The day starts early and cold. It is before 6 am and a layer of frost covers the lawn and car. I warm the car and enjoy a cup of coffee while the frost melts in clumps from the windshield. Time to go to Hickmann to see how the Wichi community is doing with cameras we gave them.
I debate whether or not to go because it’s been impossible to find gasoline in Salta recently. The few stations that have NAFTA also have a line around the block of cars idling until they can refill. I decide to go because, well, we said we would.
This visit marks the third time I have been to Hickmann and the first time I am going alone. We have already collected more than 3000 photos, all taken by people in this Hickmann community, all showing, unedited, the details of their lives. On the surface, one could think that the Wichi of Hickmann would be depressed. After all, they live in a very isolated place with limited food and water. Maybe only four of the seventy families have electricity in their homes. Work opportunities are limited to nonexistent.
Despite these rather tremendous obstacles, my encounters with them have shown me that their lives are more nuanced and though they may be poor in terms of resources, they have a richness in many other aspects of their lives that is absent in most Western “advanced” societies. The photos I see on these digital cameras show the same.
I am greeted by Simon, one of the community leaders, and his family.
It is very cold, and they are sitting around a fire to warm themselves. They offer me a chair, and I sit with them for a while and discuss with Simon how things are going with the camera project.
Kids run about and then return to the fire to wam up again. Everyone smiles, goes about their daily chores. The rhythm to their lives strikes me as so different to what I am used to in my own life. They maintain a relaxed pace, even more mellow than what you’ll find elsewhere in Argentina.
It’s as if time has lost all meaning.
The rest of my visit is pleasant. I walk around and talk with other families and try to increase my Wichi vocabulary. Is is good. Oyeh is goodbye. There is virtually no overlap between Wichi and any other language I know, so it’s slow going, but necessity to communicate provides good reason to learn. I show the children how to clean the cameras and change the batteries, remind them to be extra careful of the lens. I switch out the memory cards.
Then it is back in the car for a 6 hour drive back to Salta. We’ll go back as a family — me, Leigh and Lila — during the school holidays in a few weeks from now.
We’ll be posting more photos from Hickmann soon. All taken by Wichi children. In the meantime, if you have a digital camera you’re not using, please donate your unused camera to our project.