The world's financial markets are in crisis. What does that mean? From here, looking out at the guava trees and newly planted gardens, the distant community of Plaza Guiterez in the mountain above, the problem seems far away. To these communities the climate crisis has had a more direct impact than global economic chaos so far – predicting the weather is vital for sowing and harvesting crops. This, of course, may change – but the communities of Intag definitely know more about basic survival than our consumer dependent communities in the cities.

Over the past week most of our work here at El Milagro has been in planting seeds – knowing that one seed can produce not only food for us but produce hundreds or thousands more seeds to replenish the Earth. Perhaps this is what the 'great economy myth' has 'banked' on – suspecting that deep within our DNA is the knowledge that life is abundant, even seemingly infinite – so
it is easy to substitute the 'infinite growth' model of financial markets to our innate knowledge of the abundance of nature. But money is just paper. And as the native American prophecy fortells, we can't eat it.

On a brief visit to Otavalo for the internet, I watched a US Presidential debate between Obama and McCain. Overall it left me quite depressed – neither seemed to offer a real alternative or courageous response to the crisis our planet faces. Though one thing Barak Obama said struck me. He said something like this: that after 9/11 Bush basically told people that everything would be alright, the 'government' would take care of everything
and all they needed to do was to keep 'buying' to keep the American economy strong. An opportunity for a positive collective response to a crisis was lost. People in wealthy countries may finally be ready to make sacrifices - it may even give their lives more meaning. To me this is one great hope that may come of the financial crisis – we, in the rich countries, may have no
choice but to live slower, smaller and more simple lives. It's time to feel confident that together we can live more ecological, sustainable and happier lives without depending so much on money. On a very basic, practical level people need examples of new and alternative lifestyles – please share your ideas and inspiration and daily practices in living more lightly on the Earth. Its time for SLOHAS!

Anyway, back to El Milagro.
A couple of weeks ago our good friend and Sloth Club founder, Ryuichi Nakamura, brought a group of wonderful old and new friends from Japan to Ecuador to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the community coffee association in Intag - AACRI and to visit Intag. Aya Wada managed to organise a ten day visit despite the typical Ecuadorean changes and delays in preparing things. Pacha, Yani and I joined most of the tour (thanks for everyone's patience!) - hoping to help where we could and having the chance to share and connect with our friends.

Here at El Milagro we had a great incentive in getting everything in order before the group came to visit, preparing a new site to extend the agroforestry/coffee growing area, so participants could help plant some new coffee and fruit trees. It was a wonderful opportunity to reinforce and renew our vision for El Milagro as a model for sustainable development. I think most people who came could sense the role of El Milagro as a place for reflection, peace, tranquility and a place to practice a sustainable lifestyle – the 'hardcore' slohas that helps make it easier to make sustainable lifestyle changes when returning to 'civilization'.

One of the most enjoyable parts about living here has been trying new things; experimenting with new recipes, new plants, new designs – some work, some don't. Because we try always to use food that we have growing here - today I made a cabbage and green papaya salad for lunch (along with the usual beans and rice) – it worked very well! Even the kids came back for more helpings. I especially love sharing these new discoveries with Luis and other local visitors. Perhaps it is the same in all small, tight knit
communities, all around the Earth, but most people do things the way they have always done and until either they go outside of these boundaries, or someone comes in from the outside, things don't change.

Pacha has been demonstrating a new way to connect with animals everywhere she goes, respectful, loving, playful. Today she sat with her horse Shanti as he was lying down resting, composing a song to sing for him and stroking his head softly. How beautiful it was and how proud I feel for something I have not really taught her, but comes naturally from her own heart. Here horses are treated, like most animals, as beasts of burden, to be controlled
and forced by humans to work. That's fine – but isn't life more beautiful when we treat all living things with respect and love?

Life and death seem closer to us here. During the time the group visited from Japan, a terrible tragedy happened to a little girl, Emely, the daughter of Roberto and Norma who live on the other side of the river. Pacha and Yani would often play with this happy, beautiful 4 year old, running, laughing, playing at the waterfall. About 2 weeks ago she was killed by a hit and run taxi near Cotacachi. The grief of her family and the communities of Plaza Guiterrez, Santa Rosa and Pucara continues. Pacha, Yani and I went
to the funeral - the first one that any of us had been to in our lives, and cried with the family and many other mourners as her body was lowered into the Earth on the mountainside – with a view to the beautiful forests she had played in all her short life. It was a Catholic memorial service, and I recognised the important role that a collective spiritual belief has in helping people face the shock and trauma of death – everyone knew the same songs and phrases, the same rituals and forms – they knew what to do. I
think we have a need for rituals like this, invoking powers greater than us, using incense, holy water, earth…Can we create these ceremonies and rituals without the dogma of exclusive religion? Accepting the essential truths of all spiritual beliefs without claiming that 'ours is the only and true way to God'? It seems to me that something like this is essential in building strong communities in the great challenge we face as a human species right

Yani was near the casket and before they lowered it into the earth they opened the lid one last time. Yani says she looked different. We can all sense when the soul, the spirit, Life has left the body. They both say she is an angel now and sometimes comes to play but we can't see her. We remember the joyful times we had together and try to keep positive. Life is that little more precious. The kids understand a little more how dangerous the roads can be and how quickly death can come.

Our time here at El Milagro is running out as we make our plans for the next 6 weeks before our return to Australia and Japan. We will travel to the coast and to the Amazon this month, then settle in for the last few weeks mostly at El Milagro, helping our new long term volunteer Karin get used to the place and introducing her to the communities here. There will be a lot of food growing here for volunteers, ready to harvest over the next year or so and we have started building the Japanese 'ofuro' (looking very much forward to a hot bath under the stars and fireflies!) It is a good feeling
to leave El Milagro refreshed and renewed for however long it will be before we return.

For Life,
Anja Light

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