I try. You try. We Try. Together

Try. What do you want to try next year? Is there something you wanted to try in 2010? What happened when you did / didn’t go for it?

 

Try. Don’t try harder, try BETTER.

I want to take on a challenge I may very well fail at. I did it in 2009/2010, and came out alive on the other end. So here’s to taking a risk that terrifies you.

I want to try:

Cross-country skiing

Leading a 5.11 outside

A 30-day yoga challenge. YinAnusaraPowerAshtangaHathaBliss!!!!

A meditation retreat – just me and thoughts. Let the mayhem begin

Writing a book. Topic to be determined

 

In 2010, I wanted to research something that interested me, in a way that didn’t fit within the norms of an institution. I wanted to hear people’s stories, not turn them into numbers. I did it – and apparently the institution didn’t think it was half bad.

So don’t wait to be given the rules. Make your own up as you go, and create your experiences. TRY!

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To el Campo

Covered in red soil and tired to the very marrow of my bones, I have returned alive (barely) from my first trip to “el campo”. Speeding along bumpy roads, it is the first chance I had to see Paraguay as she is at heart – calm, warm, languid. There are no stark mountains, no crashing waves. Instead, we pass over rolling red landscapes illuminated by brilliant blue skies. In two days, we visited three different municipalities: Encarnacion, Pirapo and Santa Rita. I should mention here that we left Asuncion at 4 AM on Monday so as to arrive at our first destination at the start of the business day. I still do not consider 4 AM to be a functional hour of the day, so I have some adjusting to do.

The PR Team in the field

The PR Team in the field

Working with the public relations team of Francisco Pereira and Liliana Franco, we set out to promote the new PAL program (Programa de Adecuacion a las Leyes Ambientales). This is an education and training program set up by WWF Paraguay to help land owners comply with environmental regulations. Each landowner must have at least 20% of their land forested (this means either leaving it as is, or reforesting if they have cut down too many trees). Land owners can attain “compliance” by either reforesting, paying compliant farmers for their forested land (similar to carbon trading), or leaving formerly deforested land to regenerate, instead of cultivating it. The overall aim is to bring Paraguay back to a state of environmental health, with a productive and functioning forest.

View of the farm land

View of the farm land


I admire the resilience of the Paraguayan farmers, who continue to persevere in the face of severe drought. Many of their crops have been lost for the year, devastating the economy and their own survival. Though one could point out that they are not exactly environmental heroes, having deforested most of the country to grow extensive soy and corn crops, and thus contributing to the increasingly severe droughts. We met with two farmers in the municipality of Pirapo, a community settled by Japanese immigrants. It seemed very odd to me at first, hearing Japanese people, with very Japanese names, speaking Spanish. As second generation immigrants, they consider themselves completely Paraguayan.

On the job

On the job

Both farmers we spoke with in Pirapo are currently working to bring their property into compliance with environmental laws, by reforesting specific parcels of their land. They took us out through fields of dry soil to the sections where they have started reforesting, and spoke about the importance of complying with the new environmental laws (perhaps because we were there representing the WWF).

One of our "compliant" farmers

One of our "compliant" farmers

Liliana and Francisco used the opportunity to interview the farmers about their reforestation work – these interviews will be broadcast over the radio in Pirapo, as examples of good stewardship. As Liliana pointed out, big institutions and flashy media are not the best mechanisms for communication in these communities. People trust their neighbors, and if they hear from the farmer down the road that compliance is important, they will be more likely to join the program and start reforesting their own land. Through word of mouth, “el campo” has a chance at regeneration.

Having a smoke in the tractor

Having a smoke in the tractor

In both Encarnacion and Santa Rita, we went to the most popular local radio stations to distribute a short “spot” on the PAL program. While there, we were interviewed on live radio – Francisco and Liliana talked about the program and it’s implications for the community. Nicole and I thought we were only there to listen in, but both radio announcers had other ideas. They were more interested in talking to us about our intentions in Paraguay, and whether or not we were single. Twice in two days, I was broadcast to the local listeners in my mediocre Spanish – YIKES! I can only hope I didn’t make too big a fool of myself.

Back home in Asuncion now, I’m looking forward to the next trip, to meet more members of the community working towards sustainability for Paraguay.

The newest thing on the farm

The newest thing on the farm

The drive home

The drive home

Hot Dog, anyone?

I’m not sure I will ever be able to look at a hot dog the same way again. I have never been a strict vegetarian, but I experienced something today that put me off meat entirely, for…I’m not sure how long.
As some might know, and some might not, Pohnpeian’s raise pigs to eat (the typical meat processed into hot dogs). They also, unfortunately, eat dogs. I understand that to some a dog is just like any other animal, and I suppose in some cases, a completely viable food source. However, having grown up knowing dogs as pets, I can’t help but cringe at the thought.
Today on my way to work, taking the same route I always take, I passed by a home preparing for a feast. To my horror and sorrow, I watched a man carry a dog, bleeding from the head, strong across a pole, to the fire pit. I’m sure I attracted a few stares when I let out a bit of a gasp. Or maybe it was a shriek. Of course I can’t remember now, but I could only imagine that this was one of the dogs I passed by every day.
Here, pets are kept for eating (unless you happen to be a crazy Mehnwei). Dogs are treated about as well as the rats that scurry through the lanes – most of them aren’t fed, and they’re often beaten with sticks and pelted with rocks from the time they are puppies. The dogs in Kolonia-town are mangy, sometimes hairless, with open wounds, doggy-STD’s and udders hanging to the ground. Bob Barker’s mantra clearly hasn’t made it as far as Pohnpei. Knocked out by heat during the day, these dogs can get vicious when the temperature cools down. They are especially fond of human ankles…and wouldn’t you be if you were kicked and abused your entire life?
If a dog has the misfortune of becoming well-fed and fat, they have a much higher chance of ending up on someone’s dinner table. Which, economically, makes sense, but in my cuddly mindset still seems wrong. Chickens, yes – they cluck their way through life not giving a damn about anything, and have no concept of loyalty or relationships. But dogs…they’re not just meat. They will do what you tell them, they’re (mostly) intelligent, and they can give their everlasting affection to a human. How can you eat your best friend?

Only my opinion on the matter. It was horrible to see, but I know it happens frequently. I can only hope I don’t have to witness it again. And thank goodness I do my own cooking, so I can ensure that only tofu gets into my food for as least the next few months.

Pay Attention While Driving

I’m sure many of you, at one time or another, have had to sit in the passenger seat while I drive. You probably all have varying opinions of my style, ranging from “appropriate” to “oh f***”. Admittedly, I participate in occasional bursts of speed and road rage – one of the things that excited me most about coming to Micronesia was being within walking distance of everything. I was getting sick and tired of the Hwy 1 traffic at rush hour, driving to and from work, to and from downtown most days. I was not let down – rush hour in Kolonia, Pohnpei is about 15 minutes long. It happens once in the morning when everyone drives in to town, and once at around 5, when everyone leaves.
There are no traffic lights on this island, and few stop signs – traffic “suggestions” abound, and rules are a pleasant after thought. Rush hour is controlled by the heroic officers of the Pohnpei Police department, who stand in the middle of the three primary intersections, with whistles in their mouths and white gloves on – I suppose to ensure that you can see where their hands are pointing. The whistle noises are constant, a melody tooted in tune to a flurry of hand gestures. The officers look like they are performing a ritual traffic dance – a few of the pro’s have real smooth style, using their whole bodies to control the flow. Some of the newbies look downright uncomfortable, and are fully affronted if you need to drive straight when they are signaling to the left.
Snail-like is the most adequate way to describe the typical driving style here. For someone who typically drives 80 in the 50 zones, slowing down to 15 miles per hour was a shock on the system. Go any faster though, and you will feel like a reckless endangerment to the dogs who poop in the middle of the road, the elderly people who can’t seem to identify where the sidewalk ends, and the children who just don’t care. (Side note – the local schools read out daily bulletins, which my teacher friends share with me for a regular dose of humor. Every morning, the bulletin reminds students to walk SINGLE FILE on the left side of the road. Every afternoon, teenagers stream in group of six or seven down the center of the street, mindless of the cars trying to navigate around them). “Look both ways before you cross” never really made it big here.

Of course there is always an upside to taking it slow. It gives you plenty of time to read the bumper stickers that pepper many of the rundown cars. Two of my favorites include:

“Don’t Let Your Kids Grow Up To Be Dropout”
Yes you read it right. I haven’t figured out yet whether they meant it to be ironic. The dropout rates on Pohnpei are high, and whoever wrote this sticker must have been among their masses.

“I Eat Karat”
A sticker designed by my lovely friend Lois at the Island Food Community, a group promoting the cultivation and use of local food. Karat is a local kind of banana, thicker than what you are used to, with bright orange flesh. It is pronounced “Karatch”, or when said quickly, cratch. I leave it to you.
Having fallen in love with the idea of bumper stickers, I have designed a sticker, and a matching button, which will be used in our upcoming awareness campaigns for biodiversity. I just got word two days ago that the funding for campaign materials has been approved by AusAid, making it the first grant I have ever successfully written and received. WOoohoooo! Currently the stickers are set to read “I (Heart) Biodiversity” – simple and far-reaching. Of course, I know there are plenty of you out there with creative ideas, which I would love to hear!! Any creative concepts for Biodiversity Awareness Bumper Stickers? Correct English is no longer necessary.

PS: I will try and get pictures of these bumper stickers and police officers just as soon as I track down the cord for my camera.

SPAM and Kool-Aid, anyone?

I have 3 bags of broccoli in my freezer. Two giant canisters of oatmeal, and three bags of apples in my produce drawer. Seven onions. A bag of tomatoes which I am trying desperately to eat before the mold takes over, but I think I am losing the battle. Why the broccoli in the freezer? Because they were the last 3 bags on the island, and I wasn’t about to pass those up, no siree. The moment I got the text message (“There are veggies at Ace, I repeat, there are Veggies at Ace”), I was off like a flash. Only seven hours on the island, and already the broccoli was almost gone.
For those of you who have idealistic notions of the abundant, juicy produce available in tropical climes, let me set you straight. Farming is not a big thing here. I can’t say I know all the reasons why, though I have been told it has something to do with pigs and sakau, which are more important products – squealing swine and intoxicants consume a lot of time and money. As a result, there are no large scale attempts at sustainable local produce. Our veggies and fruits come in on ships – often, they’re already past their prime by the time they hit the shelves. But that doesn’t stop us from running shop to shop on a desperate search for some lackluster vitamins. Because you don’t know how long they will last, and once it’s gone it might be WEEKS before the next shipment comes. Fairly soon, you will scrounge for that last bag of moldy carrots, and watch as the remaining packs of juice are lined up to give the illusion of abundance.
This situation leads to the bags of broccoli stuffed in my freezer. I thought I could control it – I thought I was strong enough to escape the hording mentality that starts to claw at people here. NOPE – if I don’t buy all 5 boxes of pop tarts NOW, then I may not be able to eat them for WEEKS! I must have ALL the pop tarts! ( I can’t remember if I actually like pop tarts – but I sure don’t want to be stuck without them if there are none on the island!) I know I won’t win the race against the vegetable mold, but it won’t stop me from buying those shiny cucumbers when they hit the shelves.

Miam Miam SPAM!!

Miam Miam SPAM!!

This lack of vegetables does not seem to phase the locals as much as it does us Mehnwai (ridiculous white folk). They are much happier to eat delicacies like corned beef and SPAM – the effects of WWII are still prevalent. Ramen is also a favorite, especially when mixed with Kool-Aid powder. No, I’m not kidding. Even some of the adults like their sour raspberry noodles.
Luckily, one thing that does grow in abundance here are bananas, and they’re practically free. They’re tastier than the bananas at home, and especially good since I can have them without thawing them first.
The question that comes to my mind: What happens if one day, the boats stop coming?
Happy eating!