Tag Archives: Bolivia

Earth Day: Paper not plastic

In honour of Earth Day I’m recycling a post I wrote two years ago after my Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip to Bolivia. My post begins with a futuristic look at our Earth.

___________

The year: 3952

The place: A recently exposed outcrop of shoreline on the Ontario Sea. (Present day Ottawa.)

A team of archaeologists materialize on the flat stretch of loamy soil.

“Ancient maps indicate the location of a settlement here before the Water Age, when the Ontario Sea was still just a river,” says the team leader. At 80 years old, she is one of the youngest on the team.

“Well, let’s see what we find,” says her assistant as he pulls a small spade out of his pack. “Whatever it is, it will tell us what kind of people were here, and how they lived.” He kneels and penetrates the soil with the spade. It stops abruptly when it encounters springy resistance. “Found something already,” he says. He scrapes the earth away with gloved hands. He sighs.

“It’s another one from Giant Tiger he says as he pulls the tattered, bright yellow plastic bag out of the dig site.

In February, 2012 I was part of a Habitat for Humanity team that helped to build a house for a Bolivian family.

We needed to level and grade the site, and we did this using pick-axes and shovels. I and my fellow team members spent several days digging in the dirt. The lot we worked on had been vacant for some time and had become a catch-all for errant plastic bags that wafted to the site on Bolivian breezes. Time after time our shovels penetrated the top layer of soil only to bump into a plastic bag or a plastic bottle. Time after time we stooped and tossed these to the side. This picture is just one small part of the plastic we collected.

paper-not-plastic

The reality about plastic hit home for me.

Plastic doesn’t go away for a long, long time. One carelessly tossed plastic bag becomes part of a mountain of plastic that won’t go away for a long, long time. Plastic is not attractive, historic, meaningful, artistic, or culturally significant. It is ugly, utilitarian, and, most importantly, not necessary. There are other, better options.

I will be more mindful about plastic use from now on, if for no other reason than, in 2000 years, I want my descendants to find beauty, not ugliness.

Startled into our own wealth

Photo Credit Toban Black

Photo Credit Toban Black

“No matter how much or how little money you have flowing through your life, when you direct that flow with soulful purpose, you feel wealthy.” —Lynne Twist

How much time do you spend fretting about things you don’t have?

A renovated kitchen, maybe? A new car to replace your aging Chevy? How about a bigger TV for the family room?

How much time do you spend celebrating the things you already have?

The running water in that kitchen? The freedom to go anywhere anytime in your aging Chevy? The family time together in front of your smaller TV?

Have you ever been startled into your own wealth?

I have.

It happened in Canada when I volunteered at the school in my neighbourhood and saw hungry children arrive in the morning. Their families either did not have adequate food for breakfast or adequate life tools to know how to provide stable family support.

It happened in Mexico when I sat across the table from a woman in her 20s who learned to read and write in Spanish along with me. When she was a child, her family did not have the money to send her to school.

It happened in Bolivia when I worked alongside a family to build a modest home. Their entire house would have fit in half of mine, but they overflowed with gratitude for their improved living conditions.

It happened when I arrived home from both of those trips and turned on my taps and drank clean, cold water right then and there, standing at my kitchen sink.

By some standards, I am not wealthy. By other standards, I am rich beyond all imaginings. Most of us in Canada fit into that category. We don’t drive Ferraris or own luxury beach houses in Malibu, but we have comfortable homes, adequate food, education and clean water. Hoozah!

If you take a moment to look around, you might find yourself startled into your own wealth.

Poem by Rabindranath Tagore

I lived on the shady side of the
road and watched my neighbours’
gardens across the way reveling
in the sunshine.

I felt I was poor, and from door
to door went with my hunger.

The more they gave me from
their careless abundance the
more I became aware of my
beggar’s bowl.

Till one morning I awoke from my
sleep at the sudden opening of
my door, and you came and
asked for alms.

In despair I broke the lid of my
chest open and was startled into
finding my own wealth.

A Bolivian musical transporter

bolivian-dancersWe don’t need a time travel machine or a Star Trek transporter to take us to another time and place; we have sounds and music.

(Quickly—what sound does the Star Trek transporter make? Took you back in time, didn’t I?)

Last year in Bolivia, our Habitat for Humanity Global Village group was invited to an evening presentation of traditional Bolivian dances. I arrived on the terrace before the others, just as our host tested the sound system. He put on a song and then left to check on something else. I sat listening to the music in the tropical evening warmth. I looked up at a moon surrounded by feathery clouds. It was a perfect moment. As I sat there, the trip leader joined me. He sensed the quality of the moment and, without speaking, sat beside me to survey the moon. The perfect moment lasted until the song ended and the rest of the group crowded the terrace.

I bought a copy of the music, and when I hear the opening strains of that song, it transports me—boom—back to the tropical warmth of a Bolivian evening.

MJ wrote about this on her blog last week. Paul McCartney transports her to another time. http://emjayandthem.com/2013/06/27/silly-love-songs/

What are some of your time travel songs?

All-natural medicine: hard work for a worthy cause

Habitat-for-Humanity-Bolivia

“I am thinking of enriching Medicine with a new word: Arbeitskur.”

—Levin in Anna Karenina

A year ago when I participated in the Habitat for Humanity build in Bolivia, I spent days shovelling dirt, carrying buckets of mortar, moving armloads of terra-cotta bricks, and breaking up hard soil with a pick-ax. At the end of every day, instead of feeling body-sore and exhausted, I looked with satisfaction at a home for a family in need growing before my eyes, and I felt fantastic.

It’s what Leo Tolstoy calls Arbeitskur, or work-cure.

Anna Karenina, by Tolstoy, reminded me of this. I took the 806-page tome with me on my recent vacation. (As an aside, 800-page books really aren’t for me. By the end, I’m so tired of all the characters I don’t care at all what happens to them, and if one of them should throw herself in front of a train, I don’t feel sorry in the least.)

One of the characters in the book, Levin, decided to spend the day mowing in  the fields with the peasants. After hours of hard, physical labour, instead of feeling sore or exhausted, he looked with satisfaction at the fruits of his harvest, and he felt fantastic. When he shared to the contentment of the peasants, he contemplated the wonders of work-cure.

I grew up on a farm, so I had experienced the satisfaction that comes from spending a day hoisting hay bales or mucking out pens, but I had forgotten. I knew how it felt to tuck with guilt-free gusto into plates of home-made pie after spending the day burning more calories toward a worthy cause, but I had forgotten.

Our society, as a rule, has moved away from hard, physical labour. Instead, we move our bodies in gyms like hamsters on a wheel. It’s physical exertion without the reward of a sense of creation or accomplishment. The euphoric sense of creation or accomplishment that arises out of work-cure takes runners’ high and increases it exponentially. Ka-boom. 

There’s no feeling like it. If you’re feeling a little blue, I can recommend a Habitat for Humanity build.

Mud-splattered and happy in Bolivia

Mud-splattered and happy in Bolivia

Paper, not plastic

The year: 3952

The place: A recently exposed outcrop of shoreline on the Ontario Sea. (Present day Ottawa. )

A team of archaeologists materialize on the flat stretch of loamy soil.

“Ancient maps indicate the location of a settlement here before the Water Age, when the Ontario Sea was still just a river,” says the team leader. At 80 years old, she is one of the youngest.

“Well, let’s see what we find,” says her assistant as he pulls a small spade out of his pack. “Whatever it is, it will tell us what kind of people were here, and how they lived.” He kneels and penetrates the soil with the spade. It stops abruptly when it encounters springy resistance. “Found something already,” he says. He scrapes the earth away with gloved hands and then sighs.

“It’s another one from ‘Giant Tiger'” he says as he pulls the tattered bright yellow plastic bag out of the dig site.

A month ago, our Habitat for Humanity team helped to build a house for a Bolivian family.

The site needed to be levelled and graded, and we did this by hand. I and my fellow team members spent several days digging in the dirt. The lot we worked on had been vacant for some time and had become a catch-all for errant plastic bags wafted onto the site on Bolivian breezes. Time after time our shovels penetrated the top layer of soil only to be stopped by a plastic bag or a plastic pop bottle. Time after time we stooped and tossed these to the side. The picture at the top is just one small part of the plastic we collected.

The reality of plastic hit home.

Plastic doesn’t go away for a long, long, long time. One carelessly tossed plastic bag is not just that. It is part of a mountain of plastic that won’t go away. It is not attractive, historic, meaningful, artistic, or culturally significant. It is ugly, utilitarian, and, most importantly, not necessary. There are other better options.

I will be more mindful about plastic use from now on, if for no other reason than I want my descendants to find beauty in 2000 years, not ugliness.

“We take care of our planet. We use paper.”

Overcoming cultural differences

You would not have wasted your money if you had paid admission to see the looks on the faces of the Bolivian construction workers when our Canadian Habitat for Humanity team of 8 women and 2 men arrived at the building site on our first day.

Apprehension. Hesitation. Discomfort. A little fear, maybe.

But staff and volunteers from Hábitat para la Humanidad Bolivia were there to translate, smooth things over and assign tasks. Within half an hour, we were mixing mortar, moving rocks and shovelling dirt. By the end of the day,  hesitation was gone and Felix, our maestro (the head mason) told us he would cry when we left.

Now, four days later, Felix walks into the site in the morning with a big smile and a cheery, “¡Buenos días, mis maestros!” We laugh together. We even do yoga in the park together. Many cultural differences still exist, but we found our common humanity.

When people from two different cultures come together they instinctively seek the common ground.

This week we went to visit two homes affiliated with Niños con Valor (Valuable Children), an organization that provides loving homes for abandoned children in Cochabamba. Most of the people on our Habitat team speak little or no Spanish (mine is very rusty), and none of the children speak English, but with gestures and guessing games we communicated.

I noticed a list of all the children’s birthdays on the wall, so I walked over to have a look. A little girl stood beside me and pointed to her birthday on the schedule. It was the same day as mine. “¡Este es mi cumpleaños tambien!” I said. Her eyes lit up and we looked into each other’s eyes with joy over our common connection. She gave me a big hug. Another woman on our team sat and spoke with a girl over dinner. Their connection? They had the same first name.

I noticed as we talked and played with the children that our conversations led us to seek the common ground. Did we like the same sports? Play the same musical instruments? Like the same kind of books? We already knew that there are many differences. We wanted to find out in what ways we are the same.

We can expect apprehension, hesitation, discomfort and a little fear, maybe, when confronted with cultural differences.

But it’s good to know that when we find our common ground we can move on from there, and it sure doesn’t take long.