(Read Part 6 HERE)
When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples. Any visible expression of nature would surely be pelleted with his jeers.
– The Open Boat by Stephen Crane
I rarely wandered off the central village grounds without someone to accompany me. I would certainly never wander off into the jungle on my own. The jungle is fraught with landmines, and while the risk is still relatively low, I had no reason to go frolicking among the trees. Many of my friends have been killed or maimed by pressure plates, so I approached the subject with a cautious respect for their power.
With that said, there were plenty of paths that had been cleared for civilian use, that would run from village to village with no risk of life or limb. Some mornings I would go for a run on these trails, trying to stay in shape despite the poor nutritional options out there.
One such morning I was running, listening to one of my pre-mission playlists as I hopped fallen logs and struggled up steep, muddy inclines. I would run fifteen minutes out, and try and beat my time back–an impossible feat as most of the way back was uphill. At the top of the final slope, I paused and took off my earphones.
Before me lay a heap of wood and stone–ruins from some old building. I didn’t know if this was a product of some Burma Army mortars long ago, or just an accident that had been left in disrepair.
My eyes wandered to the jungle that surrounded me. I had a good view from up there, as this particular mountain was a little higher than the rest. As far as I could see, there was nothing but dense, green jungle. Nothing else.
It occurred to me that if I died out there, it was unlikely that anyone would find my body. I would just disintegrate into the trees, the victim of some uncertain fate.
We were days from civilization. I could trip, roll down the mountain and wind up with two broken legs. Nature, in her indifference, would silently watch as I stumbled around, desperately crawling through and crying out helplessly.
The jungle is not kind. It does not care if you’re hurt, wounded or trying to find yourself in its quiet embrace. It will kill you just as soon as it will show you something beautiful.
It’s also not some harsh, evil force hell-bent on ending your life. It simply doesn’t care about you. I felt like I was floating alone in the center of the Atlantic ocean, suspended and helpless.
The Karen respect the immense power of the jungle, and they know their way around it. The doctor always tells me that he feels knowledgeable and powerful in the classroom and in the hospital. Every time he steps outside he says it’s a quick dose of reality, making him realize that he is completely at the mercy of the Karen. Without them, he would be at the mercy of mother nature: the great and indifferent beast.