I wear a fist-shaped, green necklace around my neck. It beats against my chest when I run. I only take it off when I surf, for fear of loosing it. It’s made of African greenstone, my favorite. The stone is from Zambia — a precious gift given to me during a trip there in 2011. Wearing it reminds me of the Zambezi River, the generous people of Africa, their rich cultures, the profound wildlife, and the incredible 2-month journey in a continent I’d dreamt about visiting since childhood.
Rewind to Bahia, Brazil in 2008. At this time, in Salvador, I purchased a small wood carving strikingly similar to that of my greenstone fist. This image of a fist – called a fig – is considered good luck in both Africa and Brazil. The cultural transmission from the former to the latter must have taken place centuries before. I believe Africa is the mother to us all, but who knows where the fig comes from. Maybe it has its roots somewhere else. Maybe an anthropologist will tell me one day…
I am back in Brazil, currently working with a dedicated group of rural development professionals from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Bangladesh, South Africa, and Nepal. Here in Bahia, Brazil, where the city of Salvador is considered to be the most African city outside of Africa, there are moments when I forget if I am in Salvador, Brazil or Maputo, Mozambique (also Portuguese-speaking). The knowledge, charisma and dedication of my colleagues from Africa and Asia inspire me more than they know. They are here to exchange ideas within a learning platform called ELLA, which is associated with my partner NGO, Adapta Sertão. Along with the ELLA organizers (Daniele Cesano, Martin Obermaier, Charlotte Heffer, Thais Corral, and Emily Trainor) we have all become fast friends. The stories from their home countries — experiences grounded in an incredible breadth of environmental, cultural, political, agricultural and historical understanding — amaze me on an hourly basis.
We are in the community of Pintadas, Bahia, Brazil. (Interesting side note: I am apparently the first person from the United States here in Pintadas, an intriguing thought.) My research, based out of UCSD, is helping Adapta Sertão determine the best technologies and strategies to help rural farmers in the Sertão region adapt to climate change. Bolstering resilience and improving livelihoods is the name of the game. My climatology analysis is nearly done and now we have to start looking at socio-economic indicators to see the impacts of the regions changing water cycle, especially ever-increasing droughts. The current drought here, starting in 2010, is said to be the worst in over 50 years. During a farm visit with a farmer named, Maceus, we saw how innovative these farmers can be. Deep wells, crop diversification (including varieties of cactus), drip technology, and many other techniques are yielding results and increasing climate resilience. These farmers, this community, and my colleagues from Brazil, Africa, and Asia give me a great deal of hope that we will improve the livelihoods of vulnerable communities around the world.
Tomorrow morning I will run again, and the green fist will beat. Many of us feel that same green beat and we should continue to act on it; in spite of our frustration with the UNFCCC gridlock (fingers crossed COP-18), in spite of the reluctance of our respective domestic governments to agree (fingers crossed 2nd Obama administration), in spite of the skeptics. Just keep running — our sense of direction is sound. Good luck to the good work.
A special thanks to the ELLA participants (below). You are true thought-leaders.
Antwi-Boasiako Amoah (from Ghana); Farayi Madziwa (from Zimbabwe, resides in South Africa); Hedwig “Halima” Nenkari (from Kenya); Leonard Unganai (from Zimbabwe, Unganai means “come together” in Shona); Monica Chundama (from Zambia); Mousumi Pervin (from Bangladesh); Ram Chandra Khana (from Nepal); Sherpard Zvigadza (from Zimbabwe); Simon Shomkegh (from Nigeria); Stephen Awuni (from Ghana); Ujjal Tiwari (from Nepal); Victor Orindi (from Kenya).