Yes, our blog has moved but Runa is not going anywhere! Stay updated with our growth and development here.
Yes, our blog has moved but Runa is not going anywhere! Stay updated with our growth and development here.
Happy Monday to Team Runa!
I officially ended my seven day guayusa challenge last Wednesday. But.... It's Monday morning, and I still have a hot cup of spice guayusa on my desk (and no coffee)! I can barely believe it! First, I can't believe I made it a week without coffee while remaining fairly functional. Second, I can't believe I didn't run back to my grinder and french press like an addict at the first opportunity!
In reflecting on the challenge, I guess I have to admit that my coffee habit was getting a *bit* out of control. When you go from one big mug, to two big mugs, to then maybe a little more in the afternoon, it's an important moment to take pause and reflect. I won't go so far as to call guayusa a miracle, but it did really help me take a break from coffee (without going bezerk!). At first, I drank two strong cups to get me started in the morning, but now I find that one cup is totally adequate to open my eyes up. :) It's totally helped me curb my habit to healthier proportions. Plus, I just don't get that same jittery, jacked-up feeling.
As someone who went into this challenge fairly skeptical, I'm actually truly surprised at the result. I mean, come on, I practically live in hippie heaven, and I've become somewhat immune to buzzing about the "miracle beverage of the month." From kombucha to coconut water to aloe juice, I'm accustomed to hearing about some new beverage that will make your hair shiny, cure all ailments, and even make your mom less crazy (okay--never saw that last one on a package, but I swear I heard overheard it in a Whole Foods). But, I've got to give it up--guayusa is actually pretty great, and definitely something I'll keep in my mix!
Runa recently challenged self proclaimed coffee addict, Lacy A. from Emeryville, CA , to substitute her morning (and sometimes afternoon) cup o' joe to guayusa for one week. As the co-founder of Moving Forward Education, a caffeine fix is a must have to handle the daily task of creating engaging and purposeful after school programs for young boys and girls. Lacy happily accepted the challenge but made it clear that she approached this trial separation from coffee with skepticism.
Day 1: I planned to start [the challenge] on the weekend, as suggested by Dan, so as to not snap at my co-workers and otherwise be Eeyore-like. But, when I woke up Thursday with a wicked cold, I knew that the last thing my raw throat wanted was a cup of coffee. I never drink coffee when I'm sick, but frankly, switching over to tea doesn't give me the jolt I need (like seriously, an electric shock) to get up and going in the am. I feel like I need caffeine even more when I'm sick, run-down, and low-energy! Enter Guayusa!
Day 2: Elana (my partner) admits that I was still a little crabby on Thursday and Friday, but otherwise, I actually felt a lot more with-it than I do normally when I have a cold. I've attached my first day photo for you, with my steaming cup of peppermint (which frankly just tasted "hot" since I was so stuffed up). I had to send you another, of Tiny the Teddy (our Boys Moving Forward mascot), trying to bogart my guayusa. I told him to get his own cup!
Day 5: It's day five, and Monday was a real challenge. I'm feeling better, but still didn't love hearing my alarm go off. I did have a little jonesing for my Monday morning coffee, but made two stiff cups of guayusa, and feel like my brain is working just fine. I'm a super-simplified gal in the morning (like literally, alarm to out the door in 25), and brewing guayusa rather than a pot of coffee has saved me time on my morning routine. I attached my Monday photo as evidence that I can open my eyes sans coffee! Plus, now I can actually taste the difference between my mint cup and my spice cup!
I do really miss the smell of fresh ground coffee. I think that's what I'm missing the most, actually. But the caffeine claims on the Runa boxes seem pretty credible to me (and trust me, I'd know!). Having fun with the challenge, actually...
Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion to Lacy's week. If you feel like you are up to the Guayusa Challenge please leave a comment below. We would be delighted to make the proper arrangements.
It must have been around 3:30 a.m. when the alarm went off. I was in a shallow sleep and remember seeing Tyler across the room, already atop his covers, roll over and unlock his Blackberry to silence the wake up call. He took a deep breath, got up and quietly walked out the door and down the hallway. It was an unusually chilly night for Eastern Ecuador and I was buried under layers of fleece blankets on top of one of the bunks of the Runa house in the little town of Archidona. I’d always wanted bunk beds as a kid, and usually enjoyed the morning descent from the elevated dream-space as an adult. That morning, however, the breeze bit my skin and sent chills up my legs as my feet touched the cool tile floor. Joe Walker, a Peace Corps volunteer with Runa and all-round swell fella, sat up silently in the lower bunk as I rooted through my bag in the dark searching for the one longsleeved shirt I had in South America.
Team Runa is usually up and running bright and early, but a moon-lit start time is less regular. I had learned that there is already a lot going on in Amazonia by 3:30 a.m. and most of the time I was more than willing to lose a few winks to participate or witness what the jungle communities had to offer. That morning we were heading to Nueva Esperanza, a village about 45 minutes outside of Archidona for, what was for many of us, our first official guayusa ceremony.
The heavy yellow light of the street lamps pushed into the dim first floor of RUNA HQ. The interns Alex, Ben, Lucy, Nadine, Joe and I were joined by the general manager Fransisco as, el presidente, Tyler Gage, checked on our arranged transportation. Things can occasionally take longer than expected in Ecuador, and as we collectively noted that sunrise would soon be approaching, Tyler stepped out onto the empty street and worked some entrepreneurial magic - a single truck taxi suddenly turned the corner, spotted him and, even though the driver was on his way home and where we were headed was far out of the way, he agreed to not only take us to the community but also to return several hours later and pick the group up. The timely manifestation was greeted with a cheer, and we all piled into the truck which sped off out of town toward muddy roads, local fincas (farms) and denser jungle.
Guayusa ceremonies are reportedly thousands of years old. Ask a jungle-born Kichiwa native about guayusa and they will gladly tell you personal stories, local tales and ancient common knowledge about this infamous plant. They might refer to it as “medicine”, “the night watchman” or even just as a delicious brew. However they refer to it, it’s likely that they will also mention a guayusa morning ceremony. Waking up in the early pre-dawn hours, cooking up a big clay pot full of brew, telling stories, laughing and sharing with family and neighbors. Singing songs, discussing dreams, passing down knowledge to younger generations - hearing of such intimate community time feels very special, perhaps even sacred to us Westerners. I know it did for me, and I couldn’t wait to be part of such an experience.
We’d been on progressively narrowing gnarly dirt roads for awhile. The town of Archidona had been swallowed by treeline and there were fewer and fewer signs of inhabiting people. Suddenly, after a sharp turn, we could see a maloka (thatched roof hut) and a thin stream of smoke twisting up into the sky. That’s how it can be in many parts of the jungle - from one spot you think you’re in the middle of no where and just a few hundred feet away is the beginning of a spread out community. The sun had been teasing the sky with subtle kisses of light and our group arrived at Nueva Esperanza just as the sky began to wake from nighttime slumber and hold the illumination. I noticed an older woman carrying wood toward the fire in the maloka and saw about a dozen deeply tanned native faces. We were quickly greeted with smiles and introduced to the group. The woman who had carried the firewood began to scoop some amber colored liquid from a clay pot over the pit fire using a large pilche (gourd bowl/cup). She walked over to me and rapidly stirred the liquid in the first bowl with a second smaller pilche. I had never seen anyone do that and asked her what the purpose was. “It charges the guayusa with good (energy),” she said in Spanish as she smiled and handed me the smaller of the two gourds full of steaming liquid. It could have been her special energy stirring or perhaps it was my own excitement but that was the best cup of guayusa I’ve ever had.
The discussions we had with the people of the village were fascinating in both content and in the way we communicated. Some individuals only spoke Kichiwa, others spoke Spanish as well and, while Team Runa had a variety of languages in our pocket, English was primarily being used when we spoke to one another. For certain, we were a diverse group - indigenous Kichwa who had never left the area and only knew their native tongue, an Ecuadorian city dweller with advanced education who knew little of the jungle, a young woman from Sweden, folks from all over the United States and all walks of life. Ages ranged from the single digits to close to 100 years yet there we all were sitting in the Amazon jungle together drinking guayusa, laughing, gesturing, translating for one another and, most importantly, listening.
A young villager presented a beat-up nylon string guitar which was passed around allowing several individuals to share songs adding yet another element to our communication - the language of music. The community medicine man sang some icaros (sacred songs) as he offered energy healing to a few people - villagers and visitors alike. Then, with the encouragement of Tyler, I spoke up and mentioned that I also had some music to share.
I brought with me an instrument from another indigenous culture. Some Aboriginal tribes of central Australia call it a Yirdaki but Westerners are more familiar with the name Didgeridoo. It is one of the oldest known instruments in the world and I was excited to share its sound with another ancient culture. The villagers invited me to play and I, somewhat nervously, improvised a short piece facing away from the group. Didges can create sounds ranging from low drones to buzzing trumpets to animal-esque growls and I wasn’t sure how folks in the community would respond to my bouncy rhythms. When I was done, there was a long drawn out moment of stillness and silence. I turned around to look at everyone. I will never forget the faces I saw. Tyler also scanned the villagers with a wide eyes and an anticipatory grin. The stunned and bewildered expressions lasted only a few seconds before an enormous wave of sound - laughter, cheer, claps, stomps and yells - rolled out from the group. They enthusiastically asked me to play more! So I did. Some folks started dancing or clapping with the beat and children started walking around me inspecting the long tube-like wooden didgeridoo as I played it.
Soon after I was done, I was flooded with great questions: “Did a shaman teach you how to play that?”, “Do you need to have special lungs for this?” , “What kind of animal does that sound like?”. It was wonderful. I explained to them what I could about how and why some Aboriginals used the Yirdaki in Australia and how I actually built didgeridoos myself and how anyone with a set of lungs can play the didgeridoo. The first to shyly ask to try and play was a young boy. I showed him how to buzz his lips and he soon got a strange bird-like sound to call out of the didge. Then, before I knew it, lots of folks were trying their lips at making sounds through the instrument. They even naturally discovered on their own the fun of playing over someone else in order for them to feel the vibrations more intensely (commonly called a sound bath). The rest of the group, still hanging around, continued to chat and laugh at weird noises being produced so early in the morning.
That was really the highlight of the sharing for me - the discussions we had in the language of music. I had, in those moments, a clear recognition of the power of sound, melody and rhythm in a way I had never experienced before. I actually teared up with joy. Regardless of the instrument, music is truly a unifying universal language. All cultures have music. Though the boy who first asked to play and I were from very different worlds, knew of wildly different things and likely had distinctly separate futures, we shared through the moments of music a strong connection of love. He knew... he could feel... exactly what I was “saying” through the didgeridoo. The same was true for the Spanish guitar songs and the Kichwa icaros. I know what they really meant, even if I cannot translate them verbatim. It is precisely that kind of sharing - the authentic connection of joy and what I would call love - that is at the root of not just guayusa ceremonies, but the very idea of community.
I can think of no word more appropriate to describe the overall experience of that morning than MAGIC. I had witnessed magic.
The work of RUNA helps to empower indigenous peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon through sustainable agriculture which draws from and ties back into their ancient traditions. However, the real gift, in my opinion, is the creation of a platform upon which cultures, peoples and communities can share. In the Amazon, people often consider plants to have their own personalities, spirits or energies with which an individual can form a relationship. The Kichwa people are the “keepers” of guayusa and their relationship to it has given them a grand tradition of community and sharing. Now they have elected to share the plant with the world and RUNA is helping them accomplish that.
A cup of guayusa is more than just a way to wake up in the morning... or at least it can be. Guayusa can be a stepping stone to some pretty stunning magic. At least that’s where it took me. My hope is that the relationship does something equally astounding for countless others.
Written by Andrew Given
2010 Runa Intern
Siblings Kassidy and Ryan Brown are the creators of Journey of Action, an independent production company that produces entertaining and enlightening short form documentaries on Generation Y Change-Makers. In July, Kassidy and Ryan visited Archidona, Ecuador to feature Runa and Fundación Runa. Led by the creative talent of director and write, Phillip Montgomery, Journey of Action created an engaging video documenting Runa's mission to create a market for guayusa in the United States while supporting the indigenous communities who grow this energizing and nutritional plant. Please enjoy the video and continue to support our work by purchasing Runa Guayusa at 20% off with discount code RunaJOA. Ashka pagrachu to Kassidy, Ryan and Phil for sharing our story.
Two weeks ago Runa asked you to submit a dream to be interpreted at the next guayusa ceremony by a local shaman. In the wee hours of Friday morning, over a boiling pot of guayusa, Juan Carlos listened as we told him your dreams and he gave us insight into your subconcious.
Dream submitted by James Fisher:
I dreamt that the force of gravity was not coming from below, but from the side. Specifically, my right side.
Juan Carlos's interpretation:
The force of gravity coming from the side signifies that you are coming out of or escaping from a difficult situation. If gravity had been pulling you down, it would mean you are entering a dangerous situation.
Dream submitted by A.C.:
I used to dream of being chased and not being able to run because my legs were too heavy. I'd have to get on my hands and feet and run like an animal. Then I would go very fast.
Juan Carlos's interpretation:
This is a very good dream. Being on all fours gives you more strength and help to get out of situations you don't want to be in. However, if this person was caught by whatever was chasing them that is a bad sign. If this person escaped, it is good.
Dream submitted by Robin:
I had a dream that I was mermaid and saved a boy from drowing in a tsunami.
Juan Carlos's interpretation:
This person will learn the traditions of our people and work to protect the people of Ecuador.
Come drink gourds full of delicious guayusa while creating an additional sustainable source of income for people in the Napo Province of Ecuador. Click here for more information on how to apply.
Still deciding whether to apply for Runa's fall internship? Read what our most recent group of interns have to say about their experience with Runa in the jungle.
What were you surprised by while you were conducting your research?
I was surprised by the openness of Runa members. My thesis project is a case study of Runa, and I thought it would be difficult to get honest answers to tough questions but that has not been the case at all. Even though I have only been here a short time I feel like my interviews were taken very seriously. I was also surprised by how holistic the organizational narrative is. Although people across the organization see things from different perspectives, they generally come back to a similar big picture view of Runa's mission.
What advice do you have for future interns/volunteers? Jump in. Really get to know the tecnicos as much as possible. They are the true representation of what Runa is trying to do in Ecuador. One of my regrets has been how poor my Spanish has been. In part this is because I am constantly surrounded by English speakers, so I would say get out in the field with tecnicos and work on your Spanish. Everything else will follow.
Tell us one of the most memorable moments you had while you were working with Runa.
One of my favorite interactions here in Ecuador was with the 80-something year old president of a community called Centro Mamallacta. He was warm and open, and just exuded wisdom and knowledge about Kichwa culture and the needs of his community. He told us stories of when he was young and talked about the healing powers of the Amazonian medicinal plants.
What advice do you have for future interns/volunteers?
Be prepared for your expectations to change as you go through the internship. Working and living in a different country is an enriching experience, yet it will likely not be exactly what you expect it to be. So, keep an open mind and embrace the differences and the change.
As part of my research I needed to learn as much as possible about the agricultural activities performed on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. In order to do this I worked with a family in Atahualpa, a community working with Runa. At first I was a little timid towards them and while the mother and father were welcoming, they kept their distance. After a few days of planning out land, digging and planting I believe I was able to gain their trust and friendship. The mother of the family opened up to me one day while checking on recently planted cacao. She told me about her son that I had a similar cough as mine and how he passed away after weeks of refusing to see a doctor; and urged me not to do the same. Although observing allowed me to learn a lot, the father shared his methodology for planning out crops on different parts of his land and how he plans on getting a loan in the near future to prepare and use some of his land for cattle, which made a huge impact on the research. The time I spent with the family was great help for the research project, but it was also an exceptional cultural experience. Runa chose a perfect place to run its business because of the exceptional people it gets to form relationships with.
Go out and explore! Ecuador is such a biodiverse country with a lot of culture. Try working out in the field with the tecnicos or with farmers to learn about the Kichwa culture that Runa is sharing with the world. See as much of Tena and the surrounding jungle as possible. The work was a lot of fun on its own but the memories of people I met and places I´ve seen in Tena will last me a lifetime.
During the first week of our internship we went on a 7 1/2 hour hike through the jungle to find Chuncho tree seedlings to give to farmers for their agroforestry plots. It had rained heavily all morning, and the mud was ridiculously deep going in, then it rained more during the hike, so on the way back during the steep down hills we were pretty much sliding on our butts down the mountain and it was SUPER dificil! Then, as the icing on the cake, a nest of wasps got disturbed by our passage and we had to run, screaming, down the muddy slope! No one got stung, but it was quite the experience!
What advice do you have for future interns/volunteers?
No matter how much you try to prepare you do not really know what you are getting into. It will be confusing, and exciting, and frustrating, and awesome! Just come with an open mind, lots of bug spray, and a sense of adventure! Good luck : )
We are looking for volunteers and interns to work with Fundación Runa in Ecuador to further our community development programs and grow our ecosystem conservation and research programs. Fundación Runa in the non-profit branch of Runa based in Ecuador. We aim to provide tools and resources to indigenous communities and farmers' associations, working towards their vision of sustainable development in the Ecuadorian Amazon. We focus on three core areas: social empowerment, community development, and environmental management.
Runa offers volunteers a unique opportunity to directly experience the cultural, environmental, and organizational elements of our work in collaboration with our diverse team of professionals. We both engage in and actively support the traditions we represent, and work hard while having a good time.
Interns with Fundación Runa will take on longer placements working alongside our team in the Amazon. They will work on a range of projects, contributing to ground breaking research on Guayusa and developing sustainable projects with indigenous communities.
In addition to enjoying life in the Upper Amazon, volunteers and interns will engage in the rigorous and dedicated culture that characterizes Runa. As an American-managed organization, communication, transparency, and dialog are hugely important to us, and we provide constant support, training, and guidance to our volunteers and interns. Our 30-person staff in Ecuador is often called “La Familia Runa” because we are so close, supportive, and have such a good time together.
A Shamanic Interpretation of your Unconcious
In an ancient tradition, Amazonian families gather at dawn to drink guayusa from gourds around a communal fire. They come together during these early morning hours to share dreams, music, and myths. Indigenous farmers say this tradition is essential to what makes them “Runa” — fully living human beings.
Now it's your turn. Tell us a recent dream on Facebook, Twitter or below in the comment section. Runa will select a few to be translated to a local Shaman in Archidona, Ecuador. The Shaman will interpret your dream at sunrise during a guayusa ceremony and we will post the response in an upcoming blogpost.
Photograph taken by Phillip Montgomery