Beyond Bottled Beliefs

Beyond Bottled Beliefs
by Michele MattixProMeditate

This is an article I wrote about an experience I had while traveling in Ecuador.  I was fresh out of grad school and living very much in my head.  South America taught me not everything is as it appears to be.

Tesalia is the most popular brand of bottled water in Ecuador. It comes in eight ounce, half- and full- gallon plastic bottles. Wary of drinking untreated tap water, travelers are prime consumers of Tesalia and most can be seen with plastic jug in tow.

One unfortunate reality for third-world countries, like Ecuador, is that the concept of putting litter in its place begs the question of where litter’s place is. Signs in buses instruct riders not to throw their trash in the bus. With no trash cans on board, what they essentially say is ‘please throw your trash out the window.’ Trash cans, in general, are a rarity and so trash, for the most part, is thrown any old place.

Being the conditioned environmentalist that I was, I just couldn’t bring myself to litter. Doing so was not only a bad example, but a shameful exercise in ecological destruction. I simply could not do it. Instead, I’d haul my empty Tesalia bottles around, sometimes for days, until I could find a trash can. How I longed for a recycling bin for number two plastics …

One night in Tena, a jungle town in the Amazon, Jesús and I were driving back to town after a little stargazing. Jesús is an expatriate Spaniard who had been living in Ecuador for fifteen years. I had just taken the last drink from my gallon-size Tesalia bottle when Jesús took the bottle, opened his car door, and placed it right on the dirt road, like the bag of trash that makes the old Indian in that classic television commercial weep.

“What are you doing?!” I asked in disbelief, knowing that Jesús knew better than to litter.

“Hmmm?” he replied nonchalantly.

“You can’t just leave that bottle in the road — that’s littering! It’s bad for the environment!” I had climbed atop my soap box.

Jesús put the truck in gear and proceeded to drive away from my Tesalia bottle. I gnashed my teeth. In that moment, he was every litterer who’d ever degraded Mother Earth. I was ready to unleash my fury and crush whatever feeble excuse he would offer with my first-world arguments and moral upper hand.

“Someone will pick it up,” he said, matter-of-factly.

Is that the best he can come up with? I wondered, preparing for attack.

“That bottle is my responsibility,” I said. “I bought it and I am responsible for its proper disposal. Where do you get off littering with my trash? No one is going to pick it up.”

“Oh?” he said, as he slowed the truck down to a halt, “watch.”

No sooner had my environmentally unconscious friend said this than a young boy came out of nowhere, walked up to my bottle, bent down to pick it up and then carried it away.

Jesús must have noticed that my mouth was hanging open.

“They use them. Next time you’re at the market, look around and you’ll see these bottles full of sugar cane juice or chicha,” said Jesús, with a humbling lack of ‘I-told-you-so’ in his voice.

All I could do was laugh. Laugh at myself for having been so self-righteous. Laugh with the realization that my way isn’t the only way that works. Laugh because it felt so good to finally put down that empty bottle of a belief I’d been carrying around for so long. Laugh with the wiser me emerging from the fallout of my ego.

That Tesalia bottle encouraged me to expand beyond the values I had blindly adopted from my culture and to embrace not a new environmentalism, but the simplicity of being. The process of shedding had begun and I had learned how to put my old, empty beliefs down once and for all, like so many Tesalia bottles along the back roads of Ecuador.