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The Vulture and the Eagle

By Phillip Przeklas

The Vulture and the Eagle were enjoying the midday sun together when the Eagle said to the Vulture, "I'm hungry. Let's go get some lunch." The Vulture said to the Eagle, "I'm not all that hungry right now, and lunch can surely wait." The Eagle pressed and this time told the Vulture, "Come with me and get some lunch," The Vulture once again denied the Eagle stating, "Be patient and lunch will come." The Eagle, not wanting to wait for lunch said to the Vulture, "Suit yourself. I am going to find some lunch."

The Eagle took off to the skies, riding the warm thermal updrafts in hopes of finding lunch. He spotted the woodpecker eating lunch himself in a tree far below. The Eagle speared through the air hoping to catch the unlucky woodpecker off guard. He darted downward, directly in the path of the unknowing woodpecker. At the last moment, the woodpecker spotted the Eagle and narrowly escaped certain death, evading the Eagle.

The Eagle, not satisfied with losing his lunch circled back. The Eagle soared through the air even faster as he was determined to find his lunch for the day. The woodpecker once again avoided the preying Eagle and took off to the skies. The Eagle missed his mark and instead hit the tree where the woodpecker was once perched. Blinding pain encompassed the Eagle as his wing shattered and he plummeted to the earth below.

The Eagle lay there, unable to move as his wing was destroyed by his attempt to find lunch that day. Just as he was contemplating what went wrong, his old, patient friend the Vulture casually strolled up to him and said, "as I told you, lunch will come to those who wait."

When I began my preparations for a nine-day traveling excursion of Nicaragua's jungles, coastlines, lagoons and villages, I prepared for scorching sun, oppressive humidity and parasitic insects. What I didn't expect was to absolutely fall in love with the stunning beauty of the landscape and, more importantly, the people. The short story above was told to me by our guide, Oscar. Oscar, a native Nicaraguan, resides in the small, welcoming Miskito village of Kahkabila. He shares a background similar to many of his fellow countrymen in this part of Nicaragua. Oscar, an angler by trade, comes from a very large family (12 brothers and 4 sisters). He spent his life traveling the lagoon and jungles he calls his home, while fishing and hunting wild boar with his brothers. A fisherman myself, often spending my happiest moments foraging Michigan's forests and touring Michigan's numerous inland lakes, I found many similarities between myself and Oscar in a completely foreign land. Once again, the unexpected happened, and I made a lifelong friend of this man who taught me not only about the physical geography of the jungles and waters, but about my own life as well.

We met Oscar on a rickety wharf in Bluefields, a small city on the East Coast of Nicaragua, after a short flight from the capitol city of Managua. From there, we traversed in small fiberglass boats with nothing but bench seating and an outboard motor through the waterways of the Caribbean coast to Pearl Lagoon. Having lived my life on the waters of Michigan, I was instantly infatuated with this foreign, yet seemingly familiar, scene.

Where Managua was dirty, over-crowded and noisy, Pearl lagoon was serene, tranquil and absolutely gorgeous. I found my home away from home. While traveling the enormous, shallow, brackish waters of Pearl Lagoon, we lived in the welcoming arms of Nicaragua's Kriol people in the small villages of Kahkabila, Kahka Creek, Orinoco and the city itself of Pearl Lagoon.

When I learned I would be traveling through Nicaragua, my intention was to see the wildlife and learn about the landscape and geography. I was fortunate enough to experience lush vegetation, uncountable species of birds and fauna I may never see again, but what I did not expect was how much I was taken in with the native peoples. I owe this mostly to Oscar among others, but not only did I learn about how the people in this country live, I also learned about myself along the way.

The opening story I laid out, once again was told to me by Oscar. When he first recited those verses, I regaled in the parable however, upon closer reflection I realized the characters posed an analogous theme to the populations of the world. In the broadest perspective, the Eagle (brash, determined, arrogant) can relate to the developed countries while the Vulture (patient, introspective, humble) can represent the third world.

This point was especially apparent when Oscar and I were hiking together through the dense, dangerous jungle. As an experienced hiker and backpacker, I feel very comfortable on trails. I am sure-footed and I am agile. At least this is what I thought of myself before hiking with Oscar. Oscar, like most other native Nicaraguans that I spent time with, has an unreal sense of spatial awareness. Like the Vulture in the story, Oscar was extremely in tune with his surroundings, understanding that the jungle deserves respect, admiration and humility. The Nicaraguans did not extend these traits to just the jungle, but also to the all the people around them.

They never seemed to show the sense of urgency you see when you think of populated cities in the United States that paint pictures of bankers and lawyers running to their next meeting (the Eagle). One of my favorite experiences with Oscar shows this example quite well: When we were in Oscar's home village of Kahkabila, a dark and ominous rain storm rolled over the lagoon to meet us head on. While most of my fellow travelers bunkered down to wait out the storm in annoyance, Oscar went right out to face it and began a series of swaying motions with his hand while whispering "swooshing" noises. When I asked Oscar about this behavior he, quite simply, said he was "cutting up the clouds."

As we made our way slowly through various habitats, Oscar was able to teach me a medicinal or edible use for just about every tree, shrub or vine we came across. As we traveled over the lagoon during the evenings, Oscar navigated by the stars. It was during these lessons I came to this realization: The everyday, mundane things we, as Americans, treat as expectations of life, the Nicaraguans treat as an appreciation. In fact, the Nicaraguans never took their surroundings for granted, using everything the world around them had to offer. Again, I could not help but think about the humbled Vulture and the impetuous Eagle.

I was fortunate enough to spend five days with Oscar. We come from very different backgrounds: Oscar, from an impoverished country having very few possessions. Me, from a privileged and fortunate land of plenty. We came together, however, over a deep appreciation for the world and people around us. I was extremely sad to say my goodbyes to Oscar and I think about him often. I hope to see my friend soon.

When I returned to the United States, I felt a very real emotional reverse culture shock. I could not believe the amount of "stuff" I had and why I ever felt the need to have all of these possessions. I never noticed the nearly constant complaining from colleagues and friends about the pettiest of things. My appreciation for Oscar and his fellow countrymen and women cannot be expressed deeply enough. I like to think I came back with some of the modesty and humility the Nicaraguans showed me. My biggest fear is that I will slink back into my first world lifestyle. But every time I notice myself falling into old habits, I think about Oscar "cutting up the clouds" and I think about the Vulture and the Eagle.