An Incident in the Rainforest

An Incident in the Rainforest

The following blog is taken from an article I wrote a number of years ago. The question asked at the end is one I think we all need to consider daily.

An Incident in the Rainforest

This incident took place in Izabal, Guatemala. It occurred in the rainforest region along the Rio Dulce River. I had been working with teachers in this area for three summers as a part of the internship for my doctoral program in multicultural education. My home base was a local clinic staffed by volunteers from a number of countries, as well as the indigenous people of the area, Kekchi-speaking Mayan Indians.

The teachers I worked with were all Mayan whose first language was Kekchi, but who also spoke Spanish. They represented about twenty schools in aldeas (small communities) throughout the rainforest. These schools were accessible only by a river journey of two to three hours in a cayuco (dugout canoe) followed by several hours of hiking up the mountains. My primary role was to provide in-services for teachers who had little opportunity for professional development. Each summer I conducted classes in a central location in the town of Livingston, but also spent time visiting the aldeas to become familiar with the actual situations in which the teachers worked.

The aldeas were nothing more than a collection of shacks with a little thatch-roofed structure in the center for a school. There were no books, a few desks, and very few supplies of any kind. If the teacher had a piece of chalk and a black-coated board on which to write s/he was lucky. The children often came to school barefoot and hungry.

The situation I would like to describe took place at the clinic where I lived. The accommodations included a simple mat on the floor with a mosquito net in a thatch-roofed structure with walls that did not reach the sleeping area on the second floor.

One morning when I work up I looked out over the river and noticed a number of fishermen out in the small Cayucos. As I looked closely I realized that they were breaking apart tortillas and throwing the pieces into the water. My first reaction was absolute shock. My first thought  was, “How can they be throwing tortillas into the water when there is not enough food for people to eat?” But my next thought was, “Before you judge, go and ask a Mayan why they are doing that.”

I ran outside to find my friend Manuel and asked him why they were throwing the tortillas on the water. He said very simply, “Because today they are going to fish and one can never take something from nature without giving something in return.” Those words had a lasting impact on my life. I realized that in my haste to judge them for throwing away food I would have missed seeing their incredible understanding of the connectedness of all living things. I continually reflect on how different all our lives would be if we never took from nature without giving something in return and ask myself daily “What am I taking and what am I giving in return?”   


  1. Dee says

    Your example highlights how pre-Christian ritualistic belief is more fairly connected to nature than our assumedly more sophisticated modern post/Christian practice. I would like to know how the dis-connect occurred. Is it because all “pagan” practice was discredited which opened the door to our modern rapacious attitude to God’s earth.

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