Definitions of Wealth and Our Introduction to Intag

Consumerism has been heavy on my mind since Christmas time and all of its hallmark commercial glory. Our in country partner, Carlos Zorilla, gave a talk to our class, while we were staying at his farm, that was very interesting. The talk was centered around the history of the mining conflict in Intag and interestingly enough, it was started by NGO organizations like USAID and the western concept of wealth. When asked what was the first thing we thought of when we heard the word wealth, 99% of the class said “money”. We viewed being wealthy as equating to having a lot of money. When USAID and similar organizations came into the valley of Intag, they brought with them this association of wealth and money. So when they saw all of the subsistence farmers living and working in the area, and the lack of commercial businesses and hospitals, the aid workers told the people that they were poor. Before this point, nobody realized that they were poor or that this lack of money and material goods meant that they were not living well. Wealth wasn’t defined by money or abundance but rather community and family which the farmers had plenty. But in the eyes of the aid groups they were poor and in need of economic help so that they could become “developed” like the states or Europe. Thus, mining was suggested as an economic alternative without any thought as to how it would impact other aspects of people’s lives.

My question is when did wealth equate to money? Why do people feel the need to have money past the need for living to living in abundance? What good is excess money besides for buying material goods? Why is there a desire for material goods past the need for living; to show class/status? In the end, why does status matter? It is just a mean for other’s to perceive you and define you? Why do we allow these perceptions to play into our personal perceptions and definitions? How did this societal perception come to be? And now we are back to the beginning of the circle of questions. I do not have any answers for these questions beyond that people seem to be attracted to pretty rarities such as gold/jewels and the general effects of colonialism. But it is worth thinking about one’s relation with wealth and the affects of consumerism on everyday life (we had a cultural safety talk on one of the first days and the woman related the independent model of living in the states to consumerism. I am personally still digesting the idea so I cannot make any remarks).  Also another question that is worth thinking about is, what exactly is development?  A long debated question that probably does not have one answer.

Intag is an absolutely beautiful place. Carlos’ farm is nestled in the cloud forest in the hills of the valley and you have to hike in to access it. We brought all of our gear on packhorses. Everything that they fed use (besides grain) was grown on site. They have set up their gardens so that it is a polyculture agroforestry/alley-cropping system and it is so diverse that they don’t have many issues with pests or diseases.  They also use the composting toilets, food compost, and chicken manure for all of their fertilizer needs. They have bees for honey and also a black soldier fly colony for insect protein! It just got me so excited seeing it all because it is such a self-sufficient lifestyle (not to mention the surrounding area is beautiful!).

We have been doing a lot of hikes combined with birding and herping. We set up two camera traps in the high forest, one at ground level for mammals and one up in the trees for birds and the olinguito. Green bananas were used as bait so that they would ripen slowly and that any human scent would be gone before they were totally ripe. Also anise scented sticks were used to hopefully attract some spectacled bears. I saw a really cool tree snake that I still need to identify (probably a Green Sipo), along with a few frogs. There were also so many cool plants in the forest, many of which have different medicinal/health uses, which were really neat to learn from Roberto, a local who knew a lot about the forest. I wish I were able to remember half of the information that I learned and that I generally knew more about plants. There are also a lot of exotic tropical fruits that I have never heard of previous of this trip. Overall, the valley of Intag and the cloud forest is a beautiful natural gem and I cannot get enough.

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