Archives for category: pollution and waste

Tom Hazuka:

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Our boat trip from Kochi inland to the Periyar River headwaters was emblematic of India as a whole: abundant natural beauty, tainted by human greed and corruption.  Our guide, Geo Jose, explained that the backwaters near Kochi are officially a protected area, yet high-rise apartments continue to be built on illegal landfills.  The government is at best incompetent, and at worst complicit in the process.

Geo told us the picturesque Chinese nets capture nowhere near as many fish as they used to, a fact that became grimmer as our boat motored closer to the heart of darkness.  The reference might seem hyperbolic, but I don’t think so.  Though we were traveling through staggeringly lovely country, our goal was a massive complex of some 242 factories that bring numerous low-paying jobs to the area, but at a dreadful human and environmental cost.  Not only have the fish numbers been drastically reduced, those that remain are likely unsafe to eat.

A local environmental activist detailed the myriad health problems of residents caused by the factories’ pollution of land, air and water.  As he talked, in the smoggy distance we saw waterfront factories belching thick smoke.  Even from the boat we could smell it.  The activist described the Catch-22 (or is Kafka a better comparison?) situation whereby the government owns the factories, yet the government is in charge of enforcing pollution laws the government put into place.  Folks who complain receive the same mindless response that Americans get when they decry “right to work” laws: What do you have against jobs?

The Kerala backwaters are among the most lovely places on earth, and I feel incredibly privileged to have seen them.  Unfortunately, though, despite Kerala’s accurate depiction of itself as “God’s Own Country,” it is also, as my wife Christine sadly puts it, “Man’s Own Mess.”

Nate Sprague:

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Now that I have had some time to relax and recover from the jetlag, I find myself already missing India.  I am still full of excitement from the feelings that I got from the trip, and recounting the story to so many people has helped me solidify my feelings about it more and more.  I still can’t believe that it’s over, the whole two and a half weeks seem to have just flew by.  But all in all, here are my reactions now that I’m back.  India to me is a place that is absolutely loaded with potential – potential to grow, potential to develop, create, and expand, but also huge potential to destroy.  During our time in Kerala we studied many different aspects of the development that has occurred there.  There have been tremendous strides made in social movements (equal pay for similar jobs as in Tata, free health-care for all, free education, etc.) which have made it a truly remarkable place.  However, I also saw many of the tremendous side effects that development, as well as globalization, had on the place at large.  I mentioned the huge levels of pollution in my last blog, and there also seems to be a unanimous turning of the other cheek to these issues.  During one of our group discussions, we recognized that India, being so young in her development, really has the chance to do things right, and to set a global example of how development should be brought about.  I hope that people like the fishermen win their struggle to retain their traditional, sustainable ways of life, and that if development does continue, the four elements of successful development are followed – sustainability, equitability, participation, and transparency.  I have been truly touched by a people so giving, willing to share so much even when so little is had.  Also so intelligent, the students we came in contact with were tremendously dedicated to their studies.  Overall, Kerala was an experience that has changed me for forever.

Teige Cristiano: As an Anthropology major at Central Connecticut State University, studying abroad is a fantastic opportunity. Though clichéd, it has always been my dream to travel the world and to experience life in the shoes of another person. I have been fortunate enough to start my worldly travels at the age of nineteen. Participating in this course on the Challenges of Development in Kerala, India at such a young and impressionable age will absolutely influence my studies of anthropology when I return home. I think I will understand more and more of what I have gotten out of this trip as time goes on. It may not be right away, but, day-by-day it will all come together in some type of lifelong learning experience. However, I have gained perspective on how the Malayali people of Kerala live their everyday lives. This place is unconventional for a first-time traveler. But to be honest, I would not trade this once-in-a-lifetime adventure for anything.

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Bringing in the nets

The environmental challenges  that Kerala faces are incredible. I did not expect to see such an extreme amount of waste that lines the streets and water ways. The large corporations that are involved in the development of Kerala are more harmful to the people and environment than the total profit made. Speaking with Reju, an experienced fisherman ( of the fishing village we visited in our environmental group), he spoke to us about the difficulty traditional fisherman face while large corporation ships are harvesting fish. The fishermen have noticed that the amount of oil slicks and the disappearance of rare fish like dolphins have dramatically increased since the large corporation ships have appeared.  In the article “The Allure of The Transnational: Notes on some Aspects of the Political Economy of Water in India” the author elaborates on the issue that waste management has been a problem an increasing problem in India. “there was also mounting evidence that The Coca-Cola Company was dumping its waste sludge, later shown to be highly toxic, in nearby farmlands and also giving it away free to farmers as fertilizer”  (644). The evidence that large corporations have been treating the land environment in this way can lead to research that could find intentional pollution of the Indian Ocean.  I hope that one of the Non-Government Organization of Kerala takes this issue upon themselves.

Tom Hazuka: I teach fiction writing at CCSU. I have travelled to many countries, but this is my first trip to India. I can’t say that India held any particular attraction for me as a destination; it was one of numerous places I’ve never visited, but hoped to some day. When I noticed the poster on campus advertising this trip, I took advantage of the opportunity. To be honest, I had never heard of Kerala and couldn’t have located it on a map of India.

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It is the rare trip that maintains a steady plane, and this one is no exception. I’ve had a bad cold (or something) for the past two days, resulting in my first full-blown case of laryngitis. But Arun, a recently-minted Keralite PhD, who has been invaluable to our group at every stage, procured some antibiotics at the chemists (drug-store) and I hope I’m on the mend. No prescription needed in India, and the five day set of 10 pills costs only $2.20 (USD).

Each day so far has been a series of revelations, both large and small. Among numerous highlights, my favorites include having lunch on a banana leaf at a ramshackle open restaurant (quite possibly we were the first Americans to enter the place); seeing the Theyyam fire ceremony; visiting the Vizhniam fishing port with its hundreds (thousands?) of people pulling a precarious living from the sea; and milling in the crowds of pilgrims outside the temple at East Fort.

Outside of the laryngitis, low-lights have been few, but number one has to be the garbage strewn or piled virtually everywhere, and the attempts to get rid of it via burning. That can’t be healthy for people or planet. I must admit I am also not thrilled with the recklessness of the drivers, and the threat of grievous bodily harm one faces when crossing a busy street-or just about any street for that matter!

Off to a rubber plantation in the mid-lands tomorrow, which I expect to add to my list of highlights.

Christine Perkins – Hazuka

I’m a small town girl from a farming valley in California, the San Joaquin, specifically the town of Manteca, a place I couldn’t wait to leave. I did so in 1969 and never looked back – although I do visit since my entire family is still there. It was in ’69 that I travelled abroad for the first time, six weeks in western Europe, followed by two trips to Australia (one business, one pleasure), several trips to Brazil and Chile, a return trip to Europe – Portugal then Spain – and a CCSU sponsored trip to China in ’07. After graduating from Cal State Hayward, I moved to a unique place in southeast Utah called Blanding and began my career teaching high school English. I loved my career, but after 33 years, I decided to move on to destinations still to be determined.  I also love most athletic competitions and spend an inordinate amount of time watching football, baseball, and basketball on the TV with Tom, who is only slightly less avid than I as a fan. We have a daughter Maggie and granddaughter Olivia in California, and we enjoy visiting them, especially as Maggie is a high school English teacher and Olivia is an avid reader. I guess you could say we’re a family of geeks!

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After a night of rain I awoke to the first day of clear blue skies in Kerala. Unfortunately, the power was out, but somehow this seems less problematic in India. Tom and I breakfasted at the German Bakery on waffles, chewy and tasty, and an Indian dish called uppuma, which was dry but full of a curious combination of spices, nuts, coconut, and banana.

The usual hectic and exhilarating auto ride took our group to Thanal, an NGO operated by Usha and Jayakumar, a delightful, energetic pair. After Jayakumar gave a history of their “journey” from self-absorbed scientists to community activists, Usha spoke passionately about their group’s efforts to help local people organize against genetically modified cotton and for organic farmers’ markets. I was so impressed by the way Usha’s eyes flashed when she answered my question about women’s involvement in these grassroots movements: “Women respond from the heart… [they] remember… they tell the truth”. But she was also quick to smile, as was her husband, and together they made the most engaging pair.

A bumpy bus ride took us to the university, where we met Professor Reghu, whose rambling lecture provided stark contrast to the specificity of the morning’s talk. I was fascinated by his thesis regarding globalization, which he prefers to call globality. His detailed argument was that certain universal ideas (i.e. the stone axe, alphabet/ writing, astronomy, and numbers) are the basis for his definition of globality. Each of these inventions indicates that a certain universal cognitive ability had developed in the human brain, which enabled these innovations to go “viral” in a sense.

I found his discussion fascinating, but a bit difficult to follow because of his accent and his meandering style. He ran out of time before he ever connected his theory to the effect on globalization on Kerala, but he did throw out a provocative statement about the positive effect of the British in helping Indians reform the caste system – very interesting but not completely relevant to the topic of Kerala and globalization.

The way home was a bit wacky, what with loading and unloading a public bus to take a private bus at a reduced fare – but without windshield wipers – and, of course, it rained. But we made it back safely and in rather high spirits considering all the energy, mental and physical, that was expended today.

So far my experience in India remains a mix of contradictions: rain and sunshine; fear and exhilaration; the specific/ concrete versus the amorphously intellectual; those who work on the ground versus those who ruminate in “ivory towers”. I LOVE IT!