. So far things looked very good, until today when we met this guy again. He said that he wouldn’t be able to get the money on time. He also said that he didn’t know what his brothers want (while he knows that his brothers accepted this deal) and that he actually still prefers not to pay at all! So much for good words, trust and promises. Next week there will be a new conversation with him, my friends and their lawyer…

Meanwhile we have been working on the land for the past 3 weeks and we haven’t met the brothers. This is still something positive.
Working on the land made me feel again how beautiful the nature is and how special it is to be able to have your own piece of rainforest. Imagine that you’re in the rainforest, the sun is shining full. You’re digging sand away for making a greywater system (a natural way of filtering dirty water), small butterflies are flying around you and one even sits on your shoulder. And all of this while you are working on a project to save animals. These are the moments to remember, these are the moments to live and fight for.

There is also an other contradiction in this whole story.
While I’m talking about being organized and how nice it is to have a law system in Holland that works at least a bit more functional, I’m the one who stays illegal in Ecuador. Because I spend in total more than half a year in Ecuador, I’m suppose to stay out of the country for more than half a year as well. If I want a long term visa for Ecuador, without a study or a job, I will need to put 20.000US$ in an Ecuadorian bank deposit. This is to keep poor immigrants out of the country.
To say that I work as a tour-leader will make it even worse. I also work illegal in most countries, because I have, like most tour-leaders, no working permit either…
The ‘overtime’ I solved with a fake ticket out and a new passport. And the working permit? Well tourism is a very big income for most of the countries I work in, so mostly they don’t bother us to much. But we do need a bit of luck as well. It would have been nice to do everything the legal way, but in reality this would make my job much more difficult and expensive. Imagine how long it will take to get something like this done in Latin America. I think it will be difficult to find tour-leaders for ‘Last Minute’ tours…

Next time more news about Merazonia.


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