Surreal Beauty, Bug Bites, and Shared Struggle

We ended the second full week of SST on an eventful note, spending a few days in the beautiful Ecuadorian cloud forest.  The transition from the high-altitude valley in Quito, through a short stretch of dry dusty mountainsides, followed by a downward descent into the lush cloud forest is a stunningly rapid change of landscape.  It is a visual experience indicative of the incredible biodiversity of Ecuador that is layered upon the rapidly changing landscape throughout the country.  During our time in the cloud forest, we hiked through thick rainforest vegetation, past cascading waterfalls, and through misty humid air as we tried to take in the surreal scene around us.

In addition to our hikes, we had a first-hand look (and taste!) at how chocolate is made and the wonder of its unique properties.  We also helped with local plant reintroduction efforts that aim to equip regional residents with the means to produce their own organically grown vegetables.  In the process, we acquired a healthy share of bug bites and contributed to the local bug food chain.  We ended our time in the cloud forest touring an organic coffee farm, with the opportunity to pick, de-pulp, and wash the freshly harvested beans.  As we prepared to leave this stunningly beautiful place, we stopped at a nearby hummingbird feeding ground that was literally buzzing with life.

At the start of the week, we had the opportunity to tour an art museum dedicated to Ecuador’s most famous artist, Oswaldo Guayasamin.  His art frequently depicts the pain and suffering of oppressed people, in particular those in Latin America.  Amidst the beauty of the week, it is suffering that we reflected on as a group.  Whether it is suffering on a micro level (bug bites and stomach upset) or suffering on a macro level (extreme poverty, oppression, and even torture and death), we worked to find an individual response to that suffering.  In the end, we settled upon the simplest of actions:  kindness, compassion, physical presence, human touch, and offered solidarity.  Suffering, both big and small can be an overwhelming part of the human experience and is something best confronted together.  It is through the unifying element of human connection that we can make it through difficult days and work to overcome suffering together.