Balsa wood is very light. How light is it? Well, in Ecuador, I once picked up a balsa log some 10-12 inches in diameter and 12 to 14 feet long. It weighed no more than 50 pounds if that much. I still have a picture of me with that balsa log on my shoulder. You could think I was kin to Hercules if you saw the picture and didn’t know that the log was balsa.
The Ecuadorians have many varied uses for this wood. Their primary use, especially for those who live along the coastal rivers of that country, is to make rafts for floating produce down river to market. Others use it for the foundation of their homes on the river. These homes are tied to shore, and the people live in these floating houses. I have seen whole neighborhoods of balsa raft homes stretching along the shore of a river for some distance and actually several rows deep reaching out into the river. These homes were basically one large room, built out of bamboo with a banana leaf roof.
The people who lived on the back rows had tied their homes, not to the river bank, but to the home immediately in front of it, with the ones who were next to the river bank being the only ones actually tied up to shore. The people in the back got to their homes either by walking on the “porches,” that is to say the extended section of their neighbor’s balsa rafts, that was not covered by the house itself. Some of these house rafts may have only a foot or so of space around the edges which the house part did not cover.
I often wondered how people would get to their homes in the back, especially if they had a load of something to carry home, like a stalk of bananas. I once had the opportunity to watch a man take a stalk of bananas to his balsa home on the back row, in the city of Babahoyo. He actually went through each of his neighbor’s homes to reach the back row where he lived with his heavy load. Now, that is being neighborly. How many times a day or week would someone have to go through each of his neighbor’s homes to get to his own?
With our property rights, property deeds and laws of right of way, we would have a hard time accepting this activity through our private homes. There are people who come unglued, if someone trespasses on their private property to get to a public river or to the beach. At least people are not hauling their picnic baskets and coolers through the front door and out the back door to get to the water. This concept of a true open door policy with our neighbors is lost on most of us today. We own our homes. We own our land. We own the beaches. We own the river front. It is mine. It is not yours.
As a young boy I heard the concept that the Native Americans had about the land where they lived. When the “white man” came and began to take the Indian lands as his own, buying and selling it, this was a strange custom for the American Indian. He recognized that the land did not belong to anyone that the people belonged to the land. The land remained, while the so-called owners of it were transients. They remained for a short time and moved on, or they remained for a short time and then died. But the land remained, steadfast.
The truth of the matter is, we all are transients in this world. I remember when my father turned 90 years old. I congratulated him on his birthday for living so long. I made the mistake of saying to him that his next great birthday would be when he turned 100 years old. He placed his hand on my shoulder as he had done many times when I was a young boy and he wanted to give me an insight into living. He said, “No, my next great birthday will be when I turn 91.” He lived to be 95’
Even if we live for a hundred years, we die. The land remains. What my father said to me gave me a greater understanding of this. Be thankful for what you have now; not what might be hoped for in the future. This gives us a pause for thought, about what really matters in life. It is not land rights, but the rights of people. The land remains, while the people are just passing through, so to say. What is important is not the land, nor even the things on the land, but the people. We teach our children the virtues of sharing with their siblings and peers. Yet as adults we tend to forget and want it all for ourselves.
Psalms 103:15 & 16 says “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” Share. Be open and accepting of your neighbor. Don’t guard everything in life jealously for yourself. Be open and caring about others, whether family, friends or neighbors. Be a balsa house raft community in this world. You will be glad you did!
Brad Morris, a retired minister, originally from Georgetown, served as a pastor and then as a missionary in Costa Rica and Ecuador, can be reached at email@example.com. He has been in ministry for 50 years and a columnist for 18 years, 13 of which have been for the Times.