Seeing it with my own eyes - by Lauren Horning
(Pachaysana Alternative Break participant, spring 2013)
You don’t always remember what you read, but you remember what you see. As an environmental studies major, the destruction of the rainforest is part of my studies. I’ve learned about overhunting, deforestation, climate problems, and the big one - mining for petroleum. I double major in Spanish, so when I decided to study abroad in Ecuador, my goal was to see these big words and put a name to a face. I went on Pachaysana’s Toxic Tour over spring break and in the process, I met a lot more faces than I had anticipated I would. Each face had its own story.
First, I met two five year old boys that drove my boat to their remote village. After arriving and being surrounded by their families, their relatives told me how they can’t drink river water anymore because it’s contaminated by petroleum. They also lack food because the large animals have been overhunted and have moved far away.
Next, I met a boy whose family created a sugar plantation in the rainforest to get away from the city. When I got to the plantation, it hadn’t rained for an entire month. The sugar cane wasn’t growing well and there wasn’t water to flush the toilets. Clearing trees for the plantation had altered the climate and his family was thinking about accepting a petroleum contract to earn money while their crops declined.
The shop owner in Lago Agrio was one of the most interesting to meet. I asked her how petroleum affects her life and her family and she was too scared to answer. Talking against the government and the petroleum industry is an unwritten prohibited rule.
Lastly, I met I met some monkeys playing in the trees. They swung carelessly between tree branches over a pool of petroleum where I walked gingerly in my rubber boots, afraid to touch the murderous sticky black muck.
Textbooks and articles are written for the public to open their eyes. To truly understand a story, one must live the account. I knew that petroleum contaminates water and lives, but I saw how it has allowed people to have an income and a cherished family. Sometimes the best way to learn is to talk, listen, and see images firsthand rather than through a lens. A live image is much more interesting than a picture that is one-sided.