I was a mess…
I had just experienced the most intense pain of my life, a back spasm that was literally crippling. That pain led to what I later learned was a “Vasovagal response” – essentially, the trauma was so intense that it triggered a slowing of my heart rate and a drop in my blood pressure – and in fact I lost consciousness for a few moments. It was frightening.
It happened on Wednesday, November 23. Several hours previously, Sharon, Ariel, Drew, and Lucia and I had arrived at La Communidad Llaguepulli in the Araucania region of Chile, where we were intent on learning more about these indigenous people and their culture. The Mapuche are the “first people” of Chile, and were here to greet (or suffer under) the conquistadores of Spain several hundred years ago. As an ethnic group, Mapuche comprise nearly 10% of the Chilean population, yet we have heard many of the older members tell of the ways in which the Mapuche were deprived of opportunities to practice their culture and in fact suffered from attempts to “educate the Mapuche” out of them.
Our hope was to spend two days in this remote place, bearing witness to the heritage of the Mapuche and learning more about their culture and world-view. And when I suffered my spasm, I was afraid that this hope would be crushed. However, this is what happened: a young woman who is studying to be a doctor immediately took my blood pressure and other vitals; she gave me fluids and made me comfortable. Another woman offered me some tea made from the bark of the Palo Santo tree, a traditional remedy for inflammation. And the entire community made accommodation for my limited mobility for the next twenty four hours. As a result, our family was able to spend Thanksgiving with a beautiful community and learn a great deal about how they view life, the universe, and everything. We made sopaipilla (fried bread), soup, and other delicacies; we tried our hand at weaving and spinning yarn (the really productive kind, not what I usually do when I spin a yarn…); we heard about the theology and cosmology of these people; and we even took a boat ride wherein Lucia and I tried our hand at fishing. And I should mention that we were the first people ever to stay in a newly-constructed cabin within that community, which is trying to expand their hospitality to eco-tourists in the hope of bridging cultural gaps and promoting awareness.
It was ironic that all of this happened on Thanksgiving, because it’s not the first time that some visitor named Carver has had his skin saved by the kindness of Native Americans. If I can believe what the older folks have told me, my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great uncle John Carver was in a similar fix.In 1620, old Uncle John had been elected by his fellow travelers on the Mayflower to be the first governor of what they’d decided to call Plymouth Colony. Interestingly enough, there were already people living on that spot – the Wampanoag people. The so-called “Pilgrims” were in a tough spot – the land, the weather, the animals, the inhabitants, and even many of the trees were new and frightening. The food ran short, and folks were dying. The Wampanoag were gracious, and pretty much everyone agrees that none of the passengers from the Mayflower stood a chance of survival apart from the help they received from the First People. Many of us in the USA remember this as “the first Thanksgiving” in 1621. While I’m pretty sure it didn’t happen the way that we read about it in the picture books, the long and the short of it is that when things got tough, folks chose to work together, to learn from each other, and celebrate – even while keeping an eye on one another.
If you know much about “the rest of the story”, you’ll know that the first Americans didn’t fare so well with the folks who followed Uncle John. The European immigrants to the “new world” were unwilling to adapt to prevailing culture and languages of the people who were already there, and scores of people groups were simply wiped out.
Which is why I counted it a privilege to be taking my grand-daughter – the 15th generation of Carvers to be found in the Americas – to visit a community of indigenous people on Thanksgiving. Make sure you get what I’m saying: we didn’t travel all this way to somehow atone for the ways in which conflict has soured relationships between various ethnic groups; and we didn’t come to place anyone on a pedestal nor to abase our own culture. We came to simply celebrate the fact that there are MANY cultures, many voices in the choir, many ways to look at life. What we take for granted may or may not be “what everybody knows”. And that’s OK.
My hope is that in making a visit like this, we are modeling for our communities (both here in Chile as well as at home) the truth that “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and ALL that dwell therein.” I want to honor those who are different; I want to learn about that of which I am ignorant; I want to be a better neighbor to the folks on Cumberland Street as well as the Mapuche who breathe the same air and need the same water.
It was a miserable, painful day. And yet one which occasioned thankfulness. I hope to pass it on in the days to come.