The Embera have no word for “year”
I’m enjoying our “Panama Family Journey” right now with my wife and kids, plus our two amazing guides, Beny and Christian, in a group that totals eight adults and eight kids (ages 8-18).
Yesterday, we took piraguas, dugout canoes piloted by male villagers in loin clothes, up a jungle river for about an hour to reach the village of one of the seven indigenous tribes in Panama.
To say that it’s a mind bending experience is an understatement. We arrive at the Embera settlement to dancing and singing. They welcome us with warm smiles and greetings. Children run down to our two boats to lead us to the center of the village.
There is a dirt common area that serves as a basketball and soccer pitch, plus ceremonial area. Homes on stilts with thatch roofs and palm leaf floors (one story up) are the sleeping and eating quarters. We enjoy a delicious lunch of chicken and plantains, served on leaves fashioned into bowls. (Let’s just say not dishwasher or microwave safe…)
After the incredibly welcoming nature of the Embera, the two things that stuck with me the most were the ease with which our kids and theirs fell into play together, and the way they live in the moment.
Since they do not speak English and we do not speak Embera, this may not be obvious, so I’ll elaborate.
Almost immediately after we arrived, the kids began a game of soccer between several of the kids in our group (stripped down to barefeet and no shirts for the boys) versus the local boys in the tribe. It was impromptu, zealous and totally fun for kids and the adults who watched it.
That was great. But the kicker for me was when one of our guides explained that the Embera have no word for “year”. How about that for living in the moment? No need to worry about the year-over-year performance of your stock portfolio or the price of gas now compared to five years ago. They are only concerned about how their crops are doing on the little plots up the river, did the men find any fish today, and do the ladies need to scout for any medicinal herbs that grow so readily in the jungle around the village.
We stayed about four to five hours, and later in the day we were fully back in the 21st century exploring the Panama Canal locks. But I know that visit with the Embera is going to stick with everyone in our group for a long time.
I’ll be checking in with more observations along the way. And if you want share a time when you were pulled out of your every day world, drop me a line at email@example.com.