Sunday, December 27, 2015

Fermenting Miso to Prevent Radiation Sickness

I just learned that miso, a traditional Japanese fermented soup, aids the body in expelling heavy metals and radioactive elements, both very toxic things.

Here's an excerpt on miso's anti-radiation properties from Sandor Katz's Wild Fermentation:

One specific health benefit of miso is the protection it provides against exposure to radiation and heavy metals. The research that verified this was conducted in Japan in the wake of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and grew out of the observations of a Nagasaki physician, Dr. Shinichoro Akizuki. Dr. Akizuki was out of town the day of the bombing, and the hospital where he worked was destroyed. He returned to Nagasaki to treat survivors of the bombing. He and his staff ate miso soup together every day and never experienced any radiation sickness, despite their proximity to the fallout. Dr. Akizuki’s anecdotal account of this experience led to the finding that miso contains an alkaloid called dipicolinic acid that binds with heavy metals and carries them out of the body. In our radioactive world, we could all do with some of that healing.

Miso; image not mine. I'll make some someday - it takes months to years to ferment good miso.

The more I learn about fermenting and the various benefits and tastes of different fermenting traditions, the more excited I am to make it part of my diet. I just made my first kimchi recently, and I've got wines and vinegars coming soon!

Update: I wrote this before I saw Dmitry Orlov's article on the risk of nuclear meltdown in the 19 nuclear reactors in Ukraine as the looting and deindustrialization continue there. I may accelerate my miso-making plans...

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Super quick visual tour of the last 9 months: part 3

This is the third and final quick tour of my time in S. America seeking indigenous community. Here is part 1, and here is part two. I didn't take the pictures, but they represent things I saw.

Visual tour part two ended with my decision to experience a full, extended fast in mid-late July. I first looked for a site on the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) in Lake Titicaca between Bolivia and Peru.

Isla del Sol

Red circle shows where the Lake and Isla del Sol are between Bolivia and Peru.
The Isla was a no-go for the fast. Back into Peru I went, and back to Satipo.

Late July, Satipo/Atalaya again
Now I go crazy for a bit, considering going deep into actual wild jungle to do the extended fast and pitching my tent somewhere no one else is. To hell with mosquitos, natives, marxist revolutionaries, peruvian military overflights, miners, loggers, and other obstacles; I wanted to fast in the wild.

I do another round-trip between Satipo and Atalaya in a pickup for 8 hours, looking for a place to just get out and walk into the woods for the fast. I get super sick. A really nice family, whose father I met on the truckride, takes me in and gives me food and a place to sleep for a few nights, saving me from a hostel.

Back in Satipo, I decided to play it a little safer and met someone whose brother owned a chakra, a small farm in the mountains with an unused shed I could stay in. I last a week there fasting before the ants get to me, and I head back into the friendly hostel in Satipo, continuing the fast there. I felt great but weak; I've never packed my gear so slowly before in my life (instances of extended procrastination aside).

Early August, Satipo: The fasting was wonderful. I had nothing to eat nor drink except filtered or boiled water for 2 weeks, and never felt hungry once. 2 years earlier I wouldn't have thought it possible, now I want to fast again and truly finish it. Unfortunately I chose to cut this one off early.

On fasting day 12, after much reflection, I decide to end the search for natives and return to the US. I planned out a way to learn lots of practical skills in Peru in the remaining 2 months before my visa expired, and with a feeling of catharsis, went to bed feeling excited and relieved with my new plan.

Next morning, I met a dude who promised to take me into a real native community. Change of plans again! I'll write more about this guy, Mike, and our time together. If you want a preview, watch a video of him here. He'd visited and supported the Ashaninka for over 3 decades with a deep humility and love for them. We got along great and are still in touch.

But for now, I had 1-2 weeks before he would help me enter an Ashaninka community. Having met a lot of locals in Satipo, I heard lots of complaining about pollution, corruption, crime... you name it. And everyone described a feeling of helplessness. So in my last week, I tried my hand at political/social organizing and create an event, "Neighbors improving their community" (Vecinos Mejorando a su Comunidad). More in a later post, but I invited bunches of restaurants to contribute food/drinks, got free fliers donated, invited probably 200+ people... interesting time. Even had a meeting with the mayor, which roughly corresponded to the start of a 2 week period with, um, flatulence issues. Either I successfully quieted them or the mayor pretended not to notice.

Separately, I got back into knitting, and spent a lot of hours at it and learning from others. Super interesting, more on it later.

Mike gets back to Satipo early with a new friend he'd made, Darlene. The three of us become quick friends during a pickup truck ride to Oventeni, a native community but not the one Mike planned to take me to. We become friends in part because I had uncontrollable flatulence as we traveled in the pickup cab together, and this resulted in much suffering and laughter. Oventeni, like Infierno, had a heavy colonized presence. The natives there seemed in rough shape, having been pushed out of the fertile valley and high into the mountains. Mike, Darlene and I were invited on a 3 hour trip into one of their villages where I got to witness them discussing financial difficulties. They wanted funding to help build a path they could use to get their cacao to market, but only one bank was available and wanted to charge 11% per month for the loan.

Too much to share here in a small recap. Beautiful time and wonderfully generous people; this was my first visit to an uncivilized native community. I ate yucca and wild hunted animal of some sort baked in the ashes and dirt under the family fire and had my first peorentsi, their fermented yucca drink; a rich meal indeed. The community was Ashaninka, similar to the groups I stayed with later.

It also was the first time I met Ashaninkas wearing their native robes. Most were a grey base color with colorful vertical stripes, but a few wore a deep forest green and I found them incredibly attractive. 
The pin shows Satipo; to the NE is Oventeni; east is Puerto Ocopa and further NE is Atalaya.

Late August, into the Ashaninka territory:
While not social organizing, and while not knitting or learning Ashaninka vocab or meeting other Ashaninka or aggressively practicing my Spanish or or or, in that week before entering, I bought tons of gifts for the Ashaninka. Machetes, files, fishing gear, cloth and thread, sling shots, etc.

I won't even try to do the time in native communities justice here. I went in, it was great; exactly what I hoped to experience going to S. America. Mike and an old friend of his Gillian entered with me but left after 1 week, leaving me there for another 1.5-2 weeks with no other non-natives. It was the real deal. I love those people.

Words can hardly describe how powerful this experience was, but I've already started drafting some essays about it. More to come.

I traveled to/from the native Ashaninka territory in a longer version of a boat like this.
Mid September, Atalaya: I start feeling feverish but don't think anything of it. I leave the natives by boat for Puerto Ocopa, weeping repeatedly for the beautiful community and wilderness I'd found and relationships I'd made, and for how that experience reinforced my vision for the human community and natural space I seek for myself and others.

I enjoy a 5 hour bumpy truck ride to Atalaya which includes a 3 hour intensive debate between myself and a Christian missionary. More on this later. I get sicker...

...and sicker. Mornings are great. Afternoons I get a ridiculous cold sensation; I literally bundle in several layers of shirt, sweater, jacket, then bundle into a blanket and go out into the jungle sun, and I still shiver strongly from cold. This lasts a 1-2 hours each afternoon starting between 12:00 and 3:00 PM and is followed by a bad tension headache until 11:00ish PM. I get diagnosed and treated for malaria and a liver infection when I finally go to the hospital 4 days later. Checkin' all the boxes on the jungle experience.

A mosquito. One of'em got me! Actually a lot bit me, but one of'em had a special surprise in store. I'm surprised it took 10 months to get a nasty bug.
I start recovering and head back to Satipo, said goodbye to my friends at the hostel and elsewhere, and head back to Lima to stay with my friend Darlene for a week. Darlene's work kept her too busy to spend much time with me sadly. Only remarkable thing here was that I experienced several minor earthquakes, including one while reading an article on earthquakes.

After 11 months in South America I fly home and arrive 10 days before my family expects me due to a communications mistake. Whoops!

I'll fill in the gaps in these visual tours in future essays.The time inside and out of the native communities was a period of intensive study, introspection, dreaming and growth. More on all this, as well as what's going on now, in future posts. Thanks for sharing this with me.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

When giving a gift: pleasure either way

Have you ever had the experience where someone offers you a gift, and it doesn't suit you for some reason, but you do not feel comfortable letting the other person know this? Perhaps you do not find the clothing attractive or fitting or have no use for the tool or nick-nack, but you suspect the giver would be offended or hurt if they found out?

It seems a major route towards the feeling of being trapped by your material possessions, where “your things own you, you don't own them.”

I plan to give a few hand-made knitted and fermented food gifts over the next few months, and I've been considering how to avoid this issue. I'm considering saying this as I offer the gift:

“I hope this brings you happiness. If you think it would bring someone else more happiness than you, then I offer you the pleasure of giving it to them.”

In this way there is no emotional trap, there is only pleasure – either the pleasure of use, or the pleasure of giving, or perhaps both over time. I like this especially with handmade gifts because there's no pleasure of returning the item to a store for cash back ;)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Super quick visual tour of the last 9 months: part 2

This post is part two; here's part one. Again, as I didn't have a camera, these images are all from other sources, but represent what I experienced.

I believe the super fast visual tour left off with Seaver and me leaving Lima for La Merced towards Satipo, Peru in early June. Here's a map reminder:
The pin marks Satipo, Peru.
Backing up a bit: Our friend Jess left us to return to Canada in late May as Seaver and I returned to Lima..

A quick comment on Lima: I found it an ugly, trashy, polluted, brown, dangerous, unaesthetic, impoverished, loud, inhuman place. I'd only visit a friend there or use its airport.I met many kind people, and I hope they can escape soon.

Lima as I remember it: brown on the bottom, grey (foggy/cloudy) on top. A few richer areas managed a nicer facade.
Late May / Early June: While stuck dealing with health and bureaucracy troubles in Lima, Seaver and I decided to have fun trying to hustle some money up. So we get the ingredients to make a bunch of caramel sweets which we then walk around Lima selling for a Sol each (about $0.30). We end up meeting some fun people, including 1-2 who even donated a sol without taking a sweet. The cost of the ingredients compared to the total profit and time involved really highlighted the thin profit margin a lot of the street vendors and others live on. Time is not highly valued here.

Early June, La Merced: We get to La Merced which turns out to be as unattractive as every other town in Peru. They get more tolerable as they get smaller though. It didn't help that our hostel room window overlooked a big prison compound; I've learned enough about prisons and faux justice; I didn't need the constant reminder of all the human suffering right there. If you think prisons have anything to do with justice, or are anything other than misery factories and profit centers, this is a decent article to read with good research. I doubt Peru's prisons are any better than the US's.

On the bright side, beautiful mountains with trails and streams surround La Merced, giving it a lovely 'hugged by mountains' feel. Seaver and I enjoyed our first forest hike in a long time, eventually finding a lovely waterfall, which I stood under nude. No picture of that, sorry :( Here's a picture of the river near La Merced:

Perene river near La Merced, Peru

Early June, Satipo: La Merced felt unpleasant even considering moving away from the prison, and we hoped to find a much smaller town in Satipo and perhaps meet natives there. Off we went!

It was funny, we looked at little street map of Satipo that claimed to be up to date; it showed about 5-6 roads and dirt paths going out the side. That must have been 30 years old.

Satipo was several dozen square blocks that looked like this. Way cleaner / less trashy than many other towns though.

Satipo was the first place we visited where we noticed a lot of stares. Tourists like us seemed pretty rare. We got more stares later in Atalaya, but the first impression here wasn't too welcoming. Still, we find a great hostel with outdoors space and grass and trees, and the owner sets up a little stove kitchen when we ask. I'll get to know him and the staff much better later.

After a lot of consideration and discussion, Seaver decides now to head back to the US in time for the Firefly wilderness skills festival. He buys his airline ticket and we decide to enjoy the next 2 weeks together without looking for indigenous particularly, knowing Seaver wouldn't join me there anyway.

Mid-June Satipo, Atalaya, Iquitos

So we spend an evening playing the cooperative video game Age of Empires III for the equivalent of $2 each. Then off to Atalaya, which can be reached by a very bumpy dirt road by pickup. I later learned 75% of the ride can be done by boat for cheaper. For now, we choose the back of the pickup which cost half the fare for riding in the cab.

8 hours in the back of a pickup. Not any more comfortable than it looks, but great views!
We arrive in Atalaya to receive even more stares from locals than in Satipo, and lots of heavily armed military folk on the main corners. Time to move along. We head north on the river for a day, where we board a cargo ship.

Then we take a 3 day 'cruise' in a cargo barge, one of the 'Henry' line of ships. Now, I didn't expect a busy boat, perhaps with a few other travelers snuggled up against big boxes, our fare free money for the operator.

A "Henry" cargo ship from the back.

Two "Henry" cargo ships with their characteristic colors. The ship I took was like the left one.

One whole deck was reserved for human carg-, I mean, people. Luckily Seaver and I boarded early and got good spaces.

Another view of the hammocks aboard the Henry ship.
They really packed in the people. They also fed us alright, and we met some interesting folks. This trip took us along the Ucayali river which eventually became the Amazon River by our last day.

Iquitos... I feel silly and whiny saying this again, but what a sad, dirty place. The largest city in the world with no road access, it's got >300K people packed into a tight tight space, and is mostly supported by ugly, violent and dirty resource extraction. I've never seen markets packed with stalls in such tiny spaces, and it was the dirtiest market I saw in S. America.

Iquitos near main "Belen" market.

No exaggeration here; this is what it looks like after the market closes or is shut for a day, and the rain just makes it nastier.
Not all of Iquitos was this bad; the rest of the town was mostly like the rest of civilized Peru. Two signs of poverty that Iquitos was in rough shape: 1) Often in a crowded market in other Peruvian towns, a main store would exist in a concrete building and then a stall with a tarp ceiling would jut out onto a sidewalk in front of it. I literally saw stalls in this market 4 deep, spilling onto the middle of the small road. 2) With the desperate search for a living, hustling got really difficult. It was common to see the concrete-store food vendors sell bags of crackers by the 10 pounds, then see a street vendor sell a hand-wrapped bag of 10 crackers, then see another vendor even poorer sell the crackers individually for a few cents. Food was also quite cheap but heavy on the white rice at the low-priced end.

Late June, Lima, again: Seaver and I enjoy a pizza and beer on our last night traveling together, taking it back to our hostel on the roof. The next morning we wish each other well and part ways for the time being.

No more pictures or rants about Lima.

Late June, La Paz, Bolivia: I go to Bolivia just to return to Peru and get a new 3 month visa. I had trouble in Bolivia, losing access to my debit card until my bank could send a replacement, and totally lucked out. I'll be forever grateful; I was in a frustrated mood at an internet cafe dealing with computer troubles and bank troubles, and a man and womanoverheard me and stepped outside. Unknown to me,  this married couple discussed how well America had treated them during their stay and how they wanted to repay it, and decided helping me would be a good Christian thing to do. The woman called her mother for another opinion. Eventually they invited me to sleep in their home that night and set me up with some cash for the week, as I didn't have enough for a hostel for the time it would take the bank to send the card. I'd planned to offer to work-trade at a hostel while I waited, but what a relief to not have to worry about that.

Seriously, the family invited a stranger into their home, then gave him (me) cash and accepted my promise to return with repayment once my card arrived. They invited me back for dinner anytime, and I dropped by half a week later with a surprise meal I'd made, and then again once I had the money to repay them. The woman had a look of relief and gratitude when I gave her the money; I could tell it was important to her to help me, but she'd felt stress over giving a stranger cash like she did. I was glad to make friends with the family, not least for the stress and hassle they saved me.

At this point, I desired a rest from all the constant pushing and learning and meeting people, and I decided to seek out a place to do an extended fast.

I'll end part two here; visual tour part 3 will be ready soon!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Meeting a spiritual descendent of a woman Jesus praised

In Satipo, Peru, I met the spiritual descendent of a woman famous in Christian history. One story of Jesus describes him watching people give donations at a church. Various wealthy people give huge sums, and one impoverished woman goes to the box and donates 2 cents, the sum total of her wealth. As I learned in Sunday School, Jesus says that though others gave more, they gave a small proportion of their wealth and gave so that they could be seen as generous, while this woman had given everything and with no thoughts for appearances. Jesus said he appreciated her offering far more than the others'.

I met a man just like this woman.

Here's the story: I got it in my head, with a week to go before entering an indigenous community, to try my hand at social / political organizing. Perhaps I'll share the whole story another time, but in short: many local Peruvians had expressed frustration with their society and said they felt helpless to respond to its problems like crime, trash on the roads, pollution, and especially corruption. I organized a gathering one Sunday morning with breakfast and lunch freely donated by local restaurants where locals could come, eat together, do a work project together to clean trash from their roads, eat again for free with more donated food and drinks, and hopefully make connections with other caring citizens so they could begin to address their common concerns about their community.

I went all over the town with fliers (designed by me and donated by printing shops) and received a huge outpouring of gratitude and excitement. As I went through the market inviting people and their families, I was given so many gifts: coconuts, many bananas, apples, whole lunches w/soup, mangoes, drinks, and more - I kept a list of my gifts, and it ended up quite long! And almost everyone excitedly promised to come and bring their family, as well as put up my flier in their market stall.

Tired after pitching the event for several hours one afternoon, I walked back to the hostel along the main road and stopped at a roadside juice cart. I recognized the man who ran it, having walked past him many times. About 5'6", he had a thin scraggly beard and his wrinkled brown skin showed he received a lot of sun. I knew this also because he only had one large faded umbrella for cover, and this covered the customer's stools so that when the hot jungle sun really beat down, he would be completely exposed. Only the customers could have shade. And he sold frozen fruit drinks with ice he kept in a cooler for 50 Peruvian cents per drink: the equivalent of about 15 US cents each.

Asking for a drink and sitting down, and I started sharing my project with him and invited him to participate. He said he really liked the event idea, and wanted to participate, but he could not leave his drink cart. Sunday morning, the day of the event, was a big sales period for him, and he could not afford to miss it.

While inviting people, I remained sensitive to how incredibly long hours these folks worked, and for how little money each day. It seemed common to assume tall white foreigners were rich, and so all afternoon, while inviting others, I had been searching for a graceful way of replying to this objection that acknowledged the other person's needs and circumstances while avoiding any potential triggers or offensive assumptions.

I responded, "I appreciate that. However, many neighbors here who work long hours also deeply desire to find other caring people with whom they can improve their community, and I know they would love to meet you and become friends. Then you could bring real change, rather than wait for politicians."

I'll never forget his response. He looked me in the eye and said, "I am a slave to this cart. I cannot leave it."

No one else had explicitly acknowledged that level of economic destitution to me. I looked back at him, smiled, and nodded my head. After a minute, I said thank you as I got up to go. I don't know whether I was thanking him for his openness or the drink. Maybe both. I pulled out 50 cents and handed it to him.

And he wouldn't take it.

The man who acknowledged being a slave to his drink cart insisted on gifting me the drink.

I felt short of breath and said, "Sir -," and he turned away to serve someone else who'd just driven up to his cart.

When he turned back a moment later, he glanced at me, and I just said thanks and walked away. I received his proverbial 2 cents, maybe in thanks for what I tried to do for his community, or maybe just for connecting with him.

I don't think I've ever received such a humbling gift.