In August, before leaving for our respective countries, the Global Citizen Year Fellows watched the movie Avatar together to help us understand our roles as foreigners entering a new culture in a faraway land. The alien race of the Na’vi is at one with nature while the human visitors are materialistic and tied to technology. I would never have imagined how strikingly similar the nine foot tall blue inhabitants of the planet Pandora could be to the indigenous of this strange new world I have found myself in. There is a connection with the natural world here in my small farming community that sharply contrasts with the connection with the manmade world I came from.I can still remember my first weekend in Ibarra, when I had stopped in an Internet café and politely asked if I could use a computer. The lady behind the counter looked back at me, puzzled for a moment, and then her face lit up with understanding what this strange foreigner was talking about. “Ah, a machine!” she said, “Take machine number one.” The next week, I was back on Rancho. My dad explained to me that we were heading out to work with the “machine”. I patiently asked with my limited Spanish what machine we would be working with. “The Red Machine,” he told me, as though that answered all my questions. Later that evening, as we shoveled wheat into the Red Machine and it noisily shot out a mountain of hay and grain out the other end, I yelled across the spinning motor belt to my brother and asked him what the name of the machine was, probing for a more scientific sounding name. “The Red Machine,” he shouted back.These were not isolated incidents. Throughout my time here I have heard washing machines, motors, tractors and cameras, among many other things, referred to merely as “machines.” Cars, trucks, buses or 16 wheelers are all “cars” here. There is no Mac or PC battle. There is no difference between a Honda or a Toyota, just a desire for Japanese cars and resentment for the cheap Chinese ones that are far more affordable. Any and all MP3 players are called iPods, although my brothers have noticed the little picture of an apple that my iPod Shuffle sports. I sometimes think back to the United States, where our houses are filled with electronics and gadgets, each with its specific name. At one time, I drove a Honda Civic, used our family’s Windows XP Dell desktop and walked around texting on my Verizon ENV3 phone. In a few short weeks, I will be returning to simply a car, a computer and a phone.On the flip side of all this, every plant and animal on Rancho Chico has a name and a use, while in the United States they served as landscaping and pets. I will often walk with my mom and she will stop every five minutes to pick up another flower or type of leaf. “This is for sore throats,” she would tell me, “and this is for stomach aches.” Back in October, when I was sick for several days, I was hit with a living guinea pig, spat on, rubbed down with an egg and whacked with an entire mint bush before I taken to see a doctor. In almost every place a machine would fit into the life of an American, an animal is used here in my community. A horse is taken instead of a car, a few cats are kept around instead of mouse traps and pigs instead of a sink compost grinder. Cows graze around the house, replacing refrigerators.
Like Jake Scully, the protagonist of Avatar, I came to this fascinating new place to learn about their culture and now feel the same disconnect with the place that I used to call home. It will be strange to return home in a few short weeks to the land I once knew, the land of machines.