Recognizing the Gift of the Galapagos

157

“We’ve all been given a gift, the gift of life. What we do with our lives is our gift back.”

-Edo, Sacred Economics

Being in the Galapagos was such a gift.

I remember reading a list in the newspaper when I was 14- something like “Top 10 Places to Visit Around the World”, and the Galapagos was on it with descriptions of black rocks and blue-footed boobies and I remember thinking how can I lead a life that takes me to places like that? The Galapagos Islands are a sacred mecca of biodiversity that most people will never have the privilege to see and I feel uncomfortable that I went without having to make any particular effort: I just chose a college and a study abroad program and voilà! my dreams came true. I feel immense gratitude for this. More importantly I feel a sense of obligation. I have an obligation to respond to this gift wisely and with intention in the way I conduct my life.

The sense of obligation is interesting to me because currently I’ve been reading about gift economies in my Economic Anthropology class. There is a concept called hau from the New Zealand Maori that tries to explain the sense of obligation to reciprocate when given a gift. From Wilk and Cligget’s book Economies and Cultures:

Hau is a term for the force of the identity of the owner of an object, which is attached to the object. Thus, upon giving the object away, part of the owner’s hau goes with it. And this is why receiving the gift always carries an obligation to reciprocate, because the hau wants to return to its original owner, though now it may be attached to another’s object.

In class, we’ve been talking about when things are separated from their origin, their story, the people who made it, there is some kind of erasure of the hau that represents the giver and we don’t feel compelled to respond in kind. Continue reading

Muro de las Lágrimas: Historical Conservation in the Galapagos

 

151

Isla Isabela: Paradise with a dark history

I am currently on study abroad in Ecuador, which has provided me with a mountain of experiences to post about when my homework will allow. I recently had the good fortune to go to the Galapagos, a dream I’ve had since I realized they existed. I am still so struck by everything I saw. In this post, I’ll just highlight one of the places on Isla Isabela that started some good conversations among my classmates about historical conservation of sites of trauma. Also, I will share a poem I wrote about the location.

Former President Ibarra of Ecuador used the island of Isabela as a penal colony (1946-1956), where prisoners were forced to do agricultural labor. They had to carry lava rocks from all over the island to construct the walls of their own prison. There are stories that they would cry as they carried the rocks. I was told that bodies are inside the walls from the rocks falling down while they were building them. The saying that accompanies the island’s history is: Los valientes lloran y los cobardes mueren, which means “The brave cry and the cowards die.” After ten years, the prisoners escaped by creating a play for the guards about prisoners escaping. They got the guards drunk, and actually escaped during the play.

Despite the story of escape, it couldn’t feel like a happy ending. My friends and I were talking about how it felt to visit this site of trauma as tourists. What is the role of historians and purpose of preserving places exactly as they were in the past? Is it to empower us with memories that in our normal lives we couldn’t have access to? Who are these memories for? For some people, this type of oppression is not of the past. They don’t need external reminders because the struggle for survival is part of their daily lives. There was conversation in the group about how preserving sites of trauma allows many of us to experience a sense of empathy before moving on to our daily, more privileged lives. This is how the set-up of touring through the site of trauma left us feeling. Continue reading

Mindo, Ecuador: Tourism without context

 

10930076_10202710170395184_2084746537557117191_n

An ethereal plant from the ginger family from an orchid garden in Mindo

I just got back from Mindo, Ecuador, a small town with a lot to do. It’s about an hour and a half from Quito and we took a bus through winding roads in a cloud forest with beautiful sights of waterfalls along the way. Upon arriving, we promptly found a hostel and went ziplining within the first hour. After that, we did a “tarzan jump” off a 30 meter platform into the cloud forest. In the afternoon, we went tubing followed by a tour of a chocolate factory. Before dinner that day, I had a full, multi-layered sensory experience of my body in nature. It wasn’t until later, when I saw a mural on a wall, full of paintings of gringos and tourists ziplining that I realized what was missing. Continue reading

A Reflection On My Summer In Kerala

Soka Instructional Garden, photo courtesy of Nina Boutin

Soka Instructional Garden, photo courtesy of Nina Boutin

It has been a little over 4 months since I finished my internship, which has given me a lot of time to integrate and reflect on what I learned at Raxa Collective. I spent my first month in Thekkady at Cardamom County and my second month in Cochin at Spice Harbour. I am deeply grateful for this experience because it has informed my personal growth and career path in ways that are hard to articulate, but- I will try.

The month before coming to India, I walked part of the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage in Spain. If that wasn’t exhausting enough, I promptly went to India, and when I got to Raxa Collective, I hit the ground running, trying to figure out how I could best be of service and learn as much as possible. I expected for it to be difficult, but I didn’t know how it would be (though I was forewarned about the monkeys).

I’m working towards an environmental studies liberal arts degree at Soka University. A liberal arts degree is interdisciplinary, therefore I’m always looking for the intersection between things people think are separate. Profit and conservation are definitely things people usually think are separate.

I got to look deeply into the way those can intersect when I interviewed Crist about the path they have taken up until now. That interview has been so valuable for me in planning a business model that incorporates environmental and cultural conservation. Now, I think I want to start a restaurant that incorporates my passion for local food, biodiversity, sustainability, agriculture, and community. Continue reading

Documenting the Conservation Story, Part 2

Photo courtesy of Heena Metha

Photo credit: Heena Metha

As I mentioned earlier, the internship program for my school requires we do an Informational Interview with our supervisor. I wanted to share the interview here for other people who are interested in entrepreneurial conservation. The rest of the information from the interview will soon be in the updated About section of the site.

Informational Interview with Crist Inman, Founder of La Paz Group:

1. How does the partnership between environment and business work in the sustainable tourism industry?

The idea behind it is what we call the valorization of nature, paying for conservation through experiential services rather than exploiting nature for its extractive value. For example, you can cut down a tree only once, but you can monetize it by having people pay for a hike over and over again. It is a partnership between environment and business that engages people in conservation. Philanthropic conservation such as writing a check to WWF or The Nature Conservancy is good and important, but there is still a deficit of conservation.

The public sector plays an incredibly important role as well, but we are going to need more than philanthropy and public sector work because the world is losing more wilderness than all the philanthropies and governments in the world combined can protect. The intangibles of culture loss are harder to detect and comprehend but the world is losing too much cultural heritage as well. This is a business model that allows people to engage in conservation rather than just writing a check as a donation or in the form of tax. This allows people to participate and experience nature and culture in a way that makes business sense as much as it achieves conservation.

2. What is entrepreneurial conservation?

Usually these two words don’t get used in the same sentence. Together though, these words build something more valuable and effective than either could on their own. The premise underlying entrepreneurial conservation is that there are good economic reasons to preserve natural and cultural heritage. And when such good reasons present themselves, opportunity and need go hand in hand. Essentially, it is professionals developing and/or managing a business whose profits are invested in the conservation of natural and/or cultural patrimony. Continue reading

Thank You, Oxfam International

Photo courtesy of behindthebrands.org

Photo courtesy of behindthebrands.org

The Oxfam International campaign Behind the Brands aims to address how little is known about supply chains of the top 10 largest food and beverage companies. Listening to the NPR Salt Chat provides a good explanation about how pushing for transparency from these big companies is a catalyst for on-the-ground change. The campaign has only been around for a year and a half and they’ve already seen great progress in terms of land rights for local community, government intervention, and women’s rights.

It’s not always easy to connect the dots between the food we consume and the people who grow it, or the impact of growing and processing that food on the health of our planet.

But a campaign called Behind the Brands, led by Oxfam International, an advocacy organization dedicated to fighting poverty, is trying to make the inner workings of the 10 biggest food companies in the world more visible…

We sat down to talk with Chris Jochnick, one of the architects of this campaign and Oxfam America’s director of private sector development. We touched on how social media is giving activists more power, why big food companies respond to pressure, and whether corporate executives are his friends or his enemies.

We also wanted to know: Will the promises that these companies make really translate into concrete changes on, say, cocoa farms in West Africa?

Continue reading

Why We Walk

Photo Courtesy of digitaldeconstruction.com

Photo Courtesy of digitaldeconstruction.com

I have been endlessly fascinated by walking. I asked myself Why We Walk while I walked 400 km on the Camino de Santiago. A recent article by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker has brought me to this question again in a new context. The article talks about what it means to be a pedestrian in the modern world and how the role of walking has changed as it’s become less necessary. The sad thing about walking for pleasure instead of necessity means that it occurs less. Many of us spend our lives in the sitting position: sitting in cars to then go sit at work and then sitting at home after a long day of sitting. I’m generalizing here as I call myself out on my sedentary life. Our bodies are made to walk, so I must ask myself, Why Don’t We Walk?

Roads are not enjoyable to walk in an increasingly auto dependent world. When living in a residential area there isn’t much activity to make walking around something that invites ‘randomness’. Adam Gopnik writes in the New Yorker about Why We Walk. He says,”We start walking outdoors to randomize our experience of the city, and then life comes in to randomize us.” The sidewalks are public space. In the suburbs we have a lot of private space and little public space. I have to wonder how it could affect our psyche to not brush up against the world. I wonder what we take away when we lose the opportunity to have chance interactions in indeterminate public spaces.  I wonder how creative we could be as a culture if the majority of our interactions with strangers didn’t occur over money exchanges. Adam Gopnik talks about the vague excitement and pure chance of walking in New York City.

You could walk anywhere. Saturday all day, Sunday all day, I’d tramp through the lower-Manhattan neighborhoods. The differences, architectural and social, among Tribeca and SoHo and the East Village, to name only contiguous areas, were distinct and vivid and nameable then: cast-iron buildings shading off into old egg- and paper-carton factories sweetly interrupted by small triangular parks, and edging over, as you walked east, into poor-law tenements that were just being reclaimed by painters. I would set off on a Saturday morning and walk all day, and achieve Kazin’s feeling of vague excitement, of unearned release, in a way that I have never felt before or since.

I like this description because it shows the way he was able to interact with the environment around him as a walker. Suburbs that are designed for cars make walking an outdated form of transportation. It’s inefficient and time consuming if you live in a city that’s designed for cars rather than pedestrians. In the suburbs, there aren’t many people dancing in the ‘sidewalk ballet’ as Jane Jacobs puts it. So, I just wonder what a healthier culture there would be if there were more public space for people to live outward facing lives that brushed up against each other.

The article brings up a quote from Frédéric Gros’s book A Philosophy of Walking, “The purpose of walking, is not to find friends but to share solitude, for solitude too can be shared, like bread and daylight.” This quote to me highlights the sort of communion we can have with each other while walking. While I was walking the Camino, I felt that communion with fellow walkers as well as with the landscape. I was sharing solitude with the landscape. I think taking away that walking aspect of communion in our lives further isolates us from nature. Continue reading

The Marari Fruit Diaries

This is a picture of breadfruit, which actually tastes like freshly baked bread

This is a picture of breadfruit, which actually tastes like freshly baked bread

I’ve been writing about the exciting biodiverse varieties of plants at the new property, Marari Pearl. I want to point out though that even before we started, the land has hundreds of coconut trees on it, as well as dozens of mango and cashew trees, which is exciting in its own right.

One thing about the coconut trees that makes them a win-win, is that it helps provide local jobs. There is a certain group of people whose legal right it is in Kerala to do the job of tending to coconut trees. Before Marari Pearl was there, no one was hiring them to take care of the trees. Now that we are utilizing them to provide coconuts for our properties, they get jobs and we get fresh coconuts.

We are adding a cornucopia of other fruits, both local and exotic. I mentioned that we have pomelos, rambutans, tamarinds, several types of jackfruit,  lovi-lovis, mangos, and oranges as well as the infamous miracle fruit. There is also the hong kong guava, burmese grape bud, pomegranate, sapota, malayalam champa fruit, abiu fruit, jaboticaba fruit, langsat tree, and several varieties of avocados or ‘butter fruit’ as its called here. There are breadfruit trees as well as peanut butter trees. There is karonda fruit, nelli puli fruit, mangosteen, and mooty fruit. There are five pages of names, some I know, some I don’t, and some I can’t understand because it’s a handwritten list. Continue reading

The Sense in Sustainability

adak-fish-farm-krishnankotta-mala

Today we went to  a 68 acre fish farm in Thrissur called ‘Haya Poya’. They were using a traditional box system (the local name is petty para) to collect fish and manage the water level. We went to learn about implementing aquaculture at Kayal Villa, a newer property.

By using this traditional method, they do not have to introduce new varieties of fish in order to farm. They do this mainly because it is less costly to collect the fish naturally than to artificially introduce fish. Also, since it is all local varieties, it limits the possibility of messing up the natural ecosystem with foreign invasive species.

During our ride home, the agronomist, Mr. Deyal, and I continued the conversation about doing what’s ecologically beneficial is actually easier and more cost-efficient. He said

“Only an ecologically viable system will be economically viable. When we fight against the environment, the environment will go against us and we will have to invest more money to protect against it.”

This reminds me of a conversation I had with an oil driller recently. When I asked him what the most challenging thing about his job was, he said ‘going against nature,’ and then proceeded to tell me how rebellious nature was to the oil drilling process and how costly it is. I found it interesting that although their career choices were the antithesis of each other, the conversations I had with them had parallel messages: going against nature is costly.  Continue reading

South Indian Music at the Kathakali Culture Center

I had the pleasure of listening to classical South Indian music the other night with a guest I happened to connect with at the 51 restaurant in Spice Harbour. We went to the oldest remaining theater in Fort Cochin for Kathakali, which is a traditional art form of Kerala that originated in the early 17th century. In this theater, they have famous Kathakali dance as well as classical music, meditation, and yoga. Even though we just went for the music, I got to learn a little bit more about the dance.

kathakali2

The made-up face of the Kathakali dancers is ubiquitous around Kerala. To do the make up takes at least one hour.

In Malayalam, ‘Katha’ means story and ‘Kali’ means play. I didn’t see the traditional Kathakali dance but from what I learned the dance has a storyline that is acted out through mime and drama. The stories are mostly based on Hindu mythology.

The instruments that we listened to were flute, mridangam, and kanjira. Mridangam and kanjira are drums. There was also a drone playing from an electronic shruti box.

The music put me into a dreamy state of mind. As I was listening I found my mind drifting back to all my music theory classes to help me wrap my mind around what I was listening to.  In the beginning they told us the ragas were in 8 count rhythm. Our minds can easily predict phrases that fit within a 4 count rhythm, so I wondered what made an 8 count so different. Then I realized the emphasis was on the 5th and 7th count which was pretty cool and made me understand why the phrasing was so unpredictable. Something about the syncopated rhythm and the ambiance sent me into a theta state of deep relaxation.

I was grateful to spontaneously meet that friend and get to experience that traditional aspect of Kerala culture!

 

A Biodiversity Triumph at Marari

As I mentioned in my last post, the new property, Marari Pearl, could easily be called the Beach Banana Genome Project because it has 30 varieties of bananas being grown on it. When Amie and I saw the list of everything being grown on the property, our joy was akin to kids on christmas.

Have you ever seen a rambutan?

Have you ever seen a rambutan?

Since I’ve been reading The Fruit Hunters by Adam Leith Gollner, I’ve realized the role variety awareness plays in conserving biodiversity. Simply not knowing about all the varieties allows agribusiness to monopolize the market with one or two varieties that best suit global trade. For example, when people only saw red and yellow apples in the supermarket, they did not know what they were missing out on, so they weren’t as picky. Once Fujis and Galas became known, customers began to demand more. Knowledge of varieties is seen as a threat to supermarket because customers focused on varieties become less easy to please with subpar, out-of-season fruits.

So with that being said, simple awareness of varieties is a method of raising the bar. It helps promote biodiversity because people are less willing to accept generic and standardized fruit.

On the Marari Pearl property, there are pomelos, rambutans, and tamarinds. There are several types of jackfruit,  lovi-lovis, mangos, and oranges. I was particularly excited to see the miracle fruit on the list. Continue reading

A little taste of Kerala

photo 2

Just down the street in Mattancherry is an organic spice shop with a wide variety of classic South Indian spices. The aroma inside of the shop definitely met my olfactory needs for new smells.

The 51 restaurant at Spice Harbour serves a Xandari Salad to represent Raxa Collective’s other property, Xandari Resorts. The Xandari Salad has become a favorite at 51 with its tahini-yogurt dressing, avocado, roasted cashews, and feta cheese on top of a fresh lettuce mix.

photo 1
Continue reading

Beach Banana Genome Project

The next La Paz Group property to open is at Marari beach, and in my mind it could easily be called the “Beach Banana Genome Project” due to the 30 varieties of bananas being planted on site.

banana wonders

There are actually over 1000 varieties of bananas in the world, which is pretty crazy to think about since the main variety in global commerce is the Cavendish. There are red bananas, dwarf bananas, sugared-fig bananas, pregnant bananas, ice cream bananas, Popoulou bananas, the golden aromatic bananas, Macaboos, Thousand-Fingered bananas, and the list goes on. Out of the 1000+ types of bananas, grocery stores in the United States only offer one main type? Why?

That’s because our grocery stores are in a permanent global summertime, as Adam Gollner puts it in his book “The Fruit Hunters”. Because our fruits aren’t sourced locally in the United States, they must be able to endure the rigorous journey of international trade. If I hadn’t traveled to India for the summer, I would’ve probably never been offered the range of varieties I’ve gotten to taste here.

Most people in the United States won’t get exposed to a diverse range of options and therefore do not demand them. Big banana agribusiness makes is buck with monoculture. They can reliably deliver the same subpar banana. 

It’s not as reliable though in the long run because monoculture invites disease. Thats why before the Cavendish banana was the world’s top banana, there was the Gros Michel banana. It was struck by a fungus called the Panama Disease, and now a mutation of that disease is threatening the Cavendish. Biodiversity acts as a natural buffer to disease but biodiversity isn’t conducive to agrarian capitalism. Continue reading

Humans of New York: The power of documentation

10575445_746153385458764_7383111873998406356_o

She said she’d let me take her photo if I bought some peanuts from her. Afterward, I asked if she could remember the saddest moment of her life. She laughed, and said: “You’re going to need to buy some more peanuts.” (Kasangulu, Democratic Republic of Congo) Photo Credit: Brandon Stanton

This article from the New York Times describes the recent social media phenomenon- Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York site and facebook page. At first he was just making portraits of strangers in New York City after losing his job as a bond trader. Then it evolved into interviewing the people about their lives and using them as captions to the photos. Now, he has been commissioned by the United Nations to do a 50-day world tour doing the same thing, but in some of the areas of the world with “the most extreme headlines coming out” to document life on the streets there.  The purpose of the tour is to raise awareness for the UN Millenium Development Goals and to inspire a more global perspective.

I have been a part of the 9.2 million people following him on facebook and just watching the exponential rise in followers since this UN tour has been quite incredible. There has been overwhelming support for his work. Thousands of people writing extensive comments reflecting on how the portraits capture what’s happening in the world. I’ve noticed a lot of heartfelt dialogue inspired by his work in the comments. Continue reading

Lost At Sea

From the Drifters Project by Pam Longobardi

From the Drifters Project by Pam Longobardi

The world’s oceans effect all life on earth and it’s no longer news that even the most pristine places on earth are impacted by our “toxic legacy,” as artist Pam Longobardi puts it. The project statement for her Drifters project is really worth reading. Here is an excerpt I found particularly poignant:

Plastic objects are the cultural archeology of our time.  These objects I see as a portrait of global late-capitalist consumer society, mirroring our desires, wishes, hubris and ingenuity.  These are objects with unintended consequences that become transformed as they leave the quotidian world and collide with nature to be transformed, transported and regurgitated out of the shifting oceans.  The ocean is communicating with us through the materials of our own making.  The plastic elements initially seem attractive and innocuous, like toys, some with an eerie familiarity and some totally alien.  At first, the plastic seems innocent and fun, but it is not.  It is dangerous.   We are remaking the world in plastic, in our own image, this toxic legacy, this surrogate, this imposter.

By doing this Drifters project, she has removed thousands of pounds of material that would be considered trash and then presenting it within a cultural context. Amie wrote a previous post about artists using ocean trash as materials for art. They too found themselves telling the story of global consumerism using plastic.   Continue reading

Seed Saving as a Safeguard for Biodiversity

logo

This is a seed savers network we are looking to collaborate with on our organic farm initiatives.

The recent post here about The New Yorker article on genetically modified seeds and Vandana Shiva helped me understand more about this era we are entering of biotechnology.

Regardless of whether or not it’s healthy to consume genetically modified foods, we are at risk of losing biodiversity and heirloom varieties. In support of protecting biodiversity, having heirloom varieties of plants in the La Paz Group gardens is important. Once the plants go to seed, we can save them to plant the following season.  Continue reading

Indian Independence Day at Spice Harbour

10355655_10201665725084704_4823049703076743324_oYesterday at Spice Harbour I got to participate for the first time in an Independence Day flag raising ceremony.

It’s a good time to tip our hats to history. On August 15, 1947, after centuries of British imperialism, India gained independence. I am no expert on the Indian Independence movement so I won’t speak to it too much, but I know there were many political organizations and philosophies behind it that were united by their desire to end British rule. Mohandas Gandhi’s nonviolent philosophy and civil disobedience is what led the final parts of the struggle for independence that prompted the eventual withdrawal of the British. Since we’re talking about colonial India, we can put Kerala and Spice Harbour into historical context. Continue reading

Monkey Business in Dehli

monkeys_delhi2_wide-d22a7520cf5334f80c91291f185119e7a44c6aad-s4-c85

New Dehli has tried numerous schemes to control its monkey population. Photo Credit: Sajjad Hussain

We’ve had our fair share of monkey business as a garden challenge in Cardamom County. In Dehli, they’re looking for ways to monkey proof their city.

Reporting monkey raids, Sharma says, residents complain that ” ‘they’ve just taken away my clothes,’ or … ‘they have opened the fridge’ … and ‘they’ve taken out the food.’ “

The monkeys have also been known to intimidate fruit vendors and get intoxicated on stolen whiskey. Sharma says when they fail to find food, they can raise a rumpus.

You can read more in depth at the original article here. Initially, there were people who were hired to train Langurs because they were able to frighten off the smaller Rhesus monkeys. That practice was recently banned due to animal rights concerns. Now, there are 40 men hired to mimic the calls of the Langurs to scare them away. Continue reading

Tea and Conversation

Credit: Ea Marzarte

As I wrote about in my last post, my current project is documenting the conservation story of RAXA Collective. Yesterday we were driving up to the Cardamom County property in Thekkady from Spice Harbor in Cochin. I’m used to the busy main “highway” but this time we took a different route. It was through Vagamon, which is this lush, green landscape with waterfalls and not many cars on the road. We drove through tea plantations. Driving through the tea plantations with all the greenery and fog kind of enchanted me into this quiet, contemplative space.

In order to document the conservation story, I have been asking Crist questions whenever we have time to sit down about the business model of projects they’ve worked on. While driving through the tea, we had plenty of time for this conversation.

The landscape and the conservation seemed to pull me within, pointing out the shape and feeling of an idea. I don’t know what it will end up being, but I can feel the progress and formation of something. This shape seems to be magnetizing key words and planting them like seeds. I am inspired by the idea of creating a business model that funds environmental and cultural conservation.  Continue reading

Documenting the Conservation Story

a8cbefa7f9b9970419b4595b3c5dbd49

This is a wall from the Spice Harbor property. A lot of the conservation story can be told in the design. The way they built this property is an example of historical/cultural conservation. The restaurant building was a “go down”, or waterfront warehouse, that used to store spices. They didn’t knock down the old building, they actually just built around it and framed pieces of the old wall to display it as art. This design concept has been passed on by word of mouth-taught to the workers here, but it hasn’t been documented yet.

I felt that this blog could better serve its purpose if the conservation story was told in one place. The stated purpose of the RAXA Collective site is to provide a space for people to learn about entrepreneurial conversation. It seems to me that highlighting the details of the property is less meaningful without context of the concept and history behind them.

The summarized version as stated in the RAXA Collective “About section” is to have a business whose profits are invested in conservation of natural and cultural patrimony. However, as I’ve been learning, the way this model manifests itself depends on the situation. Each story is pretty radically different than the next. So, we have a very general description (About section) and very specific descriptions (every day posts), but we don’t have the overall narrative of each property to show how “it depends” shows up differently in the field of entrepreneurial conservation.

I resonate with the initially stated goal in the About section about having this site provide a space for university students to learn about alternatives to mainstream occupations and career paths. As a university student myself, that is really what I am here as an intern to learn. I have been able to offer my skills and passions for organic agriculture and gain more practice in that field as an intern here. However, that is a skill I have picked up along my studies, which are driven by the bigger goals of conservation and environmental business models.

Continue reading