from Chapter Three
The very next day I made my first formal visit to Tyemoro. He immediately noted this, pointing out that I was carrying my "word trap," as he called my cassette recorder. He led me into his room, for the heat and the flies were unbearable outside.
I spoke first:
"Tyemoro, my friend, I have come now to ask you to speak of your land. I know that things today are not the way they were before. Why have so many young people left? Why has the village shrunk so much so that mostly old people are left? Why do you have so little food now? Why is the land in such bad shape, and can anything be done about it?"
Obviously startled by my questions, the old man remained silent for a long time. It was an uncomfortable silence for me, because I wondered if my questions somehow offended him. In any case, I consoled myself with the certainty that he would have no difficulty dealing with them, even if that were the case. The Batifon language has many exquisite and very courteous formulas for saying no so as not to insult a guest or violate the rules of hospitality. Finally, when he had overcome his surprise, Tyemoro began to speak with his usual eloquence, becoming the very incarnation of his words.
"I have thought much about this, day and night. Long ago, I asked myself why our life was changing like this. Have we offended the Great Designer in some way? Perhaps we have not shown proper respect for his gifts? Or have our children angered the spirits of the ancestors by leaving the way they have? I do not know. Many times I have spent the night alone up on the mountain. I hoped that in the mountain's secret something would come into my mind to tell me what we have done wrong and how we can make up for it. Sitting in the dark night, with the jackals and serpents around me, I stretched my body out on the naked rock, still hot from the day's burning sun. But no answer came to me, either in waking or in sleep.
"How many dawns have I watched being born, glowing greater and brighter before the sun finally appears? Sitting there on the mountain, I looked at the desert below and remembered what my father's father used to say. In his time, there were trees everywhere--so many of them in some places that they crowded against each other, hiding the sky. Our people ate many fruits and wild animals, which were abundant then. There was plenty of water, too, and the people caught many fish. Our ancestors always cultivated little parcels of land around the trees. Later, people started uprooting the trees, and the parcels became bigger. The forest was still full of dangerous animals in those days, and people had to be careful, especially with their children. There were even villages in the middle of the forest, with high wooden fences around them to keep out the animals. Every year, we had to burn the brush close to the village to drive away the poisonous serpents and other animals. We would trap some of them for our food. . . . That is what my grandfather used to say.
"In my father's time, things changed, but not very much. The parcels became bigger, and we began to trade our harvests with those of other people. We gave others things they lacked in exchange for things we lacked. Sometimes this led to quarrels, but not very serious ones. Some of us were better at hunting and others were better at farming. If somebody knew or learned something, everyone benefited from it. Our tribe was like a single body with many heads, arms, and legs. Every healthy child became an elder and every elder was once a child. The young learned from the old and the old were fed by the young. Nothing seemed to change, yet everything was always changing. Our chiefs guided us, for they had learned to listen to the voice of the secret. They showed us how to organize our life together. Our leaders' task was to keep the body of the people healthy, making sure it did not become sick because of the actions of one or another of us. Of course, things were not perfect. Some things were wrong, as always. Some men or women became jealous of each other. A few even became bitter and wicked with such thoughts and might even use poison against another. But still, life was good in the village. There was much that was good here, and we had many festivals.
"But now, we live in a great absence. I do not understand why we find ourselves faced with this great absence . . . When I was a child, the rainy season always arrived to water our seeds and make them grow. Only once or twice was there not enough rain. People joked about it, saying that the rain must have overslept. We knew its caprices, its delays, and sometimes its droughts. But it was never that bad, and we had nothing to worry about because we had plenty of grain stored from previous years. There was also plenty of wild game and fruits. One year we might have less food, but then the rain would come, and the next year we would refill our stores of grain. Some years more children than usual would die, like excess fruits falling from the tree of life. But others were born, and joy and sadness were woven together into the fabric of our days. I don't know why, but something always told us: Be patient, for all of this is the will of God. Our parents and ancestors, both the living and the dead, were linked together by this spirit.”