Ecuador: A country full of wonders [Part 2]

After spending some days in Quito and the Andes, my Ecuadorian trip then took me few years ago to my favourite place on Earth: the one and only Amazonia!

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If I had to write a love letter to one magical place I would definitely address it to the Amazon rainforest. Everything is so special there that it’s hard to put words on it but I guess I was always attracted to it like a magnet and know deep down that I’d be back someday.

What’s all the fuss about? There is a feel to it that you cannot find in any other place. It’s pristine, it’s exciting, it’s overwhelming and it’s miles away from our traditional comfort zone. And that’s also why going to the Amazon forest requires some preparation.

One of the worst enemy waiting for you there are mosquitoes. From making sure that your accomodation will have a mosquito net to buying some serious mosquito repellent, be ready to spend your days smelling like lemon grass! Making sure that your vaccines are updated depending on the area you are heading to is also extremely important so check with a doctor few months before leaving.

What I love most about being in the jungle is the surprising contrast between the fact that it feels peaceful but at the same time always so filled with life. You might walk around and see nothing and on another day just stumble upon a loud group of monkeys and colorful parrots. The jungle definitely rewards patience and determination.

As a biologist student on a field trip at the time, I had the chance to stay for few days in Tiputini Biodiversity Station. Our guides were incredible and allowed our group to experience so much during our stay. Knowing the forest by heart, they were always taking us to great places and were able to spot wildlife like nobody else could.

I still remember clearly entering a part of the forest where only one type of tree was growing and being gobsmacked to discover that lemon ants were actually killing all other trees in exchange for food and a place to stay!

To make the most of Amazonia, having walks with a guide both during the day and at night is a must. The wildlife is completely different and while you may be able to spot groups of monkeys, sloths, and birds in the early morning, the night will reveal incredible insects, spiders, snakes and amphibians. Lots of mammals are also nocturnal so you might get lucky and cross path with some opossums and bats.

Learning about the way local communities live in the forest and about their culture was also a great experience. The guides explained during our walks how to use different plants to build things or to cure diseases and we all ended up with nice (depending on our skills and creativity I have to admit) tattoos by just applying the stem of a certain plant on our skin.

Stay tuned to hear soon about the last Ecuadorian wonder: The Galapagos Islands!

Liebster Award Nomination!

Many thanks to Sarah, from 31 and over,  for nominating me for the Liebster Award! This award is a recognition given to bloggers by other bloggers and I’m delighted to have been nominated. Upon acceptance, you must then pass it on to other bloggers to continue sharing the love and discovering new blogs. So please, do not break it! Follow the rules below if you have been nominated  🙂

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The rules:

  1. Thank and link to the blogger who nominated you
  2. Create a post on your blog, displaying the Liebster Award Logo
  3. Answer 11 questions assigned by the blogger who nominated you
  4. Provide rules/instructions for accepting the award
  5. Nominate 5-11 new favorite bloggers for the Liebster Award
  6. Come up with a list of 11 new questions for your nominees
  7. Notify the nominees
  8. Post your Liebster Award blog post link in the comments of your nominators Liebster Award Post

Q&A with Sarah:

Who is your travel inspiration? Why?
Tintin! Journalist and explorer, this fictional character always inspired me to explore the world and I dreamt as a kid to follow his footsteps. Traveling while investigating incredible stories and meeting amazing friends, what better inspiration?

What’s the furthest destination (from home) that you traveled to?
Australia. My parents had the chance to win a trip there on the French radio and we all flew to this incredible country!

Do you like traveling alone or with a group?
I’m more of a solo traveler I have to say. I really enjoy making my own plans and be free to stop along the way if I want to, without having to stick to a fixed plan. Being a solo traveller doesn’t mean thought that I don’t enjoy meeting other people on the way. I love spending time with locals and other travellers! Heading to a hostel is often a good strategy to meet people and possibly end up traveling together  🙂

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A great solo weekend in Milan

Have you traveled to a place you couldn’t wait to get out of?
Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro was probably one of those places. The view is beautiful and the train ride was great but the place by itself was just sooo crowded. I honestly couldn’t take it and was quite glad to go away from it.

Can you give one hidden gem (name of the place and where it can be found) you’ve stumbled into that you would like to share?
The Tiputini Biodiversity Centre in Ecuador. Amazing place filled with an incredible amount of wildlife!

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Amazonian wildlife

What’s the most amazing thing that happened to you while traveling?
Many amazing things have happened to me while traveling and I’ve met people on the way that I’m still lucky enough to call friends. But if I had to choose only one moment, I would probably pick that time in Kenya when an entire class of Massais kids performed one of their traditional dance for me. They were training for a competition with other schools and it was an incredible experience!

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Massai school near Ol Pejeta Conservancy 


How about the scariest thing?
I was grabbed by something while swimming in Guadeloupe when I was a kid. Sure that it was a shark and that my last moment had arrived, I probably swam faster than I ever did since. 

Can you name a city or country you always find yourself coming back to?
The UK. I’ve studied there two times already and I keep coming back somehow. One day, when I’m old, I’ll have a cottage lost somewhere with a bunch of sheep and Scottish cows for sure!

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Aberaeron, elected best place in Wales 2016

What were/are your travel misconceptions which you have proven wrong – if there are any?
I was convinced that travelling from Brazil to Peru was fast and cheap. I was wrong. Brazil is really big so no Easy Jet flights to neighbouring countries like we have in Europe!

Are you more of a sea or mountain person?
I like both. Mountains full of snow and skying possibilities in winter and warm sea to snorkel and surf in summer!

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What’s on the top of your bucket list that you haven’t done yet?
Exploring Scotland and Patagonia!

Now I’d like to nominate a couple of amazing bloggers to spread the love:

Ginger Paws Outdoor, These Traveling Feet, Reverberations, Loudy’s Dream, Emma Eats & Explores, Passports and Pigtails 

My Questions for the nominees are:

  1. What was your first travel destination?
  2. What’s the weirdest way of transport that you’ve used while travelling?
  3. What is your favourite continent and why?
  4. If you could go anywhere, where would you go?
  5. What are the top three things you always take in your suitcase?
  6. Why did you start blogging?
  7. What’s the worst thing you had to eat while travelling?
  8. And the best?
  9. Are you more into cold destinations or warm ones?
  10. What’s your best travel-related memory?
  11. What’s on your travel wish list for 2017?

Amazonian insurgencies or how the Kayapó raised hope for indigenous communities around the world

The construction of a series of mega dams, which was initially stopped in 1989 by a tribe called Kayapó, is now threatening thousands of indigenous people in the Brazilian Amazon. I investigated to understand how the Kayapó managed to win the fight against the Brazilian government at the time.

While the world has its eyes riveted on Brazil waiting for the Olympics, indigenous Amazonian tribes are seeing their lives threatened by the construction of a series of mega dams.

Mostly unheard of, except in the spheres of indigenous and environmental NGOs, this fight has been going on for years, and thousands of lives could be changed forever if it goes to completion.

The Belo Monte dam, one of the dams being built, is designed to divert 80% of the Xingu River’s flow and would flood the lands of up to 40,000 indigenous people.

But this project is in nothing original. It is actually the successor of a project that was cancelled at the end of the 1980s when a group of Amazonian tribes, known as the Kayapó, stood up against it.

Barbara Zimmerman, from International Conservation Fund of Canada, has been working with the Kayapó for the past 25 years. She explains: “The Kayapó, really on their own initiative took on themselves to stand up to this.” So how did an Amazonian community manage to stand up in front of the Brazilian government at that time?

The historical context faced by the Kayapó is essential to understand better how this success was made possible. In the 1970s and 1980s, following a pacification campaign in the Amazon, Brazilian settlers started to invade the Kayapó’s territories.

Laura Zanotti, anthropologist at Purdue University, says: “During this period of pacification a lots of groups faced disease, and demoralisation.”

Kayapó were considered as one of the most feared tribe in the Amazon and war played an important part in their lives. Young men were raised from boyhood to become warriors and were expected to go on raids and fight. So they took the invasion of their lands by gold miners and loggers as an act of war and reacted accordingly.

“They gained their rights to their territories in the late 1980s”, explains Barbara. “They did that by pressuring the government. Everything from taking hostages to marching to Brasilia, and just going to the government offices and making demands. So the government basically just gave them their land to get rid of them and they ended up with this huge territory which is unparalleled anywhere in the world.”

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Map of the Kayapó territories delimited by the dark line. The total territory represents more than 300,000 ha. Credit: ICF Canada

On May 4 1985, Payakan – a chief representing the Kayapó- signed an agreement with the government which officially delimitated their territories. Interests in the Kayapó started growing as environmental NGOs began seeing them as possible guardians of the rainforest.

Later on, it’s these same NGOs connections, notably Conservation International for whose Barbara was working at the time, who warned the Kayapó that a series of mega dams was meant to be constructed along the Shingu River threatening their lands. Various tribes would see their lands flooded following this construction funded by the World Bank.

Facing this new struggle, the Kayapó stood up again, more united than ever. As Barbara describes: “They are not shy and retiring. They are aggressive, they are arrogant.” But aggression alone was no solution to this conflict as the Xingu Project was supported internationally. So the Kayapó had to find a way to export their concerns and anger abroad and turn it into a more global protest.

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Kayapó society is based on rituals and ceremonies. Photo credit: Wilfred Paulse Copyright © 2012.

“They strategized with a series of different NGOs, as well as celebrities”, says Laura, “to make sure that in addition of their own voice there were other allies and people there that were able to represent them both in Brazil as well as abroad.”

Two chiefs played an important role in that phase of the conflict and one of them was Payakan. David Suzuki, a Canadian broadcaster and environmentalist, came to meet Payakan in 1988. Touched by the struggle of the Kayapó, he launched a fundraising campaign in Canada and took Payakan to tour the country. This allowed the Kayapó to fund the extremely important gathering which happened in Altamira in 1989.

Payakan became a leader based on qualities such as strength, generosity, and oratory skills but one of his key assets was his understanding of Portuguese. Laura says: “He had gained knowledge of Portuguese and so increasingly you saw some young leaders being singled out because of their ability to navigate between these two worlds and so he was important in that way.”

This capacity to communicate with organizations, governmental or not, allowed Payakan “to gather different types of support whether monetary, gas, food or whatever to go different places”, adds Laura.

However, in order to be successful in their plans, the Kayapó needed to be able to coordinate themselves. Knowing that they were divided into dozens of villages, geographically far from each other, they needed a way to communicate quickly and efficiently.

That’s what radio allowed them to do. Not completely sure of how the Kayapó got their hands on radios, Laura hypothesises the possibility of them being provided by missionaries or organisations such as FUNAI (National Indian Foundation) which worked with the Kayapó.

Laura explains: “Really, it was in part when radio started happening, and becoming widespread in the territory, Kayapó communities could then talk between and amongst each other in different ways that they couldn’t before and in a shorter period of time. And at that moment, leaders like Raoni started to emerge. He would record himself speaking and then circulate that around or play that speech on the radio. So it was a way in which communities recognised him as an important leader and as a good speaker.”

Raoni was the second chief who played an important role in the Altamira gathering. While Payakan was connecting with David Suzuki and touring Canada, Raoni entered in contact with British rock star Sting.

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Raoni was the second important leader playing a role in the Altamira gathering. He is the one who was in contact with Sting and organised his appearance at the protest. Photo credit: Greensefa

Belgium film maker, Jean-Pierre Dutilleux, who filmed various documentary on Raoni’s tribe says: “Raoni entered the international sphere thanks to my involvement and to the documentaries I produced with him. I am the one who convinced Sting to come in Amazonia to meet him in 1987.” Following this meeting, Jean-Pierre Dutilleux organised a tour for Raoni in Europe where he met various presidents and officials, raising awareness of the threat faced by his tribe.

The Altamira gathering called the ‘First Encounter of Native People’ was a six-days long event composed of a series of meetings with the officials of Eletronorte – the company in charge of the dam project- mixed with ceremonies and rituals. These meetings gave the Kayapó a stage to express their anger and concerns to the world in front of national and international media.

“Because they are Kayapó, they are so colourful and they are so photogenic”, says Barbara. “They are so appealing to media that all the international media was there. And Sting became involved around this dam protest which ended up being successful. But it was successful because of international pressure which they gain because the Kayapó put on this great show and great protest.”

The dances and rituals executed by the Kayapó during these six days were also culturally important as they were part of a broader ceremony called the New Corn Ceremony explains Laura. By performing it with all the different tribes together, the Kayapó were showing their unity and the importance of their cultural heritage. This unity was an essential part of their strategy in fighting their common threat.

Another important factor in the success of the Altamira gathering was the involvement of the entire communities and not just part of it. The gathering was not only for young warriors to attend, women and elders were also present and active. Women were especially important, “they are the hidden part of the story”, explains Laura, “in that the visible part of diplomacy is mostly male.”

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Tuire, a Kayapó female leader gained popularity when she confronted the Eletronorte official, Jose Anonio Muniz, with a machete during the Altamira protest. Photo credit: Lou Gold.

“However, women are very fundamental in a complementary way to make sure that things are successful. This means that they help to prepare food in advance in order to sustain the groups that are travelling, and they are also primarily the body painters in the community. They also participated in the meeting both in ceremonial types of participation to songs and dance. They took care of kids and were just there in general, being part of the supportive group of Kayapó.”

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Somehow, despite having won two major victories against the Brazilian government, the Kayapó are threatened again by the very same project that they had managed to stop fifteen years ago. This resurrection is now fully funded by Brazil so international actions are not as powerful as they were in Altamira. Even though the dam will not flood their lands, the Kayapó might be affected as the government passed a new set of laws.

Richard Pace, visual anthropologist working with the Kayapó, says: “What they are most upset about is the new Brazilian laws that allow the government, basically, to take lands that they had given to indigenous people and take them away for large projects. That’s what they protest most about.”

Barbara explains that even though the government doesn’t state it clearly, they plan to build a holding dam in Kayapó territory. “That would be a huge invasion of their territory and they vowed that they won’t let that happen. “

“Right now anyway their view is that over their dead bodies that they will allow that to happen.”

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The Rise of Nuit Debout

After the Arab Spring, Occupy, and Los Indignados, Nuit Debout is now the new social movement spreading across the world. It seems that the trend for a new form of social revolt is growing worldwide but what are the common factors and features behind these new movements?

Nuit Debout London

It all looks like another regular Wednesday evening in London. Tourists are out taking selfies in front of the many attractions the city has to offer and Londoners rushed to the tube leaving work few hours ago already. Nothing out of the ordinary really. Except when suddenly a small group appears and gathers in front of the Prime Minister office in Downing Street.

Within few minutes, the members of this eclectic group composed of ten people of different ages and nationalities, take out colourful chalks out of their bags and start writing on the pavement. ‘Welcome to the pavement of truth’ says one inscription, ‘Nuit Debout London’ indicates another. It is now official, the French Nuit Debout movement has reached London.

Nuit Debout Occupy

Alex, who created the Facebook page of Nuit Debout London, explains: “I believe that it’s spreading across Europe. It’s a convergence of different facts, like the labour law in France, the Panama papers, it’s many things happening at the same time. So people actually awake and say ‘no, it’s enough. We have to do something on our own, it’s not the system or the politicians who will change.’”

Nuit Debout started in France on March 31st when street demonstrations led by students and unions members against the proposed changes to labour laws turned into a night-time sit-in in the Place de la République in Paris.

“There were about 300 or 400 of us at a public meeting in February and we were wondering how can we really scare the government? We had an idea: at the next big street protest, we simply wouldn’t go home,” said Michel, 60, to the Guardian.

The movement has since been growing in France and beyond with Nuit Debout events inventoried as far as Brazil and the Philippines. Alex says about the UK: “We have Nuit Debout now in Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow, Liverpool, so it’s growing. It’s rising everywhere.”

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Nuit Debout is far from being the first movement to occupy space. But even though the rise of this type of social strategy is often linked to the Arab Spring, the first to occupy space were actually from Ukraine and Georgia.

As explained by Professor Klandermans, social psychologist specialised in social protests: “It started in some of the Eastern European countries like Ukraine and Georgia. People started to occupy space and that became a strategy that was copied by many other movements like Gezi Park in Turkey, Occupy of course, and now Nuit Debout.”

All these movements represent a new form of resistance toward political systems that are seen as obsolete and unfair by the protestors. Occupation is also a way to detach the movements from traditional protests or mode of resistance.

In the case of Nuit Debout, occupying during the night can also be seen as a symbol by both “breaking with the space time allocated to by the media narrative and also confronting capitalism on its own terrain”, explains Gabriel Rockhill, French-American philosopher writing about revolutions.

“Meaning that capitalism as it’s understood today is the sleepless beast of the world. 24/7, it’s time never stops and it globally encompasses everything. “

Another feature shared by these recent social movements involving occupation of public spaces is the importance of horizontality. The idea behind this concept is that these movements are leaderless, in the sense that everyone’s ideas have the same weight and importance.

Have your say Nuit Debout

As Alex tells me: “In Nuit debout, everyone is a leader so everyone can say something to make this movement move on, move forward.”

“I guess many of these movements are anti-establishment movements, anti-existing power movements so they don’t want to copy the hierarchical models of other organisations in our society”, adds Professor Klandermans. “That’s an important element and that’s one of the reasons why they don’t want leadership and they don’t want hierarchical structures.”

This rejection of existing powers and hierarchical models is tightened with a global struggle against capitalism and the way it rules the world. Gabriel Rockhill explains: “there is clearly a global dissatisfaction with the overall economic and political structure that has come to dominance over the last years. And I see many of these movements engaging in various ways with a struggle against neo-colonial, neo-imperial modes of global capital.”

“I see a lot of these global struggles as diverse attempts to articulate alternative political practices, and imaginaries that are coming out of a rather complex history of the radical resistance.”

A common way to articulate this new political framework is through global participation and without geographical boundaries. That’s the strength of Nuit Debout right now and it was also the strength of Los Indignados in Spain and of the American Occupy movement.

“It doesn’t need to be Downing street, it doesn’t need to be Trafalgar square, it doesn’t need to be London”, summarises Alex. “It’s just to spread the message that: ‘Guys! Get together, make an assembly, and think about what would be the best way of making a change.’”

Nuit Debout wants no label and no affiliations to organisations, it defines itself as a ‘convergence of struggles’. The assemblies, organised every night in Paris and few nights a week in other places, are divided into workshops and themed discussions. More creative activities are also available through concerts and artistic workshops.

Of course, no way to keep running all night without food so Nuit Debout got its own canteen in Place de la République. Ran by volunteers, the canteen delivers fresh products from unsold items gained from supermarkets or local markets. The concept is that there is no price tag attached to the meals served so everyone is free to give whatever they want.

Photo Credits: Michael Fleshman
Photo Credits: Michael Fleshman

This idea of solidarity and cooperation was also crucial in the Occupy movement. Gabriel Rockhill remembers that even though the media often depict Occupy as a failure, it still had lots of positive repercussions. “Probably one of the single biggest one which is often under the media radar”, he says, “is the social success.”

“In Occupy Philadelphia, there was an unbelievable mobilisation that did things that the state apparatus and capitalism aren’t doing. Like feeding the homeless, providing homes for the homeless, providing first aids, providing legal advice, providing a public library… Enormous social services and in so many sites across the country and around the world. That’s an enormous, enormous success in itself.”

Questioning the success and more precisely the impact of social movements is no easy task. The Arab Spring, for example, can be considered as a failure by some but the situation is much more nuanced than that.

Professor Klandermans explains: “The Arab Spring, if you think of it in term of what it got into movement, that was enormous! It wasn’t in the direction or in the way the people started it and had hoped or dreamed about. It backfired, it became actually a disaster if you want to put it that way, but it had an enormous impact.”

Even for experts like sociologists, predicting the faith and future of social movements is a difficult task. One misconception about revolutions or social movements like Nuit Debout is that people expect -and potentially wish for- fast moving dynamics. They expect to change the entire political framework with one big successful action.

“There is too much of an insistence on a cataclysmic conception of revolution”, explains Gabriel Rockhill. “That it happens all at once and then there is big change and there is a new society that emerges. When you start studying the history of revolutions, you realise that it usually takes at least a few years or about a decade, often a few decades. “

One thing for sure is that Nuit Debout is growing fast and internationally. Proof of it is the setting of the first Global Debout event happening this weekend in Paris. Inviting people from the entire world to “construct together a global spring of resistance!”, the Facebook page of the event already gathered more than 10,000 interested people.

So let’s take few steps back and give Nuit Debout some time. Because as Gabriel Rockhill says: “What is at stake is a reconfiguration of our world and it can’t be done over night, it takes time.”

Cardiff University to be a bee-friendly campus

The University’s Redwood Building will be renovated to make it more bee-friendly as part of a project launched by the Pharmacy School.

Pollinators such as bees are important to keep the balance of the ecosystem.
Pollinators such as bees are important to keep the balance of the ecosystem. Photo Credit: Julia Migne

Pharma Bees in association with Urban Buzz, a project run by BugLife, plans to renovate the Cardiff University’s Redwood Building this spring by planting bee-friendly plants.

Professor Les Baillie, from Pharma Bee, a project by Cardiff University’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, explains: “We want to create a bee friendly campus. As Cardiff University owns good amount of land and it is a relatively green university, it will be an ideal place for the project.”

The project initially started with the research of Dr Jenny Hawkins. In her project she aimed to use honeybees as a source of natural antibacterial properties in plants.

Professor Baillie explains that the honey samples provided by beekeepers from all across Wales were tested and the ones containing antibacterial activity were identified and their pollen DNA was sampled to identify the plants that were visited by the bees.

Baillie says: “Since this project allowed us to identify plants that were visited by bees, we now have a list of bee friendly plants. We plan to grow these plants around Cardiff to increase biodiversity and to provide food for bees. One of the sites will be around the Redwood Building.”

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Buglife Urban Buzz will bring in their expertise to help design and implement the idea of new green area around the Redwood Building. Urban Buzz is funded by Biffa Award, Garfield and Western as well as Heritage Lottery and its goal is to increase pollinator habitats in the UK.

Michelle Bales, in charge of the project in Cardiff, explains: “Urban Buzz is a UK-based project covering 8 cities over 3 years.The project will develop in Cardiff for the first 18 months. Part of the project is to try to increase pollinator habitats in urban environment, which targets the city. We do this through both increasing foraging and nesting sites. We had been talking to the university about potential ways we could link up with the project.”

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Three beehives are to be installed on the roof of the Redwood Building. Photo Credit: Julia Migne

Along with this, Dr Hawkins is continuing her research and she is now developing information on the antibacterial compounds found in the honey. The next steps involve developing the identities of these compounds, developing a purification process of the plants and then testing the antibiotics.

Professor Baillie says: “If they prove to be promising then we may have identified the next generation of antibiotics.Currently, there is a big problem with drug resistance. We are running out of antibiotics. It would be great if a plant in Wales had a new antibiotic to treat MRSA or some other hospital bacteria.”

The project provides opportunities for students to get involved so if you are interested check out the Urban Buzz page.

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Asylum seekers get involved in community gardens

Soil and Clay, a project recently launched by Trinity Centre, means to connect asylum seekers and locals through gardening.

New project launched by Trinity Centre intends to bridge the gap between asylum seekers and local Cardiff residents through gardening and ceramics.

Soil and Clay – Global Gardens is a free 16 week program happening every Tuesday at 10am at Trinity Centre. It involves various activities such as gardening, pottery making, yoga, and cooking. All the gardening activities take place at the Riverside Market Garden and Coed Hills Forest Garden.

The project is meant to improve the health and well-being of asylum seekers while connecting them with locals.

“The whole idea of this project is this huge health well-being element,” says Mustafa Hameed, co-founder of the project and involved with Trinity Centre. “We think as well as them getting accommodation and food provision, the psychology of staying motivated and staying positive is also important. So projects like these are just as important as anything else that we can give them. Having a space for them to attend and feel comfortable, distract their minds from the problems that they have.”

mental health and refugees

One key aspect of the project is the idea of communal gardens and how to use them to cook fresh, healthy and organic products.

“Cardiff is such a diverse population that I felt the garden would be an amazing opportunity to bring people from different cultures together and explore different plants and different cuisines as well within the garden,” explains Poppy Nicol co-founder of the project and involved in Riverside Market Garden.

The project consist of three main parts, the first being the gardening which focus on gardening techniques and agroforestry techniques. Then comes the ceramic part ran by local professional ceramicist Jack Welbourne, where participants explore different techniques and make pieces that will then be used for the final part of the project.

“The final part is the feast”, explains Poppy. “The idea is not only coming together through the gardening and clay ceramics but also through cooking. So I’ve been trying to encourage different people to kind of curate the meal every week. So we’ve had so far a Kurdish rice and beans, a middle Eastern Shorbat, which is like a lentil soup, and the first week Jack and I cooked leek and potato soup.”

Some participants have shown a real enthusiasm and talent for some of the activities included in the program. A Kurdish asylum seekers explains how he enjoys making things with his own hands during the ceramic workshop and proudly shows pictures of what he made during the session.

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The project came to life last July when Mustafa and Poppy met at local art gallery g39. They decided to join their expertise and started raising fund for Soil and Clay. Jack Welbourne, local professional ceramicist, joined the project making the ceramic part possible. Finally, yoga teacher Kalpana also joined the project adding one more activity to this already diverse project.

“It’s been really good to incorporate some body work within the project,” says Poppy. “Kalpana is a yoga and qi gong teacher and she’s been doing some classes when she can. Some people really seem to enjoy it. It’s nice to have that kind of meditation element and stretching as well as the creative things.“

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The project is open to people if they want to join so If you like gardening and would like to expand your cultural horizon, why not giving it a try?

Additional Information:

Soil and Clay happens every Tuesday at 10am at Trinity Centre

Every participant gets a box of Riverside market garden produce as part of the project thanks to the Pears Fund.

Facebook group: Soil and Clay-Global Gardens

Get rolling with the Tiger Bay Brawlers!

Want to get fitter and feel empowered? The Tiger Bay Brawlers might be just what you need!

Roller derby is "an aggressive, fast, hard-hitting sport", according to Tiger Bay Brawlers' coach.
Roller derby is “an aggressive, fast, hard-hitting sport”, according to Tiger Bay Brawlers’ coach. Photo credit: J. Migné

Skating around a  circular track, colourful wheels rolling in rhythm, one foot after the other. It could almost look like a school playground scene from another decade, if you were only looking at their feet. Then comes the helmets, the knee and elbow protections, the mouth guard, and the tattoos. It’s a Sunday afternoon at the Penarth Leisure Centre and the Tiger Bay Brawlers, the local Cardiff roller derby team, are training.

The term ‘roller derby’ was coined in the 1920s in the US to describe roller skate races. It evolved in the 1930s into a new kind of sport involving collisions and falls, and placed the foundation for the sport as it is today: two teams of five skaters scoring points by passing members of the rival team. The sport then slowly disappeared, before making a comeback in the early 2000s.

In Wales, the first roller derby team came to life in Cardiff, in 2010. Oceanne Esparcieux, head coach of the Tiger Bay Brawlers, explains that she was part of a regular roller team when a team-mate heard about roller derby while in London.

Oceanne Esparcieux, head coach of the Tiger Bay Brawlers, is part of the team from the beginning.
Oceanne Esparcieux, head coach of the Tiger Bay Brawlers, was part of the team from the very beginning. Photo credit: J.Migné

Oceanne, also known as Billie Pistol, says: “We started talking about how we could start playing this sport and there were different opinions and the team got divided. There was one team who wanted to do it recreationally […] and there was another team that wanted to take it seriously, start competing and train really hard. I went with the competitive team which ended up being the Tiger Bay Brawlers. So I’ve been there from pretty much the conception of the sport in Wales.”

‘Whip it’ directed by Drew Barrymore and starring Ellen Page, played an important role in the expansion of the sport to Europe. The movie emphasized the values behind the game, showing that anyone could have a place on the track and motivated girls all over the world to try it out.

Emily Stander, alias Smash Ketchum, says: “The first thing I think about roller derby is that it doesn’t discriminate anyone. We have tall people, short people, bigger people, really skinny people, it doesn’t matter. Every shape and size has its place on the track.”

When the sport regained popularity in the US in the 2000s, it initially came back as a female-only sport. However, men are slowly taking over and the number of men’s leagues is now growing in the UK. Oceanne is very excited by this shift and explains that men bring different skills to the sport.

“Obviously they are a lot bigger so they tend to be a lot more hard hitting but they are also a lot more fearless so when it comes to their jammers -the point scorers- they are a lot more flamboyant and they just go crazy.”

The Tiger Bay Brawlers are also one of the rare club in the UK to have a junior league. The idea came from a player who was a teacher involved in an initiative called 5×60. The concept was to encourage children to exercise for 60 minutes five days a week.

Oceanne explains: “She suggested that they could try roller derby, which was  a great way to do grass-root recruitment. We are teaching them from the age of 11 and when they become 18, they can join the main league. Unfortunately there are not that many junior teams in the UK or even in Europe, so they’ve not been able to compete with other teams yet which is a bit of a shame.”

If you are thinking of starting roller derby, the Tiger Bay Brawlers organize regular ‘fresh meat’ events advertised on their Facebook page. These trainings are 12-weeks long and allow you to learn how to skate, as well as the basics of roller derby. Ellie Brody, Tiger Bay Brawlers’ player known as Buffy Smothers, summarizes the rules of roller derby as follow: “I always explain roller derby as quite similar to rugby, except that instead of a ball, you have a person. And the person is what enables you to score points.”

According to the Tiger Bay Brawlers’ girls, the main qualities to be a roller derby player are enthusiasm, open-mindedness, persistence and resilience. Emily confirms: “you’ve got to understand that you’ve got to get hit, you gonna get hurt and you gonna have to get up and carry on.”

So if you think you have what it takes, why not give it a go and join the rolling circle? 

Roller Derby
Infographic created by J. Migné

Follow the Tiger Bay Brawlers on:  fb_icon_325x325  Twitter-logo2

Games coming:

calendar-icon  Wales vs Ireland (Men’s league) 20-02

calendar-icon Tiger Bay Brawlers vs Swansea City Roller Derby  (Women’s league) 27-02

Pope Francis and LGBT Catholics

Pope Francis gave new hopes to the LGBT communities at the beginning of his papacy in 2013. However, two years later, it seems that actions following the words are still lacking.

Cut-off date: 5 December 2015

“If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them?”  said Pope Francis about gays on a flight back to Brazil in July 2013. This famous speech has made many see Pope Francis as a kind of revolutionary, liberal pope and gave hope to LGBT communities around the world.

“I think generally certainly within Quest and within the LGBT Catholic community, people were very excited,” said Ruby Almeida from Quest, which gives pastoral support to LGBT Catholics. 

“I never heard subsequently since he made this speech so many people wanting to talk about the pope whether they had a faith or not.”

Pope Francis
Photo Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

However, even if Pope Francis gave a clear message of hope and compassion to the gay community, is a speech really enough to make a change on that issue? This year, the actions following the words of the pope were not delivered as showed by various events impacting the gay communities.

At the end of September, Polish priest Monsignor Krzystof Charamsa, Vatican official, came out publicly as gay, and was then dismissed of his position. Even more recently, Pope Francis remained completely silent during his trip to Africa regarding the gay rights violation in Uganda. So, does Pope Francis really have the power and the will to change the situation?

For sure, thousands of years of religion cannot be changed overnight.

“There is a perception and I think it’s an erroneous perception that things are a fast moving situation,” explained Reverend Gareth Jones, Roman Catholic Chaplain in Cardiff, in an interview. 

“Soundbites and the unguarded opinion of prelates do not make for change in religious teaching.”

On the contrary, the perception of gay communities around the world have been changing fast these past years, with more and more countries now accepting gay marriage.

“I see in various demonstrations around the world writings in English, writings about homosexuality, homosexual rights.” said Francesca Montemaggi, religious anthropologist at Cardiff University, in an interview.

 “These barriers come down. It’s been very rapid but also there’s been a big step in term of globalization that might have helped in that sense.”

Through all these recent shifts and transformations, the Catholic LGBT community acknowledges, nevertheless, that Pope Francis’s “Who I am to judge” speech had a real positive impact on their lives.

“He [Pope Francis]’s created a culture and an environment where he is supporting and encouraging people to stand up and present themselves,” said Ruby. “And I’ve seen in the last two years a difference. The first year that I’ve written to every bishops and archbishops in England and Wales, I got back maybe five replies. Now, if I ring up people, they are a lot more hospitable and receptive to the idea of engaging with Quest or any other LGBT group.”

LGBT
Photo Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

However, despite the huge popularity of Pope Francis it is necessary to remember that he does not have the full power to change things just by himself.

Reverend Jones said: “Nowadays there is a fascination about Pope Francis, I suspect he is seen rather like Obama, seen as somehow new. But of course as we’ve come to the second term of Obama, we realize that very little has been achieved. Because whether it’s the United States or something much bigger like the Catholic Church, the Pope is not the CEO of the Catholic Church Incorporated.”

“So it’s easy to have the soundbite and everyone get excited but what is much more important is what the bishops on the ground are saying.”

So the change must happen at every level and not just at the top of the Catholic hierarchy, and that’s exactly what Quest has been trying to ensure.

“In the past few years that has been our objective to come out of the shadows, to be very open and transparent about what we’re doing and who we’re meeting with,” said Ruby. “So one of the things that Quest is doing and will continue to do is to make regular contact with the various bishops and archbishops.”

This fight to get their voices and opinions heard went this year to a brand new level with the first ever Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC). This event gathered 13 LGBT Catholic groups from various countries which had for goal to initiate a global network. This gathering was happening exactly at the same time as two other main events: a Synod on the Family and the coming-out of priest Krzystof Charamsa. This latter was actually willing to come to the conference organized by the GNRC but decided to come-out first.

“If he had come [to the GNRC], he would have had a great welcome and wonderful support but what he did is he did his statement first, and then wanted to come at our conference,” said Ruby. “He would have genuinely got an amazing support from us but the fact that he did it the other way around actually could have destroyed what we were trying to do with the first major assembly in Rome.”

The synod on the family brought some openings for divorced families but did not deliver any openings for LGBT families. According to the BBC, the final synod document stated that gays should not be discriminated but that there was “no basis for any comparison, however remote, between homosexual unions and God’s design for marriage and the family.”

Nevertheless, the lack of actions in term of policies and doctrines does not mean that Pope Francis stopped acting towards LGBT communities. According to the Time, Pope Francis met various LGBT individuals and activists in the early months of 2015 such as a “transgender man from Spain”, “gay and transgender prisoners in Naples” and a “gay Paraguayan activist”.

Francesca said: “I think what is important is that aspect of compassion because it really brings down barriers a lot. So I think it’s an important step and people shouldn’t rush into, you know, seeing different changes or wanting a priest to fit secular society or the pope to fit secular society.”

The change cannot depend only on Pope Francis actions. It also require some internal changes from the LGBT communities themselves.

“I think what the pope is saying is ‘I want change to happen but I can’t do it on my own. I’m giving you permission’,” said Ruby. “’I want you to go and to make a mess in your parishes, you want something, you go and ask’.”

LGBT individuals are not a rare thing in the Catholic Church but they tend to remain largely quiet and passive.

“In any parish, in any mass, in the congregations, there would be a number of LGBT who are very quiet and haven’t, you know, presented themselves in the sense of being an LGBT,” explained Ruby. “You know, they are very passive. So they need our help. The moment someone stands up and says I’m Polish or I’m Indian or I’m gay or I’m this or I’m that, people notice them and it’s all about being brave enough to go. No bravery is wrong. It’s about being confident enough to stand up and say, ‘here I am’, or ‘I’m not happy with what you said’. “

In this sense, the action of Krzysztof Charamsa can be seen as an attempt to stand up confidently, and to state what he was unhappy about.

He wrote in a letter that he had decided to “publicly reject the violence of the Church towards homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and inter-sexual people” and accused the Church of causing “immeasurable suffering” to gay Catholics. However, the way he chose to do his campaign involving the media and the fact that as a priest he was not allowed to have a companion, either man or woman, in the first place triggered criticism from both the Church and the LGBT communities.

A more effective way to change the mentality, according to Ruby, is to be persistent in opening the dialogue with all levels of the hierarchy of the Church.

“To put our issues on the table for them to address. So that means they can’t ignore it. It’s been presented to them may times. We don’t do it aggressively. We do it very kindly, very gently but we do it on a regular basis to say that we’re here and we can’t and we won’t go away.”

“We are part of the fabric of the Church,” said Ruby, “and our needs must be acknowledged and recognized.”

 

Difficult times for Welsh National Parks

Budget cuts to three Welsh national parks may lead to job losses and have impacts on the level of service.

Local jobs and tourism quality are threatened as Welsh national parks face important financial cuts due to government reduction to public spending.

The Welsh government has yet to confirm the budget but the three Welsh National Parks, Brecon Beacons, Pembrokeshire Coast, and Snowdonia have been warned that they would face a budget reduction of up to 5% in the coming year.

Emyr Williams, Chief Executive of Snowdonia National Park, says that this reduction is not the first one and that the park actually went over a 40% budget reduction over the past 10 years.

The implications of such cuts are important and represent up to 423.000£ in the case of Snowdonia National Park. Measures have to be taken in order to cope with the budget reduction and involve the redundancy of more than 15 staff members from the three Welsh National Parks.

Making people redundant is necessary to accommodate the new budget, however it is not enough to cope with the extent of the cut. So other ways have to be found and include solutions such as increasing the incomes of the parks through car parks, visitor centres and study centres.

One key issue with these changes is that visitors might also be impacted by the changes. Williams says: “Now we’re entering to the phase of having to reduce the level of service we provide. So we’re looking at aspects such as less footpath work, less information centre, less biodiversity work, less restoration of traditional farm buildings, and less archaeological work.”

This decrease in level of service will not affect Snowdonia only and the other two parks are also facing difficult decisions. Brecon Beacons National Park Authority Chief Executive, John Cook, says: “We believe that the potential for achieving these cuts through efficiency savings has been exhausted. Whilst there is always the opportunity to achieve further minor savings through efficiency gains we have reached a point where service level cuts have to be introduced.”

Reasons behind this financial cut are unclear. Williams says: “It’s up to the Welsh government to decide its priorities and its priorities are things like education, social services and health. So we seem to be not in the priority area for the Welsh government.”

Infographic_National_Parks_Wales

Cardiff: safe heaven for grey squirrels?

Cardiff’s most charismatic mammal is one of the UK’s most hated, we meet the conservationists trying to protect its smaller red cousin in Wales. Is it time for us to give up on reds and learn to love their city cousins?

Grey squirrels are extremely common in Cardiff. Photo Credit: Julia Migné

New to Cardiff, you may have noticed them quite quickly. You perhaps met them in a park or on your way to university. Grey squirrels are pretty common and loved in Cardiff and you can’t deny their cuteness and fluffiness. What you possibly don’t know however, is that they are one of the most hated species across the UK.

Greys squirrels are not from the UK but from the United States and Canada. They were introduced in Great Britain during the 19th century and have quickly and almost completely replaced the native red squirrels by transmitting them a deadly pox. Becky Hulme, Mid Wales Red Squirrel officer, says: “Grey squirrels are the main factor in causing the red squirrel population to decline. Wherever you get a grey squirrel population expanding, it usually takes about 15 years for the red population to disappear.”

 

Grey squirrels are responsible for the rapid decline of native red squirrels across the UK. Credit: midwalesredsquirrels.org
Credit: Red Squirrel Survival Trust, Janet Wickens 2014

 

 

But greys squirrels are doing more than causing their red cousins to disappear, they also cost the UK economy £14m per year of damages notably by bark stripping trees. Dr Craig Shuttleworth, adviser to the Red Squirrel Survival Trust, says: “In the UK and in Europe this animal is very, very destructive. And even in respect on how cute an animal may look we can’t get away from the fact that this particular animal, economically, is a disaster for the timber industry in Britain.”

To counter the effects of grey squirrels, eradication projects have been launched across North and Mid Wales. Recently, the island of Anglesey was declared a grey squirrel-free zone after an 18-year culling program. However, some like the RSPCA Cymru are raising concerns in term of animal welfare saying that “eradicating long-established entire populations of greys would be very difficult and cause suffering.” The ethic of killing one species to the benefit of another is quite debated among conservationists. Becky Hulme, however, says: “basically if we don’t do anything about the grey squirrels in the red squirrels areas, we are fully aware that it will mean the extinction of the red squirrels. So in a way doing nothing is an unethical choice as well.”

Red squirrels are highly threatened by the grey squirrel who can transmit them a lethal pox virus. Photo credit: Julia Migné

Eradicating the grey squirrel is a decision that was made by society as a whole and the debate has been recently quite heated with environmentalist George Monbiot skinning and eating a grey squirrel on TV. Craig Shuttleworth says: “you will find between 60 to 65% of the public in the UK as a whole, even in areas where there are no red squirrels, which say that the grey squirrel should be controlled to conserve the native red squirrel.”

This control could be done, however, in a more natural way for example by encouraging the reintroduction of predators such as the pine martin as it was done in Ireland. It could then reduce the population of grey squirrels more naturally without impacting the red ones. Matthew Harris says: “because the pine martin and the red squirrel have evolved together to establish a natural balance, they can live together.”

So in North and Mid Wales, grey squirrels are considered as a very destructive pest that needs to be controlled. But it is necessary to remember that those areas still contain red squirrel populations and economic forestry. It turns out that greys are not that destructive around Cardiff. Matthew Harris, ecologist for Cardiff County Council, says: “I don’t think we get many complaints about grey squirrels, if we did have complaints it would be, maybe sometimes they get into people’s roofs and they make a noise or they chew the wiring.”

In addition to this lack of damages, grey squirrels appear to be very popular in Cardiff so their removal wouldn’t be well-received by the local inhabitants. “About 20 years ago we did a wildlife survey of the public asking them what was their favourite animals or favourite piece of wildlife and grey squirrel was right at the top there,” says Matthew Harris.

So while the campaign against grey squirrels is still raging, it might be time to ask ourselves if we are fighting the right battle. Nothing in nature is ever black or white and the same applies to invasive species. Fred Pearce, environmental writer, says about grey squirrels “they are a much-loved feature of our urban landscapes in particular. Interestingly they prosper in native woodlands, unlike red squirrels, which prefer plantations of ‘alien’ tree species.” It seems that the alien debate is never as easy as we would like it to be.

Box out grey squirrel feature