Please forgive me.
I love you.
This modern incarnation of ancient Hawaiian Ho’oponopono spiritual practice cycles through my mind as each footstep sinks a good 2 or 3 inches into the black Caribbean sand. I try to be conscious of walking in a sacred manner. I feel the soft wet sand push up against my feet, slowing my gait, preparing myself mentally and spiritually for the second Kula Karma meeting in nearby Gandoka. María’s face comes into my mind, and I imagine telling her:
“I’m sorry we’re running late.”
“Please forgive me for making you get here early”
“I love you for your commitment to your community.”
“Thank you for trusting in us.”
María is a thoughtful and articulate mother who participated in our first Kula Karma meeting at Punta Mona, and helped to set up the one we’re now approaching. She told us it would be a 45 minute walk down the coast to Gandoca and that she would be waiting to take us to the meeting hall. Bonnie and I have been trudging along the margin between stormy seas and misty jungle for over an hour. It’s hard to talk, bent under poncho hoods and avoiding the exuberant array of trees, branches, leaves and seeds the river is spitting forth into the sea. It suits our wistful mood.
We finally begin to see signs of civilization: a couple old concrete houses, obstinately facing the roiling sea. A few hundred meters more and the jungle banks away from the front edge of palms as we gingerly step over the letters GANDOCA recently scratched into the sand. With a little help from Alfredo, a bright-eyed 10-year-old, we find the meeting house, with María and his father Roberto awaiting us. Soon Carmen and Gilberto arrive and we quickly get into the heart of our meeting.
We come to the meeting with a variety of ideas ranging from how to get Passion Fruit to the market to how to plug volunteer tourists into local sea turtle and organic farming projects. In spite of this treasure trove of creative solutions to improve the quality of life in Gandoca, our first step is to build trust and try to understand what’s going on. Roberto speaks first, his smiling eyes belying the deep knowledge and long years of experience he has. Soon everyone else is adding their perspective, eager to share.
Very quickly we learn that Gandoca is a diverse and complex community with a long history of divided interests. In addition to the Chiquita Banana factory that has actively worked to divide Gandocans, there have been more than a handful of well-meaning projects from universities, governments, foundations, and businesses that have brought their own ideas into Gandoca and tried to make them work. They almost all ended due to conflict that arose between the residents directly benefiting from the project and those who weren’t.
As Roberto, María, Carmen and Gilberto share about the challenges they see in their community they are bursting with ideas about how to move forward. As best I can, I ask them to hold off on sharing solutions until we better understand the context, and they eventually agree. After listing all the resources they have and the challenges they’re facing, we try to draw arrows between cause and effect, seeking the root. Studying the causal paths I try out a sentence: “Gandoca is divided and in spite of conflict resolution workshops and a great potential, they do not trust or want to work with each other.” María laughs and says we’ve hit the nail on the head, then she throws her hands in the air: “good luck solving THAT!”
So with some more discussion we take a step back and gradually identify a challenge that is relevant and within this group’s capabilities to resolve: “There is no shared vision in Gandoca for providing stable employment through agro-tourism.” Everyone contemplates this for a few moments, then begin smiling and nodding. This feels like it. Something we can work together toward in this small group. Something that will inspire more people from different camps and sectors of Gandoca to come to the next meeting. And most importantly, a challenge that if truly solved will do more to improve life in Gandoca than any particular project could ever hope to.
As they prepare to run off home into the jungle mist, we all agree to meet again in one week. With the clear focus and structured methodology they hope to be able to convince other key leaders to join us. In the meantime we’re seeking other local perspectives that could help get creative ideas flowing, such as the Punta Mona permaculture farm manager, and another local researcher. The more visions we share the better!
Finally after hearty handshakes, all the participants are hurrying back to their lives. I heft my bag, and hold them in my heart as I walk down the sandy gravel slipping easily back into my mantra:
- I’m sorry for all the ways I’ve unwittingly contributed to division in Gandoca.
- Please forgive me for thinking I know what your community needs (and all the Chiquita bananas I’ve eaten in my life!)
- I love you for the way you respect and honor the earth, and the sea.
- Thank you for trusting in me, and most importantly: in each other.
Zachary Towne-Smith (RYT 200hr) is a passionate connector. His innate creativity, flexible perspective, and quick smile make him a natural leader, inspiring participation and thoughtful consensus in the wide array of groups he works with. He has dedicated his life to the study and development of intercultural relations and the facilitation of innovative solutions for sustainable well-being.
His Cum Laude B.A. from Harvard College led him to explore issues of privilege and work for justice from his hometown of Philadelphia to the Guatemala City garbage dump. This work has taken him throughout the Americas engaging diverse stakeholders in strategic planning through the development of creative and critical thinking in fields such as education, public health, business, creative industries, and entrepreneurship.