Like so many books, this one is a point of arrival and of departure, and I
hope it conveys some of the many lessons I learned en route to its publica-
tion. My research project and fieldwork in Ecuador started all at once and
without the benefit of preliminary visits to acquaint me with what was for
me unknown intellectual and human terrain. A few months before I left
Scotland, where I was a graduate student at the University of St. Andrews,
my advisor told me that the experience I was about to start would pro-
foundly change the way I looked at life. He responded to my concern that I
was not ready for fieldwork by pointing out that no one is ever prepared for
life. I left for Ecuador with these words in mind and the name of my sole
contact in my pocket, and I tried to prepare myself for both an intellec-
tual anthropological journey and an existential one. Years later, after many
travels back and forth from Ecuador, Italy, and Scotland, I realized how
much I had come to appreciate life’s grey areas—instances when ambi-
guities, contradictions, and tensions inherent in human experience reveal
themselves and show the immense creativity individuals and collectivities
use to make sense of their existence.
The first person to thank, therefore, is my doctoral advisor, Tristan
Platt, who helped me to open my eyes and my mind to life. Second, and
only in chronological order, are all the people from the Inca Atahualpa
and the Quichua communities in Tixán, who with a mixture of laughter,
pathos, and serenity not only allowed me to work with them but gave me
their trust and their friendship. I am especially grateful to Juana, A. L., and
Javier, with whom I shared all the intensity and beauty of my two years
in Tixán. Their friendship and affection are precious and unforgettable.
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