By Maiga Milbourne.
Riding in a bus between the jungles and Andes of
Ecuador, there was one thought landing
more heavily than any competitor: “We’re wrong.”
I look out the window at decaying
missions, harbingers of ‘hope’ that sold
land, flesh, belief and
now NGOs, and mining and drilling
companies who build schools and
hospitals to once again teach literacy
after contracts are signed –
Teach lessons on construction sites, at the helms of
oil wells, in classrooms, on the labels of pills
prescribed at the clinic;
teach how to live.
Teach how to live when the jungle is
gone, when the mountains are blasted, when
flesh and hope and belief are
People who look like me staff
the embassies and company headquarters
and clinics and schools. I could easily
get a job teaching how to live when
the other people who look like me
have auctioned off the land and plants and water
and air and flesh and hope.
What do I know about how to live? The way
I live doesn’t work. The way I live supports a
few people who look like me (not all) and
I’m told I have skills. I can teach in schools
and clinics in places like this that are
being sold for parts. I don’t have skills.
I don’t know how to grow food or build
shelter or birth or cook or be present.
My parents hired people who had skills. These
people cleaned and planted and built. Why would
I then be exported to build and clean and plant
The world is finite and bound, and I look
out the window of a bus traveling the
country from jungle to Andes in Ecuador,
and I see companies from my home, and I
know that earth, mineral, plant, substance will
be robbed here and mined and sold and
taken to where I live,
and the people who were robbed and stolen,
and whose lives were changed, will be taught
how to live in the aftermath of theft, robbery,
rape and destruction.
I am watching from the bus window. I am
grateful for teachers (who look like these people,
from the jungle, the mountains, the cities) who are
patient with me, who teach me.
My head leaned against the bus window; it
rattled, it bruised my temple and buzzed my skin,
and my knees wrapped to my chest — gently
resting against the seat back of the man in front
of me (hopefully not digging into his back), and I saw
a sign announcing that this town was named “Shell.”
(Steven Biko. Nigeria. Massacres and oil. Shell.)
I passed the first manicured lawn I’d seen yet
(like the only manicured-massacred lawn I saw in
all of Cuba, in Havana, at the U.S. Interest Section [housed
by the Swiss Embassy] where dark-skinned people
served iced tea on trays to light-skinned people).
I passed the first gated community I’d seen since arriving; there
was a sign “Shell employees and guests.” I saw more visible
poverty surrounding this community than anywhere else
in the country.
On my lap, on this bus, jiggling through the mountains
and communities named
after corporations founded where I’m from: a book written
by a NY Times journalist about Indigenous
struggles for land against powerful companies like
Shell and other multinationals busy drilling for copper
and oil, or pharmaceutical companies looking for drugs in the rainforest
(and in their wake, communities, ways of life destroyed,
replaced by clinics and schools
and teachers teaching how to live in the aftermath
of oil and copper and drugs and progress).
We’re wrong. How I live (a life based on drugs, extracted from
these jungles, with technology, made from minerals in these
mountains, from exploitation, from globalization, from NAFTA)
The story I was told that well-meaning people who know
how to live can teach others
(in the jungles, on farms, in the mountains, in
the cities, in ghettos)
how to live is wrong.
This is why I sit in buses and cross countries. This is
why I take journeys into earth and jungle
and thick midnight and early mornings and ask and
thank my teachers. I watch. I watch villagers in
Vietnam rebuild and farm out of milk jugs, and I watch
people in Guatemala build houses out of litter, and
I watch people in Ecuador in the streets, in the jungle, from the
bus window, across the table.
I know many point to statistics and life
expectancy, and how well-meaning people who
look like me — who come from where I come from — vaccinate
and feed and shelter and change
and the statistical evidence of improvement;
and it looks like this –
it looks like the town of “Shell” and strip-mined
West Virginia and sold-for-parts Camden,
and then gated communities and manicured lawns.
I want to live differently. I saw rain barrels on roofs in Panama
(and hear of workshops at home). I see teachers everywhere. People
live in scale out of necessity and sometimes by choice. Not saints,
not sinners. The way to not see scarred earth and starved
inhabitants is to stop stealing. That’s the cost of making iPhones and
cars and drugs and toys.
I want to break my own addictions.
We don’t have to steal and then teach
those who have been robbed
how to live.
We can live differently.
I can live differently.
I can learn and be thankful and watch
and observe and
Stop taking from,
or allowing the taking from,
or permitting the taking from,
and simply be here
(and let others be there).
Passionate about healthy bodies, relationships and communities, Maiga Milbourne has been creatively engaging in yoga, writing, ceremony and travel from an early age. As her yoga teaching developed, more of her voice emerged. In addition to publishing her own essays, poems and stories, Maiga also facilitates workshops on accessing creativity through movement, writing exercises, and meditation. Join her at the next Transformative Language Arts Conference or on a socially and environmentally-responsible retreat this January in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Learn more at maigamilbourne.com.