Category Archives: International Development

Jaded, Spanish and Mandate



adjective \ˈjā-dəd\

: feeling or showing a lack of interest and excitement caused by having done or experienced too much of something

1 :  fatigued by overwork :  exhausted

2 :  made dull, apathetic, or cynical by experience or by surfeit <jaded network viewers> <jaded voters>

jad·ed·ly adverb

jad·ed·ness noun
I was in my room and I was just like staring at the wall thinking about everything
But then again I was thinking about nothing (Institutionalized)

Jaded has been a term I’ve come to endear. It perfectly encapsulates my mental and physical fatigue of this Spring Term so far. After ten straight months of school, I think I’ve had my fill. Even as I write this blog, I can feel my mind and body slowly disintegrate with every keystroke.

And it’s an incredibly frustrating state for me to be in. When I’m in “school mode” I have the tendency to be ruthless with how I go about academia. In-form Louis has laser focus, instant recall, and the fortitude to crush any test in his path. Two months into this term and those days of sharpness are few and far between. It’s gotten to a point where I’m drawing blanks on how to write essays, to study for exams, to write exams, to be interested in what my professors have to say, to be interested in what anyone else has to say. I’ve become aloof with a set of dead-fish eyes to match.

But worst of all, is how much my already weak Spanish grammar and vocabulary has suffered because of my disposition. My textbook, dictionary, and Gabriel García Márquez novella my mom gave me, all located within two steps of me, have been collecting dust in my drawer. Even my Spanglish, my bread and butter, is starting to get rusty.

Today I received my organization mandate for Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonía Peruana (IIAP) and although I was very excited, I was equally anxious because I know come September I’ll most definitely be expected to have near fluency in Spanish to do the following:

  • Assist in the assessment and gathering of primary data from selected processes for species reforestation.
  • Support training and awareness activities in environmental impact related to agroforestry systems, for local government staff, schools and the population.
  • Assist in organizing leadership events in communities, focused on the management of natural resources.
  • Assist in the development of articles and an environmental impact study regarding the project scope of work.
  • Promote gender equality in all activities.

As someone who has always lacked in self-confidence in Spanish-speaking ability, this rut that I’m in has put my preparations for Peru in a bit of precarious state.

I’m gambling on that sometime within the next few weeks, I’ll probably be in the mood to rebound. Things usually pan out for me in the last minute. But until that time, jaded is the flavour of the month.


Peru, Race and “Limpieza de Sangre”

Tarantino has a way with portraying racial anxieties.

In my 40 hours of watching telenovelas these past few months (I swear it’s to better my Spanish), I’ve come to the conclusion that Latin American’s have this stupid obsession over all things blood-related. The plot of this Mexican soap I’m watching is that the main character (a rich white dude) can only inherent his father’s wealth on the condition that he bears a child of his own flesh and blood.

Wealth, dynasty, and anxiety over blood-purity. The man would’ve been sorted into Slytherin in an instant.

When the Spanish colonized the Americas, they instituted this complex caste system based on racial purity, or limpieza de sangre, that would determine the social and political pecking order for 300 years. Africans were placed on the top of this social order while Europeans were on the botto….PSYCHE.

It worked exactly as you would expect. 1. Europeans 2 Indigenous 3. Africans. Maybe not so complex in the end, but the Spanish tried their best to classify all the permutations of mating between these 3 races.

They even made some handy paintings showing all the different combinations of African, Indigenous and European baby-making just in case you you forgot you were dark skinned.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

I’ve been trying to locate myself in this picture. From what I know of my family history, 18th Century me would have been somewhere in the first 3 boxes, top-left. Mostly European and Indigenous stock with a soupçon of ‘savage African’ or something along those lines.

It comes to no surprise that In Peru, they have this proverb used to describe the country’s racial demographics:

“El que no tiene de Inga tiene de Mandinga”(Every Peruvian either has Indigenous or African blood).

It’s an apt comment on Peru’s societal melting-pot. Black Peruvians make up around 10% of Peru’s 29.5 million, Amerindian 30% and about 48% are mixed race (European, Asian, African, Indigenous).

However this proverb masks some deep prejudices in Peruvian society, where there is no separation between socio-economic status and race. Indigenous and African-descendants in Peru earn 40% less than mixed-race people. It is a country where “an indigenous woman may only ever work as a maid; a black man may only ever aspire to be a hotel doorman”. In Peru, blood determines the life you are allowed to live.

Discrimination appears normalized in the day-to-day lives of average Peruvians. It shows up in form of tradition where elite families hire black people to carry coffins of their loved ones, the discriminatory treatment of indigenous household workers, humiliating Quechua-speaking members of Congress for their errors in writing in Spanish, or a comedy show with a main character dressed in blackface named Negro Mama (translated literally as The Dumb Black).

Come September, I’ll be living and working in Peru for eight months. I can only hope that the people I meet there also share a love for Bob Marley.

That until there no longer / First class and second class citizens of any nation / Until the colour of a man’s skin / Is of no more significance / than the colour of his eyes / – Me say war.





Asthma I: Hamilton, Costa Rica and Running

I’ve always had this weird relationship with asthma since it comes with the territory for us East Hamilton folk. Living the first 8 years of my childhood nestled in between a garbage incinerator, a steel mill, the QEW and, Highway 20, my proneness to wheezing was set in stone.

Me and Stelco, BFF's

Me and Stelco, BFF’s

Luckily, moving to the escarpment later in my childhood helped me to just “grow out” of my asthma, partly because I simply refused to use my inhaler (try looking cool running cross-country with an inhaler taped to your hand) but largely because I escaped the smog of my lovely city. For the most part, my experience with asthma had pretty much fizzled out after I turned 13.

Fast forward to this exact day 8 months ago. I had just finished a 10km run in downtown Heredia, Costa Rica during 5:00pm rush hour. A few days prior I was doing the same thing in the hazy, 45°C swimable soup of humidity that is Hamilton in July.

The outcomes of both runs on my body were stark. In Hamilton I was just reduced to a sweaty hot mess, standard fare. But running in Heredia did something exceptional to me. Aside from humbling my underestimation of altitude, It turned my voice-which is already quite raspy to begin with-into an unnatural phlegmy husk. It was incredible because for the first time in a while, I was reminded of my asthma.

Running route in downtown Heredia

Running route in downtown Heredia

Later in my time in Costa Rica, I got to work with a civil society located in this sort of  rural-starting-to-urbanize farming community in the mountains called Copey. Here I met this awesome little girl named Katí, who to my surprise, had acute asthma. Now this posed a problem for me because I had always thought of asthma as an urban epidemic. Copey is generally devoid of any substantial urban activity at the moment, so for me it was hard to imagine what other factors could contribute to giving this young girl asthma in a rural context. I wanted to know if kids like her were getting asthma for the same reason I had asthma.

From what I know, asthma has generally been associated (no concrete causal links) with urbanization and socio-economic status. The global burden of disease has historically been on Western European and English-speaking nations but asthma prevalence rates among these nations have plateaued. The burden of disease is now starting to shift to Low-middle income countries like Costa Rica. However, these are links that speak for urbanized environments. Is it correct to assume that these links can be made to rural areas that are starting to urbanize (like Copey)?

It’s a fair assumption.

An interesting study (Rodriguez et al., 2011) of rural Ecuadorian communities showed that there is a significant relationship between childhood asthma, socio-economic status (parental education, income, cooking fuel, house building material and owning a vehicle) and lifestyle (sedentary activities, fast-food consumption, pet ownership and migration habits). So as far as I can tell, it seems that asthma cases come about when people do urban things in urban settings. In my experience, I would consider socio-economic status and lifestyle indicators as appropriate reasons to explain my asthma and probably Kati’s as well.

However, these are still generalizations since indicators tend to be kind of thin on the substance side. A study like the one above only answers the “what” part of the story but, the International Development student in me is more concerned about the “how” and “who”. These are aspects I’ll take a look at in another post.


Rodriguez, A., Vaca, M., Oviedo, G., Erazo, S., Chico, M. E., Teles, C., … & Cooper, P. J. (2011). Urbanisation is associated with prevalence of childhood asthma in diverse, small rural communities in Ecuador. Thorax, 66(12), 1043-1050.




The Pipeline Explosion That Almost Wasn’t But Was

An investigation from the CBC has revealed that the National Energy Board (NEB) buried this report on a rupture caused by corrosion in TransCanada’s Peace River Mainline (PRML) pipeline located in Northern Alberta. On July 20, 2009, the PRML ruptured, shooting up 50-m flames in the air while at the same time releasing 1.45 billion cubic metres worth of natural gas. The result was the 2-hectare scarring of a woodlot. Sorry Lorax.

The NEB completed an early draft of their report of this incident in January 2011 which cited inadequate field investigation, ineffective operational control and inadequate inspection on the part of TransCanada; government-speak for incompetence. If you’ve never heard of what has been billed as one of largest pipeline ruptures of the past decade, there’s a reason for that. This report wasn’t released until this January 2014 when the CBC filed an access-to-information request; three years after the initial report was completed, five years after the original incident. The request had to be made after the CBC asked for the report last October on four separate occasions, yet every time, the NEB refused to release the report.

Now why is that? The NEB claims that this three year lag in releasing the report was due to “an administrative error when an employee left without transferring the file over”. Or in real-speak, they tried to cover it up. But here is where we can pull together all the juicy parts because I love it when a story comes together. We have to remember what was going on during the completion of the report in January of 2011. This was the same time when the Canadian ambassador to the United States was lobbying the U.S. State Department for a presidential permit to approve the construction of the pipeline into the United States. Not exactly the time that you want to explain why Independence Day was happening in Alberta.

Fast forward to last week where the US State Department produced a crucial report that found no major environmental objections to the construction of the Keystone XL. Here we get a clear understanding as to why the CBC’s multiple requests for the NEB’s pipeline report in October 2013 were denied and why we are just now hearing about this major pipeline rupture that happened 5 years ago. Turns out that all that lobbying paid off and that TransCanada has just pulled off the greatest comeback since Lazarus. What was once considered to be a mega-project in limbo is now all but assured to get the green-light after the already initiated 90-day environmental assessment comes to a “recommendation”

We can already see the political machine start to flurry around the Keystone XL as it has just been reported that part of the House GOP playbook in the upcoming debt-limit negotiations with the Democrats may very well include trying to get Obama to approve the pipeline in return for a debt-limit extension. But I mean this is all theatre and political positioning. TransCanada has already completed the Southern-leg of Keystone under Obama’s watch, much to the ire of his liberal-environmentalist supporters. My guess is that if Republicans were to make him that kind of offer, it would make for a convenient in for Obama to say yes to the construction of Keystone XL.

On the domestic side here in Canada, the jury is still out on who exactly hid the report for three years. This story has that familiar feel corruption and dirtiness that has plagued the PMO for quite some time. But then again, who can blame the Conservatives? The Keystone XL is a $6 billion dollar beast of project and is part of the trio of proposed pipelines (Northern Gateway, Keystone XL and the Trans Mountain Expansion) which are estimated to rake in $1.298 billion for the Canadian economy. There is no chance in hell that they’re going to lose out on this cash cow. Whether you’re an environmentalist, a proponent of sustainable development or someone who lives on the pipeline route, prepared to have your heart BROKEN come May.

Spoiler Alert: No