A World Much Different

Reaching the remote village of Los Angeles, where the NGO for whom I was working partners with local projects, often entails driving up steep, at times treacherous, single lane mountain paths. Our visit yesterday included a 5.5 hr. bumpy, dusty, 4-wheel drive struggle climbing 5,000' above Teleman, all the while alert for roadway thieves, a three mile hike ever upwards, and a nice, for me, three mile mule ride* on the return. We traveled to a Shangrai La, but as all such wonderful places seem to require, we paid a price.

Choking from dust, lazily taking in the surroundings through which we bounced along for hours, I was for some reason struck by one particular sight:

There is a world very much different than mine. It is a world in which a woman in a bright red blouse and her child sit contentedly upon the side of a dusty, winding road, twisting its single lane lazily over the mountains. They sit, no doubt, dawn till dusk, day in and day out, only to be lulled from their trance to sell a drink or snack to the occasional passerby. 

What is this trance into which they fix their gaze? Perhaps, it is a trance that prohibits any concern beyond their small plot of land and the green fields shrouded here and there by the wispy ghost clouds ever dancing upon the nearby mountain tops.

What can she and her son be thinking? I suspect they have few worries, given the fact that they have opportunity to daily sit away the day, though the matter of day to day sustenance must forever clamor subliminally for attention in the quiet of their emptied thoughts.

Do this woman and her child have ambition? I'm not sure that ambition, at least other than what has been hard wired into their humanness, is a cultural concept. Yet, this cannot be the case. Afterall, she has a roadside stand. My practically emptied mind wonders what it must have taken for her to gain this possession that so few of her neighbors have. Indeed, she is ambitious. Maybe her gaze is turned inward, plotting how she might leverage her existing asset, into what, I don’t know.

Ambition indeed, yet just how large is her world? Does it extend beyond such ambition? She lives in a small shack, a few miles from the small crossroads known as Teleman, 50 miles or so from the roar of the unbroken expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. Possibly, the road to town and back is her world, a very, very, very tiny speck on a globe, of which she has almost no knowledge.

Yeah, yeah yeah... the ravings of a broken leg pain induced dusty bouncer...

•An aside: I had broken my leg six weeks before arriving in Central America to photograph assignments in Guatemala and Nicaragua. It took quite a bit to convince my orthopedic surgeon to remove the plaster cast from my leg and allow me to use a walking boot in order to travel. Just traveling by plane was very painful and the ordeal of walking three miles in the mountains for this assignment was excruciating. I hired a young man to carry my 45 lb. camera pack. By the time we reached the coffee fields high above the plain below, my leg was seriously swollen—so much so that there was no way I’d be able to walk back down the mountain. I was very embarrassed to have to inform the leader of the trip of my situation. Before leaving she had questioned my ability to take on this assignment, but I had assured her in my best male macho that I’d be fine. I wasn’t. She left me to discuss the matter with locals. A half hour later she returned with a mule. Great. Well, sort of. Riding the mule down steep trails without a saddle and a heavy leg hanging off one side presented it’s own challenges causing considerable pain to other parts of my anatomy. The mule and I made it back down, however, for which I was very thankful. I told the leader that I’d like to reimburse her for the cost of the mule ride. “Fine,” she said. “It cost 30 cents.” I responded, “I would have been more than happy to pay the additional 30 cents to ride the mule up the mountain.