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Tuesday
Jul222014

RENÉ QUIROZ: Chasing Stars, a Microadventure

On a saturday morning, my best friend Leo, my “compadre” Jaime, my “comadre” Carmen and their 3 kids: Jaimito, Julieta, Paquito and me, set off on a trip to my comadre's hometown, a big ranch outside a little town called San Francisco Ixtacamaxtitlán.

Here the sky is so clean and blue, that it promised us a dark sky full of stars to shoot, 3 hrs away from Puebla city we went, 7 people squeezed into my old and cool green cherokee.

On arrival to such a secluded place full of big trees and seriously huge nopales you can´t help feeling the freedom of it all and the excitement of the stories to come.

And while the little ones had been there a lot of times before, this time they shared with us the adventure mode, and while they explored upriver for the perfect place to sleep, they knew it was going to be different this time.

Here the land is covered with stories of the hands that made garlic, corn, or fresh eggs possible.

Stories of people living from and for the land and it`s hard not to feel humble as you see the extraordinary work performed by this family who had lived there forever and whose life has been measure by the seed, the rain and the crops year after year.

Learning how to distinguish a male garlic from a female one, meeting a hen who made a bucket her home, herding goats with a drone, all of this made for a whole afternoon of exchanges: of experience, knowledge and of different ways of seen the world, from the experienced eyes of a seasoned grandfather to the eyes of 5 year old Paquito who never minded the darkness and whenever he fell down, he would only say: -Hulk injured- and move on.

And with the night came dinner and came a coffee different from everything before, this coffee had the acidity of the chill clean air biting against our faces, the sweetness of the people that you care about, following you into your crazy stunts, the aroma of the trees above our heads and the body of our own first microadventure.

We got the unexpected visit of grandma Felix who shared her stories by the fire with the promise to stay -as long as her bones allowed her-, she said.

After looking for enough branches for the fire, we set up for what would be the kids first night with the sky as their roof…

The sunrise found us staring at the retreating mist, revealing the hills that had watched us sleep. And with morning came a walk surrounded by the first light, that makes everything look different. From this light I believe, we should charge our batteries as often as possible, is the light of possibilities, the light that promises you that the day will be as good as you'll let it be.

To walk in a different terrain, breathe a different air, lie beneath different shadows and find animals that you would never see in the city, from a truly awesome stick insect to a close encounter with a quite friendly frog.

Over the mountain we went and this was a quest, for we were sent there to see the complete Ixtacamaxtitlán valley, flying the drone allowing Mister Odilón to see his whole land in a single frame.

Seeing the landscape stretch beyond your sight, full of different shades of green, that’s when you know it. Making that photo is worth every step.

And don’t think that I forgot to mention, that night there were no stars above us…

 

RENÉ QUIROZ

instagram.com/renepq

Born in a small town that filled his veins with coffee and awesome stories, René is now a photography teacher that tastes, lives, and photographs his extraordinary surrealist México.

 

Tuesday
Jul152014

CLARA KERWIN: Video Volunteers Fundraiser

On June 18, 2014, I had the opportunity to attend a fundraising event for Video Volunteers in New York City, which had nearly 200 guests and raised $19,000.  The fundraiser included mingling time with some of New York's finest, delicious food and beverages, a killer view of NYC, and of course, a video presentation. By talking with such diverse and interesting affiliates, I was moved and inspired.  Their stories reminded me that passionate individuals do have the capacity to fuel life-altering improvements for entire communities.

In many underdeveloped regions of the world, there is a lack of information sharing.  This means that countless newsworthy stories are left untold and the serious problems in local communities become shrouded by national and international headlines.  Fortunately, modern technology has permitted individual actors to enter the realm of global media—all they need is the skills to get started.  Video Volunteers (VV) is working to solve this news deficiency by empowering local men and women in the poorest parts of the world to spread the word for themselves.

VV was founded in 2003 by Jessica Mayberry, who was inspired by her experiences teaching filmmaking to rural Indian women while working with the American India Foundation.  Her organization quickly took off and has grown to include hundreds of volunteers working around the world.  The core model consists of an international team of partners who go into underrepresented areas and teach video journalism skills to individuals who live there.  These men and women then have the capacity to report the untold stories around them, thereby taking it upon themselves to rectify the injustices around them. 

The success of VV’s efforts can be seen most clearly in India, where the organization’s first community news service, IndiaUnheard, took root.  The first step was to train a set of Community Producers—marginalized individuals who have the potential to make a difference through video journalism.  This group consists of a diverse assortment of Indian villagers including teachers, artists, diamond polishers, rickshaw drivers, and housewives.  Community Producers also represent many demographics including dalits, Muslims, tribal groups and Hindus.  Once trained, these Community Producers regularly produce footage and content that is aired on public media channels and online.

The work that VV supports in India has provided an authentic look into the real world of Indian society.  Issues discussed on IndiaUnheard videos include the caste system, education failures, gender inequalities, and identity conflicts.  Because lower classes in India have typically been excluded from the media’s focus and from national politics, VV has provided a crucial platform for the two-way conversation that needs to take place between India’s impoverished communities and its government.  Since its founding, IndiaUnheard has grown to include more than 200 Community Correspondents who live in 27 Indian states.

            Check out more of VV’s impressive statistics!  In the last year . . .

  • ·      More than 700 story ideas were pitched
  • ·      550 stories were produced (128 of which helped to solve the problem addressed)
  • ·      100 new Community Correspondents were trained, 67 of whom are women
  • ·      Some 50,000 people were directly impacted
  • ·      VV engaged with 125 different civil society groups

Follow Video Volunteers on Twitter at @videovolunteers.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF VIDEO VOLUNTEERS.

 

CLARA KERWIN

@clarakerwin

Clara is a Politics major at Princeton University focusing on international relations and global health.  She is originally from Ashland, Oregon but loves traveling whenever she can.  Clara is currently the FIND YOUR MISSION intern for MISSION.tv.

 

Tuesday
Jul012014

ROXANNE KRYSTALLI: Complicated Attachments to Colombia

rainbow in the mist above the mountains near ChoachíIn a piece on Guernica titled “The Answer is Colombia,” Nina Martyris reflected on the re-imagined branding of Colombian tourism. In the past five years, the public relations machine of the country has sought to acknowledge the conflict-ridden past while also showcasing the promising present and future. “The answer is Colombia,” proclaimed one campaign. “Colombia: the only risk is wanting to stay,” argued another. “Colombia is passion,” said simply a third. Part of what makes these campaigns so successful is that they reflect the sentiments many of us have developed shortly after setting foot in the country. Simply put, the slogans speak to Colombia’s ability to inspire attachment, as well as create that sense of yearning after you leave.

Yet, much like all nostalgia, the slogan remembers half-truths. On the one hand, the Colombia of 2014 has taken successive steps away from the Colombia that would scare your parents if you mentioned you were heading there. In the minds of many, the image that sticks is the Colombia of Pablo Escobar, the guerilla, the paramilitaries. It is the Colombia of drugs and bombs. And if one narrow association is not sufficient, then there is the Colombia of coffee and salsa—and much as the addition of these two Colombian excellencies yields magic, it feels unfair to reduce a country to the sum of a product and a dance.

The chontaduro, a sweet and salty fruit to sample in Cali, ColombiaAnyone I have met who loves Colombia—and, believe me, it is a growing, passionate crowd—feels compelled to become an ambassador for the country. We all feel an inarticulable calling to shout Colombia’s beauty from rooftops. We see arepas and limonadas de coco on the global food map, right next to obleas and ajiaco. We get nostalgic at the thought of vallenato music bellowing from a neighbor’s apartment or a taxi on a Sunday afternoon. We cherish the hugs that flow abundantly. When people ask me how Colombia has come to earn such a special place in my heart, I respond that it is an affectionate country, from its language to its people.

And yet … wanting to stay is not the only risk. As a researcher and humanitarian practitioner, much of my work focuses on violence and its many insidious typologies. Through this work, I have encountered individuals whose very life of human rights advocacy in Colombia is a risk. A recent headline proclaims that the “first half of 2013 was the worst period on Colombia’s record for human rights defenders.” The article then proceeds to list the threats, from murder to forced disappearance to kidnapping to property theft, that human rights defenders face. These threats are often in retribution for activism, messages of exemplification to other members of the community not to disrupt the power dynamic or expose the injustice of institutions, formal or informal. Contrary to what the tourism slogan would tell you, wanting to stay is not the risk—staying itself is, for some of Colombia’s own citizens.

Chasing birds in Bogotá’s Plaza BolivarMy Colombias unfold alongside each other, inspiring a dizzying disorientation: My Colombia of rolling hills and hugs and exuberant music and warm-tinted memories exists alongside the Colombia of threats against human rights defenders, fear of surveillance and intimidation, and frustratingly slow searches for justice. And those Colombias—my Colombias—‘suffer’ from yet another type of bias: that of the foreign eyes, the foreign eyes of an optimist.

There are limits to the experiences to which these eyes can bear witness, to the glass ceilings this optimist can feel in this context—just as there likely are layers of beauty here that also remain inaccessible to me, given the biases and identities I carry.

As a foreign researcher and humanitarian practitioner, the concepts of risk, protection, and vulnerability are fluid and ever-shifting, but they almost certainly have different implications for me than for the participants in my research or the affected populations humanitarian practitioners seek to serve. And each of these factors is underpinned by an oft-unacknowledged privilege: that of the return ticket. If the only risk were wanting to stay, I could choose to succumb to Colombia’s charms—or I could choose to leave, in ways that many of those whose lives are not captured by the tourism slogans cannot or would not.

I love Colombia. Like all loves, this one can almost not be helped: I cannot help but love Colombia. And like all loves, something in it dies when you add a qualifier to it. Every time I meet a Colombian abroad, I feel compelled to profess my love for his or her country. And then the next sentence out of my mouth almost always hastens to add a caveat to my love, a caveat that shows that I am not blind to the injustice.

Graffiti is everpresent in Colombia, often tinged with political commentary about capitalism, corruption, the armed conflict, or the drug warThis is a conflicted love: My work and research have shown me a Colombia often uncaptured—deliberately so—by the tourist campaigns, and being aware of its textures, I cannot love the romanticized idea of Colombia in the same way again. It feels irresponsible to. Is it ever appropriate to love a place for its affection and vivacity when you become keenly aware of the ways it also embodies the antithesis of these traits? In a way, aren’t “Colombia es pasión” or “Colombia es amor” single narratives too, like “Colombia = conflict and drugs,” except bathed in positivity instead of fear?

The affection I so strongly associate with Colombia emanates from its people. If my love for Colombia the place is conflicted, my love for Colombians is not. “Surely you can’t love all Colombians,” joked a colleague.

“What about the paramilitaries? The traffickers? The people who disappear other people? You can’t love them too.” He was right. But let me tell you about the Colombians I do love, in all the ways that are free of qualifiers.

In my memory, Cartagena is bathed in a warm yellow glowI admire the resilience and ceaseless commitment of the human rights defenders whose work I have been privileged to witness. As they constantly remind me, this is not a job—it is a life they have chosen, or—in their words—a life that chose them. A life they cannot help but live. I am humbled by the ability of the Colombians I have come to know to allow hope to defeat cynicism on some days, on the best of days.

When I try to reconcile the contradictions in my head, I watch them do it: I watch them dance and hug and lead affectionate lives. But most of all, I am humbled by the way they embrace the texture of their country, the ways in which beauty and injustice and hope and suffering can be layered on top of each other.

It would be convenient if our attachments were wholly benign, if we could find ourselves drawn to unimpeachable places. It would be further convenient if all our loves were fully explicable or consistent. What the Colombians in my life have taught me is to critique with an eye towards rebuilding, to be an uncynical activist. And, most of all, to love with nuance.

THIS ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON THE MAPTIA BLOG.

 

ROXANNE KRYSTALLI

@rkrystalli

Roxanne is a researcher and practitioner at the intersection of gender & armed conflict and an atrocities scholar and is interested in trauma and memory. She is a believer in power of narratives, which she gave a TEDx Talk on, and is intrigued by questions of memory and forgetting, attachment and loss, home and away.

 

Wednesday
Jun252014

ALASTAIR HUMPHREYS: Making Time for Microadventures

I hear from people who yearn for adventure but do not have the time or freedom to go and walk across a desert. That’s where microadventures come in.

This one is tiny, even by the standard of microadventures. Indeed, you could be forgiven for thinking that I planned to do nothing more than go for an evening stroll. And you’d be right—this post is about nothing more than that. Except for this point: that I actually went and did it.

There is no point in lamenting a lack of time for big adventures if you don’t even make time for heading out one evening and exploring close to home by the light of the full moon. If you want to start incorporating microdventures into your life you need to change your perspective. You need to begin seeking out wildness and adventure close to home, even in seemingly familiar and humdrum places.

A great way to help this mind shift is by returning to somewhere you know very well, but this time at night. A full moon casts enough light to walk by and is a beautiful time to explore. I find it sad how out-of-touch we can get with the natural world, particularly for those of us who live in towns and cities. Dates like the solstices and the equinoxes, as well as the monthly full moon, help prod me to pay more attention to the ebb and flow of the seasons.

The harvest full moon always rises shortly after sunset. And it rises shortly after sunset every day for a few days afterwards. This means that if you set out on an early evening walk or cycle you can enjoy watching the moon rise. It is much more eye-catching when it is close to the horizon. You don’t need to begin ambitiously when heading out after dark. In fact, the simpler you keep it, the more likely you are to actually do it. I decided to try something extremely simple for this little microadventure.

I would follow a railway line out of town. I’d use the railway line to guide me as I weaved my way across the countryside. I’d catch the last train home from a village station sometime around midnight. I wanted to begin in a town in order to show myself just how different the open countryside feels at night compared to a town. Streetlights really suck the natural world from towns.

But even in the town, I still felt myself paying more attention to things than I would during daylight. Other senses come to the fore. I felt the warmth radiating from the engine of a recently parked car. A man passed, walking a dog, and I noticed the smell of his shampoo. Across the road I saw the glow of a cigarette and a mobile phone. I heard a toilet flushing and the distant low hum of the motorway. I smelled someone cooking dinner and then a train rushed past along the track I was trying to follow. I listened to its sound receding and then followed along in its wake.

I was taking photographs along the way, and at night this takes a long time as you have to use a tripod and a long exposure. But I enjoyed how much this slowed my progress. Whenever I decided to take a picture I had to frame it then stand around for 30 seconds waiting for the exposure to finish. A woman watched me from outside a pub. I didn’t notice her until she called out “Happy photography!” She had left her friends inside, stepped out for a cigarette, was enjoying the moon. I smiled back, “Happy smoking!”

The edge of town was particularly distinct in the darkness. The houses and the street lights ended. And in front of me was the blackness of an empty field. Clouds zipped quickly across the fat round moon which was by now about two hands’ breadths above the horizon.

I stepped into the dark field, crossing the boundary. I didn’t have a torch. The point of this walk was to embrace the night and enjoy the moonlight. I didn’t want an artificial torch. It took me a few moments to adjust to the darkness and the stillness. But as I walked along the margins of the ploughed field my eyes adjusted. Planes circled in the sky, sweeping slowly across the constellations.

The sky was lighter than the land, the trees at the edge of my field jutted, silhouetted, up into the orangey suburban sky.

If I stood and stared at the moon for long enough I could actually see it moving, creeping up higher in the sky. I heard insects chirping in the verges. And I caught a glimpse of a rabbit sprinting by. What really surprised me though, was that I could hear the rabbit’s rapid footsteps. I have never noticed that before.

Field after field I enjoyed the stillness more and more. I pledged to repeat this experience more often. It was a perfect antidote to my desk-bound day, blowing fresh air through my mind and flushing it all clean and fresh once more. It was a warm, breezy evening and I relished striding through the fields, crossing occasional roads and walking, unseen, past homes and farms.

I had ear-marked a station about 20 miles away from where I intended to catch the train home again. But I realised that I had been moving so slowly that I would never get that far. Taking photographs, and just standing and staring had taken up so much time.

Deliberate ambling is very unfamiliar to me but I was really enjoying it. At the next station I decided to call it a night and go home. I was amazed at how quick the return train journey was. I had walked such a miniscule distance!

It had been a really relaxing, enlightening way of getting a new perspective on a landscape whose over-familiarity often bores me. I strongly recommend you try it.

THIS ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON THE MAPTIA BLOG.

 

ALASTAIR HUMPHREYS

@al_humphreys

http://www.alastairhumphreys.com

Alastair Humphreys is a British adventurer, author and blogger. He spent over 4 years cycling round the world, a journey of 46,000 miles through 60 countries and 5 continents. Alastair has written six books. He was named as one of National Geographic’s Adventurers of the year for 2012.

Tuesday
Jun242014

MEGAN SKINNER: My Non-Conventional Cambodian Christmas

The route

Megan participated in the 2013 PEPY Ride by PEPY Tours. They biked through Cambodia, from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh.

Christmas for me normally consists of the following things: flying home to good old England, walking through the door, receiving a suffocating hug from my parents (suffocating is, of course, meant in the most affectionate way possible) and then eating. The eating generally doesn’t ever stop, just ebbs and flows like the tide. So when Christmas 2013 rolled around and I found myself facing a 1000km bike ride across Cambodia -- and a whole lot of rice -- needless to say I was ever so slightly nervous.

Maybe you’re wondering what on earth drove me to forego the usual food-based festivities in favour of risking a month of inevitable, interminable muscle pain. The honest answer is adventure. I wanted to see something new. To smell something new. To taste something new. But when I signed up for the PEPY Ride XI, I never imagined that, above all of the things I just mentioned, I would feel something new. And that something, whatever it was, has more or less changed the way I look at the world and all the funny, strange, sad, glorious, confusing and downright brilliant things in it.

Megan's group in actionA 1000km bike ride is in itself one such downright brilliant thing: getting up before the crack of dawn, hopping on the bike and watching the world wake up is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s like looking at hundreds of different photos for less than a second at a time-the split second you whizz past someone, you get this teeny, tiny snapshot of their life and it’s pretty amazing. Sometimes it’d be a gaggle of kids messing around on the way to school, sometimes an older chap watching us with great bemusement as we blitzed past him, waving and grinning like lunatics, or maybe a group of men herding ducks into a roadside stream (yes, you read that right-duck herding).

Whoever it was, one thing is for sure: Cambodians like to say hello to people on bikes. Every day, and I really mean every day, as we were cycling merrily along, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, a couple of kids would suddenly come racing out of thin air and ambush us, screaming 'hellohellohellohellohellohello'. This would start a kind of chain reaction and the next half hour would pass in a frenzy of shouting and waving, which is quite dangerous on a road full of pot holes. 

Megan's groupBut pot holes aside, travelling through a country by bike is a very unique experience. Of course, there were times when I debated whether or not it was possible for just my rear end to die, independently from the rest of my body, such was the level of numbness, but there is really no comparison to the feeling of freedom you get from cycling. We saw corners of Cambodia that are more than a world away from our normal lives, corners where the tourist buses can’t get to, or the hoards of backpackers that come with them. Nothing against backpackers, but sometimes it’s nice to escape the masses.

Ok, a three week bike ride is indeed a rather incredible feat, but really a life-changing experience? I can almost smell your scepticism! But it really was. Not in the ‘I’m going to sell all my worldly possessions and wander the world, touching the lives of everyone I meet’ kind of way; it was quieter than that. It wasn’t so aggressively do-goody. It just kind of made me want to smile more. I don’t know about other people, but I am definitely guilty of letting the little things stress me out too much in my ‘normal’ life.

Sunrise in AngkorSpending three weeks in one of the poorest nations in South East Asia, with its unfathomably devastating recent history, certainly shook me up and made me realise that I have it pretty good. All the daft little problems which I worry about suddenly weren’t problems anymore. What’s the use in using all that energy on something that, in all likeliness, won’t change, no matter how much you kick and scream and tear your hair out? Cambodia is a country on the mend, or at least that’s the impression I had, and sometimes it was all to easy to forget that behind the smiles, many people have seen more ugliness and pain than you or me could ever imagine. Yet despite the horrors this country has lived through, it seems to radiate an energy and spirit like no other place I’ve ever visited.

I think it’s easy to become disillusioned with the world: you watch the news and you feel a bit hopeless because really, how on earth can you help? To be honest, I don’t know the answer to that question. But Cambodia gave me hope for, well, hope. I know that sounds horrendously schmalzy, but I can’t describe it in any other way. Seeing all these incredibly cool and inspiring projects, only someone with a heart of stone could refuse to be touched by the optimism. There’s always going to be good and bad in the world, for sure, but now my eyes and heart are more open to the good stuff.

Find out more about how you can participate in a PEPY Ride here!

 

MEGAN SKINNER

Meg is earning her keep as a freelance English teacher, translator and interpreter in the tropical climes of Northern Germany. As exciting as the world of patent translations is, her mind often wanders to adventures in more exotic locations. Or food. Or both.