Updated: Dec 5, 2022
The air conditioning hummed in our comfortable minivan as we travelled down a small, dusty road in Mexico. Each of us in our small group had wanted to get off of the beaten path of tourist trinkets, resort areas and the mediocre Tex-Mex often served there.
My eyes were fastened on the lush scenery we were quickly passing by, mile after mile of damp jungle and tropical rainforest. Our guide, an elderly gentleman named Miguel with kind eyes and a broad grasp of English, talked as we drove.
The tour of the Mayan ruins was behind us. Now, we were heading toward a sleepy little village where the modern-day descendants of the Mayans lived. Miguel began to explain how the Mayans had not only survived but flourished within the dense jungle for many hundreds of years. But what he shared next caught my attention, tearing my eyes away from the many shades of green flashing by.
“Three seeds,” Miguel began, holding up 3 tanned, slim fingers. “That was all the Mayan people needed. They would dig a hole, and place in a corn seed, a bean seed and a squash seed. The corn would grow up sturdy and tall, providing the bean a pole to grow up on. The squash would grow out, providing shade and protection for the tender roots just below the ground. The three plants worked together in harmony to repel natural pests and keep the ground fertile because they each gave off different nutrients that benefitted the other. The Mayans gained 17 of the 20 amino acids the body needs to function well from those three plants. The rest they augmented with fruit, nuts and game from the forest. But that was all they really needed: three seeds.”
The van finally turned into a residential area with tiny homes on either side. Many were colorful, painted in vibrant turquoise, emerald green and cobalt blue with murals of blooming flowers and smiling people adorning them. But several were falling down upon themselves, clearly forlorn and neglected.
Miguel continued, “You will notice several abandoned homes in this neighborhood. Electricity changed everything here. Before, the people in this village didn’t need to work. They planted their gardens using the 3 seeds method in their backyard. They spent time tending to their garden, crafting and spending time together as a community. Families were very close and [spent] much time together.”
Miguel paused, gathering his thoughts. His features changed ever so slightly then, a heaviness creeping in that hadn’t been there moments before. “Electricity has been both a good and a bad thing for the people. Obviously it brought convenience. But it also brought TV. Suddenly the boys and girls learned about Cheetos and restaurants. They heard about all different kinds of food. They wanted cell phones. They didn’t want to wear the traditional embroidered clothes anymore or eat the squash and the beans and the corn; they wanted jeans and t-shirts so they could look like the people on the TV. So now the parents have to go into town to get a job. The children grow up and they leave so they can go work hard to make money to buy stuff.”
He looked at us with a small, sad half-smile. “I don’t know that the electricity was worth it.”