During the 2006-2007 academic year, I was on sabbatical from my teaching position at Truman State University. My proposal was on Women in Latin American History, though the true motivation for the sabbatical was a desperate need for a break from the Kirksville-Madison commute which is quite literally going to kill me one of these days. A primary goal for this year was to visit countries in Latin America where I previously have not been (Uruguay, Paraguay, Dominican Republic, Haiti), though it would be nice to visit all of them (as well as the rest of those in the world!). In the end, I only made it to Nicaragua, Ecuador, Mali, Cameroon, Kenya, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Kenya, The Netherlands, Rwanda, Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, and South Dakota. I saw Paraguay across the Paraná River, but perhaps that does not count? So, that country along with the DR & Haiti are still on my "to do" list.
My sabbatical can be told through several different lens. One is how I interact with the world around me. A second is through the mountains I saw (but failed to climb). A third is the history of peoples and their struggles. And, finally, as reflections on the topic of my sabbatical--social constructs of gender.
My sabbatical travels began in Nicaragua with the Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua (WCCN) study seminar "Changing Nicaragua from the Ground Up: The Power and Promise of Nicaraguan Women." Johanna challenged my academic constructions of gender duality or complementarity by showing me how they can be a function of patriarchy to keep women in a subjugated position. Even though women in traditional or rural societies may not use the term "feminism," the ones we visited in the Xochilt-Acalt project clearly embraced these ideas.
Then it was off to Ecuador for the Encuentro Ecuatorianista. My academic research focuses on this South American country. The country lies on the equator, for which it is named. This ball marks that line as it crosses the old Pan-American Highway. If you look closely, behind the ball is the Cayambe Volcano (it disappears into the clouds on this photo) where the equator cuts across a permanent snow field on its southern slopes (imagine freezing to death right on the equator!). This is the equatorial line's highest point on its journey around the world. I've spent so much time in Ecuador that I don't come back with many or very interesting photos anymore.
Going back to South Dakota for a family reunion can feel like visiting a foreign country.
This is Heidi's foot.
Riding a camel in Timbuktu doesn't really rate as a highlight of the sabbatical (so touristy), but visiting Mali (my first African experience) gave me a lot of food for thought. This was perhaps the most patriarichal society I have ever visited. Some estimates claim that 70 percent of women in this predominately Muslim country have undergone female genital mutilation, which is a particularly horrific and misogynistic means of domination. Polygamy is widespread, which points to underlying sexual double-standards. Slavery still survives as a mode of production. Life on the edge of the Sahara dessert struck me as particularly drab (everything is tan) and difficult (sand gets into everything, including the rice). According to the UNDP Development Index, Mali is the fourth poorest country in the world. What I fail to understand is why prices rival those of the industrial world.
Cameroon and Mali are very different countries in a lot of ways and on levels that perhaps I don't begin to understand. Cameroon is more wealthy and Christian (rather than Muslim), but the roads were worse than Mali and it has the dubious distinction of Transparency International's ranking as the world's most corrupt country. We spent all of our time with Prescraft in Bamenda in NorthWest Province. Most of the artisans (potters, woodwork) were men, with only a few women working as basket weavers. We enter these societies with men, which makes it very difficult to gain a women's perspective or to understand the implications of gender divisions. We will associate Mali with patriachy and bland food, Cameroon with corruption and bad roads, and now we are in Nairobi, Kenya that's known for its high crime rates and ...?
Kenya has crime and very friendly people (I'm still trying to figure out that relationship). Nairobi reminds me of Quito. Both have similar levels of development with associated levels of pollution, traffic congestion, and crime, which leaves me in constant fear of being robbed, shot, and killed in a bus accident. The snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro are of the top 100 things to do in a lifetime. According to Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth, global warming will probably make the snow disappear entirely within the next ten years. So, catch them while you can. The classic safari photo is an elephant in front of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Cheryl looks at the the elephant. I can see one in a zoo. There is no other way to see the snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro except to come to East Africa. (See video clips of the elephants and lions.)
I traveled to Venezuela to observe the December 3 presidential election as part of an international observer mission with Boston's Bolivarian Circles. It always amazes me how people in Latin America are willing to wait in long lines to vote, and poll workers will remain at their posts for long hours after the voting is completed to wrap up the detailed paperwork. We observed the elections in Barquisimeto in the state of Lara. I was happy to be out of Caracas, which is not one of my more favorite places.
Five years ago we drove to Alaska. That trip made me wonder what the other end of the Americas were like. As a result, we've headed off to the southern tip of the Americas. This is the travel plan:
December 15: Fly through Santiago to Punta Arenas
The Triple Border is where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet. Paraguay lies on the left (north) side of the Paraná river, with the tall buildings of Ciudad del Este in the distance. Brazil and Foz do Iguaçu are across the Iguazu river on the right (south) side of the Paraná. Below, a ferry boat makes the short run to Paraguay. A bit up the Iguazu, a bridge connects Argentina and Brazil. The Triple Border, and particular Ciudad del Este on the Paraguayan side, is considered to be the center of contraband traffic in South America. I am so close to Paraguay but yet so far away. I wanted to skip across the border because it is one of 3 Latin American countries that I have not visited. Does it count if you can see a country? Is it stupid to enter a country just for a stamp, particularly when it is relatively dangerous and everyone says that there is little to see there on a day trip?
At the end of January every year for the last seven years civil society converges at the World Social Forum. The WSF started in 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, as a response to the World Economic Forum. Under the slogan "Another World is Possible," the WSF challenges militarism and neoliberal economic policies in order to make a world that benefits people rather than corporations. Three years ago, it met in Mumbai, India. This year's gathering at the Moi International Sports Complex in Kasarani, outside of Nairobi, was the first time it came to Africa. So, I return to Kenya for the week-long meeting.
Twenty-four years ago I lived in Amsterdam with the Internmenno Trainee Program. I've always wanted to come back, and I can't believe it has taken me so long to do so--even though it is just a short, weekend visit on the way to Rwanda. I loved Amsterdam--one of the few cities to which this farmboy had such a reaction (I've also liked Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and San Antonio). I wonder if I would still like living here. It has so much concrete, so few green areas. But it is interesting to come back for a short visit, to find my old haunts, to discover new sites, and to see how much of my Dutch has survived through attempts to learn Spanish, Portuguese, Quichua (5 times), and Russian. Ik weet het niet.
I'm not sure what picture I should put here to represent Rwanda. The 1994 genocide leaves us with vivid imaginations of what the country must be like. Rwanda seems to be full of orphans. But look at the age of these kids. Any orphans from the "war" (what it euphemistically is called) would have to be at least 12 by now. Most of these kids are younger. AIDS is a major problem that ravages through much of Africa. For all of its problems, though, Rwanda seems to be moving forward. Despite its history it is not a dangerous place, but a seemingly safe and very beautiful country. Perhaps I should find a picture instead that represents that.
Ecuador and Kenya may be the only two countries I visited more than once during my sabbatical year. When there are a dozen other countries in Latin America and well more than a hundred throughout the world that remain to be visited, perhaps it does not make sense to repeat those to which I have already been. But I'm continuing on to Colombia the next week, and a quick stop in Ecuador for the International Conference for the Abolition of Military Bases seemed to make sense. Besides, I need to talk to some of the Indigenous organizations whose web pages we host on NativeWeb, visit Pueblo Kayambi, and look at some historical pictures for my book from the Archivo Blomberg. Unforunately, it becomes very difficult for me to do multiple things at once and I'm left feeling as if I have not sufficiently completed anything I set out to do. Meanwhile, the week-long no-bases conference is very much a success.
I have only been in Colombia once before, and that was five years ago with a Witness for Peace delegation. I returned with a Colombia Support Network delegation to our sister community San José de Apartadó, as well as to Medellín and Bogotá. I felt safer than I did during the previous trip, though our sister community felt that a larger threat than ever hovered on the horizon. Conservative president Alvaro Uribe has implemented policies to demobilize his former allies, right-wing paramilitary death squads. Critics complain that it has not been a true demobilization, that they have simply changed their name and will continue to dominate the countryside. The sense of security is false, and merely reflects that the paramilitaries have gained an upper-hand and so can afford to be on good behavior. Colombia has strong social movements, but peace and social justice are still a long ways away. Some people, however, find hope in neighboring Venezuela that similarly seemed to be in a no-win situation until Hugo Chavez came on the scene and changed those dynamics.
Thousands of delegates from throughout the Americas gathered at the Maya ceremonial site Iximche' for the III Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples and Organizations of Abya Yala. I attended because I worked on the summit's website http://www.cumbrecontinentalindigena.org/. Local organizers, however, set up their own websites (including http://www.iiicumbreabyayala.org/), so in the end there was little for me to do do--especially compared to the second cumbre in Quito where I was kept busy updating the website http://www.cumbreindigenabyayala.org/. That is perhaps just as well. It gave me time to attend the hemispheric council meeting of the Americas Social Forum that is scheduled to meet in Guatemala in June 2008. The energy level at the Indigenous summit is good, and I leave feeling encouraged for the first time in a while about the state of Indigenous movements in the Americas.
Skeptics wondered whether a method of organizing civil society could be brought successfully from the South to the Belly of the Beast. The United States Social Forum, however, proved to be a rousing success. Ten thousand activists gathered in Atlanta for the first national social forum in the United States. It adopted the World Social Forum’s slogan “Another World is Possible,” and added to it the line “Another US is Necessary.” Lead organizers of the USSF (Project South and Grassroots Global Justice) consciously and deliberately organized the forum out of communities of color. It took time and effort and at points was a painful experience, but the result was one of the most participatory, horizontal, and grassroots forums in history. The week’s events demonstrated the dedication of social movements in the United States to building a new and better world.
I started thinking about making a trip to Mexico to bring myself up to date on hot spots that I had previously visited--Chiapas, Oaxaca, and the Tarahumara area of Chihuahua. I visited the Tarahumara some 20 years ago and have heard that subsequently the Copper Canyon has been hammered hard by tourism, but that trip will have to wait for a later date. Instead, I joined a MITF delegation to Oaxaca and Chiapas. The main motivation became to attend the Second Encounter of Zapatista Peoples with the Peoples of the World. Disappointingly, I was only able to attend a couple hours one afternoon at Oventic. Still, it was intersting to to return to a place I had previously visited and to see that the struggle goes on.