HUNCHED OVER, the octogenarian Ti’omi asked Joshua Birchall when he would come back to the Oro Win tribe’s village in the Amazon Basin. Birchall, a linguistics researcher, responded that he would need to return to his native Netherlands for more than a year to write his doctoral dissertation.
Ti’omi sighed. The pair had been working together for the previous few years to create literacy materials that would help teach the disappearing Oro Win language in local schools. Ti’omi had grown accustomed to the reassuring scrape of Birchall’s feet shuffling up the path to his hamlet every morning. The young scholar had been working on documenting the history of the Oro Win and preserving their language, and Ti’omi had come to cherish his visits.
“Oh, well, you won’t see me then,” Ti’omi said, pointing to a pain in his back. “My eyes want to close.”