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An Interview with Larry Buchanan and Karen Gans, co-authors of “The Gift of El Tio”

28 Jan

"The Gift of El Tio" by Larry Buchanan and Karen Gans

Why did you decide to write the book about your experiences in Bolivia?

LB: Karen and I view the world differently.  Where she saw a picturesque village, I saw only poverty.  Where she saw spirituality and ancient customs, I saw a belief system that kept the people poor.  She was horrified that a mine would be built, leading to the destruction of the village; I was proud that I could make new wealth for the world and provide well-paying jobs for people who had never had more than two nickels to rub together.   As you may imagine, our differences led to heated arguments and many a cold night on the couch, so to resolve our differences, Karen demanded that we live in the village to find out the truth.   I figured she would last a couple of weeks then beg to go home, but she was so much stronger than I had assumed.  The book is the result of that ten-year experience, documenting how neither Karen’s nor my views of the world were correct.

KG: I was horrified when my husband, an exploration geologist, told me that a remote Quechua village would have to be moved because it sat upon a silver deposit he discovered.  Usually exploration geologists have nothing more to do with their discovery; their job is to find the ore and then move on to explore other areas.  I felt that if the town were to be moved, we had a moral responsibility  not to leave, but to follow the people over time and document their changes. I also felt that my husband and I were examples of the liberal-conservative polarization so common in the United States, and a book reflecting our own growth might be helpful to others. We learned to accept that there is truth on both sides.

How did you decide on the title?

KG: The Gift of El Tio is a natural title for our story because the villagers referred to the silver as el regalo de El Tio, a gift from El Tio, who is the god of the underground.

LB: This is the phrase that time and again people out in the bush used when describing our discovery of this gift from their most angry, dangerous, and hungry god.

Who is your intended audience for this book?

KG: We believe this book will appeal to anyone who loves travel and anyone who has an interest in cultural anthropology, geology and mining, education and/or economic development of third world countries.

LB: Our book shows clearly that resistance to economic development in the third-world is not a final answer, while at the same time change in such poor communities isn’t always for the better.   If people can read The Gift of El Tio and appreciate how our polarized views on development are culturally myopic, then the effort we took to write it will be well worthwhile.

What would you most like for the reader to remember?

KG: Often we think we know what is best for another country, but economic development of third world countries is very complicated.  Each situation is unique and requires careful study and an open mind.

LB: A community without change is one that is slowly dying. But even though change is necessary for life to grow and expand, nobody ever said it is pleasant.

What was the most important lesson(s) you learned from this experience?

KGa. I had very strong, biased opinions regarding mining and development in third world countries before I even visited Bolivia.  Once I lived there, I acquired a different perspective – one which allowed me to see that reality may not be black or white, good or bad.   International companies do not just go in and rape the land (at least not the company Larry was working for). They are required by international law and the loans from world banks to follow environmental laws and to protect anthropologically, archeologically, and historically significant aspects of a town they will destroy.  This particular company received recognition for its socially conscious endeavors. They offered priority jobs and training so that the majority of the town had some kind of work.  They also provided seed money for the development of businesses and other money-making ventures, so that once the mine closes, the people won’t be reduced to poverty again.

b. People all over the world deserve opportunities to escape poverty, though I wish those presenting the opportunities would also educate the people as to possible outcomes of development, such as the loss of culture and customs. I think we’re seeing a lot of evidence of culture loss because people work twelve hours a day and because the mine can’t shut down, certain celebrations and rituals can’t take place.

c. That even staunch conservatives like my husband can change – and I love him for it!

LB: Two lessons:

a. Never again will I sneer at what I used to call “primitive myths” or “irrational spirituality,” as I found out that such beliefs are critical to the survival of remote, isolated communities.

b. Karen is one tough human being.

Purchase The Gift of El Tio today!

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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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