16 Oct 2013 Leave a Comment
I recently returned from the Budapest Water Summit, held from October 8-11 in the magnificent capital city of Hungary.
The Budapest Statement can be found here: http://www.budapestwatersummit.hu/data/images/Budapest_Water_Summit_Statement___Final___11_October_2013.pdf
I hope to post more soon!
16 Sep 2013 Leave a Comment
A fogged hill-scene on an enormous continent,
intimacy rigged with terrors,
a sequence of blurs the Chinese painter’s ink-stick planned,
a scene of desolation comforted
by two human figures recklessly exposed,
leaning together in a sticklike boat
in the foreground. Maybe we look like this,
I don’t know. I’m wondering
whether we even have what we think we have–
lighted windows signifying shelter,
a film of domesticity
over fragile roofs. I know I’m partly somewhere else–
huts strung across a drought-stretched land
not mine, dried breasts, mine and not mine, a mother
watching my children shrink with hunger.
I live in my Western skin,
my Western vision, torn
and flung to what I can’t control or even fathom.
Quantify suffering, you could rule the world.
They *can* rule the world while they can persuade us
our pain belongs in some order.
Is death by famine worse than death by suicide,
than a life of famine and suicide, if a black lesbian dies,
if a white prostitute dies, if a woman genius
starves herself to feed others,
self-hatred battening on her body?
Something that kills us or leaves us half-alive
is raging under the name of an “act of god”
in Chad, in Niger, in teh Upper Volta–
yes, that male god that acts on us and on our children,
that male State that acts on us and on our children
till our brains are blunted by malnutritiou,
yet sharpened by the passion for survival,
our powers expended daily on the struggle
to hand a kind of life on to our children,
to change reality for our lovers
even in a single trembling drop of water.
We can look at each other through both our lifetimes
like those two figures in the sticklike boat
flung together in the Chinese ink-scene;
even our intimacies are rigged with terror.
Quantify suffering? My guilt at least is open,
I stand convicted by all my convictions–
you, too. We shrink from touching
our power, we shrink away, we starve ourselves
and each other, we’re scared shitless
of what it could be to take and use our love,
hose it on a city, on a world,
to wield and guide its spray, destroying
poisons, parasites, rats, viruses–
like the terrible mothers we long and dread to be.
The decision to feed the world
is the real decision. No revolution
has chosen it. For that choice requires
that women shall be free.
I choke on the taste of bread in North America
but the taste of hunger in North America
is poisoning me. Yes, I’m alive to write these words,
to leaf through Kollwitz’s women
huddling the stricken children into their stricken arms
the “mothers” drained of milk, the “survivors” driven
to self-abortion, self-starvation, to a vision
bitter, concrete, and wordless.
I’m alive to want more than life,
want it for others starving and unborn,
to name the deprivations boring
into my will, my affections, into the brains
of daughters, sisters, lovers caught in the crossfire
of terrorists of the mind.
In the black mirror of the subway window
hangs my own face, hollow with anger and desire.
Swathed in exhaustion, on the trampled newsprint,
a woman shields a dead child from the camera.
The passion to be inscribes her body.
Until we find each other, we are alone.
09 Sep 2013 Leave a Comment
*some initial ideas
All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players/ They have their exits and their entrances,/ And one man in his time plays many parts…
The use of metaphor was never employed in my environmental science classes at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo from where I transferred to UC Berkeley two years ago. Then I enrolled in Professor Ananya Roy’s GPP 115: Challenges and Hopes in the New Millennium course for my first semester at Cal. One recurring metaphor was that of “actors” in development. The World Bank was an actor, the United Nations was an actor, we as students and global citizens engaging in poverty action were actors, and all the world our stage. But it always bothered me, the way we talked about actors on a stage, as if we are all operating in an equally visible and consequential space.
The utility of the metaphor of actors on a stage is lost unless it is pushed and questioned beyond the superficial. What about the set designers, the directors, the screen play writers? The use of unquestioned metaphors and how they shape our understanding of issues often does not consider the cultural work of ideas through language, symbols, and images. In the same way we question experts, let us question the language and terms of development and academia. The actor/stage metaphor must go beyond where ‘actors’ are physically located, and also consider their roles, motives, and histories.
Until recently, characterizing something as the “marriage” of two things had heteronormative legal undertones. A seminal work – versus “ovarian insights” or a “germinal figure” – is sexualized and gendered. How these words shape our intellectual formation often goes unquestioned. Rather than assuming fixed positions, there is a major continuum for which to understand the sliding scales of global geopolitical and economic power. Our metaphors should be called into question.
01 Aug 2013 1 Comment
There are no words to fully explain the complexity of doing fieldwork – not just logistically, but the ethical, moral, geopolitical, personal, financial, theoretical, linguistic, and every other kind of challenge imaginable.
And, then there are those logistic challenges. Those damned logistic challenges.
In this case, I refer to the water treatment systems (called “Mesitas Azules”) that I built with the Fundación Cántaro Azul team before shipping them to Cochabamba the day before I left Chiapas. Because we knew to expect that something would go wrong (although we never could have expected it to this level), we took 3 of the systems with us in a box on the plane(s) to Bolivia, and packed up 9 to FedEx to Cochabamba. Five day shipping, $800, extra tape and caution signs. What could possibly go wrong?
Well. The systems could be 2 kilos over the 40 kilo limit arbitrarily imposted by customs in La Paz, for starters.
After a week of pleading, negotiating, demanding, begging, considering bribing, and shaking my fist at the sky, the systems were “released” from customs and arrived at the Water for People-Bolivia office. The result?
21 Jul 2013 Leave a Comment
As part of my work with Fundación Cántaro Azul, a Mexico based non-profit that works to improve community health through access to clean water, I am striving to better understand the cultural and social history of Chiapas.
On Monday, the Safe Water team had the opportunity to meet with Rosie, a woman who works with Save the Children Fund…
16 Jul 2013 Leave a Comment
This post incorporates text from “The Meaning of Water” to better contextualize the Tsotsil language and language used to describe water in San Juan Chamula.
This past Thursday marked my sixth week in Latin America as I dedicate my summer time to developing safe water access, social justice, and education programs in Mexico and Bolivia. Returning to work in communities familiar to me in Chiapas and Cochabamba brings constant pangs of insecurity; my education at UC Berkeley has taught me to become more self-reflective about considering my role as an foreigner working abroad, where I arguably have less accountability than I would working in my hometown. Every time I engage in research or work away from home, I remain conflicted about my privileged position here as an advocate, academic, and public service leader. However, the lessons I gain here, including cross-cultural communication, community building, and developing solidarity in the context of inequality, are invaluable. I will bring these lessons home with me, where there is no shortage of water and social justice issues that I care deeply about: hydraulic fracturing, failing hydro-infrastructure, nitrate contamination in the farming communities of the Central Valley of California, and destruction of rivers, wetlands, and oceans.
One thing I have learned here is that feeling like an outsider doesn’t always mean leaving your country, but sometimes just leaving your community. While in Chiapas I worked with an anthropologist, Antolín, who studies culture and water issues and is originally from the Tsotsil speaking rural community of San Juan Chamula, a bumpy 30 minute drive in the hills away from the city of San Cristobal. A beautiful distinction in the Tsotsil language that we learned from Antonio is that of ya’al and ya’lel. He explained that ya’al is water “in the well” – water that exists as a gift from nature or rain. This is the water you collect, use to drink, to clean your home, to wash your children and yourself. This is the water that flows through rivers, now contaminated with pesticides introduced by multi-national agriculture corporations. Ya’lel is “not your water” as Antolín described it – it is water that is embodied in you, in the green veins of plants, in your blood, your sweat, your sweet salty tears. However, I was interested to find that this is largely an academic distinction that Antolín learned while in college, a level of educational attainment that most of his fellow community members will not experience. He explained that he feels like an outcast when he returns to San Juan Chamula after his studies in the city, coming back with an outsider’s academic perspective on cultural practices around diagnosing and treating illness, since water is not understood to be a vector for sickness.
Reading recent policy documents by non-governmental organizations, non-profits, and government organizations reminded me of just how romanticized many development concepts remain today; water, sanitation, and hygiene policy and investment distribution still reflects the great distance between Washington, DC and other loci for development “expertise” and the developing world. While I respect the public servants who dedicate their lives to the complex task of alleviating poverty, hunger, ill health, education disparities, and environmental degradation, without consistent field experience to supplement abstract policy-making processes and academic theory, many practitioners remain distanced from the micro-interactions that constitute improved health, economic security, and community building.
Water and social justice issues in remote, rural indigenous and migrant communities in Latin America largely remain invisible today, and it requires tenacity, persistence, and patience to develop a voice to speak cogently about these complex problems. In my collective seven months in Guatemala, Bolivia, and Mexico, I’ve found that not everyone wants to engage in “development” work and what it entails. It is physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing to travel across continents, work through language barriers and cultural difference, encounter political corruption, and, oftentimes, find that I’m just not that relevant. However, in the words of Phil Garrity, a volunteer with Partners in Health in Peru who overcame a rare kind of bone cancer and recently shared his reflections on “Measuring the Immeasurable” (http://www.pih.org/blog/measuring-the-immeasurable), “We do not walk away when things appear impractical, unfeasible, or futile. We stay, to perhaps accept defeat again and again, if only to show the world that the people we serve are worth more than the steps they may gain or lose on their path to a more dignified life. That we ourselves are worth more than our successes or failures on our path to building a more just world.”