Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ants by Casey Poore

View of surrounding forest from our walk in Kekoldi to the tree house.
The sun was setting behind the green, primary forest of Kekoldi. The “tree house” we were staying in looked more like a luxury wooden house, and we could smell the food cooking downstairs from the porch we were sitting on. I let the sun light up my toes and looked up at the ceiling. It was in the corners, the little spaces, where you could see that this house had been built by hand. The ceiling and the wall didn’t meet exactly right, and harbored a black hole. The door needed to be lifted up when you unlocked it, and the wood creaked. But I swear, I have never seen such a beautiful house.
The house was built by the indigenous people, the Bribi, who use the space as a tourist center, or a bird watching tower for visiting scientists. We filled the space like so many leaf-cutter ants, smacking our feet on the wooden floor and shouting expletives.
Dinner was coconut-flavored rice and beans, with a dash of red spice. We ate as the sun set, and when it finally dipped past the trees our host turned on the generator. You could hear the loud hum over the sound of forks clashing with porcelain, over our rough English, over the sink and the shower and the creaking wood.
After dinner we gathered and listened to an introductory talk given by our host. He talked about the creation of the Kekoldi territory. In the early 1900s it was given to the Bribri by the Costa Rican government. As with most government land giveaways, there was someone already there- Black families with small-scale coffee and banana plantations. And so he talked about the relationship between the two, the mutual understanding both seemed to have for the struggle towards autonomy and land. However, something had to give. Many of the families living on Kekoldi land sold it to business owners in the U.S. vying for the booming tourism market, which prompted the Costa Rican government to fold on its promise to the Bribri.  Just like that the coastal land was no longer theirs. Although the government certainly holds more institutional power than the Bribri, that’s not to say this decision was entirely their fault. The neoliberal global economy was not created for the marginalized, in any sense.

We left the talk and continued our shouting, our creaking, up the stairs. You could hear the dogs barking in response. The bugs swarmed to us that night, and we left Kekoldi the next morning scratching our soft, pale skin. We streamed down the hill in a line of ants, carrying with us knowledge, respect, and stories instead of people or trees. Perhaps we are a shift.

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