Permaculture & Food Security in Malawi


A short film by University of Colorado anthropologist Marty OtaƱez, who describes the film:
In spring 2006, Ethel discussed with me permaculture and food security in Malawi. I wanted to educate myself on sustainable agricultural activities and how a Malawian practices permaculture. These issues interest me as part of a larger project to explore healthy (agricultural chemical-free) crops and alternative livelihoods for tobacco farmers and farm workers in Malawi.

Ethel agreed to videotape interviews over two days in different areas in her garden near Chitedze Trading Center, 14 kilometers north of Lilongwe, Malawi's capital city.

In the 2000s, Ethel worked as a 'house woman' (domestic worker) for Stacia and Kristof Nordin. The Nordins are Malawi-based permaculture educators and advocates who operate
During her position with Stacia and Kristof, Ethel became a permaculturalist.

The video is edited to showcase Ethel's knowledge about farming indigenous plants and creating synergy among food, water, shelter and community.

"What Branches Grow out of this Stony Rubbish": Urban Exploration from Antiquity to the Present

by lana lynne on February 22, 2012
Last night, I attended a lecture by Thaddeus Squire, one of the founders of the non-profit arts organization Hidden City Philadelphia, at the University of the Arts Design Lecture Series, "Visibly Invisible." Squire gave a brief overview of the romantic explorer with an eye toward modern-day urban exploration, and showed how that trajectory has informed the mission of Hidden City, which is, in its condensed form, to "(re)connect people to place, and place to city" by marrying 19th century Philly "ruins" with art installations.

From the Hidden City website, a photograph of the artist
installation at Founders Hall at Girard College

One of the overall themes of the lecture was the idea of exploring the past for the possibilities of the future, and Squire took us on a tour through history to trace this idea, starting in antiquity with Plato's Atlantis as a place where knowledge resided, up through the centuries to 18th century Italian artist Piranesi and his "prison fantasies," to the more well-known 19th and 20th century romantic explorers like Lewis and Clark, Joseph Rock, and Hiram Bingham. Today, Squire pointed out, we see the contemporary expressions of this long line of exploration in such pop culture icons as Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, and in the fine arts with "ruin porn" photography.

From my own suburban exploration of the abandoned
Pennhurst State School & Hospital (photo by K. Margitich)

Squire's discussion about ruin porn vis-a-vis Hidden City's mission felt a little like I was stepping into the story in medias res, but a few quick searches post-lecture gave me a clearer picture of how the two fit together. From a recent article in The Guardian, we can see how the attraction to abandoned and decaying buildings has a long artistic and literary tradition (take The Waste Land for example), but the appeal always seems to have a fatalistic aspect to it -- that no matter how grand the promises of the future, the present past reminds us of their inevitable failure. In contrast, Squire insisted on casting ruin porn in a more positive light to fertilize the future: "Not loss, not nostalgia, not past, but the possible future."

Although the past is not their primary focus, I can't help feeling that history has a place at the table of present and future. These ruins of modernity are themselves forcing a conversation about what events transpired there, whose lives crossed paths there, and how these stories are connected to the present.

To learn about next year's festival and to check out their daily newspaper, click here.

Street Art of Cuzco, Peru

by douglas reeser on February 19, 2012
Cuzco is a visually stunning city nestled in the Andes Mountains. Meandering cobblestone streets, ancient architecture topped with colonial buildings and surrounded by mountains, and a rich cultural heritage combine to keep the eyes absorbed in activity. If one looks closely, street art is beginning to pop up around the city as well, adding an interesting and thought-provoking aspect to the City of the Inca. 
~ Mother Earth ~ 
Pachamama, spirit of the Earth represented by the sacred corn,
still revered by indigenous peoples throughout Peru and the Americas.
Photo by douglas reeser.

~ Corn of Death ~
We happened across a sort of protest in the main square in Cuzco that was advocating for safe
foods and good nutrition along with a decidedly anti-Monsanto element. This corn cob
of skulls represents Monsanto corn that is genetically modified and has unknown environmental
 and health effects.
Photo by douglas reeser.

~ the Virgin and the Child ~
I'm not exactly sure what this piece represents, but we encountered it a number of times throughout
the city. One can surmise that in a city so rich in religious architecture and iconography,
 this picture may be a comment on some aspect of the Virgin, her child, and their ever-lasting
effects on the city and its people.
Photo by douglas reeser.

~ Death by Consumption ~
This is another sign we saw with the food advocates in the main square. The television and
the products that it promotes, namely Pepsi Cola, McDonalds, and other sugary and fried foods
implore - no force - the youth to consume, consume, consume.
Photo by douglas reeser.

~ Reverse Tourism ~
This was one of my favorite paintings in Cuzco - an indigenous woman taking a photograph
of a tourist. This somehow reveals the objectification taking place in this tourist Mecca.
Interestingly, we experienced something like this during the trip, when more than once,
Peruvian youth asked to have their picture taken with us on their phones and cameras.
We never did figure out what exactly was going on there.
Photo by douglas reeser.

~ Yourbucks, Ourbucks, Starbucks ~
This is the larger context of the Reverse Tourism picture, but I had to include it for its great
play on Starbucks. Here we can see a definite anti-corporate, anti-exploitation theme going on,
along with elements of respect for the earth and environment (note the tree and
Pachamama paintings to the left).
Photo by douglas reeser.

~ the Porter ~
Again, we encountered a painting with unknown meaning. It appears to be a man
wearing a traditional woven cap, common among villagers in the Andes. Many of
these men work as porters on the Inca Trail and other mountain treks. Painting such a
dignified picture on the streets of Cuzco reminds people of these men's importance
to social and economic life in the region.
Photo by douglas reeser. 

Views from the ANThill: Yu no taim hyaa weh Ai di chrai tel yu: On Not Understanding in Belize

A sign written in Kriol protesting a proposed cruise ship port in the town
of Placencia in southern Belize.  Photo courtesy of doug reeser. 
by douglas reeser on February 15, 2012
When a good friend of mine who is conducting ethnobotanical research here in Belize heard that I would be writing this column about fieldwork for Anthropology News, she asked if I had read Paul Rabinow’s classic, Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco. Somehow, through all of my years studying anthropology – ten years from my bachelor’s through my doctoral studies – I hadn’t been asked to read the book, and it never found its way across my path. A little embarrassed, I had to reply that no, I hadn’t read it before. She insightfully thought that Rabinow’s reflections might provide me with some inspiration, and at least offer some food for thought. On her last trip to the field, she brought me a copy.

After reading the book, I think it holds up to its reputation as a classic on fieldwork, and besides his occasionally surprising revelations, Rabinow also offers a number of topics that would be good for everyone working in the field to reflect upon. From the importance of the experience of otherness to the politics of communities, the book is full of issues of which to be aware. For Rabinow, being able to communicate effectively in Arabic featured centrally in his fieldwork experience, and this challenge got me thinking about how language may be affecting my fieldwork and data collection here in Belize.

Newspaper Wars: Killing off Print

by lana lynne on February 11, 2012
The previous post on media consolidation transitions nicely into the topic of the "struggling" newspaper industry, which comes into the spotlight with news that the Philadelphia Media Network -- publisher of the the Philadelphia Inquirer and its sister publications, The Daily News and, may be on its way to changing hands again.

I'm not going to pretend to have all the numbers crunched on newspaper revenue -- whether digital or print is more sustainable -- but I'll say up front that I don't believe that print is dead, contrary to what the newspaper industry would have you believe. Just a few numbers to throw out there: two-thirds of people in the U.S. do not use smartphones, one third of people in the U.S. don't use internet, and an average of one Redbox movie rental kiosk opens every hour. Are communities really ready to say goodbye to their local print newspapers and embrace a short-sighted digital-only version? 

Image from wikipedia
As the case may be, some of the major investors and CEOs in the industry have already written their eulogies for print. Journal Register, the media company who owns over 100 papers in the U.S., and who is owned by Alden Global, the investor who is selling their share of the Philadelphia Media Network, is operating under the "digital first, print last" mantra. Arguing that the print model is broken and what's broken can't be fixed, the company has courted investors with a media model that leaves behind the brick and mortar for the promise of the "crowd" and the cloud. The crowd has access to more news than any newspaper could ever print, says the company, and so they have begun to look at the crowd more as colleagues rather than just consumers. The cloud, of course, gives them the technological ability to publish without the expense of printing presses.

Couched in such affable terms, it's easy to see the appeal of such a model, in theory. But that's just it. It's a theory that doesn't quite mesh with reality. While welcoming the crowd into their virtual newsroom (remember, there are no offices, desks, chairs or employees anymore) they are at the same time outsourcing jobs and whittling away at what once was and could still be a cornerstone of communities. If these are the consequences of going digital, isn't it worth exploring some other options?

If the people leading the industry had it their way, that would be a naive and nostalgic perspective on a vestige from a bygone era. But, like Douglas Page points out in a great article that digs deeper into the issue and offers great insights into other ways of looking at the future of newspapers, "Planes and automobiles are also here to stay. But they haven't killed off bicycles, trains and ships."

First Friday Picture Show: Out and About with Leigh Seddon-Slingluff

Recycled Minds' February First Friday Picture Show features the photography of Leigh Seddon-Slingluff. Leigh had wanted to be a fashion designer since 8th grade, but after taking her first photography class she quickly realized that wasn't her path. There was something about being behind the camera rather than behind the curtain. Leigh shot photos wherever she could and soon began taking photos at packed concerts like Incubus, KISS, Snoop Dog, Kid Rock, and other popular bands in the early 2000s. With only 3 songs to get "the shot," nestled in front of the mosh pit, Leigh was hooked to the fast pace. With this under her belt, she moved on to opening The Slingluff Gallery with her husband Jonathan in 2008. They also run a contributor art blog called The Pine Cone Gentleman.