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Medicine Man

by  Leonard Marks, MD

 Of course the medicine man does not live in the village.  His area is a couple of miles downriver where it is quieter permitting him to meditate.  He lives in a thatched roofed hut (approx 18’ X 40’) with partial walls, electricity or plumbing.  It is made out of natural materials. The Amazon basin supplies their needs.  As we left, one of his sons brought in a garroted caymen which would supply the family’s dinner.  Part of the Kapawi experience is an hour or so with an Achuar elder and in our case our guide opted for the wizened medicine man.The village of Kapawi is about 150 miles Southeast of Quito, Ecuador in the heart of the Amazon basin.  There are no roads.  It is reached by either by plane on a red-dirt runway or by boat, usually a long upriver trip from Peru.  As we left the runway to go to the canoes which would take us to the Kapawi lodge ( we had a 3/8 mile hike through the village.  Lo and behold, in the center of the village was a huge clear dirt area with soccer goals made out of small tree trunks at each end.  Forget the nets and lines – there weren’t any; yet there was soccer.  Who knows the exact measurements of the goals but who cares.  There were goals.  Regretfully I never watched a game.

In the morning of the second day our group took a hike through the rainforest, seeing the huge kapok trees, tasting lemon ants, observing parrots and birds in their habitat and getting a feel for the ecological balance in this vast area.  Following lunch we took the canoe about 20 minutes down river for our meeting with natives to get an insight into their culture and to share knowledge and ideas.  We were fortunate in being able to visit the medicine man.

The medicine man spoke only his native language, that of the Achuar people.  His words were translated into Spanish by an Achuar guide which was then translated into English by a guide from the lodge.  When we spoke, the rotation was reversed.  During this time we drank their version of “beer” made by the women of the village chewing roots, spitting them into a bowl, adding water and fermenting.  It wasn’t bad.  After introducing ourselves, we were to state what professions/jobs we had in our country.  While the medicine man was more interested in my being a Pediatrician, he had this to say about my being a soccer coach:

MM:  What is a soccer coach?

I explained what one is.

MM:  Why do you need one?

I explained how we had teams that played other teams and how it was arranged in leagues and discussed the duties of a coach – how we taught and guided the players/team.

 MMWhy can’t you just let the children play?

He really had no idea of why it was necessary to teach kids the game.  I should add that while we were talking the Medicine Man’s 5 year old grandson was kicking a soccer ball with his nine year old daughter.  They were playing 1 v 1 with no goals and laughing.

Soccer, indeed, is a universal sport.  There is beauty in its simplicity.  I don’t think the Medicine Man every fully understood why we need coaches.  I wonder who is more civilized.

Note on, I believe, the first shot of the Soccer Field that there are actually two fields – the main one and a smaller one withsmaller goals.  I could not confirm that the smaller one was used forkids.  I do know that Kapawi has the Achuar school at which all/most ofthe Achuar youth attend.  They live in shelters with actual walls whichare more sophisticated than the medicine man’s.  As mentioned:  There isno electricity and no plumbing.  The main mode of transportation to theoutside is via airplane and a good number of the Indians have never beenout of their village area.  It is a totally different existence.

Dr. Leonard Marks

Dr. Leonard Marks is a specialist in Pediatrics and a Fellow at the American Academy of Pediatrics - Sutter North Medical Foundation. He coached the Marysville High School Varsity Soccer team for 21 seasons and was named the Sacramento-San Joaquin Section Model Coach of the Year in 2010.