Making a Difference: Kiva Loans


To honor the death of a best friend’s father, I did as she asked, made a Kiva loan.  After looking through dozens of potential individuals and groups, I loaned 100 dollars to a group of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo to help fund their poultry raising operation.  Even though it has been less than six months, they have paid back more than half, paid on time regularly.

Some loan opportunities require even less money.  People often think their efforts don’t count, they are too small to make a difference.  Everything each person does makes a difference for better or worse.  Make a difference, act, speak out, contribute however you can to make our world a better place for all of us.

The Haunting of the Mexican Border


If you have any interest whatsoever as to how times have changed along the border, the culture of the people of Sonora and Chihuahua, this is a must read. I need to go visit my friends who live there.

Dawn Wink: Dewdrops

Cowboy and flowers on grave © Cowboy and flowers on grave © Tim Fuller

coverThe Haunting of the Mexican Border

I had no idea the blessing I was about to receive when I was asked to review The Haunting of the Mexican Border: A Woman’s Journey by Kathryn Ferguson for Story Circle Book Reviews. I said yes, since how could I possible resist that title? I spent the next few weeks savoring the experiences, ideas, and prose of this book. This is not a book that I read fast. I found myself re-reading sentences for the sheer beauty of the prose and scenes for the powerful experiences conveyed.

Mostly, I was taken with the melding of past and present, as my own experiences growing up on a ranch along the San Pedro River, a vein for Mexican migrants coming to the US, sent me reeling between the intimate familiarity of the rhythms of migration in this region…

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Costa Rica Adventure, Day Five–Part Two: Santa Anita Rainforest Ranch


After visiting the Tony’s gallery, we headed north on mostly non-paved, narrow roads.  The clouds increased; the landscape became greener if that is possible.  We crossed to the Caribbean side near the Nicaraguan border.

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The previous photos were taken from the bus window on the way to La Anita which is located more or less just above where the a is located in the word Cordillera at the top of the map.  It lies near Rincon de la Vieja National Park (Volcano Vieja) past Volcano Miravalles–the volcano covered in clouds in the previous Costa Rica post.

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As soon as we arrived, we came to the veranda of the building where they process cacao.  This view overlooks the road in and a small pond.

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Ginger plants in front of the pond, bouquets of ginger flowers, and rain clouds greeted us.

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I had no idea that the ginger roots we eat come from plants that look like this.  We later ate lunch in the building in the distance.  First, seated on picnic tables on the veranda, we drank pure chocolate grown on the ranch and coffee grown on another property at higher altitudes.  Cacao requires lots of rain and tropical heat.  This coffee is shade grown at much higher altitudes, e.g. 1500-2000 meters, by 700 families who belong to the cooperative which produces the coffee.  The coffee from here (Finca la Anita, Costa Rican Dota Mountain Coffee) requires much less sugar even for those who love lots of sugar in their coffee.

The couple who own and run La Anita primarily grow organic cacao.  Originally, they sold what they grew and did not process it there.  They decided to accomplish what they wanted, to grow and sell the most sustainable quality chocolate in the world, they would have to control the entire process themselves.  One of their specialties is a healthy replacement for Nutella, La Anita Chocolate Spread.  We bought four little containers and carried them around the rest of the trip.  Rather than spreading it on something, I keep it in the refrigerator and spoon out a tiny sco0p when I want a super treat.

 

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Nearly constant rain and heat produce a botanical heaven.

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A tractor pulled wagon took us through the lushness to the area with the cacao trees grow.

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We finally arrived where the cacao grows.

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In addition to cacao, they grow other crops because cacao takes a long time to grow and the chocolate market worldwide is very unstable.

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Open up cacao and you find all this fuzzy stuff inside.  Yes, it is actually tasty.  Like with coffee, you eat–actually mostly just suck on it–the outside.  The bean is the seed inside.

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If you want to walk around here, sandals are not a good idea–too many snakes, many of which are poisonous like the fer-de-lance.  Yes, they live here.  Like where I live, this requires looking at the ground and paying attention where you are walking. This is the owner.  The name La Anita comes from his wife.IMG_2023

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The view of the lake from the building where we ate lunch.

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This is the hearts of palm plant which shortly after this photo was taken became the main ingredient of ceviche of hearts of palm which we ate for lunch.

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Making ceviche of hearts of palm in the white square bowl.

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After lunch I walked down the road to the pasture with the horses.  In the background are cabins they rent.  From here the traveler can tour several national parks including Rincon de la Vieja National Park which is quite close.

This is one of the rainiest parts of Costa Rica, located on the northern Caribbean side.  It rained several times while we were here.  The rain stops for a while, a downpours arrives, it stops.  This process continually repeats.

 

 

 

My Ethiopian Adventure–on the Road to Lalibela, Part One


Although the Sunny Side Hotel’s rooms in Kombolcha seem elemental to say the least, the food there is some of the best I had in Ethiopia.  One of the reasons for this may be their extensive gardens which not only hold flowers, but vegetables and fruit trees.

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That’s a papaya in the middle.

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Dinner consisted of fresh talapia–Lake Tana is full of talapia and is a common item on menus, perfectly grilled, julienned vegetables sautéed in sunflower oil and seasoned with a sprig of rosemary.  The next morning we headed for Lalibela.  The first larger city through which we drove is Dese.  As in most Ethiopian cities, new construction could be seen everywhere.  They do not use steel for scaffolding.  They use eucalyptus as in this building.

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We continually climbed switched back roads.  Usually, terraced fields lay as far as we could see on the mountainsides.

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Not too far from Dese, we came to the smaller town of Hayk.  Hayk is the Amharic word for lake.  The town is named after this nearby lake.

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Seven species of acacia grow in Ethiopia.  These, higher in the mountains, appear considerably more lush than those farther south in semi arid places. You cannot swim in this lake because, like many bodies of water in Africa, the schistosomiasis parasite lives here.  There is a cure, but not very pleasant.  Huge fig trees and acacias provide a setting like one sees in movies.

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This monastery resides on a small peninsula that juts out into the lake.  The sign says no women allowed.  Foreign male visitors may enter for a fee–locals free. Lush fields surround the lake.

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Yes, that is cactus on the right–not exactly a place I expected to see cactus.  On the road out of the lake, we saw this girl walking and asked to take her photo.  She is carrying dried dung.  Houses are first framed in eucalyptus and then plastered with a mixture of dung and mud or just mud.  Sometimes they are left the natural dark brown color.  Some home owners prefer to paint them bright colors.

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This is a typical house in most areas left unpainted with a metal roof.  Everywhere people worked the fields the “old” way with a beautiful result.

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We passed villages and towns of all sizes.

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And always children as well as adults drove animals along the road.

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Eighty languages are spoken in Ethiopia.  Some, like Amharic and Oromo, are spoken my millions, others by only a particular small tribe. Everywhere we went people knew Amharic, an Afro-Asian, Semitic language (like Arabic and Hebrew) which originates in the ancient language of Geez, a language now only used as the sacred language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.  English is taught in elementary school, which is compulsory through the eighth grade.  Because of too many students and too few schools and teachers, especially in rural areas, school is half a day.  One group goes in the morning and another in the afternoon.

My Ethiopian Adventure–from Addis to Kombolcha


Saying goodbye to Addis at 8 in the morning, we headed northeast and later north toward Kombolcha–spelling differs, depending on whose map you view.  The official Ethiopian map spells the town as Kombolch.  Addis is high, the second highest capital in the world.  We drove northeast all morning across rivers and through green fields.

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Not far outside Addis we saw this scene, a river with many people near it.  Our driver, Alemu explained this river contains holy, healing water and all those people you see through the window are pilgrims coming to be blessed by the resident priest and hopefully healed by the river waters.

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Who would know this is Ethiopia if no one told you? Not what I expected at all honestly.

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Most of the farmland is very rocky.  Farmers gather rocks, in some places make fences out of them or just pile them up.  Even with these efforts fields remain full of rocks.

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We drove for hours through this type of farmland.

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This is a typical country village which appeared off and on continuously along the highway.  Traditional buildings are usually round with thatched roofs.  More and more people have begun to use metal roofs which forces the building shape to rectangular rather than round.  We heard a story about a thatched roof house that caught on fire.  Nothing but the thatch burned because underneath the thatch was a meter of mud.

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Most Ethiopian farming is done the old way:  either horses or cattle pull the plow with a man guiding it usually through a lot of rocks.  I commented about seeing no tractors so then every time we saw one everyone shouted, “Juliana, there’s a tractor.”  I think I saw only five of them in ten days and only one was actually working in a field.  It became obvious rather quickly how totally impractical a tractor and its equipment would be in much of the farmland:  too many rocks and as you will soon see, too steep.  The tractor would fall over.

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Eventually we started climbing higher and higher.  To the left was one of Ethiopia’s high peaks near or over 4000 meters–13 to 14 thousand feet.

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And then, there it was, Menelik’s Window.  This was the first area we saw with numerous gelada baboons.  However, these ran away unlike the ones later in Simien National Park.

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That’s Dino down on the edge.  At this point in the trip, I was still quite horrified by all the steep cliffs and stayed way back.  He was trying to get a good photo of the baboons.  Menelik II, the last Ethiopia leader to be able to claim himself as a direct male descendant of King Solomon, found this place special, a view into the real Ethiopia across miles of mountains. He is known for defeating the Italian invaders, expanding the kingdom, and especially for modernizing Ethiopia.

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My grandson now owns this hat.  This boy and his friends spend their days chasing the baboons away from the tufts of grass, which their families use to make the thatched roofs, and making hats for sale.

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You can see the selection of different styles of hats on display on the grass.  On the mountainside in the back lots of herbs grew, including thyme.  The boys also sold packets of herbs they had gathered and dried.

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We dropped down on a winding mountain road through eucalyptus forests.  Eucalyptus is not native to Ethiopia, but grows everywhere there.  It is used as a basic material for building their houses, for scaffolding to build tall city buildings, for just about everything.  Several different species grew along the road.

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Ethiopia’s main highways are excellent.  Many were built years ago by the Italians, more recent ones by the Chinese.  Ethiopians make jokes about how long the Chinese roads might last.

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Eventually, we dropped down out of the mountains into an area that was much drier.

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A typical town with all sorts of shops right along the road.  When driving in Ethiopia, dodging people, cattle, camels, horses, burros, and goats is the norm. Everything it seems likes these good roads.

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A boy driving camels down the highway.  Loose animals, like the burro on the right, roam seemingly unattended.  I saw few fences.

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In the small towns in this semi arid area, we saw several totally veiled women, faces covered totally except for their eyes.  Alemu informed us that this was a new thing, not seen until the last few years.  He seemed to think it had become fashionable to copy Saudi women.

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We stopped to look at certain plants beside the road.

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Dino recalled playing with these pretty green balls as a child with this forewarning,  “Do not eat them, do not touch your eyes or you will go blind.”  They are called the Apples of Sodom.

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At this juncture near the beginning of this adventure, I had not yet realized how everything in Ethiopia possesses symbolic meaning.

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We drove along this immense, lush valley for miles.  Alemu said this huge herd of cattle belonged to a semi nomadic group who brought their cattle here during the rainy season to graze and fatten.  A bit farther down the road the land belonged to one of the richest men in Ethiopia, indeed the world, Al Amoudi.  It was the only place where I saw a tractor actually used in a field.

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Arriving in Kombolcha, we saw this new college in the process of creation.  This became a common sight–new buildings, new schools, construction everywhere.

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My first hotel room in Ethiopia at the Sunny Side Hotel in Kombolcha complete with mosquito netting–the blue blob above the bed.  At least it had a shower and toilet.  Many places use the style of accommodations one finds in a lot of Asia.  Forget toilets as you know them–just a tiled area with a hole in the ground and the ever present water with which to wash.  We carried our own toilet paper just in case.  However, many places had both so customers could choose.

Apocalyptic Planet-Part Seven: Species Vanish


We all know extinction occurs.  Nearly everyone knows different species of dinosaurs at varied times roamed the earth for millennia.  Bones of all sorts of animals and various hominids are dug up off and on.  Scientists study them, determine their age, where and how they lived.  Scientists and sometimes even average persons develop theories about why they went extinct.  Regardless of which theory a person decides is accurate, these ancient extinctions generally took thousands of years. Recent extinctions are different, e.g. carrier pigeons.  Millions existed a couple of hundreds of years ago; now they are gone.  Why?  Humans.

Various causes exist for the extinctions of ancient species.  A major cause is the climate change caused my the changing tilt of the earth’s axis.  These changes occur over thousands and thousands of years.  What is different now?  Let’s take corn.  Native Americans cultivated rainbow colors of corn in small, frequently irrigated fields.  Where is most corn grown now?  Giant fields of GMO corn grow from horizon to horizon in the Midwest.  And if Monsanto had its way, no other corn would continue to exist for long.   Iowa is a good example.  Wherever this corn is grown, native grasses and other native plants totally disappear, in part due to cultivation.  A bigger issue is herbicides–to have clean fields, nothing and I mean nothing but corn must grow there.  A farmer’s expertise as a farmer is measured my just how super clean his fields are.  The only way to get these totally weedless fields is to use herbicides.  Biodiversity is a key to environmental health.  Little biodiversity exists in giant fields of crops like corn and soybeans.  Fertilizers to obtain huge yields wash downstream and in the Midwest eventually end in the Gulf of Mexico and cause giant marine algae blooms which pulls oxygen from the water to create a dead zone where no marine animals or fish can live.

Perhaps readers have heard of the plight of monarch butterflies.  Compared to just ten years ago, the population has dropped dramatically.  What happened to them?  Roundup.  Over 100,000 tons of Roundup and other brands of glyphosate herbicides are annually applied to crops in the US.  What do monarchs eat?  Milkweed.  Since 1999, 58 per cent of the milkweed has disappeared.  Recently, monarchs experienced a 30 per cent reduction in their numbers in one year.  Are we headed toward a mass extinction?  Some scientists think so.  These scientists are not talking about tigers, elephants, and rhinos being killed at an ever increasing rate for their body parts, but rather about the less noticeable extinctions of various plants and less obvious animals like frogs.  And then there is the problem with bees.  Bees are disappearing at an ever increasing rate due to not only diseases but due to herbicides and pesticides.  Without bees to pollinate the giant fields of almonds and various fruits in California, for example, those foods won’t exist.  See a previous post for more discussion on the importance of bees.  So why care about frogs?  Scientists consider frogs and amphibians in general an indicator of the health of an ecosystem.  Certain more tropical species of frogs are especially subject to the effects of climate change and they are disappearing.

Where I live big bluestem, blue grama, buffalo grass, and other native species grew from horizon to horizon.  This is the high plains.  Root systems of some plants grow twelve feet deep.  It has not rained in over a month.  Where the native grass once grew, crops are now grown.  This time of year finds open fields. Without rain, with the recent endless high winds, dust fills the sky.  To safely return home from town Sunday, I had to turn on the car lights to see.  The dryness fuels wildfires.  Earlier this week, over one hundred homes burned down in a wildfire north of Amarillo.  Drought.

Many human inventions are wonderful and make many lives better, but for some of them, I cannot help but wonder at what cost.

 

 

Water, Water, Where?


Today, I drove about fifty miles to watch a play especially produced by my friend, King Hill, for the Gem Theatre in Claude.  I almost did not go because of high winds and blowing dust.  Between 8 and 10 this morning visibility was so low  it was impossible to see the horizon.  High wind and blowing dust warnings started yesterday.   Now, as I write this, these warnings have continued for more than 24 hours.  Red flag warnings flash across the TV screen. Thankfully, not quite the dust bowl extremes, not yet anyway.

Originally, a green sea of grass covered all the land where I live in the Panhandle of Texas, the Llano Estacado. Immense herds of buffalo roamed free.  This prairie grass protected the land from erosion.  Rivers and an occasional canyon interrupted this endless sea, including the Canadian River, Palo Duro Canyon and the network of canyons running into it.  Once the Spanish brought horses, Kiowa and Comanche ruled this sea for more than a hundred years.  Under a full moon, the Comanche reigned by night raids from Nebraska to Mexico.

What happened?  Plows brought by people from the East dug up the grass.  These people planted the crops they knew, wheat, corn.  They settled in towns and homesteaded the country. They brought cattle and in some areas developed gigantic ranches.  Hunters killed all the buffalo except a few the famous rancher Charlie Goodnight and his wife managed to save.  Remnants of this southern herd now live at Caprock Canyons State Park near the tiny town of Quitaque, Texas.  Those who farmed dry land farmed.  In a normal year crops grew, the people prospered.  In dry years dust blew because there was no grass to hold the dirt.

Today, giant pumps pull water from the aquifers, the Ogallala, the Santa Rosa. My well is 400 feet deep, some are nearly 900.  More and more people move here from other parts of the United States.  They want lawns like the ones they had where it rains forty inches a year.  It does not rain much here, twenty in a good year, ten in a bad year.  These aquifers lose much more water to irrigation in a year than are replenished by rain.  Farmers grow corn,wheat, cotton, and milo, all irrigated.  In some places where  the water became to saline for crops, the pumps sit abandoned.

Today, I drove by miles and miles of dry, thirsty grass, perfect fuel for the wind driven wildfires which sometimes start this time of year.  In other places irrigation pivots rained water on immense emerald fields of wheat.  I could not help but wonder how much of this water evaporated in the sixty mile an hour wind.  As I finish writing this with the TV on  weather watching, I see Fire Weather Watch, High Wind Warning, Red Flag Warning flash across the screen. I hear the wind roar and heavy outdoor furniture slide across the patio.  I’ve seen wildfires, had a half mile of cedar post fence burned down.  All it takes is a tiny piece of cigarette thrown from a truck or car, a flash of dry lightning.  They predict three more days of this.

I love the space, the vermillion sunsets, the intense blue of the sky.  I watch my neighbors water, water, water their new houses in the country.  I think about those pivots irrigating in the wind, and I wonder what will happen when all the water’s gone.

 

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Intelligent Beings


Tonight the program Nature on PBS asked questions about animal intelligence as compared to humans.  This list portrays some of the things I learned, some new, some I remembered from past readings or other Nature programs:

-A few other animals besides humans recognize themselves in a mirror.  This list includes elephants, dolphins, and chimps.  Actually, humans do not demonstrate this ability until they are about 18 months old.

-Only a few species studied demonstrate a sense of social justice.  If they think they are being treated unfairly, they get mad and sometimes have a little fit.  This includes monkeys and dogs.

-Only one species studied demonstrated overt altruistic behavior and a sense of social justice toward others, the bonobo.  Of course, others may but have not been studied yet. Notably this is the same species that resolves social tension and conflict with sex rather than fighting.

-Humans grieve.  Many other mammals grieve immediately after the deaf of a loved one, e.g. their own young offspring, but few recognize the bones of long deceased members of their species.  The exception is elephants.  Elephants not only recognize the bones of other elephants, they frequently nuzzle them with their trunks and stay with them a while.

-Dolphins may seek out help when they need help.  The program showed a diver who was not looking for dolphins at all.  A dolphin who had a fish line and hook stuck in his side approached the diver and managed to stay very still while the diver removed the hook.  This took nearly ten minutes.  Of course, no one knows whether the dolphin was actually seeking help or simply stayed still when help was available.

-Chimps possess another behavior similar to humans, the ability to purposefully deceive.  A less dominant chimp was shown where a banana was hidden from a window outside an enclosure.  She and a more dominant female chimp were released into the enclosure at the same time.  The first chimp did not rush to the food.  Oh,no.  She waited and watched, played it cool,  and when the other chimp wandered off to the other side,  ran and ate the banana.

It is difficult to get inside of the mind of other animals.  Anyone who has pets thinks they are smart or at least dogs and cats seem to demonstrate considerable intelligence.  Horses do as well.  And yes, I have seen horses grieve.  When one of my horses died in a terrible and rather bizarre accident a few years ago, the other horses stood for hours in the place where the deceased horse had died.  They did not even leave to eat their alfalfa, a food they loved and always ran to.

I even think animals, in particular mammals,  know when they are headed to slaughter.  I think those who kill them know this but to admit it would be too painful.  They certainly know the smell of blood.  It incites terror.  Certainly animals can suffer at the hands of cruel humans.  Do animals besides us deliberately hurt others for the sheer, sick pleasure of it?  If there is a study regarding this topic, I have yet to see it.  I wonder.