I sit here on the rubble of an old adobe house looking out over the valley and I yearn for the simplicity around me to settle in my heart. A smile appears on my face and I breathe in the fresh mountain air. And I am hit by the contrast.
Life here is simple. But life here is hard.
My ear is drawn to the roar of the river below and I try to see how high the water has risen after a hard night’s rain. And I am reminded of how the water is welcome in this valley as it will bring life to the fields and provide the corn for the next year’s harvest.
A simple life.
And I peer below to see if the bridge that connects the mountain to the town is still standing. Last I saw it, it wasn’t straight, but had been split in two by the power of the rising river now mangled into a “V” shape crossing the river. Vehicles drove over it quickly hoping to not land in the river below. If the bridge goes, then the people will have to pass through the river bed below. They’ve done this before. The challenge being that the river is often too high to pass and vehicles take the chance sometimes, only to be swept into the current. A challenge in this land.
Simple, as I am surrounded by cornfields. Most of them tilled and planted by hand. A simple life of harvesting corn for the next meal. Yet hard because these fields are not flat. They rise on the mountainsides, often washing away with a heavy rain. Corn growing from any plot that has a hind of soil. This is too steep for oxen so the land will be tilled by hand once again. Then planted, fertilized and weeded each day.
I close my eyes again to take in the sounds and the peace in this valley and my ear catches the vroom of a motorcycle heading towards town and see a father with his two children, one in front of him and one hugging him from behind, heading to school. The freedom of a motorcycle is something that brings me joy, to feel the fresh air on my face, see the mountains around me as if the world is your map. Yet, to own a motorcycle here is years of hard work. It represents the hard life conquered. Creating opportunity from years of saving.
There is the simple and steady put- put -put of the corn mill grinding the neighbor’s corn to be eaten that day in the staple of this land – corn tortillas. The simplicity of life in growing all the food you “need” on your family’s plot of land outside of your home. Many people never leave the boundaries of these mountains.
I am interrupted by a woman while I am deep in thought. Asking me if I am from below. Where did she come from? How did she appear? She walks to town using this mountain trail and is surprised at a white person sitting and staring at the valley. Hard, because the rains have come. She tells me there is no road or driveway to her house. She walks this way today because the rains have made the other road impassable. She walks the two miles to town for any necessities that she needs for the week and then brings them home. A morning’s job. But as she makes small talk, I realize the real question she came over to talk to me was to ask if we had work below? And I was reminded of hard. Hard because everything here is temporary. Jobs are not permanent. Money is never expected. People are happy to have a week of work providing money for something that they need. And then waiting for the next opportunity to arise to earn more money. All is temporary. Nothing is promised.
As she leaves, I rise and begin to follow the trail more. A trail that I often imagine as I fall asleep at night to remind me of the simple beauty of these mountains. And I catch the singing of the waterfalls, small trickles coming through rocks in the mountains. And I rejoice for the rain from the night before. How we all rejoice for rain because with rain brings a good harvest. And this eases the weight on families.
And as I walk, the question arises in my mind, “How can a life remain simple and hard. Constantly fluctuating. Never stable.” It is hard because that river of life causes landslides, and fields to flood and engulfs cars trying to pass through to the other side. Simple because the roads have been carved through the mountains yet hard because there are deep ruts, landslides and mud holes that keep vehicles from passing.
Simple because what is needed to survive can be grown by hand; hard because drought, insects, education and finances limit the resources available.
The birds chirp bringing joy to my heart. But the birds also remind me of the war in the not so far off past. They birds sing as they have returned to the mountains. During war times, there were no birds in the air, snakes on the ground, lizards to be found. Everything became about survival and every animal was savored for that meal, not knowing when the next food may come. How the simple sound of a bird can bring about memories of a harder time.
It is simple and it brings me joy because I can concentrate on the little things and love on people. But I have the reminders daily of how hard it is. Because the culture is stuck in a balance – always trying to get ahead. Somedays taking two steps forward. And other days taking three steps back.
And so it is for me as well.
“Let us fix out eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2