Written by
September 2012
Written by
September 2012
De-Polarizing in a Polarized World

“You want to move an entire town of indigenous people?”
So begins our memoir, The Gift of El Tio, and so began an adventure that would tie us to Bolivia in a way we had never imagined. My husband, Larry, an exploration geologist, prospects for silver and gold all over the world; and once he investigates an area, he walks away to seek the next find. 1995 found Larry in a remote Quechua village in the high desert of Bolivia, awed by what he guessed to be one of the largest discoveries of silver in the twentieth century. There was only one problem. An indigenous village sat right atop the deposit. It would have to be moved.

Sitting in the comforts of our northwest coffee house, infuriated that my husband would even consider working for a company that would move a town to build a mine, I sipped my latte and argued that to move the town would result in the loss of a culture. Suspicions that an international mining company would create havoc not only with the people’s identity, but also with the environment haunted me. Larry, the conservative, countered that the jobs would alleviate the poverty he had witnessed, and that companies now had to mine responsibly. We were locked in a stalemate, a reflection of the polarization plaguing the U.S.

This was not the first time we found ourselves disagreeing. Elections displayed Larry’s lawn signs of George W. glaring at John Kerry. We cancelled out each other’s votes. But this was the first time the outcome of our differing opinions would have such an impact.

The question before us: do we have a moral obligation to protect cultures from the consequences of development or is it our moral obligation to present opportunities for people to escape hunger, child mortality, abandonment by males forced to leave families to seek work in the cities, etc.? And perhaps a more important question is can we have both: development that respects and preserves cultural identity and also eradicates poverty?

Our argument set the stage for the format of our book. Larry and I write alternate chapters, describing through our colored lenses how we saw the changes.

We didn’t set out to answer these questions nor did we end up ten years later with answers. I merely felt it was our responsibility to follow the people and document the impact of the changes that accompanied moving to a new town. Perhaps this is the beauty of The Gift of El Tio. We describe the changes in the town as well as the unexpected changes in ourselves, but we left it for the reader to decide whether or not the positive outweighs the negative.

In The Gift of El Tio, you accompany us on our journey, living at 14,000 feet above sea level in the desert that parches lips and peels skin off your fingers, and the wind that fills your lungs with dust. You meet the people – the yachos (shamans), the enfermero (the nurse who served as the region’s only doctor), the schoolteachers and the youth – and you grow to love them all. You experience how life changes from living in an adobe hut to moving into a “modern” house, and you watch how the old ways are integrated into the new. In the old village you witness the deaths of young children, their malnutrition, and the struggle to survive that accompanies poverty as well as the richness of their tight community, their oral tradition, their customs and their rituals that have kept these people alive for centuries. Follow us to the new town and see what becomes of the people. And then ask yourself, was it right to uproot these people?

It is now thirteen years since the people of San Cristobal moved and the changes continue. Development is a forever process and it may be generations before we can study the full impact. These questions (and more) remain for you to decide:

Is it possible to have a socially and environmentally conscious mining company?

Is all development bad or are there ways to attain outcomes that benefit the people and the companies?

Is it possible for a developed country to “educate” a developing country about the pitfalls of modern society: overexposure to media; video game playing; pollution; commercialism; access to many foods, some of which are unhealthy; loss of community, etc. In other words can we prevent some of the disasters that accompany growing wealth?

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The Gift of El Tio Summary

Larry, a world-renowned geologist, discovers an enormous deposit of silver beneath a remote Quechua village in Bolivia and unwittingly fulfills a 400-year-old prophecy that promised a life of wealth for the villagers. Karen, a specialist in child development, is deeply disturbed by the prospect of displacing the people in order to open a mine. She challenges Larry to leave the comforts of home and move to the village in order to bear witness to the massive change his discovery will spark. Thus begins the couple's life-changing, ten-year journey into the Quechua community, their evolution from outsiders to trusted friends. Then part two of the ancient prophecy is disclosed to them, and they are shocked by the truth of its predictions: alienation, despair, even cannibalism.

Author Bios:

Larry Buchanan earned his PhD in Economic Geology in 1979 and taught university-level geology for several years, but his love of the field led him to gold and silver prospecting in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. In 2006, he won the coveted Thayer Lindsley Award for the San Cristobal silver discovery. Dr. Buchanan has published a dozen scientific works and is a sought-after speaker at international conferences and college campuses.

Karen Gans earned her Master s degree in Early Childhood Development and has thirty-five years of experience as an educator, counselor, and consultant. She taught English in the Quechua village while the couple lived in Bolivia. Ms. Gans and her husband have four children and two grandchildren and reside in Ashland, Oregon.

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Price: $19.95 paperback, $5.99 ebook
Pages: 254
ISBN: 9781450739146
Publisher: Fuze Publishing
Release: December 2010

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