Monthly Archives: March 2014

Storms and Bioluminescence in Fiji

The following update was sent by a student in our TERRA group who is teaching children in Fiji, and who, in a previous update, had mentioned unknowingly eating an endangered animal.

I’ve had a pretty interesting couple of days. A storm came through with high winds and rough surf, so the school boat was unable to take me home from the school in the afternoons. Generally, this would mean a long hike through the jungle to my village on the other side of the island. However, since I had a badly swollen and painful sore on my foot, I wasn’t really able to walk that far. I was able to sleep at the head-teacher’s house in the schoolyard for a night. Interestingly enough, the island’s rugby team was heading to a nearby island to perform a very traditional meke for a group of tourists. They invited me along, and I decided it would be a fun experience, so I jumped on the boat and we headed out towards the nearest island. When we got there, it turned out I was required to participate in the cultural presentation. Which was slightly awkward, since I don’t know anything about these dances, but the tourists seemed amused. What followed was really magical, though. Ocean-dwelling algae bioluminesce when agitated. When the sun had set, and we were heading back towards the island, in the pitch-black of the night, I was surrounded by lights. The galaxy shone in the sky, the algae shone a ghostly pale gold in the wake of the boat, and the young men’s cigarettes glowed red in darkness. It was amazing to witness.

Afterwards, we went and played cards and chatted at Teacher M’s house. They still hold fond memories of some of the gap-year programs that have passed through here in recent years. It’s unfortunate that they are themselves burying the interesting aspects of their traditional culture in the name of preserving their ways of life. The Christian priests and chiefs have recently placed a ban on fire-walking. They say it is a form of witchcraft and have forbidden anyone from practicing it. In the whole of Fiji, it was unique to this island. It is sad to me how superstitious the people are here. Too often, they work against their own best interests. I’m planning a hike to the top of the island, there is a huge rock formation that’s just calling my name… I’m thinking maybe this upcoming week or the next. I’ve been scouting it out and there is a trail, albeit a poorly marked one, since it sees little use. I can’t wait to see what the island looks like from up there. Oh, and for those who expressed interest, I ate an endangered species of sea turtle.

With children on Holi

The most recent update from our LEAPYEAR2 group, who are in India right now working with an organization dedicated to helping children of the red light district. For more posts and pictures, check out their blog.

LEAPYEAR2 HoliIts been a long time since you’ve heard from us and we’ve been busy little bees. When I last left you we were preparing for Holi and for our visit out to Jakhanian.

I have been wanting to play Holi since I first heard about the festival years ago, and I was disappointed to hear that it could be too dangerous for us to play in the streets. Luckily though, we got the chance to play Holi a few days prior with the Guria center children.

Although getting ourselves clean was a mighty task, there was no downtime to be had. We were up the next morning at three thirty so we could get to the train station in time to catch our train to the village. Its interesting being out so early in the morning. The streets that are usually bustling with cars, auto-rickshaws, bicycles, cows, pedestrians, and people hawking goods are empty, and it seems more than a little surreal to be able to speak without the noise of the city trying to drown me out.

We made it to Jakhanian without incident, although as foreigners on a train going somewhere foreigners never go, without incident basically means the stares and invasive questions were tolerable. Being in a village that has seen foreigners maybe a handful of times, and never a group this large, was eye opening. We got to see the real India, and they were plenty interested in us too. I won’t ramble on about this, suffice it to say that none of us had ever experienced more baffled, confused, and scarily intense curious stares than in Jakhanian.

We spent three days and two nights in the village. Each day we struggled to reclaim the goat bank from mother nature. We created a raised path that will serve the keepers well when the floods come, cleared away all the brush that the snakes like to hide in, painted the wall of the enclosure, assisted masons in creating food troughs, not to mention being very brave as we encountered many a poisonous snake and called our local guides over to come help us.

Perhaps the most memorable experience for me, however, was the cultural program that Ajeet set up for us on our second evening. He arranged for some traditional singers and dancers to come perform for us. It was a great privilege because this was not the traditional art that we might see in any international cultural program, but rather the dying art of the Indian washermen. It was incredible to hear their voices, and unique instruments, and watch the way they twirled and shook their hips. We could not understand what they were saying, but there were clearly great stories involved with each dance. I feel so honored to have seen this, and treasure the chance to see the age old art of men playing both male and female roles.

If that wasn’t enough, we had another cultural experience in store for us that evening. I have been intrigued with the way it seems like everywhere I go in India people are drying cakes and loaves of cow dung. After inquiring I discovered that people cook their food over or in the dung. And that night was my night to not only see how it was done, but help out and taste. I was a little nervous to bite into a small bread bake directly in the cow dung, but I need not have worried, it was delicious and our health was none the worse for wear.

Life since returning from the village has been blessedly uneventful. We spent a couple days inside while the Holi celebrations happened and then we’ve slowly worked our way back into meetings and working on the murals once again. Stay tuned for mural updates very soon.

Farming in India

An update sent in by a member of our TERRA group, who is working on an organic farm in Uttarakhand, India.

Farm in IndiaHey all! Sorry for the late check in, things have been super busy on the farm lately. So many things to experience and enjoy! The beautiful goddess who created the farm that I am working at came for a weekend workshop on eco feminism. Her name is Vandana Shiva and she is AMAZING. She has so many fascinating perspectives on GMOs, globalization, seed sovereignty, organic farming, and much much more. She is such a charismatic force, it was truly a pleasure to experience her workshop. So many people from all walks of life are attracted to this farm and constantly cycling through, I have met such an incredibly diverse group of amazing people! I love it here so much, I have definitely found my groove. I seem to be pushing my perspectives, learning new things, and laughing all of the time. My farmer’s tan is coming along quite nicely, I must add.

Although I am very happy, I also am slowly learning more and more about the issues that are affecting the environment. It breaks my heart…. sometimes I get overwhelmed and feel like it is hopeless and there is no point in me even trying to make a difference in things. However, instead of getting depressed by all of the information about the issues I am learning of, I try to focus instead on all of the amazing people around me who are so passionate about making a positive impact on the Earth. I focus on the beautiful forest behind the farm and the perfect Himalayas I can see when I step outside of my dorm. I try to take comfort in the fact that there are movements like this organic farm who are truly trying to make a difference in this world. The small things matter.

Remember to give thanks to Mother Earth for generously providing us with all of the resources for our lives! We live on such an incredible planet.

Developing “Primitive Skills” in Maine

This update was sent in by a member of our TERRA group who is studying naturalist and survivalist skills in Maine and New Hampshire, and working at a Hawk sanctuary in Pennsylvania.

Hey everyone!

Turkey Vulture in Flight Snow 28 (North Lookout)Snowing like crazy up here in Maine! I have been having an absolute blast. I think the ‘verse is telling me something along the lines of “you didn’t go out of the country, so we’ll bring everything to you.” In the past couple of weeks there have been some crazy things happening! I’m at the primitive skills school right now. While here, I’ve done a solid amount of volunteer work (including cleaning out the composting toilet system), to earn my keep. Where I am is heated only by a wood stove, but is still quite cozy. While here, I took a yoga and earth philosophy class and how yoga applies to “scout skills”.

There have also been a crazy amount of cool people coming through unexpectedly. One of the students of this school was on the tv show Naked and Afraid, and she came back to tell her stories of how the show works, which was pretty interesting. There was also, and this is one of the cooler bits, a delegate from the UN came all the way up here from New York. He is a member of the Ogiek tribe from east Africa, a semi nomadic tribe that follows the honey bees through the forests. He wants to set up an exchange program here so that some of his people can come and learn primitive skills from this part of the world, and some of us can go and learn primitive skills with the Ogiek.

Most recently, a very cool and well respected old bowyer(bow maker) is here right now, and helping me make a bow, which I’m going to bring with me to maacama by fourth retreat if it’s finished. I’ve spent a good deal of time tracking, and have learned so much.
Oh! I’ve also been trying my hand at throwing tomahawks!

The school also got a turkey and a grey fox that had both been hit by cars. I get to keep the wings of the turkey, and the feet, skull, and bones of the grey fox. Nothing like some road kill turkey stew!

On Saturday I start at hawk mountain sanctuary, jumping right into conservation research. Some of my fellow trainees will be from several different countries, a few of them are from somewhere In Africa, though I’m not sure where.