Tuesday, June 30, 2009

As promised, the Sucre images

Steve prepares to be a tour guide.

The three musketeers! me, Steve and Pete (Steve's friend from World Vision)

View from on top of one of the many cathedrals.

Same rooftop, different view.

Erm, getting a little uncreative with the captions here...

A secret passage-way ;)

Pondering why we never saw any birds other than pigeons. I have subsequently noted condors, parrots, several unknown-but-longtailed varieties and hummingbirds.


There is more where that came from, as always: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2022656&id=180500624&l=e6cf63c34a

Also, flickr will have more that you have not already seen by the weekend. and I apologise, the last post was no story time! But soon! I just gotta narrow down all the good ones!

Because I miss writing papers THIS MUCH.

I miss writing papers apparently, because I was compelled to write this monster this afternoon. It MAY or may not, have something to do with the fact that I was avoiding doing transcripts of last week's interviews, which incidentally is about as exciting as listening to public service announcements on mute. So, for your reading pleasure (or for something only a notch above a muted public service announcement...) I give you my thoughts on Climate Change, Skepticism and Development.

This morning, my old friend Paul Krugman writes in the New York Times about the opposition from Climate Change skeptics in the US Congress. Reminds me of the time that I got the response "What if I don't have kids, what if I don't even like kids??" from a professor when I used the 'protect future generations' line of argument in a paper on Climate Change and Development initiatives. He actually wrote that in the margin. There truly are all sorts of objections out there.

Now, nota bena, I am about as Canadian as they come in my feelings toward Climate Change: yep! We should do something! But – of course – in a calm, peaceful and orderly way. I am skittish of doomsday extremes; I am most comfortable smack in the middle. Let's not get carried away here, oh and while we're at it, allow me to apologize for that over which I have no control (such as, the weather). I am terribly sorry for all the inconvenience caused by melting ice caps both for the economic disadvantages caused by extreme weather patterns in the last few years and also for the personal discomfort you may feel during a particularly hot summer or wicked wind next winter. Mea culpa. Moreover, I know that there are extremes in the responses to tackling climate change, which also don’t sit quite right with me. For example, completely destroying today's opportunities for the poor with burdensome regulation that retards any chance of success in developing countries all in the name of climate change is also not an optimal response. But then, just ignoring it, denying it or dancing around the issue will also be an unlikely method for making it all go away.

This morning, though, I also came across this document on migration caused by climate change from CIESIN. I haven't read more than the synopsis - so a careful disclaimer that I don't actually know the details of it! The introduction is indeed a letter from Debbie Downer (most CC documents are – when I was doing my major lit review on the subject in January I seriously had nightmares from reading the Stern Review and got to the point that I had to change the subject of my readings within an hour before bedtime just so as to be able to sleep. Seriously). However, my intuition is that it is similar to what I am witnessing on a small scale here in Bolivia and what I experienced in Nicaragua. Climate Change predictions always sound so dire: millions displaced by flooding and fires and earthquakes and lack of water. We are not experiencing the disaster that some climate change predictions appear to insinuate. The popular conception of Climate Change warnings would make one think that we are just waiting for a levy to break and 6 billion people will all drown, with a few renegade survivors left to fend off aliens and robots and to perpetuate the human race from a hitherto unknown island off the coast of New Zealand. But that's not how climate change works. And in the very least, I am sure the Kiwis would be very cordial to aliens and not stupid enough to create self-promoting robots that destroy human life. The kiwis always seem very even-keel about these things...

I truly see a need to wrap our minds around this (Climate change, not aliens). Here's the way I see it: One year the rains are a bit more scant that usual. And, if you are a farmer in oh... let's say Bolivia, you think, "well, we're hooped, the crop is gone." (Only it sounds more like "puuuchica! ahi se va la cosecha!" but I digress) But then the next year, or maybe even later in that year (like this one in Bolivia) the rains come when it is normally dry (June, for example) and roads get washed out because they were only dirt and sand to begin with and what is left of the crop that wasn't destroyed by the abnormal monsoon rots on the patio because there is no way to get into the city for two weeks to sell it. That is the climate change I see – some physical effects that are compounded by political and economic factors (i.e. not having quality roads). There is enough environmental and economic discomfort to cause sincere problems of livelihood.

In both Nicaragua and Bolivia I have witnessed what it means to be dependent on rains that are by no means a farmer's friend. When those rains become less and less dependable, as they seem to have been in the last decade, then it is harder and harder for those who have less make a go of it with what they have. Just because Climate Change is not going to melt our skin off in a bath of acid rain tomorrow, doesn’t mean that Climate Change is a hoax. We are noting that the environment and the economy are rarely in sync these days. (Of course, the economy is not in sync with much). And granted, humans have always been at the mercy of nature when it comes to food production. But the scale of the amount of people who are at the mercy of it now does make our era peculiar.

In light of that, I make a case for paying attention to these sorts of documents – read them carefully and critically. Moreover, I think we need to put aside our dislike for children and children's children and take ourselves calmly, peacefully and with intelligence to a place where we are willing to steward the earth rather than squeezing out the last drops since our time is short (‘we all have to die someday’) and it might not last (‘we'll create technology in the next few years to replace it anyways’).

Moreover, I am compelled to remember that just because it does not affect me visibly (I can go buy my food easily from Safeway if the IGA market runs out!), this is not the case the world over. First, the chance of birth – that is, being born in a country and to a socio-economic circumstance that leads me out of subsistence living – does not excuse me from the dues I must pay to a global public good (the environment), which incidentally are far more valuable to those with another circumstance of birth.

Secondly, many people make do on much less nutritional variety, say nothing of material goods, than what I do. If there is a particularly nasty winter in Vancouver as we had this year, I am inconvenienced, but my livelihood is not jeopardized. I did not move to Bolivia from Vancouver in search of income. I know though that many Bolivians may move to Argentina or Spain because they can't afford to stay here any more. True, there are many factors involved there - not just poor crops. Urban and rural people are moving. Nevertheless, there is a collusion of so many factors, to which I often contribute blissfully unaware. And it is this contribution of mine which behoves me to examine my lifestyle and how I can take part in a larger picture of curbing the excess of western environmental and economic damage. What is going on when I drive to the store in my 4runner and purchase subsidized or undervalued food products and which have been produced using damaging environmental practices because of the grandiose scale of production – soy interestingly enough is one of the most environmentally damaging crops here in Bolivia because the industrialization of slash-and-burn production. (Now all the vegetarians feel bad – sorry bout that guys).

So hear what I am saying, please. I am NOT saying we should stop eating soy – or bread or bananas and for heaven’s sake not drink coffee! I am NOT saying we should stop driving all cars. I am NOT saying we should never go to the supermarket, and all revert to growing veggies and become hunter-gatherers. Nor am I advocating wallowing in our collective guilt.

I am advocating though a bit of a sackcloth-and-ashes moment for the western world. Back in the day, the Biblical day that is, people would wear sackcloth and put ashes on their head as a public sign of mourning, remorse and a changing of the ways. I think we too do right to come out with public signs of remorse for the extremes of carelessness we have for those more vulnerable to precarious climates, both economic and physical. Moreover, it is late, but better than never to take some time to "sit in the ashes:" examine the damage as it truly is, with vigorous science – both physical and social – and ponder where to go from here so that we do the best we can by our neighbour and ourselves with the resources we have.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Stories soon to come

Some fotos from the recent trip to Buenos Aires, stories will follow shortly, but if you'd like to see more click the title to see my flickr page. Sucre fotos will also soon be up! Keeping you on the edge of your seat ;)

Sidestreet in Palermo

Books in a Park.


Tango at Cafe Tortoni.

Interior of the Central Cathedral

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Novelty Wears Off

There is a moment that comes when one is in a foreign setting where the novelty wears off. You get tired and frustrated. And it might just be PMS, but for whatever reason, on that day, you just can't handle things. I am sure I had these moments in Nicaragua, but I was badgered by the strict rule of "thou shalt not make any cultural judgements until you have been here six months" and so learned to accept things enough that now those moments have been fairly well erased. Heck, I've even had them in Vancouver, but its Vancouver - like a silly goose of a girl: you want to smack her, but she is so naive and ditzy and pretty that you can't help but dote on her.

The problem this week starts here: Things are moving at a glacial pace in so many areas of my life. My work is one day forward and four back. This week has felt like a board game, one turn is awesome and you have landed exactly where you want to be and then the next roll you are sent back to the start square. Even on one day at 3pm I was giddily lining Boardwalk with hotels. Hours later at bedtime I was tottering between Baltic and the Income Tax square.

But still mornings are my favourite, and so now that I have one, I should be thankful. I should be thankful now that its all such a "leisurely ride," because 'they' tell me that you hit a point where you want to stop growing and moving forward and go back and just sit on a particular moment. I have a few in mind already - that evening on the beach in Omtepe with Jessi, that day that I finished my last term paper and then watched 5 episodes of the OC in one sitting, that phenomenal steak dinner last week - Each a moment made up of a few hours when I could have stayed days.

But these are also moments where, even if it's not easy and it's lonely, something has been given to make it good - droplets of God's presence and signals of that divine breeze. Just look:

Wednesday morning, the dust that is not my dust and the noise that is not my noise were so infuriating. And I wanted to flip off the truckers that unreasonably laid on their astoundingly loud horns (because it's been SO effective every other time in your life that you've honked! But keep trying, maybe it will work this round!) SO LOUD. Louder than any sensible horn ought to be be under normal circumstances. I steadfastly hold my ground that there are somethings in our globalized, matieral-infested world of offerings that we simply don't need -industrial-strength car and truck horns being a prime example.

The dust kicked up by endless wind and construction - constructing a road by deconstructing the never-existent sidewalk, storing the dust and dirt to the left so we can move it to the right and reveal more gaping hopes that will be filled in with the dirt and dust that must now be added to the dust and dirt. It never ends and it gets in your eyes and sticks to the bug that flew in there the day before and has built himself a hammock to lay in peacefully. Stuck-on just like the stick-on stares that are glued to your pasty foreign skin. Curses on whoever invented paste! And damn that fly!

So I sit on a cement stump to wallow in the moment that shows me that the honeymoon is over, that I am genuinely a crabby, mean, awful person and that I just might not be cut out for this.

And then I are reminded by a wisp of insensible, delectable breeze - so wholly different from the blustering physical wind, that in the midst of this wretched street corner that he is present: that it is the same God, different dust. And not just with me - but with them too, while they stare, honk, sit on cement stumps and look blankly out of the dust.

It doesn't necessarily make it prettier, but it makes it good to be there.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

I'll put a fresh pot on.

Those of you who are familiar with my writings will wish to apply the British narration track for the first paragraph. Also, it is recommended that you read this with at least a 'coffee-themed' beverage.

Scene I: the South American Wild.
Supplies are down and although the sun is glintening in the early morning, a Surazo - the cold south wind from the Argentine plains - threatens on the horizon. Its been days since the Brazilian contingent sent the necessary provisions. An early morning foray out into no man's land proves fruitless and the canteen is still empty. Yet our intrepid explorer does not lose hope or her spirit. Back at the camp, she rigs a contraption of ingenuity and wit to bring forth the elixir of life that will steel the resolve of her and her companions: coffee. It is a triumph of will over circumstance- and no little matter of joy. Though the situation was indeed a close call, they will now be able to forge ahead with renewed vigour and strength of heart.

End scene.

Scene II: in Hotel Flamingo, where the girls live. It is night.
Marge: I have sad news.
Kiki: coffee filters are out?
Glum nods all around. The lights go out and it is very black indeed.

Scene III: Also in Hotel Flamingo, morning.
Kiki enters kitchen, surveys the bottom shelf. She finds a seive, picks it out and scrutinizes its mesh. A nod of resolve and she puts water on to boil and pulls out a roll of paper towel.
Lights fade.
Lights back on. Kiki is clearly proud and tickled by her contraption now sitting in the sink. She pours a cup of coffee and goes to sit at the kitchen table. She opens her laptop.
Enter Adreana.
Kiki: I have finally gotten inspired!
Adreana: (absent-mindedly) Great. Is that cuz you had coffee?
Kiki: heck yes!
(pause) Adreana: Inspired to do what?
Kiki: blog, post a facebook status... Live.

End scene.

Playwright's Notes:

Now, dear and faithful friends, allow me to explain much of what may have become a point of befuddlement (yes, befuddlement). I think some of you may have surmised that I have a bit of a fanatic love of coffee. Years ago... oh so many years ago in my short life, I explained to someone why I think the coffee industry is worthy of my dedication. You see, there are many reasons. First, coffee is that dark, brooding, strong warm arm around you when you are first yanked unceremoniously from the warmth and comfort of your eiderdown into the cold and harsh first light of day. Everything is garish and cold. Even light is cold. Yet with a hot shower and an even more-so hot cup of Joe (no plumber here), you feel the strength, the resolve, the courage of the dark friend. Joe has seen much, who has been roasted and ground down by life, just like you. Now he consoles like only one who has been scorched and survived can. When your mother has already been awake for three hours and had time to console her own terror of morning, relish the sweet quietness of early morning and then bake muffins, once again proving what an over-achiever she is in the household department, and you just need an ally, a friend to look you in the eye and communicat - without words - that it will be ok.. in an hour you will be like her, made new and ready to talk. And that she will understand - one day - why you didn't respond to any of her questions. The universal mediator, friend, confidente.

But its more than just a morning addiction, a moment of panic in the midst of disorientation. Yes friends, my love is not the type of the needy and the insecure that calls to her friend only when wanting something. Coffee passes the afternoons away too: sitting with a mutual friend in a cozy spot, watching the rain drip by; by the big storefront window with a newspaper catching up on the reports on stocks, stats and gossip; or by idly staring with you out onto the gentle point grey street from the velvet chair, watching the shopkeeper from three doors down hurry off on her lunch, the pub-owner unlocking the front door, getting ready for the evening's pints, the neighbourhood vagabond who sweeps the sidewalk leaves through fall, pushes pff the snow in the winter and sits under the cherry blossoms in spring and summer.

How many of those conversations have you had over coffee? A wise man named Jim Badke used to talk about 'the third object' in relationships. When I was working at Qwanoes he used to tell his eager little counsellors in training that sometimes what you need is a third object to get conversations moving. Campers were between the ages of 8-18 as the teenagers they are, aren't always forthcoming with chit-chat and verbosity (unlike someone you may know...). And sometimes staring face-to-face to a person and gabbing might not be the first thing on their to-do list, especially if the conversation may have any importance at all. A third object, like a bag of chips or a car dashboard on which to fix the gaze... at least until we are all settled, can make words come a bit more easily. Coffee is the consummate third object. It disarms us all with it's crooked grin - a bitter taste that makes you wonder why on earth you like it. Ironic isn't it? Its not the handsomest, but its winsome because it doesn't pretend to be as sweet as a cola and as smarmy as an iced tea. (Not that they don't have their moments to shine either- indeed they do). But coffee has a bit of an edge - it has wit to put us all at ease and then a straight gaze for when we are ready to divulge whatever is on our hearts. And if nothing else, when we don't want to look in an eye, we can look in a never-empty cup.

Sounds like another cup that I know of...

Allow me to try and wrap this all up and bring it back with us to Bolivia. I am, as many of you know, working with coffee farmers for my research here. As my roommate Courtney said when I told her "that's great! ... Am I supposed to be surprised?" Yet there was a race on, that some of you may not know of - between the coffee project and a few other ones working with farmers that were growing all sorts of different crops. I thought about them for a while, because I had been reminded that "the coffee-thing has been done" - and it really has. How many of us would love to just pack up and move to the beach and open up a little neighbourhood coffeehouse and pass away our days like that? How much literature have you read on fair trade coffee? How ubiquitous is this product???

Exactly. By circumstance (divinely-directed, I believe) I was led to pick the coffee project over rice, fish, or forestry. But the fact that there is so much on it, and it has become almost blasé does not dissuade me. It is, I have read, the second most highly traded commodity. Many of us drink it multiple times a day. But like so many of our foodstuffs, we really have no idea - nor do we often care- where it comes from. Far away, that's all we know.

I have been reading a bit from a guy named Michael Woolcock, who happens to be among other things: a World Bank senior social scientist, a Harvard professor, a political economist and a theologian. He is also my new friend. He was explaining in our latest conversation (entitled "Getting the Social Relations Right: Towards an Integrated Theology and Theory of Development" published in Globalization and the Good, Heslam, P. ed) that the problem with the way we look at 'development' in many circles is that it is often framed by a Justice discourse, and not a Glory discourse. We talk about "Social Justice" and "Fair Trade" and we usually do it with a fair bit of fire and brimstone and contempt in our language - we want the world to be a better place and we are frustrated that it is not. We are mad that farmers in Bolivia earn less than oh, say a grad student working as research assitant part-time in Canada (gulp! that sounds strangely familiar). And we are annoyed that Globalization has made it possible for us to see this easily, without providing an equally easy auto-switch to make it all not be so.

But Glory. That's something different than just an appeal to being fair (as Michael pointed out, "even in a 'fair' world we can all live Hobbesian lives that are poor, nasty, brutish and short"). I am still wrapping my head around what Glory really means in 21st century life. In my experience, it is either: a distant Biblical term to be given to and yet already completely owned by God; or it is what soccer and hockey players get when the goal siren sounds. But they can't be the same thing. A short burst of adrenalin coming from a matter of chance and mere human skill working in varying combinations cannot possibly be the same thing that is embodied in the fingertips of the one who spoke time into being and then within seconds (or rather, outside of them stretching years and eons into his morning and evening) created the most specatular and baffling spread.


Coffee? Yes, I am getting there. The point of a Glory discourse of development is that it is about having right relationships - to God, to one another, and to creation. It's about running so hard that your lungs are about to burst and kicking that ball straight to the upper corner, evading the goalie who wants to thwart you and your teammates - even those who are from the other half of the world- at every shot that earns you livelihood not just a trophy. Its about speaking life into a moment and working to create a baffling spread. Its about watching in wonder as a pretty, unpretentious little white flower buds and a few weeks later a cherry appears that gives you a nice view, one that crosses your mind when months later you are back in Vancouver, watching the rain drip outside and sitting across from an old friend on the slightly musty couches in Bean Around the World, getting ready to share the heart. Its about knowing the man who cared for the beans and knowing the agronomist who came by one day to check the plants and sit and chat for a while - also over coffee, although at that point it was still a just a white flower. Its about knowing that that relationship is good, like creation, like the one in front of you now.

Whew. I think that's about all I have for now. Thanks for sticking it out with me through this muddle. Can I top you up?