Southern Chile (and Argentina) has to be one of the most beautiful places in the entire world. Green everywhere, and all of it is divided up by gorgeous mountains, blue lakes, and rivers. Every time that we pass over a river I look down and see fly fisherman trying to tease out the huge trout and salmon that live in these waters. I can’t even describe how envious I am of them. The country side down here is also covered in wide open pastures for cows, sheep, pigs, and hens. These are “honest” pastures where the animals live a happy life, not anything like the feed lots that comprise the livestock industry in the USA. It’s strikingly gorgeous.
We’ve been studying with the indigenous tribe who inhabits southern chile, “el Mapuche,” and we have had classes to learn about how their system of health care functions in addition to how they use herbal remedies in their treatments. Imagine walking through an incredible old growth forest with a local medicine man to learn about all the unique herbs that grow there… quite the class! Did I mention that we had to ask permission to the spirits who dwell over the forest before entering? This is the kind of cross-cultural learning that I came to Chile to gather! Our other classes have been in community “rukas,” or large thatched huts with fire pits in the middle and seats all around in a big circle. Certainly my idea of an excellent classroom. (Pictures to come as soon as I get the chance).
Just a few days ago, our program traveled over the Andes mountains and over the Chile-Argentina border to a little town in Argentina called Bariloche. As I write this down, I can’t help but smile and laugh the thought of Bariloche. Across both Spanish and English, there aren’t enough words to describe how much I love Bariloche. Beautiful snowy mountains all around, huge stone and wood buildings, delicious chocolate, yerba mate (a super strong herbal tea), a beautiful lake, people speaking clean and clear Spanish. It was heaven, and I can’t wait to share pictures of it all as soon as I can. For now it will suffice to say that I will be returning to Bariloche for an extended stay at some point later in my life.
El Mapuche people have been extremely welcoming, both into their homes and community gathering spaces but also into their culture. Their culture is one of respect for nature, not ownership of nature. For this reason they have had many strong conflicts with the Chilean and Argentinian government who lay claim to their traditional land. The Mapuche have no desire at all to be recognized as members of either state, and instead wish to be recognized as a separate cultural entity, not Chilean or Argentinian, but Mapuche. They don’t ask for the territory back from the state governments, only for the opportunity to care for the land and preserve it. While they shut out almost all Chileans or Argentinians who try to enter their community spaces, they warmly welcomed us thanks to the strong ties that our program director has made with them in the past. It has been an incredibly eye-opening experience to see a people fight for their culture like the Mapuche.
It makes me sad that I can’t sit down with each one of you to REALLY explain what this experience has meant to me, but I suppose that my brief little blog posts will have to do. There is so much to talk about, to share, and so little time to do it. I hope that you are looking forward to seeing some pictures soon!
Just one last thought, the phrase that governs Mapuche society is this: “dar para recibir” or in English: “give in order to receive.”