Article Date: 5/1/2008

Hakuna Matata
reflections THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY

Hakuna Matata

My trip to a Panama tribe taught me not to sweat the little things.

KENNETH A. YOUNG, O.D. BRENTWOOD, TENN.

Because we live in a country that offers so much "stuff," whether it's new technology, clothing or a new designer frame, appreciating what we already have is sometimes extremely difficult. In addition, many of us wrongly depend on the latest "stuff" for our fulfillment and happiness. I came to these conclusions last January when I joined my church's Panama mission trip.

Time travel

I was sitting in a dugout canoe, which floated down one of Panama's rivers, for two hours before navigating a bend and revealing a Dances With Wolves-type scene.

Several women and children were bathing and swimming in the olive-green water, 40-foot hand-carved canoes rested on the shore, and the thatched-roofed huts of a village lined a hill.

We'd arrived for a two-day visit at the remote village of Porta Limon, where these people, who looked to me as if they'd jumped off the pages of a history book, lived. Called the Kuna — a Panama Indian tribe — they are Panama's indigenous people.

Dr. Young shows his appreciation for the Kuna way of life.

The Kuna speak Tule (a Kuna language), Spanish, and some communicate in English. They have no electricity or running water. The tribe makes their living farming, fishing, hunting and selling "Molas," which are brightly colored intricately designed blouses the Kuna women make and wear. In addition, the tribe grows and sells their own coffee, though their beverage of choice is chichas — a fermented drink created by boiling corn in a pot on a fire in the middle of their dirt-floor huts.

The Kuna women also wear wrap-around skirts, beaded necklaces and bracelets and generally have their ears and noses pierced with gold rings. Some also wear headscarves and paint their faces with a dark blush and their noses with a blue vertical line. I'm not sure of their appearance's meaning, but they're quite the sight. The Kuna men, however, dress conservatively in T-shirts and pants.

Medicine man

The Kuna seem to consider any service or item other than shelter, food and the love of family and friends as extraneous, though they're quick to show their appreciation for it.

I found this to be the case particularly when I examined a 40-year-old Kuna man. He entered the hut for an exam and didn't raise his head unless asked. Once my hand-held autorefractor revealed he had -15.00D of myopia, I fit him in the closest prescription I had — a -12.00D pair of used spectacles. He immediately lifted his head and began looking around, wearing a big smile. A translator thanked me for the man, who said this was his first pair of glasses and the first time he'd been able to see the hut's walls. The fact that I'd made such an impact with a pair of spectacles that weren't even his exact prescription really tugged at my heartstrings.

Although my time at the village was brief, the Kuna people showed me that you really don't need "stuff" to be happy. They have so little, yet they make do and live according to a "no worries" (Hakuna Matata — a Zulu phrase) philosophy. Perhaps, if we as a country didn't have so much, we wouldn't be so miserable. OM


DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? DISCUSS YOUR STORY WITH JENNIFER KIRBY, SENIOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF OPTOMETRIC MANAGEMENT, AT (215) 643-8139, OR KIRBYJ@LWWVISIONCARE.COM. OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR PUBLISHED SUBMISSIONS.

Optometric Management, Issue: May 2008