Life in Ecuador is such a contrast to life in the United States. Take sheep and sheep herding, for instance.
The sheep in both countries are pretty much the same. White, black or brown. Voracious feeders.
But sheep herders are very different here. In Ecuador they are often barefoot, brown and wrinkled, wearing blankets on their heads. They carry a stick and sit on the ground all day, watching their animals eat everything in sight.
While it’s fairly easy to make a North American sheep herder understand that you are unhappy with his &#*@ sheep eating up your trees, it’s really, really hard to get the word across to an old indigenous lady who is used to grazing her sheep wherever she wants to, regardless of fences, walls, rivers, gates or tall gringos. And who doesn’t have a clue as to what you are trying to tell her.
Gary and I are definitely involved in a border war, a boundary issue, an animal dispute, a cultural clash.
Our days usually start out well. Notice how calm and expansive Gary looks as he surveys our little kingdom. This is before he turns around . . .
and notices a herd, or rather, a horde of sheep racing ravenously toward our newly planted trees. Our nemesis, the ancient indigenous sheep lady from the village next to us, is once again encouraging her woolly wards to help themselves to our generous bounty of green leafy edibles.
He’s demonstrating effective communication skills. Expressing himself in more than one sensory area will increase the odds that she understands what he is saying. So he tells her the problem and also shows her one of our new trees.
In an endeavor to be perfectly clear, he next points to the endangered trees, waving his arm to show his alarm and telling her that she must remove her sheep from our fields. Her serious and contemplative expression seems to indicate that she is listening with empathy and considering the wisdom of his words.
The woman gestures to him, smiling slightly as she speaks in a language neither of us understands. But when Gary hears her speak in what could possibly be Quichua or possibly a language from some other planet, he brilliantly realizes that the communication may not have been fully understood.
He tries again, this time with even more gestures, munching of leaves and exaggerated frowns of disapproval.
He is rewarded with another tiny smile. But is she smiling because she gets it? Because she’s in agreement? Or is she smiling because she thinks Gary is loco and she only wants to seem to agree so he won’t do her any bodily harm?
For all we know, she may have interpreted his gestures as saying that he wanted her to eat the trees or that he wanted the sheep to keep eating the trees. We couldn’t know for sure.
His words have no effect on her as far as her getting up and shooing her animals away from our avocado trees. Running out of ideas, Gary is the only one who goes away.
Being clueless myself as how to make her understand, my only suggestion is that next time, Gary should “baaa” like a sheep so she knows for sure that he is imitating a sheep eating the tree and not a human eating a tree, which would confuse anyone observing this behavior, not just an old indigenous lady.
We didn’t have to wait long to find out how she responded to Gary’s lengthy communication. She returned to our land the next day.
Her message was loud and clear. She didn’t muddy the issue with strange gesticulations or props. She just sat there as serene as a Buddha as her sheep did what sheep do so well.
Gary and I had to once again concede that she is much better at communicating her wants than we are. And also much better at fulfilling them.
We are now contemplating a much more direct approach. Does anyone have a taser or a stun gun we can use? For the sheep, not the old lady. Geesh, we wouldn’t even consider using it on her. At least, not yet. . .
NOTE: This post was originally printed Nov. 14, 2012. We returned to Ecuador from the States on Feb. 3, 2012. When we visited the land for the first time on our return, the neighbor was grazing about half a dozen cows on our property. I haven’t yet inspected the trees that he was supposed to be guarding. I have my fingers crossed. –Gary