An Encounter between the Middle East and the Amazon

One day an Israeli tourist to the Amazon met a native Indian. Imagine a conversation between these two people from two very different worlds.

David decided to take the vacation of his lifetime, a trip that would take him far away on an adventure, far away from his troubled country that was yet again engaged in another war with her neighbours. He longed for some peace and that’s why he was attracted by the name of his travel organizer ‚Friends around the World Tours‘. He left Tel Aviv for the United States from where he took a flight to Caracas. David had dreamt of this for so long, he was really going to see the Amazon.

The group traveling with David was received at the airport in Caracas and transferred to a hotel there. The next day they flew on to Puerto Ayacucho located on the Orinoco River along the border with Columbia. It was the last town before the deep jungle of the Venezuelan Amazon. The Indians from all around the area held a market of their baskets or carvings and many other handicrafts on the little square. David was delighted and excited.

After breakfast the next day the travel group drove west through savannah and black granite formations. The one hour drive led them to the Piapoco village of Puente Corozal to visit their Shaman, a kind of spiritual leading figure playing the role of a healer and priest. David was captivated by the native Indians and their way of life far away from Western civilizations, modern media industries and the Internet. They seemed relaxed and content and David had the impression that most of them had no idea of what was going on beyond their small world; a great chance to leave one’s troubles behind for some time.

The following day the travel group took a two-hour drive to the Parguaza River, then a four-hour boat ride down the river along the lush green jungle to the Piaroa village of Santa Fe where they met more natives. David enjoyed every minute of his adventurous trip and he stopped thinking about his personal worries and problems, his people, the Middle East and politics.

The next day trip took the group for a one-hour drive from Puerto Ayacucho to visit a very traditional Penare Village and Shaman. The Penare held close to their traditional lifestyles, especially the women who dressed traditionally and spoke only the Indian tongue. David had become more accustomed to this new world with every minute and wanted to take a closer look around. He saw a small group of men sitting under a tree resting. They smiled and looked very friendly. Encouraged by their curious looks he strolled over and kneeled down to greet them. One man was sitting on an old tree trunk with his legs stretched and David thought that it looked as comfortable as sitting on his cushioned couch back home. To David’s surprise the man on the tree trunk started to speak to him in English.

The Amazon Indian’s name was Paco, which means ‚free man‘, so David was told. He invited David to sit with him on the tree trunk. It had looked more comfortable though than it felt, David thought. „So, where do you come from?“ Paco began to ask. „From Israel“ David replied. Paco, who had no idea of the world map, asked „And where might that be?“ He had already met quite a few tourists, funny people coming from countries with long and funny names, but he had not yet heard of Israel. It sounded interesting. David thought about a way to explain, so he said „That’s in the Middle East. In Asia. At the Mediterranean Sea. On the other side of Europe.“ He didn’t have the impression that Paco knew more then, so he quickly summarized, „on the other side of the world“. But Paco only knotted his head slowly. He would do that often during their conversation as if he was thinking about what he had heard.

In order to find out more about this new visitor Paco asked „Is it a nice place?“ „Oh, yes“, David responded. „As green as the Amazon?“ David laughed „No, no, but it has become a lot greener since my people arrived, well, I mean we have worked a lot on agriculture and cultivation.“ Paco looked surprised „Since your people arrived?“ David had to explain. He tried to make it simple. „Well, you see our history is long, but to cut a long story short, after my people had been persecuted and killed in their millions in a country called Germany by the Nazis, many of us emigrated and settled in a land then called Palestine, which was to be divided between my people and the Arabs living there. Our part was called Israel. That was actually not too long ago, nearly 60 years. Since then people of my religion have come to Israel from all over the world to build a new state.“

Paco looked stunned raising his eyebrows; his ancestors had been living in the Amazon for he didn’t know how long, they had had their good times and bad times. The white man had come and they had had their problems but life had gone on. He was still living in the same village his ancestors had lived in and he could not imagine leaving this place for anything in the world. Having become more curious Paco asked his new friend „Are you getting on with your neighbours then, I mean the people who had already lived there when you arrived?“ David made a grimace „Well, not too well, you see. When more of my people arrived to claim the land, the Arabs would start a war on us, so we actually had to fight them back and throw them out of their houses, so we could have some place to live.“ Paco let out a guffaw „Well you are lucky your people didn’t come here. We would have welcomed you with an arrow in you foreheads.“ He stopped laughing and knotted his head again. David rolled his eyes; he couldn’t believe that an Amazon Indian was interested in the complicated history of his country. But then again, Paco didn’t seem to have anything else to do anyway.

After some silence Paco wondered „So, I guess your people won. Could you make peace with your new neighbours?“ „Unfortunately not“ David sighed, being painfully reminded of Israel’s struggle for security, „We are still defending ourselves from the Palestinians and their terrorists“. David thought to himself that he had traveled such a long distance to relax his mind and now he found himself in the middle of the Amazon of all places in the world talking about his country and the problems he wanted to leave behind for a while. „Why?“ David heard Paco asking, „You didn’t try to make a deal? You see, we still live in our villages and make money with the way of life we have been living for hundreds or thousands of years. In return, the white man brings his tourists to us, and builds his cities somewhere else. It took us some time, but we got sorted out.“ David whished it was that simple.

He tried to make it even shorter. „You see, Paco, the Arabs don’t want us there, we can’t live with them in peace, we have tried, but they blow themselves up to kill our people, so we have to move our army into their areas and refugee camps to defend our settlers and our country. But, we are strong and we have good friends in the world. So, don’t worry“. Paco didn’t worry, but he still wondered. „Refugee camps and settlers, that sounds as if your people have not reached a fair deal with the people who were there before you“. David got annoyed „Look, Paco, that land is our land, the ‚Promised Land‘ by God, for 3000 years, you know ‚God‘, the creator“, David pointed to the sky to make himself clear. „My people originally came from there. Many of us then spread all over the world over the years. Then after the terrible Holocaust in which millions of Jews, I mean of my people, you know, were murdered during the Second World War, they founded a new state for us, Israel. That happened to be in 1948. And only a year later we became a recognized member of the United Nations, Ok?“ Paco knotted his head again in silence. „So since then, you have been fighting on and off with your neighbours? Paco persisted. „Unfortunately, yes“ David groaned. „And you still like it there?“ Paco wanted to know. „Yes, of course, it’s where I and my father were born“ David affirmed.

„Where was your grandfather born then?“ Paco was noisy, he had to admit, but he was interested in everything new and David happened to be new. „From Russia“ David smiled. „Is Russia nice?“ Paco smiled back. „Oh, yes, it is a very beautiful and very big and powerful country, with lots of woods and magnificent cities too“ David added. „Is there war in Russia?“ Paco questioned. „No, not in Russia itself“ David replied shaking his head quickly as if he wanted to convey a good message. „Why don’t you live in Russia where your grandfather comes from?“ Paco was surprised. „Because I am Israeli“ David wanted to stop the noisy questioning. Paco knotted his head again to think.

Paco waited for a little while. „I guess your government is still working on a deal with the others for peace?“ Paco wanted to console his sad visitor. „Nope“ David shook his head. „There is just another war raging between Israel and our neighbours“ David uttered in a monotonic voice. „The Arabs and even the Persians want to get rid of us. But if they can’t accept us they should leave. So we have to fight them“. „They will think the same“ Paco began to argue. „Their people were there before you and your father“ Paco noticed. „That’s not the point, Paco, you can’t understand. What do you know, living here in the middle of the jungle?“ David countered with an angry growing tone. The two men stared at each other’s faces for a moment, then Paco replied. „I may not know your country and the trouble your people went through“, Paco looked right into David’s eyes and then slowly over to a group of women with children who sat chatting and laughing nearby, „but if someone came here“, keeping his eyes firmly on the group of women and children, „and tried to remove me and my family from this place, no matter for what reason or because of whatever declaration, I’m sure, I too would defend my family and our home with my blood.“ Paco didn’t ask David anymore questions; he thought he had talked enough with his visitor. He then turned again to his tribesmen, who had listened in silence to the language of the white man. They had not been keen on learning like Paco, who spoke the white man’s language, but which never seemed to be enough to understand them anyway.

As for David, he and his group went back down the river by boat to the village of Trincheras from where they drove by car to Puerto Ordaz a few days later to catch the night flight back to Caracas, leaving behind a very different world with different people living such different lives. David couldn’t help but envying the native Indians for their autonomy, integrity and most of all their peace. A peace they were able to have because of their respected rights and honor that no one should dare to take away from them to keep on living in peace.

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