The knock comes at 3:45 a.m. I lay still under my mosquito net, trying not to lose the images from my dreams, letting them sink into me so I can carry them through the starlight to the village elder.
I hear my companions rustling awake. But still I linger, as not one but three dreams are remembered. Afraid I have let too much time pass, I roll out from under the mosquito net and pull on my muddy pants and long-sleeved shirt in the darkness. Unwilling to turn on my headlamp and break the spell, I shake them first to unloose any creatures who might have decided to make a home there.
The other journeyers have already gathered on the porch and are pulling on knee-high rubber boots for our walk through the rainforest. In respect for this ancient Achuar ceremony of dream sharing, we have been instructed to remain silent. But my desire to talk, utter even a single word that is not absolutely essential, is non-existent.
The group heads off down the slippery path, some lighting their way with flashlights. I hesitate, hold back, wanting my feet to find their way unaided by anything but the starlight reflected on the waxy leaves growing alongside the trail. We pass the silhouette of a hut in the darkness, then another and another as we enter the village, then turn and head toward the glow of a quiet fire under a large thatch-roofed, open-air shelter.
We bend slightly to pass under the fringe of thatch, find seats along a circle of benches. The elder’s extended family has already gathered, men on the benches, women and children sitting on the earth behind. Two of the benches are actually thick logs, and the corner where they meet is where the fire burns, slowly consuming the wood upon which the men sit.
The embers gild the faces of the men, a baby sings softly in the shadows, the wind wanders through the trees on the edges of the clearing. Everything feels completely, utterly right. Just as it should be, just as it has always been, and, if the Achuar can defend their territory from oil drilling, as it always will be.
Our interpreter thanks the elder in Achuar, then explains the ceremony to us in English. One of the women places a huge iron pot in the center and passes us halves of gourds to use as cups. It is guayusa, a tea made of the leaves of a holly tree, high in caffeine and said to aid in the remembrance and interpretation of dreams. Each of us dips our cup and drinks. It is warm and soothing. We are encouraged to drink as much as we are able then go to the edge of the clearing and purge it back up, if our stomachs allow. Purging is part of the process, removing bad energy and clearing the mind.
When all have drunk their fill and returned to their seats, a silence settles. Did anyone dream last night? our interpreter asks.
Before falling asleep the night before, afraid that I would not have anything to offer in the ceremony, I asked Dream Maker to send me a dream. Before the journey, I never would have considered being able to ask for a dream, never would have thought there was such an entity as a dream-maker. But the weeks have been spent with tribes who live in intimate communication with the world of spirit. I have witnessed rituals and participated in ceremonies. I have been washed by a sacred waterfall, and tutored by a wisdom tree. I have looked into the eyes of a shaman. Asking the spirits for the little favor of a dream seems, by now, perfectly ordinary.
One by one, each of us recounts our dream. When it is my turn, I listen as my words are translated from English into Spanish then into Achuar for the elder. When my dreams are spoken in Achuar, a murmur passes through the shelter, and I feel my heart jump in anticipation of what is to come.
What, indeed, would an Achuar elder, unfamiliar with Greek mythology, make of a Minotaur? The elder ponders, asks a question or two, consults with the men sitting alongside him on the smoldering logs. When the interpretation of my dreams comes out of the fog of translations back into English for my anxious ears, they have been transformed into sacred instructions for my lifetime, showing me my place in the family of things.
Slowly the light rises, dispelling the enchantment. The rustling I had heard behind me turns out to be a macaw preening itself, the singing baby is sitting on his sister’s lap. The face of the elder no longer glows red from the embers, but shines gold as he steps out of the shelter into the dawn.
Despite the daylight, my face is shadowed by contemplation as I head back down the muddy path toward breakfast, taking my first steps guided by the gifts I had been given in the darkness.