The US of A

Photos available here

So long since our last update, I bet y’all thought we were dead! 

No such luck, although we did come close to it.  Or no, that’s a bit overdramatic, and I shouldn’t speak for Annabelle.  But for my part, I certainly felt like I was almost dead.  It turns out I was not alone sitting in seat 15B on the flight out of Lilongwe – I was sharing the space with a few hundred thousand of my closest friends who just didn’t want me to leave Africa behind…

Schistosomiasis for some, Bhilarzia for others – a very unpleasant way to spend the first few weeks home for me!  It was a bit difficult to get through that initial re-entry period, with reunions with family and friends accompanied by a pesky lingering abdominal pain that seemed to befuddle all the doctors.

We found the right pills in the end though (Prozyquantil: 2$ in Malawi – 200$ in NYC), and I have to say, it was almost worth it for the pleasure of the doctor visits, just the sight of otherwise stoic Manhattan physicians turning white when I told them where I’d just come from. 

“You actually swam in Lake Victoria?  Are you nuts?” 

But there was nowhere else to wash ourselves!  And besides, let the record show that my schisto was not acquired on Mfangano Island, but more likely somewhere in Mozambique or even Malawi, where we didn’t swim in any fresh water but may have washed with some that was contaminated.

Otherwise, coming home after a year and a half in Africa, we weren’t quite sure what to expect.  We had missed so much – films, current events, deaths, births – would we have any place back home? 

It was a real joy to find our friends and family though, and to see that time and distance can’t break apart the strongest relationships.  Which is not to say that things haven’t changed at all – we saw friends and family who had become mothers and fathers since we last saw them, who had published books, who had changed careers, bought houses, written plays and movies and opened Tai Chi studios…  And yet invariably we managed to sit and talk as if nothing had happened and no time had gone by.  It was a real treat that made it harder to leave again – it’s nice to have people who know where you’re from and what’s important, and being far from those people is probably the hardest thing about traveling – even worse than the schistosomiasis if you can believe it. 

Also though, after our decision to give up the bikes and continue on down to Rio by public transportation, the question weighing on our minds as we rediscovered New York and Brussels was whether we were we were alone to feel the gravity of the situation, the looming crisis of climate change. 

At first, all around us things seemed to be going on as usual.  Manhattan luxury stores seemed just as packed as ever, there were more iPhones on the street than we had imagined possible, more and more people were telling us about their plans to fly around the world or even just across the state for short vacations.  In Brussels, friends told us of a popular backlash against environmentalism, with ads now mocking concern for the environment.  In New York, a huge network of bike paths had elicited a backlash (though what doesn’t elicit a backlash in New York), with an angry resident calling cyclists, “terrorists.” 

Personally, I started to doubt whether there was any problem: surely if we had done irreparable harm to our climate and the very survival of life on Earth was in jeopardy there would be some kind of response, right?  People wouldn’t just go on calmly with their daily lives as if nothing was wrong, right? 

So don’t worry, everything must be fine, just relax and have another cheeseburger…

And then during just an hour watching CNN we saw news coverage of unprecedented tornadoes in Missouri, of catastrophic wildfires in Texas, of a food-safety scare in California…  Not to mention the flooding in Memphis, now pending in New Orleans.  Or the hydro-fracking spill in Pennsylvania.  Or the company responsible for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill applauding itself in its annual report for its exceptional safety record in 2010.

It all felt like a scene from Eaarth, or Hot, or Six Degrees, or Storms of my Grandchildren, or any of the other books we had been reading recently about the pending climate crisis.  Things weren’t looking good…

We spent a month in New York trying to get ready for the road down to Rio, and it was while we were there that our plans changed once again.  We were talking with a friend at ATD Fourth World when we had the idea of bringing a video camera with us for our trip down to Rio.  If we wanted people to see what we saw, and to have the same sense of the changes going on in the world today, then we would have to bring them along with us – and maybe along the way we could cure our own pessimism some as well and find other people who were taking action against climate change and who might be able to show the rest of us the next steps forward. 

It isn’t like nothing is being done, we just have to find what’s out there.

So we have decided to start filming our trip, going out of our way to find as many organizations working for the environment as possible.  Hopefully we can put it all together into some kind of documentary film at the end covering the people we’ve met, with maybe a sense of what sort of actions are being taken around the world, of what ordinary people can do and what works.  All of it building up of course to the Rio summit that is still our destination: June 2012, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development.

We left New York a month ago with a video camera in hand and five billion ideas bumping around our heads.  We then spent three weeks in Asheville North Carolina learning about natural building – cob, adobe, straw-bale, timber-framing, bamboo, etc.  Forty percent of the world’s resources (and CO2 emissions) are linked to the building industry: natural building is an abundant, cheap, durable, and ecological alternative.  We built a small house, a barrel oven, a fireplace, and various other projects and met some of the most wonderful, engaged people we have met all trip as well.

Now, we are back north in Washington DC.  From here we will make the big turn to the south, heading out by train to New Orleans, then across Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before heading down into Mexico.  We hope to visit some Transition Towns along the way over the next few weeks, and to make it to an organic farm in Puerto Vallarta by mid-June.

Our next update should come from there, where hopefully we’ll speak a little Spanish and have a bit more optimistic news to share!

As always, thank you for your support.  Your comments and e-mails are more than welcome – and for all our friends and family: we miss you dearly, thanks for welcoming us home so warmly!

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2 Responses to The US of A

  1. luc says:

    About the popular backlash on environmentalism, I just read a short essay by Iegor Gran (in French): “L’écologie en bas de chez moi” which takes a shot at the zealots of the environment who treat you like a terrorist when you don’t do what Al Gore told them they should do. I think lots of us want to “do something about the environment” even if we don’t always know what to do (because it’s so complex and because we constantly contradict ourselves, just by living in rich/polluting countries), but we don’t like to be stared at by neighbors for every little thing we do just because they heard about the environment on TV.

    I think the backlash is just about these zealots, nothing else.

    Have fun traveling down the USA !

  2. Dave says:

    I definitely agree with you on that one Luc, there is a problem with how we environmentalists present ourselves. A few weeks ago we went to go see a presentation given by a branch of the Transition Movement – an organization which should be totally positive and energizing since the whole point of the transition movement is to get people fired up to create a better world in the face of the dual challenges of climate change and peak oil. And yet the whole thing was just depressing, we were left wondering if we shouldn’t give it all up and buy a shotgun and start hording food because there is no hope and the world is coming to an end and only some of us will survive and how can you even travel by bus you polluting monster fascist…

    I can see why people are so negative, and why they brow-beat people who don’t do the most ecological thing all the time, these challenges are serious and scary; but it is no way to get what you want, people just don’t want to hear it. Could you imagine Nike running an ad campaign that was “Buy Nike or You’re a Bad Person!”?

    Too bad though that the environmental movement seems to be learning this all at such a late stage!

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