Isabel Ramos, My Teacher and Friend Charles Gibbs

4 August 2020
Photo: Isabel. Charles at Foz do Iguaçu Falls.

In August 2008 near Iguaçu Falls, 90 representatives of 12 Cooperation Circles from 11 countries gathered for the Third URI Latin America regional assembly, which was to be followed by a day-long meeting for the Indigenous people attending. Isabel Ramos, a gifted copla singer from Cordoba, Argentina, was one of the Indigenous people. At the end of the first evening, I learned that when Isabel first saw me, a white, male Christian, she ran weeping and screaming from the room. I represented the devil that aimed to destroy Indigenous cultures and the people who lived them.

Isabel was persuaded to return the following morning and have a conversation with me. Fortunately for me, over the next few days we had several conversations. Listening to her, I felt the double violence Isabel had suffered – violence as her people were robbed of their culture, its values and practices; and violence as her people had to watch those who destroyed their culture also destroy their Mother Earth. She was the teacher. I was the student. Her tears drew out mine.

After lunch on the final day, we rode to the Brazil side of the falls for an inexpressible experience of the overwhelming power and beauty of the falls. A highlight for me came as we reached a spot on the trail where you can take a catwalk out onto the river near the base of a stretch of the falls that was a torrent of white water crashing into the river, sending cascades of mist rising up and washing over all of us on the catwalk.

On one side crashing falls and on the other side the rushing river plunged over an edge and became another falls. Everywhere rushing water and rising mist – sound and vibration of pure energy. The Earth alive and flowing. And a beautiful rainbow rising in a perfect arc between the waterfall and us, both its ends merging into the roiling waters.

I stood on the catwalk, water dripping down my forehead, next to Isabel, my new friend, a light-filled woman from Cordoba, Argentina. When she sang, her voice was filled with the magic of nature, the beauty of the Earth, and the mystery of the universe. As we stood together, she began singing one of her people’s song to the great waters. I don’t know if it was only the mist from the waterfalls running down my cheeks or if I was weeping. I only know that I felt completely whole and in that moment I felt in tune with the music of Mother Earth and I felt I was receiving a new baptism for a new world – a world where interfaith cooperation was the norm, where religiously motivated violence had been ended, and all over the Earth cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings flourish.

In the twelve years since then, I have often listened to a CD of Isabel’s coplas, always captivated by this line:

Suenos de un amancer en tus manos eflorecer

Dreams of a dawn blossom in your hands

May it be so.