What the Uros Taught Me

The Uros are indigenous people from Peru and Bolivia. They live on floating islands they built themselves in Lake Ticicaca near Puno. They form three main groups: Uru-ChipayasUru-Muratos and the Uru-Iruitos. These islands were built so they could defend themselves. If danger arose, the floating islands could be removed. The islands are built from totora reeds and they are anchored with ropes tethered to sticks buried at the bottom of the lake. The islands last about thirty years. Ten families can live on the larger islands.

I had the opportunity to visit Peru around a year ago. I sat on the wet floorboards of a yellow, banana-looking canoe and watched as an 8-year-old boy and his older brother pedaled us to the Uro Islands and their little sister messed with my hair. She thought it was weird I didn’t have it on a long, black braid like the rest of the women she knew. There, I saw their way of life. I met their family and was invited to their home which was no more than a single room holding a single bed, a TV and floors made of wood and hay. Every inch of the island was made of hay, the ceilings were made of hay and everything was covered in roots. The lady who invited me to her home showed me a piece of colorful cloth where she had knitted her life, like their version of a family album or journal. She told me about her beliefs and about pahamama and pachapapa, their gods, their Mother Earth. She told me about how happy she was.

Then, I met the 8-year-old boy who so fretfully brought me to this place that seemed galaxies away from the fancy hotel I would spend the night in- worlds away from airplanes, internet and my own personal aspirations. At that moment, as I looked at the boy who knew nothing but work and hay, I knew I was too self-centered. I knew I was vain and suddenly, I wanted to be a better person. He had a simple life in which goals for tomorrow did not exist. Anxiety about the future or expectations about what he should become had not crossed his mind. He simply thought of fishing with his father on the lake, so his family could have a decent meal. I thought this was a nice innocence, one that many of us will never experience because we grew up somewhere else. 

These people were kind, compassionate, playful and most importantly, they lived in the present moment. They were not jealous or vain. They did not aspire to have perfect grades, a perfect body, money or higher education. They did not care if the world knew their name. No. They simply cried, laughed, lived, cared for their families, worked and loved until they became too old. Then, people would take care of them. And they were okay with that. They were okay with being fragile and weak. They were okay with death. They believed they were connected, somehow, with nature and Mother Earth would protect them. Their soup was nothing but potatoes and herbs. They ate bread and fish and wore hand-me-downs that had been handed down countless times before.

This 8 year old boy drew me a picture of himself on a canoe tightly gripping a fishing net. He said, “That’s me fishing for my family. My dad helps me”. He wrote down his age at the bottom of the picture and signed his name with lopsided letters. “That’s my signature”, he said. Then, I took a selfie with him and his dad, a picture I saved on my computer and mesmerizingly stare at from time to time. Why? It reminds me of true happiness. It reminds me that tomorrow does not yet exist. It reminds me that I am a person who can feel tired and overworked and that sometimes just wants to be a child again.