Rivers for Life 3: Viva Temaca!

Lori Pottinger

Temaca Solidarity Wall
Temaca Solidarity Wall
Our bus arrives after dark in Temaca.  We know we’ve arrived because of messages of struggle scrawled on the old adobe walls.  “Temaca Viva! La lucha sigue!” and “Los ojos del mundo están puestos en Temaca.” As forty tired community activists shuffle off the bus, the cool mountain air jolts us awake. A local couple greets us with “De donde es?” Where are you from? The responses stretch the globe: Thailand, Iran, Australia, Uganda, India… The jet lag is almost palpable.

We make a slow, noisy procession -- a percussion of wheeled suitcases bumping over the ancient cobbled streets provides the beat, the soft patter of a dozen languages the song. Minutes later we round a corner and find half the townspeople waiting for us in the plaza. A local matron greets us warmly; the people here are already gathering strength in anticipation of having hundreds of the world’s premier river-protectors coming to stay with them for a week of strategizing, camaraderie and solidarity.  The local kids are hopping with excitement, ready to lead us to our lodging in the townspeople’s homes with the few English phrases they have learned. One little boy was thrilled that he learned how to say “welcome” in Chinese.

Over the next few days, some 300 visitors will arrive from river communities around the world – people whose ways of life and rights are being threatened by big dams. The eyes of the world are indeed on Temaca.

For now, all anyone wants is a meal and a bed. A crew of local cooks whips out delicious enchiladas by the plateload, and serve them with joy. I can’t imagine feeling more welcomed.

It’s hard to get to sleep, anticipating a week packed with workshops, strategy meetings, hard work, but also sharing experiences and songs and stories late into the night with people who inspire me.

Waking up to a chill morning and church bells, the camaraderie starts early. The town is converted to a series of meeting spaces, every wall draped with banners and posters commemorating struggles for rivers around the world.

“We learn how much we can achieve when we come together,” says Susanne Wong of International Rivers. She has spent much of the past two years preparing for this meeting, working out the tiniest details of bringing 300 people to rural Mexico. Yet for all her long hours, she no longer sounds tired as she asks us to hold hands with the person sitting next to us as the opening ceremony. “Can you feel the courage, the strength in this movement?” Yes, we can.

“No emails or videos or phone calls can match what we get from being together,” Gustavo Castro, a Mexican activist, tells me. If we could tap this human energy, we’d have power to export.

There will be many songs over the coming days, but the one that tugs at my heart is the one we start this day with: “Temaca, Temaca, Temacapulin, no vivo sin ti; Temaca, Temaca, Temacapulin, yo te quiro a ti.” Temaca, we cannot live without you; Temaca, we love you.”

Temaca is in all our hearts now.

All 300 of us vow to help Temaca fight El Zapotillo Dam, which would take the Rio Verde from them and send its life-giving waters to the neighboring state of Guanajuato. It is just one of many rivers we will vow to protect in coming days.

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