activism conservation travel

A drone, a few machetes, and a bit of rope.

Surveying the Land: by foot, by boat, and by air

… With our surveys, we watch the towns spread with octopus-like arms. We watch the expansion of the gridded plantations with their artificial lines and right angles – but we also get to glimpse the forests of Borneo as they were before.

When we’re lucky, having trudged in deep black water swamps, crawling along the streams that snake through the underbelly of the forest or flying with our drones near the clouds, we get to see a different view.

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travel

So you want to visit a dig – how to drop in on an archaeological excavation

So, let’s say you’re a history buff.

And that museums are cool, and all, but you’re more of an outdoorsy person. You like to see the splendor and size and the reality of sites and you get shivers thinking about standing on a path where others have stood, thousands of years before you – of touching the same wall, of looking through the same window. You probably like to touch things, if they don’t seem too fragile. (You probably have a thing for buildings and architecture, too, but you always hated math too much to take that path in school.)

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travel

All dressed up and nowhere to go… Parisian edition.

We got all dressed up for dinner – a dinner we were late for – at a place that wasn’t where we thought it was – that wasn’t where we were – that closed at a different time, anyway. The only holiday picture with all four members of my family in it… and aren’t we cute? I’m not sure what decade we think we’re in. We were staying in this house (in Paris – family friends) that had this formal sitting room. And we sort of just had to – the room made us! (Sit down and pose, that is.) Oh well. At least we got a picture?
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activism travel

Nepal as case study: demography & development

Nepal as case study: demography & development

Nepal is officially classified as a Least Developed Nation (142 of 177 on the UN’s Human Development Index). Over 90% of the population lives rurally with more than 30% under the poverty line . Nonetheless, the last 50 years have shown steady growth in most of the key markers used to gauge success and development – rate of infant mortality, life expectancy, and more. And yet, this hopeful improving “situation” was bad enough to turn the calls for political reform and ethnic conflict that began in the 90s into a full on civil war that killed at least 13,000 and displaced more than 100,000.

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personal essay travel

Mon frère habitera à Paris. Or, Expatriating with grace.

My brother has a "phobia" of looking like a foreigner. (He told me so himself.)

Now, I can almost understand. I hate looking like a tourist. I get self-conscious with my accent echoing in my own ears and all the wrong currencies falling out of my pockets.  I feel single-handedly responsible for over-turning all the stereotypes about loud Americans. I refuse to patronise international chains and I've been known to duck into a doorway to surreptitiously peer at the directions that I've discretely scrawled on my hand. I don't carry a guide-book in public. (Actually, I don't carry one at all.)

My brother takes "not standing out" to an entirely new level. He takes my simile and turns it into a metaphor. He is dignity and assimilation.

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travel

That time I almost died from typhoid fever in Tanzania…

“Do you believe in God?” She was earnest. She wielded a clipboard.

A grin skipped up beside. “Ca va?” He sounded young. A green mask covered half his face but I remember him grinning. From my back, on a bed, in a hallway, I replied automatically. “Comme ci, comme ca.

The doors opened. “It is time, Miss Tankard.”

Lights, white tile, stainless steel. I remember the windows. It hurt, so they found another vein. An older voice told me to picture a happy place – to imagine my family – and they counted, backwards.

The grin on the left waggled a vial. “Maziwa...”

I swam upwards to translate. “Milk?” Split second having managed it, before she came in from the right, put her face to my ear, and whispered through her mask.

“Believe, Miss Tankard, believe. He is real.”

And then I was out.

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travel

Sunflowers and stuffed animals.

I went back to Kikatiti. We found the kikaiti Happy Watoto Home.

I took my brother – three years younger than me, exactly the age I’d been when I went there three years ago – to find the orphanage. We just dropped in; none of the contact info that I had was still working. I’d seen the orphanage, or at least the gate and the building from the bus when I’d come up from Dar – between Chem Chem school and the sunflower fields – and at least it was still standing. It’s impossible to walk back in time, to think that things will hold still, the way that you remember them. I’d hope that it would be at least as well as I’d left it, had braced myself to find it gone or forgotten, delapidated and ruined. Instead, we found it better.

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travel

“No get-up stand-up for your rights, here in Zanzibar,”

“No get-up stand-up for your rights, here in Zanzibar,” said a tall dreadlocked man who invited himself to join us three days running at a habor-side restaurant that seemed to be the closest thing to a Reggae bar in Stonetown, and one of the few places that locals and tourists interacted outside of the salesman/customer, hunter/prey relatonship. We never learned the name of the restaurant; the man was called Rashid and wandered through the days seeminly stoned and the nights slightly drunk.

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travel

“… culture… is an ensemble of texts…

…which the anthropologist strains to read over the shoulders of those to whom they properly belong.” – Clifford Geertz

—-

I ate dinner last to the Muslim call to prayer, heard in surround, from the roof of the Pyramid Hotel. The calls came from three different mosques. They started on a slight delay, one after another; out-of-sync, nearly harmonizing. Ascents and vibratto wrapped around each other. The crackling bull-horn speakers turned the male voices into horns – deep trombones and lilting saxophones playing minor, off-key, beautifully. They grew in strength and more seemed to join in – there may have been more than three to start with, it’s hard to say; there seems to be a small neighborhood mosque on every third corner – until they washed out, receeding, drawing back to fade away. I missed the last notes, only realizing it was over when the dogs and laughing children returned to the foreground.

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travel

Oh yeah – I should be writing home!

I’ve been in Tanzania nearly a month now. It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long – that it’s been only that long.

I’m in Stonetown, on Zanzibar, which is gorgeous. It’s all of the white plastered walls and arches, heavy wooden lintels and ornately carved doors, winding mazes of unnamed streets that everyone promised. I took the ferry from Dar yesterday.

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travel

It was confusing, it was dirty, and it was absolutely wonderful.

The dig at Songo Mnara already feels like another lifetime, or another world.

It was amazing. The site was incredible, the island was gorgeous, the people were great. The sun was unbelievably strong, straight down on us, and if the wind wasn’t blowing sand and dirt straight into your eyes, it was only because you were downwind of the sieve and getting mouthfuls of it. The minute tonal difference between the types of soils, trying to identify them, to distinguish between them, was infuriating – almost painful – and hours spent looking for traces of decoration or finished edges on pottery fragments had me hallucinating bases.

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travel

Karibu sana, karibu. Just you not worry. Karibu.

Kawe seemed smaller and calmer than I remembered.

I don’t know if it changed or I did.

They tell me that Kawe has grown in people and expanded geographically, but everything seemed to have shrunk. I remembered an insane flurry of color stuck in a deep mud pit, straining to hold the people in – and we drove into a sedate, seemingly organized, relatively broad street that was as much dust as mud.

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daily life travel

Give the Pacific my love.

What’s it like, being from Los Angeles? It isn’t. You’ve always wanted to go? Of course you have.

Los Angeles exists only as rivers of head-lights and veins of brake-lights. Not a proper city, no center at all, nothing but a sprawl of strip-mall liquor stores and beach-front property twisted around freeway interchanges, highway overpasses, and motorway numerals. LA is movement, jerky traffic. Los Angeles is inhabited by cars driven by an enternally late, under-caffeinated, “Nearly-out-of-gas, lost-the-phone-number, forgot-the-directions, can-I-call-you-back?” simulacrum of a being that has been consumed by his or her vehicle’s need to be in constant motion. Snail-paced motion.

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travel

Trowels and tape; hangovers and side-streets.

I’ve always tried to keep my travelling mixed up – a party here, a home-stay cultural immersion there; volunteer placement and aimless wandering – but, as I’m faced with a trip a bit different than what I’ve done before, I’m beginning to wonder about how to mix – authoritatively, presumptively, intentionally – work and pleasure. It’s one thing to step out of the office and into your social circle; it’s one thing to take your spontaneous adventure and twist it back, folding and editing, into a story – or even a study – when you realize in retrospect that there are larger ramifications; its wonderful to have a private room or two that isn’t fodder for analysis and its shielding to be fortified within a uniform as you work; it’s entirely a different thing, a wonderful and lucky thing, to be have your “work” and your “passions” so intertwined as to be the same thing.

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travel

Home-come

I’ve uploaded several photo sets to Flickr. Abusively and un-repentantly Photoshopped to salvage them from overexposure and/or blurriness and to renew the saturation that I remembered seeing (feeling, even – Nepal was was this incredibly vibrant tangle of sensory perceptions; you saw the odors and felt the color).

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travel

… and now…

So I’m not at Danum anymore.

The second day there I started – and I swear I’m not making this stuff up and that I’m not a hypochondriac whatsoever – coughing up blood.

There’s some signs of ill health that you can easily brush aside as the cost of travel – an infrequent cough, a bit of extra fatigue, stomach cramps, headaches – and then there are some things, such as discovering that the phlegm coming up through your throat is an intense bright red color, that make you head for the nearest hospital and email your doctor.

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