Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dear Everyone,
I am grovelling, on my knees, begging your forgiveness, for the long wait between posts. I have no excuses. Well I do actually- there was only one computer with very slow internet for everyone at our hostel this month, and we were very busy. So I owe you a lot of information.
The end of Thailand was wonderful. The last night in Ban Huay Hee, we had a going away party in the open bamboo hut we used as a classroom. First they sang and danced for us (which was amazing), then we all had to sing for them. This time we were a little more prepared than we were in Shaxi, so rather than singing Mulan was sang Green Day's 'Time of Your Life' with Alexis playing guitar. Afterwards, we showed them all our media projects. I wasn't looking forward to that, because it seemed silly to show them things that would educate them about their own community, but it went so well. When they saw the stop motion film Renee, Katie R., and Lily made they laughed so hard. All of our families loved the media projects, and were so excited to see themselves and their lives on film. It was a really amazing night. The goodbyes the next morning were very tearful, and literally everyone in the town (the woman and children I mean, the men were out working) shook every one of our hands.
The enrichment week was nice, and relaxing. We took a really cool Thai cooking class. Some of us rode elephants! That was awesome. The last night there, right before we left for our two day journey to South Africa, almost half the group got a horrible 24 hour stomach bug, me included. That was really unfortunate. Luckily it ended not too far into our travelling, so we weren't too uncomfortable.
Then we got to South Africa! We're staying at Amakaya Backpackers. The nine girls are all in a large dormitory with a kitchen-ish set up (no oven), and a bathroom. The boys have a smaller dorm room, with no kitchen or bathroom. They have to use the ones in the main building. It's about time- the guys always have the bigger, nicer, rooms, even though there are fewer of them!
The first few days, we toured the townships we'd be working in, had lunch on the beach (which is really near Amakaya), and had orientation meetings at Plettaid, our partner NGO. After that, we started work. In the mornings we'd meet our care workers in the townships, and go around with them until 1 pm. John and I were partnered with Margaret, a Xhosa woman in the township of Kwanokauthula. She's this incredibly expansive woman- she talks and laughs loudly, and is not afraid of saying whatever she pleases. Becca and Noah were also working in Kwanokuthula, but with Pumza, a new careworker. She worked in Phase Three, the newest (and farthest away) part of the township. Margaret worked in Phase One and a little of Phase Two, both of which were very close to the clinic which was our home base. Becca, Noah, John, and I would all sit there in the morning before Pumza and Margaret met us, in the afternoon when they dropped us off and Percy (the TBB driver) hadn't picked us up yet, and in the middle of the day if the carers had to be in the clinic with a patient. Often passing people would stop and talk to us, becuase it was strange for four white kids to be hanging out in a township, especially at the clinic.
Whoops I have to go romp with the cheetahs and lions and get a massage from a crazy hippy lady (I'm on independent travel in Karoo), so I'll finish later.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Farm 2

Hey all. I am updating again! But it's probably going to be short. I'm pretty tired, even though it's not even 8 pm yet. In the village we go to bed and wake up with the sun, and two days in Pai aren't enough to change that. I'm lovely and clean and I slept wonderfully in my bed. I'm going to go have another shower soon- my second shower in two days! I can't even believe it. We just hung around today and looked at a bit of the town, and relaxed. It was very nice.
Anyway, the farm in the village:
They do slash and burn agriculture, which was a bit of a surprise. I guess I always thought of it as something done in the Amazon, that destroyed trees. Here, the cut all the trees in one of their eight fields to about a meter high, then burn the whole field. For a year they plant there, growing rice and other things they need. The crops are nourished by the ash, but weeds are largely kept in check by the burn. At the end of the season they harvest, and move onto the next field. Essentially, each field has one year of usage followed by eight years fallow. We've been reading a lot about sustainable agriculture, and we learned that for it to be sustainable, a field needs at least five years fallow for every year of use. By the time the field is harvested the tree stumps already have fresh shoots growing out the bottom, so during the eight years there is a lot of regrowth. This prevents erosion, and the eight years allow the soil to regenerate enough that they never need fertilizer. We talked to one of the women in the village, and she told us how even though they now buy some things from town (including, occasionally, meat) they never buy vegetables- they learned in their middle school classes that the vegetables from town have chemicals in them, which the ones grown in the village do not.
For my media project Becca, Katie C., and I are making a video about our host mothers. We've interviewed them all with translators, and are putting together a film about their lives and roles in the village and at the farm. It will only feature them speaking, with subtitles throughout. I'm really excited about it. The things we've been learning from them are amazing.
Last Saturday we went on a hike for hours, up to a really tall mountain behind the village. It was a nice hike, but very hot and steep. When we got up to the top it was really windy. As we were approaching the final peak, we saw a bunch of soldiers on the very top. They were all in fatigues with enormous guns (M16's, per the guys in the group), gathered around a tent. They watched us toil towards them, and as soon as we reached the top they pulled us into their group, beaming, telling us 'You take picture with my friend!' So we had a huge photo shoot, all of them and all of us. Three soldiers held a bunch of cameras and took pictures for ages. Some of the guards lay down and posed in front of the group, one even making a peace sign on top of his huge gun. It was awesome. Turns out they were the queen's personal guard, out on a training day. She's coming to Mahongsong next month so they've been scouting out the area. They live in the palace and see the King and Queen every day. I've never met such friendly soldiers. Seriously though, God help Thailand if it ever goes to war. I can't imagine them actually using those guns to shoot people.
It's the dry season right now, and they are not farming much, just burning the new fields. The whole country is so dry. The air steals all your moisture. My skin is like a snake. On the positive side, laundry dries really quickly. The smoke from all the burning fields makes a constant haze over the mountains.
I recommend you all read Omnivore's Dilemma, which is really good and will blow your mind. I'm going to have to change how I eat when I get home, dammit. I love meat! No worries, I'm not going to be a vegetarian, because I just don't think that ends up being healthiest or most sustainable. However, less meat seems to be the way to go, and grass fed, sustainably raised stuff for sure. I can't rewrite all of Omnivore's Dilemma and the articles we've been reading on this blog, but if you don't know how supermarket meat is being raised you should really check it out. It's awful. Not just in terms of cruelty, also in terms of health of consumer. American meat plants also export meat to Europe, but they have to export special meat killed and treated more slowly than the meat they sell us. Our supermarket meat is too unhealthy to pass European standards. Meat itself is healthy though, and when the animals are treated well they are a really good part of a farm, and can actually contribute to growing healthier produce too. So it's definitely better to buy that meat than not buy meat at all- vote with your dollars, as one of the articles we read said. The meat industry won't notice if you stop buying from them, but they will notice if they loose percentage shares of the industry (that's a paraphrased quote from Robin). Anyway, read the book. It's really interesting. That's totally longer than I thought it would be. Yay me! I'll be incommunicado again for a week or so, then I should have pretty regular access til the end of the trip, I think.
So adios!

Friday, January 30, 2009


So I've been living in the mountains of northern Thailand with the Karen tribe for the past two weeks, farming and weaving and chopping firewood and taking ice cold bucket baths whenever I can get up the courage. I'm spending the weekend in Pai, a really cool town about six hours away from the village. I absolutely adore Ban Huay Hee, but I'm so not complaining to have a real bed and a hot shower for three days. By not complaining, I mean I'm jumping for joy. And singing, and dancing, and shrieking... I'm completely over the moon. I was so, so dirty. Now I am clean!
My family in the village is great. I live with a grandma and grandpa in a large-ish bamboo hut with a kitchen, a living room, and a small store room. We share a bamboo outhouse with one of their sons, his wife, and their one year old baby (and Renee, who lives with them). Loads of chickens and pigs and small dogs live under our house, which is raised a good four feet off the ground on stilts of sorts. We've been learning Thai, but that hasn't helped me with my family. Only the younger people in the village speak Thai, the rest (aka my host parents) speak only the tribal language, Bakinyon (which I probably spelled atrociously). Like all the women in the village, my mother weaves. It's amazing, and there's no way I can describe it well enough to do it justice. So just wait, until I upload a video of her doing it. Renee and I have learned from her, and finally gotten good enough to not ruin whatever we're working on. It's the sort of loom that loops around your back, if any of you reading this know what you're talking about when it comes to weaving.
Because it's the dry season, they aren't doing too much farming. The harvest was finished a few months ago, so right now they are working on preparing the new field. They have more free time than they do in the main farming seasons, so there is a lot of weaving going on. Also, the women go every day to chop firewood, which is a really simple a way to describe this huge undertaking. My mother carries a large basket on her back, with a machete and ax in it. We literally hike up a mountain, to near where last years field was. When we've been walking for about twenty minutes or more, she and her friends decide it's a good place and proceed to completely destroy any fallen trees dumb enough to be in their way. They hack them into little bitty pieces and jam them into the baskets til they are overflowing. Sometimes they are done when the baskets are full- other times, they continue to chop down every tree they can get their hands on, chop them into logs, stack them, and abandon them. I really don't understand that part. It's possible they're letting the firewood dry out. It's possible they're starting to clear a new field. I have no clue. Either way, they finish their chopping, pack the axes into the baskets, and loop the basket strings around their heads so the weight is on their necks and backs. My mother here is a grandma, and actually looks extraordinarily like my (paternal)grandma back home. Yet she's only 48! She works all day, every day.
Ohhhhh wait, time for dinner. I'll write more tomorrow I swear! I have to tell you all about the farming in the village, which is amazing and totally sustainable and makes delicious, healthy food. Also about what we've been learning, and the hike to the top of the mountain and hanging out with the queen's personal guard when we got there (it was a training day), and lots of other stuff. That just there was a preview. Wait on the edge of your seats for the rest!
And delight in the knowledge that I am so, so, clean, and will be sleeping in a real bed tonight!

Saturday, January 17, 2009


We finished off in Vietnam well, hosting an environmental conference with about 60 Vietnamese students. I MC'd with Phat, the Vietnamese student who was our main guide/translator throughout the month, and our friend. We invited a couple of Vietnamese student groups to do short presentations of what they're doing to help the environment. New Years was wonderful, we went to this hotel party with a crazy show. There was a magician and a clown, also some dancing girls wearing bra tops and see through harem pants, who shook their breasts and did hip thrusts all over stage. We were all a little startled by that one. There was delicious food, and a million balloons in a net overhead, released at midnight. It was just really fun, dancing and hanging out. Afterwards almost everyone went to this Vietnamese club to continue dancing, which was incredibly fun. Phat and I were dance partners.
Next we went to Thailand, to live in bungalows on the beach for a week and learn to scuba dive. It was relaxing, and scuba was so cool. The day after we finished the course we rented kayaks and paddled around some coves and snorkeled. John and I basically swam over two sharks on a really shallow reef. There was a maybe four foot long one, then a smaller one following it. We passed them twice. I got pretty brown, and a few days later I started to peel. I looked like I had leprosy on my forehead.
Now we're at a collective experimental farm in Northern Thailand. It's so cold at night it blows my mind. Keep in mind I've been living in Southeast Asia for months, so it's not really all that cold by New England standards. We learned how to graft plants and identify trees in the agroforest, and went to a wedding between a Buddhist woman from one village and a Christian man from another. They did a lovely ceremony where the people in attendance give the couple a tiny sum of money (like, half a dollar) for good luck, then loop a string around their two wrists. By the end their wrists are completely bound.
Sorry I'm going through this so fast, it's just that I really need to do laundry soon so it will be dry by the time we leave tomorrow. I want to update my blog now though, because the internet is really patchy and may not be here later. If I can, I'll update more later.
We killed a pig! One of the farm workers knocked it out (which was by far the most traumatic bit of the process) by bashing it on the head with a large piece of wood. It started to seize which was scary, so everyone grabbed it and held it then Zach stabbed it in the heart. Afterwards we helped skin it, then cut it open and clean the organs and prepare the meat. We also tasted all the 'delicacies'- pig blood, pig skin, raw kidney, fried intestine, etc. It was pretty interesting, and tasted pretty good when we ate the cooked pork at dinner that night.
We're leaving tomorrow to start the two day journey to the mountains, to live with a hill tribe for three weeks. There won't be any internet, and minimal electricity. They are sustainable farmers, and also do orchid conservation. Apparently this is the season where they orchids are in bloom, so there are huge fields full of them. It sounds really amazing there. I'm very excited. I like what we're reading too- The Omnivore's Dilema. I recommend you all read it and get horrified about what we're eating. We've also watched a documentary that is a bit horrific, about our food. Also, I mistakenly started running a few days ago. Will I continue? Nobody knows. I didn't the past two days though, because we were pretty busy and I couldn't walk down the stairs I hurt so much. I can walk downstairs again, so I have no more excuses.
Anyway, I have to do my laundry or I won't have any clean underpants for ages.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Don't Read This If You Want To Feel Happy

This is such a quick update! I’m so proud. We just had a really interesting day. We split into two groups to go to different composting sites. My group went to a smaller site, then went to visit a resettlement area and an area soon to be resettled. The composting was really interesting. The woman we spoke to who worked there was saying she chooses to work there because she knows it’s better for the environment. Farmers in the area buy the compost, and the people who work there get some for free each year for their own gardens. It was all done manually; the women were wading around in disgusting garbage, separating the organic material. There was some really disgusting stuff in there.
The resettlement: basically, there are ‘slums’ in Qui Nhon, in this case inhabited by fishermen and their families. They live literally over the ocean. There are shaky wooden walkways with houses on top, with all the boats tied at the edge. While we were there a man actually half fell through the walkway when a rotting board broke. I had been assuming it only looked like it was all going to collapse, but I guess in this case appearances weren’t deceiving. There were babies running around there! The government is making the people move off the water, into the city. They buy the houses off them for what they are worth, which ends up being a little less than six hundred dollars. The government then provides free (not very nice) housing until the people can buy the house from them. I couldn’t tell if the motives for having them move were pure or not; half the time it sounded like the government wants to beautify the area, half the time it sounded like they were worried about the people living in such dangerous conditions and polluting the water. The people already in the resettlement area were largely unhappy to have been moved. They had also started out as fishermen, but some had switched to manual labor and service professions in Qui Nhon. The people living on the water were looking forward to better conditions, though they worried about being moved too far from the sea.
When we got back to the hotel, I finally watched GO!, the Invisible Children movie about the kids who went to Uganda the year before me. It was really interesting to hear about the people displaced in Uganda right after the talk of displacement in Vietnam. There are clearly infinite differences between the circumstances, but I guess people being forced out of their homes have some similarities no matter where they’re from or what the reason is. The people in the resettlement area here made a huge point of wanting to own their homes; living on the government’s charity wasn’t sitting well with anyone. I know from going to Uganda how important it is for people to be out of the camps, back in their villages on their own property.
It was wonderful to watch GO! and see all the places I went this summer, and some of the people I got to know. I never wrote about Uganda here, I know, and someday I really will type up some of my journal entries from then. Watching GO! made me think of two girls in particular, though, so I’ll write about them quickly. We spent one morning at Sacred Heart Secondary School, hanging out with the girls and then having a meeting about how to run a schools for schools club. I spent most of the day with two girls, Vicky and Agnes. We had a standard conversation to get to know each other- where are you from, what’s your favorite subject, etc. As part of that, they also asked if both my parents were alive. Neither of them had both parents. Their parents were dead, or had abandoned them. They discussed this as casually as they had discussed school, and quickly moved on to hair. They were shocked I’d never shaved my head. They were even more shocked to learn I shower every day. They invited me to spend the night with them in their dormitory, but Jolie (the country director) said it was too dangerous. We were supposed to be back in the gated compound with the security guard by nine o’clock. It was ok to be out later, as long as we were with the group and in a mutatu.
Yesterday, we went to the Son My (My Lai, in America) memorial site. Son My was a peaceful village, not involved with the Viet Cong. During the war, the American army went there and killed 504 women, children, and elderly people. Most of the males of military age were out working during the day. People were raped, thrown down wells, burned, and worse. There were pictures there of bodies piled in irrigation ditches, children with limbs cut off, women with no clothes lying dead, people on the floor with their intestines hanging out, and much more. I learned about My Lai a little in my US history class, but I was one of the few who had. One thing I hadn’t learned about at all was the rescue performed by Hugh Thompson and Lawrence Colburn. It was a big deal at the museum; there were pictures and articles and plaques on the wall. Hugh Thompson was a pilot who saw the massacre taking place and knew it was wrong. He saw a group of soldiers chasing 10 villagers, trying to kill them. He landed his helicopter between the two groups, and told his machine gunner (Lawrence Colburn) to fire on the soldiers if they came near. He brought the villagers into the helicopter and flew them away.
Something I forgot to write about last time: we went to the war memorial museum. It was so, so strange. They were showing all the horrors of war (including human fetuses deformed by Agent Orange, floating in a box), but they were selling camouflage helmets and war toys in the gift shop. They had all these paintings on display, done by children as part of a competition. The options were to draw something about world peace, or your feelings on war. They put the winners (all five hundred thousand million of them) on display. Many were of differently colored people holding hands and dreaming of world peace. But there were also some in the ‘your feelings on war’ category. These were titled things like ‘Oh God, Americans are bombing us!’ and ‘SOS’. They had people blown to pieces as American flag painted planes flew overhead and dropped bombs. There was one titled ‘Iraq-American War’, which had, again, stars and stripes planes dropping bombs on a city, with decapitated heads floating in a river of blood. There were drawings of deformed people in wheel chairs, with lots of orange around them.
Happy Holidays. I'm sure that helped get you in the mood.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh

I just wrote this whole thing, then the internet messed up and deleted it. I'm so mad!
Ok, the main points of that blog:
We are out of Ho Chi Minh! Thank God. I hated that city. But I LOVE the rest of Vietnam! We're in Quy Nhon right now, which is a tiny, quiet, clean, city on the coast. We can see the beach from our hotel. It's lovely! Our bus broke down five hours into the 12 hour ride here. They had to send a new bus from HCM, so for the six hours we had to wait we rented rooms in tiny bungalows right on the beach. It was the bluest, most beautiful water ever! None of us had bathing suits so we all swam in our underpants for hours. The fishermen thought we were crazy. We didn't get to the hotel til three am but whatever, we got to sleep in the next morning.
Today we went to the crazy eco uber-resort today. A bungalow there costs as much as a small country but it's so worth it. Gorgeous! I've given up all dreams of changing the world. I'm going to be a trophy wife and live there forever. It's not as green as they market it as though- they just want the rich people who stay there to be feel like they are being socially responsible. They burn all their trash!
After we went to a meeting with an organization to help families affected by Agent Orange. We've been learning a lot about the Vietnam War (Resistance to the American Invasion per the Vietnamese) and Agent Orange, but it was the first time we've worked directly with people affected by it. It was awful. People here don't really understand it. They told us that if the parents had known the kids would have had these birth defects they wouldn't have 'brought them to life'. They said it's so hard to be the parents. Many of the kids were essentially babies in the bodies of nineteen year olds, but not healthy nineteen year olds; nineteen year olds with twisted bones, stunted growth, and sores all over their skin. The government sometimes give scholarships to the affected kids who can, technically, go to school, but it only amounts to about $30 a year. They ask the US government for reparations but nothing is happening. When I see what people here are going through as a direct result of Americans, I just don't understand how excited they get to see us. They are so, so stoked we're here. Everyone we see, especially the kids, yells 'Hello!' when we pass, and giggles and takes pictures. They love us. It makes me feel so, so, guilty for what I am. There are birth defects everywhere. How can they forgive us that?
We've had tons of seminars and all, but I don't feel like rewriting all that. I'm stoked for Christmas! We're going to a nice resort for the day. It'll be awesome. Happy Holidays! Love you all!

Monday, December 8, 2008

I'm Sorry!

Ok, I know I haven’t updated in forever, I’m sorry! There are no excuses. I’m a terrible person. This’ll be a long one, or maybe I’ll make it two. I’m in Vietnam right now, but before I get to that I should do Shaxi and Cambodia.
Our last week in China we went to Shaxi, a tiny town in rural China. It looks like something out of a movie or a time machine. There’s a little town square with a Buddhist temple, a market, a bunch of little family run stores, a school, a few guesthouses, and not much else. The houses are large and well taken care of, with three walls of rooms built around a courtyard and the curved roofs that I associate with Chinese buildings. Shaxi was recently restored by a European architect or something so it’s really nice, but it hasn’t yet come to the awareness of many tourists so it’s still quite and very real.
I lived with a family on the edge of town. I literally mean the edge- the town was to our back, if you left our gate you faced the fields and mountains, and had to walk to a gate to enter the main town. The stars were amazing, because we didn’t even have the town’s light pollution in our way. I lived with a mother, father, grandmother, and two girls of fourteen and eight. They spoke not a word of English (just like my Kunming family!), but were so friendly. I felt way more at home in their house after a day than I did in my Kunming house after three weeks. The kitchen had this huge pit for dumping waste, and two enormous stone bowls over a fire for cooking. The parents gave me their room while I was there, which was beautiful. Oddly enough, it had optional red, yellow, and green mood lighting. There was a latrine, and no shower.
Shoot I have to run, I need to go follow some scavengers around and collect trash for a couple of hours, I’ll be back later and finish this. I promise!
Ok I'm back, and I just remembered you can edit these posts so I can keep going! Quick break from Shaxi- that was so interesting. We went to the place they bring all the trash and hung out with the people who pick it up and sort it. They are all very poor. They work about fifteen hour days, or fifteen hour nights depending on what shift, collecting trash from families in Ho Chi Minh. Then they bring it back to the center and pour it onto the sidewalk, to sort out all the things they can make money selling to a middleman (who then sells it to the recycling companies). Up until about five months ago they were making 7,000 for the kilo, now they are making 4,000. They don't know why, they just accept the prices given by the middleman. Our interpretation is that it has to do with the economy, but the middlemen are running a very tight (and illegal) operation, so it could just be that they felt like having a little more for themselves. We tried to talk with some of the middlemen afterwards, but they ignored us, and as we persisted started cursing at us. One woman we spoke to had been working there 31 years. She has a lung disease from breathing all the disgusting fumes. One woman said she'd been to school through third grade. She wants her children to go to school, but with the cut in wages she doesn't know if she can afford to not have them working.
Back to Shaxi. Teaching there was very different from teaching in Kunming. The students were far behind their peers in the city, and the classes moved at a much slower pace. Zach and I were teaching together. In our first class we moved at a normal pace for Kunming, maybe a little slow, but at the end of the lesson were told by the teacher that we'd covered five lessons worth of material and had not been understood at all. Our second class was much, much better. We did an easy lesson on prepositions, and got all the kids involved and active which they really liked.
Our last day there was market day. I woke up around five am to hear my family slaughtering a pig. When I actually got up hours later there was pig blood all over the courtyard, and a dead pig in a wheelbarrow outside the gate. I helped push it to market! The mother, father, little sister, and I all pushed the wheelbarrow dripping pig fat up the hill. I wish I could have taken a picture of all of us.
Our last night, there was a concert with traditional dancing and music. The costumes and dancing were so interesting. At the end, we were asked to perform a traditional American dance and song. We danced the Macarena while Isabel sang it in Spanish. We couldn't think of a song everyone knew, so we sang the 'Let's get down to business' song from Mulan. We were not nearly as impressive. I think Robin got it all on camera, so that'll definitely be blackmail in a few years.
I had the plague literally the entire time we were in China. When we were in Shaxi, it moved into my lungs which really sucked. I got some medicine which kicked it back out, but it didn't actually go away for ages after. I still have a slight cough. Hopefully I'll be cured by the time we leave Vietnam- I think carrying the plague across two continents and four countries is more than enough.
Cambodia. I spent most of my time chilling in my room. I did very little. I totally didn't take advantage of it being Cambodia, I just wanted to rest. I mean sure, I did some things, but overall I stayed in the hotel. One of the things I did do was go to Angkor Wat at five am to see the sunrise, which was very cool. I got a couple of traditional massages, which were very odd and somewhat painful. You have no idea how much I miss traditional Swedish massage!
We went as a group to the killing fields and genocide museum, which was incredibly sad. The things that happened in Cambodia are incredible, all the more so because of how little we learned about it in school. I don't remember even hearing about it, although realistically they could have mentioned it during one of the many lessons I spaced out during. There was one tree they showed us at the killing fields, which was used to kill babies. Soldiers would take them by their feet and swing them against it. The museum was in a former school which had been a jail during the genocide. They had on display all the mug shots of the people kept in the jail. Some were of very small children.
Vietnam. We're all staying in a large guesthouse. The guys are two each in a hotel type room with bathroom. We girls have two rooms with five girls and a Vietnamese student in each, and we have one toilet/shower set up to share for the twelve of us. Whatever. Our rooms are nice, and we've decorated them with Christmas lights and hung our socks on hatstands serving as fake Christmas trees. We're reading books about social entrepreneurs and how to make a big impact on the world, as well as books about the environment. Our seminars are so interesting! I'm also reading The Fountainhead just for myself, and I love it. It's maybe my favorite book I've ever read.
Everyone here drives moped things. There are hundreds on the streets, and they don't follow traffic rules. They go every which way, on both sides of the street, at all times. The honking is incredible. To cross the street you basically just wait for a small gap and walk slowly and consistently, and hope they know to avoid you. You almost don't even have to look, it's not like that helps at all. I really, really, hate the traffic situation here. Also the pollution. We keep getting hit by things, though not badly. I got hit by a bike. People drive on all the sidewalks too. You have to be aware at all times of everything around you. I wonder how people live like this their whole lives? The food is good though.
We talked to a guy who runs a landfill here, and he had some really interesting things to say. He talked about how, with the economic crisis and all, people aren't buying toys. So China isn't making them. So they aren't buying the cardboard to package them. So paper, which used to be a huge commodity for the scavengers, is no longer useful. No wants wants to buy it to recycle, because it won't be bought off them in the long run. So the scavengers no longer separate it, which means the trash going to the landfills is not as separated, which is bad for the environment, and they don't make money off it. The man was telling us how recycling is market driven, and interestingly the next day there was an article on just that in the New York Times.
OK, thanks for reading all this. I promise to be quicker about updating in future!