November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Casual Observer/Mark Levy


Mark Levy and "Sam"

Civilization is Relative

Reflections on Life in the Slow Lane

During my recent trip to Ecuador, I had occasion to meet a gentlemen who lives in the Amazon. He is a Huaorani (Hwă răh’ni), a people who have lived in their neighborhood for thousands of years, going back to the Stone Age. It is estimated that about 3,000 Huaorani exist. This new acquaintance of mine ─ call him Sam ─ stands about 4’9” high and has dark, but not leathery skin. He has black hair and not a touch of grey, probably because he lives a stress-free life. All he has to do is spear tasty looking animals and occasional enemies, and supervise his wife, who does everything else for the family. I was going to say household, but there is no house. No clothing, either.

Sam looks 50 years old, but I could be off by 20 years one way or the other. He seems pretty healthy, considering he has no access to a health care plan. His chest has fully developed muscles that make Arnold Schwarzenegger look like Woody Allen. He also has a hole in his earlobe big enough to slide an iPhone through.

I met Sam at a rather rustic resort near a town called Mindo, Ecuador, a couple of hours from Quito. I felt sorry for myself having to drive so far to get there until I learned that Sam had traveled by foot and canoe for three days from his home in the Amazon. Now, Sam didn’t mention this fact to me directly, because he speaks only the Huaorani language, so his Spanish-speaking son did the translating.

Let me tell you about this rustic resort. A raging river borders the property, so to get across from the dirt road out of the town of Mindo, you have to ride precariously on this flat, wooden, one-person seat suspended by a rope and pulley. The seat has no sides to protect you from the raging river and its formidable boulders.

Once across the river and onto the property, I locate a common, open-aired-dining area ─ really just an unenclosed, platform and I find my wooden cabin ─ quite spacious, actually ─ with a grass thatched roof surrounded by a swarm of moths the size of pterodactyls. It could be a scene from Jurassic Park. No electricity, but there are two candles and, believe it or not, a flush toilet. That’s where technology ends.

I thought that was pretty rustic, especially for a place that calls itself a resort. But then I realized that the same location that represents a giant step backwards, civilization-wise for me, is actually a great improvement for Sam, who was quite accustomed to living without a roof over his unkempt head. He doesn’t have a satellite TV, either ─ not even basic cable ─ or a heater or an air conditioner or a refrigerator or a dish washer or even, let’s face it, a roll of toilet paper.

How can he enjoy a Barry Manilow Christmas collection on CD while munching on microwave popcorn if he doesn’t have a CD player or a microwave oven in the first place? The poor fellow doesn’t have a toothbrush or a pair of Diodoro sneakers. He has survived, day after day for maybe 18,000 days, without a cell phone and without a full-length bathroom mirror. We take so many things for granted he doesn’t even know exist.

I continued to feel sorry for Sam all the way up to the day I returned to civilization to discover my mortgage, my satellite TV bill, and two credit card payments were overdue. My electricity had been shut off, too, for the same reason.

Yes, civilization can be a relative thing. You have to feel sorry for people who don’t know what they’re missing.


About the author:

Mark Levy is a contributor editor of Ragazine.  He is an attorney with the Binghamton law firm of Hinman, Howard and Kattell.

1 comment

1 anonymous { 07.17.11 at 7:44 pm }

His name is Huaorani. Why should I call him Sam?

Tell me why you “feel sorry” for him, if he is happy?
Maybe he is better off in the long run.