It’s Geography Awareness Week!

Every year, around the second or third week in November, National Geographic Society celebrates Geography Awareness Week (GAW).  As a National Geographic Society Explorer, I have made it one of my missions to promote the study of geography in the class room.  In the U.S., the study of geography is not mandatory.  This sad reality means that many young people, mostly our Anglo students in the U.S.  have no idea that they  possess culture or are part of the human continuum that we call, “diversity.”  Geography teaches us that our respective cultures become part of us as we mature from infants to adulthood, gathering preferences, inter-sectional identities, belief systems, and ways-of-knowing, depending on what part of the world we call home.

It’s a great honor to be part of National Geographic Society as an explorer.  While I don’t get to travel to the far reaches of the globe, I help students look at the world with geo-spatial lenses.  I teach them to ask questions, which we call, “geo-inquiry.”  I have an example:

  • Ask: Framed question from a location-based perspective so that you understand the challenge
  • Acquire: the resources needed to study the question further, such as research data
  • Examine your data, and watch for patterns that begin to emerge
  • Analyze the data to see which factors influence other factors
  • Act on your knowledge to determine a problem-solving approach

–Develop your message for your intended audience to create visuals to communicate information

Let me break this down even further.  Suppose I parachute out of a plane, and I don’t know where I am.

  1. Where is this place? (Ask)
  2. What is the topography? What is the climate?  Am I surrounded by mountains?  Can I see snow on those mountains? Why am I surrounded by a treeless sandy plain but I can see mountains about 25 miles (40.2 km) in every direction? What else can my surrounding tell me? Have I been to a place like this previously?  (Acquire data)
  3. After I take in all this data, I can begin to examine it to create a hypothesis on my location. (Examine)
  4. Analyzing my data, I begin to realize that I am somewhat familiar with the surroundings.  About 25 years ago, I remember that I climbed Blanca Peak, a 14,000 Feet (4267.2 meters) peak at my 11:00 o’clock as I face south.
  5. I can now act on my knowledge to find my way to the nearest town in this valley.  Where am I?  I am at the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, United States.

Geography asks us to consider all our surroundings and to recognize how we humans interact with our environments.  It asks us to consider place and what makes place important to us.  Here are some other questions we ask through geography:

“What is?  or Which is?

“Where is?”

“What has changed?”  “Since when”?

“How has it changed?”

“Which spatial patterns exist?”

“What if?”

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My students pointing to their places of origin!

Here are some other geography “tid-bits.”

  • Did you know that Geography is considered the “Mother of Sciences”?  Geography’s study field embraced the entire universe and later bore many children, among them astronomy, botany, geology, and anthropology.
  • Did you know that Climatology is the study of how climates are created and what they do the environment?  Climatology is a long-term study of the geographic world.
  • Did you know that Human Ecology, the study of humans in their environments, is a unique field of Geography?  This form of geographic inquiry aims to clarify the relationships between natural environments and varying activities of humans.
  • Did you know that geography explores human systems, which include culture, economics, migration, and politics?
  • Did you know that geography explores physical systems such as land forms, climate, and rivers?

Geography is wonderful!  Some people think that technology, such as map programs, will do away with maps and atlases.  I hope not.  The joy of exploring the world through maps remains a great excitement for those of us who grew up with maps.

If you would like to hear geography linked  with music, listen to High Plains Public Radio, online at hppr.org.  Silver Rails: Music of the World in the Folk Tradition airs Saturday, November 9, 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Central Time.  Lynn Boitano and I will be your host for music, geography trivia call-in, and lots of geography information.  We will be celebrating Geography Awareness!

Thank you for reading!

 

Food in Social and Intercultural Interactions!

In the past three months, I’ve attended a Diwali (The Hindi celebration of Light in the Darkness) in my rural Kansas town, thanks for my friends and colleagues from India.  Two days later, I had a wonderful Filipino meal, which included Pancit, stews, and bread.  There I watched as my friends, Karen and Jonathan, parents witnessed their first snowfall, back in November.  All this while, I had the honor of interacting with a wide range of folks.  I learned a little more about them by sharing in their cultural celebrations and the foods of their regions and countries.  It’s my favorite thing to do!  I walk away, a little fuller in my stomach, heart, and mind.  I will chronicle some of the events, here.  The food from the Diwali included curry spices, chick peas, basmati rice, potatoes, chicken, and, in the white bowl, Gulab Jamun, these wonderful little pastry-like rounds soaked in syrup.  This food fed my soul!

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Eating with my friends, who hail from the Philippines, we were treated to pancit, a clear noodle and vegetables dish with lovely flavors of garlic and savory flavors of pork (the preference of our host).  We were also treated to a stew with beef and Lumpia, a spring roll of vegetables and meat.  Yes!  Also the first snow for Karen’s parents!

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Well, it’s been a few weeks since this pleasant evening out on the porch, but I’ve wanted to tell you about it for a while.  We call it, “Happy Hour”.  We each bring food and drink to share.  In addition to the homemade pizzas, cheese, and dessert that I offered, my friends brought cooked carrots, the best Leche de flan from my friend, Karen, who apparently learned to bake this velvety, smooth custard in her home country of the Philippines.  She’s pictured above with her parents’ first snow fall while on a visit to the U.S.  Another friend offered her sweet carrots, and another brought apple cobbler, and we had chicken pot pie.  In such “happy hours”, I’d say the conversation stands as the most important aspect with food bringing up a close second.  I found it interesting that, on this particular occasion, the men sat outside, and the women sat inside.  Hmmmm….I wonder why this happened. more-party-goers.jpg

For an appetizer, I made my own type of Bourisin cheese by draining whole-milk, Greek style yogurt in a hanging cheese cloth.  I added my own blend of dehydrated vegetables for a tangy cheese spread.  One of my favorite things to do is make pizza dough and have all the trimmings of vegetables, meats, cheeses, sauces (marinara and pesto are my favorite sauces to have available), and attendees make their own pizzas.  We have a great time.  Here are some of the offerings for this lovely October evening: 1) My “Boursin” cheese nestled in a clay pot, 2) Baked pizza with pesto, and 3) Leche de Flanimg_3742[1]img_3744[1]

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Regional Foods of Patabamba – Peru

A few years ago, I went on a study trip to Peru.  I wrote about it previously.  Of course, I’m always up for a new adventure in eating, though I love interacting with people with different backgrounds from my own. (Which is every day, really!  I don’t have to go to another country to do that!). My study group and I took many trips in-country, so I will talk about those from time to time.  This story begins in Cuzco, and it includes food, too!

The Cuzco church bells pealed at 4:00 a.m.   We ate a lovely breakfast of ham, cheese, eggs, fruit, granola made with puffed millet in place of our traditional oatmeal, liquid yogurt, and hot espresso.  Espresso is the only type of coffee served in Cuzco!  Having only been a consumer of coffee for a few years, this was strong for me, but it proved to be beneficial in the high altitude.  Cuzco is considered the Peruvian Andes and is 11,152’ altitude.  Coming from a mountainous region in Colorado, I adjusted quite well.  As for the espresso and any coffee in Peru, I must say that there was no such thing as a bad cup of coffee in Peru.  After a lovely breakfast, we chewed on some coca leaves for good breathing, and then, we boarded the bus to Patabamba.

Patabamba, in Quechua, means “upper flat.  Originally, it was Patapompa, but the Spanish colonizers changed it to Patabamba.  From what I could gather regarding Quechua, it is a complex language, which was largely replaced with Spanish after Spain’s invasion in the 15th Century.  Many of the remote villages around Cuzco are functionally monolingual speakers of Quechua.  It is a beautiful language with only three vowels (i, a, u), and in some words the vowels are completely devoiced (silence, a stop, or a sort of throaty sound).  I was able to observe the language in action when village members relayed instructions to one another as they prepared our most sumptuous and interesting meal of the whole trip. At first, I did not understand that the, aforementioned, stops, hisses, and throaty sounds were part of the language.  Then after, I learned to listen for the “devoiced” part of the language that is Quechua (Ketch-wah).

Our menu of lamb, chicken, llama, potatoes, sweet potatoes, lima beans (cooked in their pods), plantain, and blocks of farmer cheese were baked in a rock “oven” especially built for the occasion.   We watched as the hole was dug, and then lined with the rocks.  The most impressive was the dome built by the large stones leaning against each other. The crowing touch came when the “keystone” was placed in the ground oven.

Peru Oven

The domed rock oven was filled with wood fuel and burned until the rocks were hot.  When the rocks reached the target temperature, the dome was deconstructed by first removing the cap stone which held all the stones in place.  The rocks that made the dome were removed, and the raw foods were placed on the hot stones.  The cheese was wrapped in brown paper before being place on the other ingredients.  When all the food was in place, green branches with yellow flowers still in place, were spread on top of all the foods.  Then large sheets of heavy plastic were laid out on the green branches.  Then the moisture-rich soil dug to make the cooking pit was spread out on the plastic until nothing, but soil was visible.  The food stayed in the “oven’ for 35 minutes, and voilà!  We ate the most agreeable meal with cups of coca tea to wash it all down.  The meats, plantain, and vegetables cooked to perfection.   We ate with our hands.  I ate my potatoes with the peelings still intact, and I noticed that the villagers peeled their potatoes.   It was my favorite meal of the trip.

Peru cooked in Patabamba

While the meal was cooking, my fellow travelers and I met the elders of the village.  The elders, male and female, invited us to try on their beautifully dyed and woven dresses, ponchos, capes, and hats for photo opportunities.  One of the featured photos in a past blog was me and one of the elders.

After interacting with the village elders, we went for a walk to gather plants and flowers.  That was followed by a lesson on the plants used for dying wools for weaving.  The flowers gathered that day became the dyes of brilliant reds, yellows, and blues from which all other colors were made.  After spending a fine luncheon with the villagers, they set up a store for us to purchase handmade clothing, wraps, and hats.

What struck me most was the happiness of the people.  They seemed to be quite contented.  As they told us about their plans for promoting the village for tourism, which includes home-stays, I wondered if the influences that would inevitably follow would interfere with the peace they appeared to possess.  I wonder how they are faring these few years later.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

Conviviality and “Hygge”

The goal today is not to be another foodie blogger, though I love to cook, bake, and, often, I get to do those things in a social settings with family, friends, and acquaintances.  I do want to talk about an aspect of nourishing our bodies along with our spirits and our lives, as in “Joie de vivre” (joy of living).

As a word collector, one of my favorites is conviviality, the quality of being friendly and lively or friendliness. Merriam-Webster takes a different approach in its meaning by connecting conviviality, specifically, to food and feasting in “good company.”  Whatever the definition of conviviality, I love the concept, and I love engaging in the act of being convivial.

A few years ago, I went to a food science conference at the University of Arizona in Tucson.  The focus of the conference was the Mediterranean Diet: Eating fresh, non-processed, omega rich foods and having a small amount of red wine each day.  What I found to be the most intriguing was the emphasis on convivial eating: sharing food with family or friends and taking your dear, sweet time to allow slow, digestible consumption of food while enjoying each other’s company.  The food scientists at this conference emphasized that the food choices play an important role in healthful eating, but went on to say that the slow, deliberate sharing of food and conversation is equally as important.  It made me wonder if there is a word in the Italian vocabulary for “fast food”.  I hope not.  I can’t help but connote the notion of fast food with un-healthful eating.

The food writer, Michael Pollan said, “The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling our bodies to a ritual of family and community, from mere animal biology to an act of culture”.  To that I think of the holiday meal that takes a full day to prepare, and most eat it in a matter of moments.  Perhaps a healthier thing would be to take at least half of the preparation time for consuming the meal.  So, if it takes 8 hours to prepare the meal, take 3-4 hours to eat it.  Okay, that may be excessive!  What if we took 2 hours to consume our holiday meal?  It would certainly honor the hands that prepared it.  In addition, the slow consumption of the meal would keep us from overeating, because our brains would know when we’re full sooner.

Opposite of convivial meal times is observing our grandchildren eating in the school lunch room.  The students must consumer their meals in as few as 15 minutes. The lunchroom “monitors” highly discourage conversation as well.  I know children are highly adaptable, but I can’t help but think that the daily school lunches may add some unnecessary stress to the developing mind and body. From all appearances, the children don’t seem to enjoy the process.

The Danish have the word “Hygge” (pr. Ooga or hee-gah).  Likely the word from which we get “hug”, hygge is the feeling of coziness, fun, or contentment.  The intimate setting of a small dinner party or an impromptu gathering with family or friends makes me think of hygge.  One of my favorite places for that feeling of hygge is around the camp fire in the mountains or sitting with family or friends near a body of water.  The word, “delicious” comes to mind.

The featured photo in today’s blog is that of my sister’s in-laws in Italy.  My Sis is at the far end and cannot be seen from this vantage point.  Please notice that the family is gathered around a table that seats 18.  My sister tells me that the hostess prepares fresh mozzarella and bread every day.  When I gaze at this photo, I think I can smell the flavorful food, and I marvel at the wine being poured from pitchers.  Sis tells me that the meals there take two to three hours to consume; even when everyone at table does not speak the same languages.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

Financial Opportunities and Micro Loans

Some friends and I were discussing building financial opportunities for women.  It made me think of the micro-loans that were championed by the Grameen Bank many years ago.  One of my colleagues, a Bangladeshi engineer, was personal friends with Grameen founder, Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate.  The concept of micro-credit and micro-finance has worked in many places to help people build financial security.

Our discussion centered on ways to help women, specifically, to build financial security.  It made me think of a study trip to Mexico, a few years ago, when I was able to learn from people who were using micro-credit to run very small farms called, ejidos (Eh-hee-tho).  Looking back at my journal notes, I will describe their process for growing tomatoes (tomates).

We visited several farms in the county (municipio) of Ayala.  An ejido farm can be compared to a parking lot. When you go to a parking lot, you just know there will be a place for you to park. And as long as you do not abuse your parking privileges, you can continue to park in a spot in that lot. An ejido farmer does not own his/her “lot”, but as long as he or she wants to farm there, and as long as it is used properly, the farmer can be on the land indefinitely. Like paid parking lots, there are only small fees to be paid, or food can be supplied to municipios.

My colleagues and I visited a wonderful tomato farming operation, which had been in production for about five months. It took about one month to begin to produce significant quantities for sale. Before entering the facility, we had to step inside a sunken, concrete box holding chlorine bleach.
Situated on approximately one-fourth hectare, which is about 2,500 meters, which is about .62 acres, is a screen-enclosed structure holding about nine-thousand tomato plants. The plants’ soil and root systems sit inside heavy, pliable, black plastic bags, which are approximately 13 inches in diameter and 14 inches high. The stems of the plants are three to six inches in diameter. The plants vine up strings rising 12 feet above to horizontal wires running parallel to each row of plants. The tomatoes nearest the bucket-like bags, holding the dirt and root systems, ripen first. As tomatoes are harvested, the green tomatoes nearest the horizontal wires are lowered to run more parallel with the ground. Then the top of any given plant will be hanging over buckets 10 spaces away. Every 15 days, the strings are lowered, and the tomatoes nearest the ground ripen first. This Loreto-variety of tomatoes takes a lot of nitrogen, we were told. If you want to see pictures, please let me know. You would love seeing this operation.
The plants take 20-thousand liters of water a day, which is about 5,265 gallons. The farmer harvests 200 boxes of tomatoes per week. The boxes held about two bushels, which is about 106 pounds. There is not much exporting, but this operation supplies several grocery stores (tiendas) weekly. The picked fruits are sold to the stores, and the fallen fruits are sold in the barrios (neighborhoods).
The producer told us the next thing to be learned is composting so that something useful can be done with the organic waste, which is one other by-product of this operation.

All this was built from a micro-loan, and the farmers told us they thought they’d begin to see a profit just after the second round of purchases.

Here’s another:

“EJIDOTARIAS” (EH-HEE-THO-TAR-EE-AHS)
Don’t forget to roll the “Rs”.  Okay, so I already introduced the ejido farm producer. The community or municipio owns the land. You stake a claim, of sorts, to some land, and you farm it. As long as you do not abuse the land or other farms around you, you can work that land as long as you like. There is a small usage fee to help the community. The county (municipio) government usually helps with initial seeding, reclamation, and improvements.

We visited the farm of two women near the minicipio of Ayala, state of Morelos. The señoras farmed their ground together. They produced corn, green beans, squash, and sugar cane. Their corn seed came from the U.S., and they grew both grain (maiz) and sweet corn (elote) – pronounced “my-eese” and “eh-lo-tay.”

Farming 3,000 feet above sea level, the ladies planted, irrigated, and harvested by hand and with the use of oxen and horses. Small irrigation ditches ran through the land. It is up to the farmer to flood her fields from the ditches with dams and canals. They farmed four hectares (about 10 acres) per year. It costs about 5,000 pesos per hectare (2.48 acres) including 200 pesos for fertilizer and 350 pesos for insecticide. They pay their water usage annually. The ladies gave us an estimate that it took about 29,000 pesos to get their produce to the market. That is about $2,900.

In the ejido system, producers help one another plant and harvest. For example, the sugar cane was harvested with a machete. It takes strong arms to swing a machete. The crops go to market in Mexico City. Visiting this particular farm held a few contradictions. Everything was done by hand, which took us back in time. The power lines above had electricity surging through them, audibly. That brought us back to reality.

Thank you for reading.

A day in the lives of refugee and other immigrant families settling into new cultures

In this text, I have borrowed from myself.  I was attempting to write a white paper to help educators better understand the students in their classrooms.  I think it’s always best to back up and start at the beginning to understand a journey.

Why do people emigrate?  That is, what makes a family leave its own country and venture into an unknown land, in many cases, across oceans?  In most cases, this movement is considered a “Forced Migration”, which is displacement because of persecution, armed conflict, generalized violence, human rights violations, natural or environmental disaster, famine, ineffectual government, or lack of financial opportunities (Baker, 2014; Goetz, & Rupasingha, 2007).  Often times, the process of migrating is dangerous and may take up to 10 years with many stops along the way (Salgado de Snyder, 2007).  Humans have always migrated, and it, likely, never will stop because of constant changes in governments and other political policies, food supplies, societal mainstream notions, and religious views.

For the past 25 years, immigrants of all statuses, have been part of my daily life living in Southwest, Kansas, both professionally and personally.  I’ve worked with Southeast Asian and African refugees.  I’ve worked with immigrants from all of the Americas (Meso, Central, South and North (I call them economic refugees), and with immigrants who come with professional careers from India, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, China, Africa, Brazil, the Caribbean, Canada, and different parts of Europe.  It is an enriching experience to learn from those who come from other backgrounds.

All the immigrants who have come to Kansas in the past 30 years have one thing in common. They’ve come to the United States to seek better ways of lives.  Lives without conflict and strife.  Lives filled with hopes for their futures.  While their stories of how they arrived on the shores or across the borders into the U.S. vary, there are common denominators in the challenges of which they face.  The greatest challenge, possibly, is that of acculturation.  That is, fitting into a new land, learning the folkways and mores of the people, and understanding how their own cultures either blend or clash with the “mainstream”.  They do all this while trying to learn a livelihood for their families’ survival and hoping to move to a place of thriving in their lives.   There are many struggles and challenges of acculturating to new lives in new cultures. Granted, the Canadians with whom I’ve worked don’t have as many challenges because of a common language and European ancestry as the U.S. mainstream. However, the most obviously “different” immigrants do have challenges. For example, these are some of the question and comments that I hear along the way:

  • How and where do our children go to school?
  • Is there a place for me to learn English?
  • Where do we get an identification and address immigration status?
  • What are rules for driving a car?
  • Where do we get the foods of our traditions?
  • What are the rules for schools regarding age of entry, immunizations, school readiness?
  • Where do we find child care provider for our children?
  • Where do we find a doctor?
  • Is there public transportation?
  • Are we safe to walk to where we need to go?
  • “We are starting all over, and I need to purchase items for my home, again, and I don’t know anybody, so I have to make new friends, too.”

 

The United States is heading toward a demographic where there will be no one majority of population by the year 2040 (World Bank).  My observation is that this notion strikes fear in people.

After nearly 30 years of living, working, and playing alongside the immigrants who have come these past three decades, my observation is that they have not come to colonize these lands and the mainstream.  They (immigrants) have come for better lives for their children.  Historically, most are the victims of colonization on their lands of origins.  If you get the opportunity, hear their stories, share their foods, understand their laughter, and most importantly, empathize with the fears that pushed them out of their home soils.

Thank you for reading.

Community Engagement and Social Connectedness

I’m wondering if the phrase, “social capital” has run its course.  Robert Putnam, in his Bowling Alone certainly moved the discussion along about the effects of isolation and not building relationships within and across groups.  Even then, Putnam isolates social capital without looking at community environments, which contribute to whether or not we build human connections.  If you look at the work of Flora, Flora, Fey, and Emery’s framework called, “Community Capitals”, you would be treated to a more holistic framework, which helps us understand human development.  (This “team” did much of this work while at Iowa State University).

I like the concept of community capitals, because we are led to talk about humans in their environments in terms of: social, financial, built, natural, human, cultural, and political capitals.

Remember, capital, of any kind, is a resource in which we invest to create new resources down the road. For example, our cultural capital begins at birth.  In childhood, we learn how to act, how to speak, what to value, and we acquire certain symbols that partly define us.  That is our cultural capital.  It belongs to us individually and as part of a group.  When we are employed, we are part of the human capital for our employers.  We offer our human capital (talents, education, skills, etc.) to our employers out of which some kind of product is produced.

Ogallala Commons is a non-profit organization that trains community interns for service (2 months in the summer, usually).  The community, being served, invites an intern based on a community need.  “OC” (the acronym for Ogallala Commons), uses a “12 Key Assets of a Commonwealth” as a framework for addressing human capital needs in a community: education, health, leisure & recreation, history, sense of place, water cycle, arts & culture, wildlife & natural world, soil & mineral cycle, foodshed, renewable energy, and spirituality.  Every community has these assets, which can be understood as a foundation for building new careers for the interns while the community reaps the benefits of the interns’ human capital.

This brings me to “social capital”, our relationships with those within our immediate circle of friends, family, and colleagues and those relationships we build outside our closest associates.  I think it’s all about relationships.  Relationships matter!

Think about your relationships.  Are they beneficial to you? Perhaps, it’s not a deliberate notion; how we build our relationships. But, as I look back on my past years, I realize that I’ve built some rather wonderful relationships and great friends these past 30-some years.  Each of my friends delight me in different ways, and I’m a richer person for it.  My friends are my support system, and they all accept me for my weird self!  All of us don’t think alike.  We don’t have the same political views.  We don’t all have the same level of financial security (some have planned better for their futures and some have not). I think we learn from each other at many different levels.  I think mutual respect, among my wide circle of friends, is the hallmark of our relationships.  The opposite of my level of social engagement is isolation.

What does isolation do to people?  Think of that elderly person who sits at home without friends and family around him or her.  An isolated person is more likely to display a tendency toward sadness, more physical illnesses, and cognitive degeneration.  I once visited a federal penitentiary.  The “tour guide” said that people who go into the penal system at a young age, like early 20s, are more likely to display symptoms of dementia by mid-40s since a prison environment is not one known for its stimulation of cognitive function.  Relationships matter!

If you think about your community, do you see well developed personal relationship among those who live in your neighborhood or your town?  Here are qualities of a well developed community:

  • You know your neighbors
  • You feel attached to your neighborhood
  • You are politically active and feel like your voice is heard
  • You have trusting and reciprocal relationships
  • You are involved in your community (volunteer…)

What happens when you live in a community with well-developed, intercultural relationships:

  • Crime rates are lower
  • Have better health outcomes across the generations
  • Experience more collective actions
  • Increase in shared resources
  • Mutual respect across groups of difference

Yes.  It may seem like a utopia, but wouldn’t it be great to live in such a community?

Thank you for reading.  I do have references for much of what I say, by the way.