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Something that we noticed as soon as we arrived in the rugged mountains of Asia Pacific was the amazing durability and the talents of our tribal friends.
It quickly became obvious that we were weak and soft by this culture’s perspective. As we hurled ourselves into their everyday lives and began experiencing their world, we found ourselves continually amazed at how capable they were and how weak we Westerners really were.
First of all, we could hardly keep up with them. On our way to the garden our friends might glance over their shoulder to see us stumbling behind, snagging ourselves on clawing thorns, sinking knee-deep into hidden holes, and insisting on shimmying down a moss-slick log because we knew death was certain if we lost our balance.
The tribal people walk everywhere they need to go. From the time they are toddlers up until they die, they are treading the treacherous jungle trails, so their balance, stamina, and sure-footedness is unmatched. Men can scale the slickest logs and most daunting trails while bearing the burden of firewood on one shoulder and their axe hanging independently upon the other. Women travel laden down with their net bags filled to the brim with loads of heavy sweet potatoes, greens, and even their children! Tripping and falling is practically unheard of.
My brothers and I have grown up here from the time we were little guys, so naturally we have accumulated some of their hiking ways, but we are like small children when we hike alongside them. Our friends, barefoot, go bounding off with deft grace, easily leaving us behind in the dust if they so desire.
Once we had a helicopter supply flight that brought in a number of items we needed for our house, including a set of huge batteries each weighing about 170lbs. They were so heavy it took two men to load one onto a pole and carry it together along the trail to our house. As the first battery was hefted onto our porch we looked over in surprise as one of our neighbors appeared with the second battery thrown upon his own shoulder, staggering under the weight but managing to reach our yard, where my dad and another man rushed to relieve him. This guy was probably five feet tall and weighed far less than the battery. It was unbelievable that he managed to hoist it unto his shoulder, but even more crazy that he could carry it from the helicopter pad all the way to our house without crumpling!
Even they acknowledge our shortcomings and can’t fail to notice how poorly we stumble after them on the trails, how easily our hands blister after wielding an axe for one minute, how quickly our skin turns pink from the sun, and how long we wait to pick up our sweet potato or ear of corn when it comes off the fire; we are a pitiful sight for sure!
We have lived here a long time, but we continue to appreciate and be amazed at our tribal friends. Their lives from an outside perspective may look simple, but we find on almost every level that their strength and ingenuity are unmatched in the beautiful and rugged jungle context.
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