July in Finland

The past month in Finland has been basically filled with caterpillars. Every day I go to Oulu University and check on different caterpillar species. They line trays upon trays in their little cup homes. What I have to do is check and see if any of the caterpillars have pupated, if they have I date them and if they haven’t I change their leaves, dirt and water. It was fairly busy at the beginning I would be working with these caterpillars for eight hours usually but sometimes the hours stretched to twelve. Now, however, the hours have cut down to a range of one to three hours since they are almost all pupated.

The light has followed this pattern it was like the day at midnight at the beginning of the summer. It has now started to darken. The dark has become a weird thought to me. But I will have to get used to it again quickly as I leave for a trip to Germany with one of my flat-mates. We will be spending a couple of days in Stuttgart with one of her parent’s friends. It should be a lot of fun especially since we’re running out of time to explore. We leave for the next course on August 4th and that will last until the time we leave. All and all Finland has been a fun experience thus far, can’t wait to see Germany.

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Vi ses Denmark!

My time in Denmark has come to a close…I’m now back in the States and already missing the home I made Aarhus. How strange to feel homesick for the people and place I have only known for 5 months. It doesn’t really feel as if I studied abroad, but rather just moved somewhere new to give myself a fresh start. Aside from school I had a job, favorite coffee shops and art galleries, and found a beautiful little anarchist/vegan/art community house to live at when things got too damn expensive to stay in my apartment. Never did I expect to so quickly find a niche. It would have been easy to just stay and live there, but I guess it would be just as easy to go back. A tip to all travelers, Denmark is a friendly place for absolutely everyone..and the summertime is filled with art and music festivals (and you get awesome perks if you volunteer for them). 

What I liked most about Denmark, though, is that it is nothing like the States. I thought, before coming, that it may not be so culturally different as I had wanted and maybe Spain or Eastern Europe would have given me a better experience. Yes, it is a highly modern, Western country, but aside from that there are many aspects of American culture that Danes just can’t wrap their heads around. Like not knowing what a healthy diet is. Most Danes are very health-conscious and active. Or having to pay for healthcare and school. Marriage has been a right for EVERYONE since 2012–before that, same-sex couples could get registered partnerships. Most of the country is Atheist, but if you want to practice your religion, hell, go ahead as long as you don’t push it on anyone else or bring it into government. Most people take 1-4 years off and travel before going to University. Family and close friendships are highly valued as well as self-care and ensuring your own personal happiness. When the clock hits 5, you are done with work and no one would expect or demand you work longer. Never once while working at the bar did I hear someone complain about working. Bosses and employees, students and teachers, are all equals. In fact, it is highly looked down upon for anyone to think or act as if they are better than anyone else. There are no box stores or large shopping malls.  And although things are expensive, people don’t buy a lot of things. They spend money once on something nice and useful and take care of it long-term. You can take a bus or train almost anywhere, no matter how rural, but hitch-hiking is safe and relatively easy. And you can drink openly on the streets.

That was kind of a hodgepodge of information, but you get the idea. And it’s not just policies and lifestyles that make it different, the entire mindset is radically different from that in the States. It’s really something you have to experience to understand and even in the end I was finding something new about the Danes most every day.

They definitely fare well in the welfare state. I don’t think it’s the place I would want to spend the rest of my life…but if you are looking for some peace of mind and a place where you can just be, Denmark will give you just that. 

Vi ses to all I left behind, see you someday soon.

Adventuring in South Africa

I have been living, working, loving, and traveling around the tip of South Africa in Cape Town for the last five weeks. Yesterday marked my “midway point” to my trip and it was quite a shock. I have already done so much here, yet want to get so much more out of my trip.

I have been working in a township of Cape Town, Khayelitsha, at the Treatment Action Campaign. This is an HIV/AIDS foundation in the heart of the townships. They work nationally to better the quality of life through means of education, policy, and awareness. Their mission,  is, “To ensure that every person living with HIV has access to quality comprehensive prevention and treatment services to live a healthy life” (About the Treatment, n.d.). There are three core sectors that are run under the Treatment Action Campaign: Prevention and Treatment Literacy, Community Health Advocacy, and Policy, Communications and Research. The Prevention and Treatment Literacy sector and Community Health Advocacy sector both fight to reduce stigma towards HIV positive individuals, decrease gender based violence, and increase the knowledge about HIV and its associated illnesses within the respective communities. While the Policy, Communications and Research sector aims to protect the rights given to the people by the South African Constitution that are not being upheld. This sector fights in the courthouses, at the government, and with the local police.

Currently, I have been doing a variety of things at the organization. I have helped to organize files for branches and freed up time for others to do their work while I focus on the administrative side. While this is not my focus, I realize that working in a grassroots organization is not always going to be hands on, but rather fulfilling all of the little details in order to get anything done.

I have also been able to observe adherence councilors for ARV treatment which has been a very interesting process. The healthcare system is very different here and being able to observe these sessions has allowed me to see more into the lives of nurses, councilors, and HIV positive patients. I am only beginning to understand the struggles of HIV in this country and what the lives are like for the people living in poverty in the townships.

While I spend thirty hours a week at this organization, the rest of my time has been spent exploring Cape Town.

I have climbed Lion’s Head to see the sunrise and sunset over Cape Town, I have hiked along the base of Table Mountain and has seen the entirety of the city from above, I have also seen the city from the sea on a sail boat. I have visited the District Six museum to better understand how the displacement of peoples happened in this city, and have walked around the old and new districts to see the changes made.

I have also traveled along the eastern coast of South Africa along the Garden Route and bungy jumped, saw elephants, walked along a gorgeous beach, and stayed at the coolest hostel I have ever slept at. There is always so much to do in Cape Town like moonlight bike rides, exploring the quirky restaraunts and shops, and always finding something new.

There is so much to see here, I am sure that my next five weeks will be just as eventful, if not more.

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My First 3 Weeks in Finland

I have been in Finland for close to three weeks now and so far I have already taken one class, the aquatics course. For this course I had to travel from Oulu up to the Oulanka research station where I stayed for about a week. In this course all the students were split into groups and each day the groups did something different. In the groups, half a day was spent working in the field and half a day was spent working in the lab. I learned how to take samples and recognize species of zooplankton, macro-invertebrates and fish. The days were long during the course, 9:00am to 5:00pm every day, but the experience was really enjoyable. I learned a ton on this course and I am definitely looking forward to the next one in August. Until that course begins I will be working on a caterpillar and butterfly project. My project work doesn’t start for a few weeks still, so I am debating on where to go and travel. I will probably see more of Finland since it is incredibly beautiful, but I would still like to visit another place. I’m hoping to find a place with a lot of history built into the town. Until I decide I will just spend sometime roaming around Oulu.

Hjort Fest

Bring on the sunshine!

This weekend (and past few days) the sun came out to stay and warm our winter bones. Perfect timing as it was the weekend of Hjort fest–a small outdoor festival held at one of the eco communities I am writing about. The community itself, Andelssamfundet (yea, i know…), is of about 150 people in all age ranges. Houses or apartments are either owned, partially owned, or rented so it’s pretty accessible to all financial capacities. There’s a lot to say about the history of it but I’ll probably bore you geeking out on it….

What’s really special though is its program for mentally handicapped people. One of the housing groups is dedicated for young men with varied abilities who are able to live and work in the community. The goal is to provide social interaction and participation for the men while finding them jobs that they are happy and successful in doing. Though the festival started so the community could raise money to buy a pice of land, Hjort fest is now held yearly to raise money for this housing group (also its super fun and Danes love any reason to party).

It was a bit unfortunate that I was totally exhausted from exams/moving out/Distortion (a festival I went to in Copenhagen that’s called distortion for a very good reason…ay). Most of the weekend I just enjoyed the music and sunshine while trying to give my brain a rest. I volunteered cooking with Folkenkoken—this vegetarian “people’s kitchen” some friends and I go to in Aarhus. A lot of the food was donated and everyone was really creative in making some awesome meals! There was also homemade ice cream made there at the community…damn.

But the best part of course was the music…because when Danes drink, they dance, and all the different ages/types of people made for a beautiful mess of happy, groovin’ people. For as small as the festival was, there were 3 stages with totally unique atmospheres and a bit of something for everyone. I really have to hand it to all the people who planned Hjort fest for creating a small little paradise in their backyard. EVERYTHING was decorated and given life in some way. Colorful crochets wrapped around the trees, fairly lights in the forest, paintings hug on the fence in front of the cows, flowers planted in old shoes, anything funky and fun you could imagine was there.

If anyone is interested in learning about the community itself please ask! In many ways, the Danes do it right and we could take a few notes from them  :)

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Dane-ish

A little late on the blog posts…but here it goes. Time here in Denmark has gone so quickly! I would say it’s been a whirlwind adventure, but Denmark is too relaxed for that. It’s been more of a cozy–or hygge–time. For those of you who don’t know anything about Denmark, hygge is probably the most important thing to learn. Like most Danish words, it sounds nothing like it is spelled and is pronounced “who-gae”, or “hue-gah”.  There’s no real translation for it in English, but basically its spending a really intimate, cozy time with friends or family that involves a lot of candles. Or really just enjoying the pleasure of doing things not matter how simple they are. Which is probably one of the reasons Denmark is considered the happiest country on Earth.

Soooo…is Denmark the happiest country in the world? That’s what we’re all wondering here, isn’t it? Well yes, and no…I think. It’s hard to say really because my experience has been surprising and rewarding in so many ways that I, of course, have been very happy here. But to say that everyone in Denmark is “happier” would be an oversimplification of how it got that reputation in the first place.

It seems that every Dane is eager to talk about how I perceive them. Every conversation—and I mean EVERY conversation—I have had with a Danish person( which is a lot) we always get around to why Denmark is so different. Honestly, the reasons are quite obvious.

  1. There is a standard level of equality for everyone. Everyone. No ifs, ands, or buts.
  2. Education is free for everyone. Everyone. No ifs, ands, or buts.
  3. Health care is free for everyone. Everyone. No ifs, ands, or buts.
  4. It is, for the most part, completely safe (parents just leave their babies in strollers outside coffee shops…)
  5. There is a strong amount of pride in being Danish

Of course, the country has its issues, but as a whole, it is an extremely livable place. And paying almost half your income in taxes? No biggie. Because taxes go back to the people and the welfare state will take care of you.

So it really depends on how happiness is measured. I would say that Denmark is one of the most content and peaceful places in the world. Prescription drug usage is a semi-big problem here and a lot of people I know are not what most people deem as “happy”. There’s a lot of cultural and societal reasons to this that we could talk hours about–the psychology of Scandinavian culture as a whole is extremely interesting and worth experiencing. But at the end of the day, Denmark is a comfortable, hygge place to live.

Aarhus, the city I live in and the second largest in Denmark, is always alive with art openings and music festivals. Never a shortage of cool things to do here! One of my favorite experiences has been volunteering at a non-profit bar downtown called Fairbar. Lots of local beers to taste and Danish people to meet. The Danes are a unique kind who have a reputation for seeming stand-offish, but are very kind and super awesome once they get comfortable with you! (or drunk…)

There’s so so much more to talk about but then I would be writing forever. It will be sad to leave this cozy little place. Next two posts will be about a sustainable living community I have been visiting and something called Folkekøkken (folke-kooken…?).

it's like a postcard...

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Hope all you GLI-ers are having a happy summer!

Poisoning one bird to save another

This spring, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game will spend $100,000 to poison Ravens with “strategically placed” chicken eggs. The poison will only affect Corvids (Ravens, Crows, Magpies, etc.). Ravens are the biggest contributor to egg predation of Sage Grouse nests and the department claims Ravens have expanded their territory due to “human-related activities.” Structures such as power lines, houses, windmills, and water towers are results from human-related activities and provide nesting sites for Ravens.

In the attached article, the department states they are not sure Ravens are a cause for sage grouse population decline. They also say they are sure that once a pair of territorial Ravens is poisoned and killed it will immediately be replaced by another pair. Already, this sounds like a bad idea. Not only is the department releasing poison into the environment, they also don’t know if it will work!

Also in the article, Katie Fite, the biodiversity director for the Western Watersheds Project, says if there is a problem with egg predation, it isn’t because of the predator, but lack of cover for the nest. Sagebrush provides most of this cover for Sage Grouse and its depletion is caused mostly by cattle grazing. Fite believes poisoning Ravens is a project that dances around improving cattle grazing practices.

Cattle grazing is a sensitive topic between the government and ranchers. Some organizations such as the Sage Grouse Initiative and Pheasants Forever are already successfully working with ranchers to improve grazing practices, even in Idaho! These organizations are working with ranchers to prevent listing Sage Grouse under the Endangered Species Act by improving their population numbers. Preventing listing will help ranchers by preventing more regulation on public lands and sage grouse by improving their habitats.

While working with the BLM and interacting with ranchers in Oregon this past summer, I learned if you provide logical reasons and benefits to the public, the public will support and comply with government decisions. Also, I think when people don’t understand why a government agency is using a lot of money to implement an action they are less likely to obey regulations. Poisoning Ravens doesn’t seem logical and I don’t see a reason for why the Idaho Department of Fish and Game needs to implement this project or ignore combating cattle grazing. I think conducting such a project with tax dollars without further studies is very irresponsible for a government agency.

http://magicvalley.com/news/local/officials-to-spend-k-to-poison-ravens-to-protect-sage/article_4cd847e4-bbae-11e3-82ee-001a4bcf887a.html

My Great Indian Adventure

I’m finally back in the United States, and I feel like I have changed. I look at things a little bit differently and appreciate the things I have a lot more. India is a beautiful country. The people, the culture and everything about it was new and exciting, and I tried to soak it all in.

But after a month of being there, I was ready to come back. I had seen enough of the pollution and poverty to have a newly found appreciation for  Montana, my home.  The clean air and clean streets of Montana are something I cherish.

It was almost like a dream to see a country so different from the one I grew up in. It was eye opening. When people say you better eat all of your food because there is some starving kid in the developing world that would be grateful for it, I can now put a face to that. I have seen the starving kids and the pain of less fortunate people in India. I have been to the slums and seen the environmental degradation of over population.

But along with all the bad, I have seen the beauty of the Indian culture. They are passionate and they have so many interesting things that we can learn from them.

My favorite part of the experience was going to the tiger reserve by Moharli. I felt that it was the place where we got to experience the Indian culture the most. We were immersed in an Indian village for a week and I wouldn’t give that experience up for anything. The other reason that the tiger reserve was my favorite experience is because it was the most positive environmental thing I saw. The Indian government is really devoted to protecting the tigers and doesn’t sacrifice the tiger’s well-being for tourism dollars and I was happy to see some positive environmental decisions amongst so many environmental issues.

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On the last day we went to Mumbai and it was so polluted and there were so many people. It seems unreal and unlike anything in America. When you dropped into the city it was instantly polluted and stuffy. I think that the rapid increase in population across India has made it impossible for the country to keep up with infrastructure and the pollution and that’s why the country is in the state it is. There are groups throughout India who are aware of these problems and are trying to fix them, but gaining traction in the country has proven to be an issue.

Overall, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to study abroad and I think it’s something that every student should do.

Here are the links to the two stories that I contributed to while in India. One is the story the whole group contributed to about the tiger reserve, and the other is the story I worked on with Alexander Deedy about the clean water access in the slums of Pune.

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Water in the slums: not what you would expect

This past week we have been back in Pune at the FLAME campus. FLAME is the most expensive college in India and is the only liberal arts college in the country.

Since it is such a nice college, it makes sense that the campus would be drastically different from the other places we visit. This week we were reporting on various stories though out Pune, most of them dealing with tied to the environment. Some of the stories include: rickshaws and the air pollution they are  causing, cycling and it’s presence in Pune, migratory bird habitats, tribal displacement  because of dams being built, the stray dog problem in Pune, and access to clean water in the slums.

This is Wadarvadi, a slum in Pune.

This is Wadarvadi, a slum in Pune.

My group did the story about clean water access in the slums, and what we ended up finding was much different than what we expected. We all expected some sort of “Slumdog Millionaire” situation with people in complete poverty; something that was going to shock us. We expected that people in the slums would have to carry the water from really far away and that it would be dirty water that they didn’t have a choice to drink.We didn’t goto the worst slum, because of safety reasons, but the slums we did go to had an outside faucetthat pumped out filtered water during certain hours of the day. The water is very clean although sometimes they get throat infections in the winter months from the water. Even though they are living in the slums, Pune has set up a system where they drink the same filtered water that we do at our fancy college campus.

When we figured out that all the slums in Pune would be like this we were confused, a little bummed, but mostly impressed. We were confused because we never would have guessed that Pune could have built the infrastructure to provide everyone with clean water. The journalists inside of us were bummed because we didn’t get the sensational and shocking story we wanted and expected. We had prepared ourselves for the worst and gotten pleasantly surprised.

In India you can’t go a block without seeing a building that looks like it’s going to fall over, garbage covered streets, or homeless children asking for food. Their roads are quite awful, compared to roads in America, and their rivers are filled with mountains of trash. It’s a sad sight, but knowing that Pune can provide clean water for its residents gives me hope that they can eventually clean itself up and lower the amount of pollution in the city.

There are islands of trash floating down the rivers through Pune.

There are islands of trash floating down the rivers through Pune.

Everywhere on the walls are advertisements saying “Keep Pune green and clean. Green Pune. Clean Pune.” They are trying and I think that’s all anyone can ask for.

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Are the Troubles Really Over?

By: Mercedes Becker

While traveling through Northern Ireland, I was deeply touched and even a bit disturbed by the lasting influence I could feel still lingering from the Troubles. Peace was finally established with the St. Andrews Agreement in 2006, but tension still exists in places like Belfast and Derry, where murals dedicated to the Nationalists and Loyalists cover the walls and “IRA” is graffitied on the street signs. I wrote a sestina-style poem describing my experiences in this part of the country. This is it:

Our gazes shift to the infamous walls
Block letters and portraited figures painted in blue and green and red
Some faces heated, enraged, some cold
They have picket signs, and weapons, and nothing in their hands
My eyes fixate on the guns
A symbol of violence in a time of peace

Politicians create pen-and-ink peace
But paper treaties aren’t castle walls
In 1998 the IRA still had their guns
And continued paint-splattering these walls red
The blood of innocents on their hands
Children suffering bombs in cold blood, their blood cold

I hide my hands in my pockets from the cold
Remember a conversation the day before about peace
I met a man in Belfast, we shook hands
And I asked him what it would take to tear down the walls
“Integrate the schools!” he shouted, his face red
But he wasn’t angry with me. He was angry with politicians, separation, and guns

In Derry, there is a painting of a broken gun
Placed next to a girl who long since turned cold
The girl wears green, the gun is red
One the symbol of tragedy, the other peace
How can Derry find peace with tragedy written on her walls?
When will the communities of Belfast be able to shake hands?

Funny, how when you unfurl your fists they turn back to hands
How handshakes are easier when you drop your guns
How people have always felt safer behind walls
But skin is warm and mortar cold
The people of Ulster have just tasted peace
But the city walls still turn their vision red

We’re but travelers here, trying to experience the things we’ve read
Trying to paint Ireland on the backs of our hands
Trying to understand a place that hasn’t always known peace
We’re told the Irish aren’t fond of guns
I’m apt to believe, but don’t tell me their spirits don’t turn cold
When they’refacing the murals on these walls

These days, the Republicans and the Loyalists have holstered their guns –
The Troubles have nearly passed and the streets are grey, not red

I walk these curving streets of Derry eager to place my cold hands in front of a pub fire,
But I don’t know if it will do much for my chilled spirit

There is sadness here in Ulster; even a traveler can sense the tension. May I offer my opinion on peace?
Paint over the walls.

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