Natural Habitat

I've been on safari in Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania with my family the last little while, and it has been absolutely amazing to see the magnificent creatures of Africa in their natural habitat. We were lucky enough to have great guides with us to explain the social, predatory and sexual behaviours of all the different species and the biggest thing I learned from this is that they're so much like us. The way they interact, learn, look out for each other, the way they team up with other species for mutual benefit. The efficiencies, practicalities, and partnerships that eventuate when living in the wild are really quite amazing. Instinct is so clever!

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What I found even more amazing though, is seeing human beings in their natural habitat. (If that sounds like I've been observing people as though they're displays in a zoo I apologise - that's certainly not the way I intend it. I mean it with a huge amount of curiosity and respect.)

In Rwanda, we saw people farming the green rolling hills. Every single inch of fertile land was terraced and sown with irish potatoes, maize, and bananas. Goats were tied to trees to make the most of any available shoots of grass. Mud huts were just big enough for a family, with an outdoor kitchen and simple ventilation. The roads were bustling. Every hilly spiralling road was a hive of social activity, as people ferried produce and water up and down, back and forth on bikes or by foot. Kids were playing with friends, walking to and from school. People seem happy and healthy.

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In Kenya and Tanzania, the Maasai are pastoralists, walking their herds of cattle and goats across the flat dry land for the day and taking shelter under trees in the warmest part of the afternoon. They keep their cattle safe from predators or thieves overnight by housing them within their communal village boundaries, surrounded by houses and fences made of sticks and trees. They don't hunt the game on the reserves, but have a deep respect for their environment and the opportunities tourism can create for their communities. They are joyful - music and dance are a big part of life, colour and movement are everywhere.

The Maasai and the Rwandans reminded me that we need very little to thrive. We need good food, exercise, strong social connections, something to work towards and something to bring us joy. They also reminded me just how far we in the west have moved away from our natural state of being. I know I've written about this before, but I really believe we are not designed to be cubicle bound all day. We are not meant to be controlled by a series of screens in our daily lives. We are meant to use our bodies to challenge ourselves physically, to related to others on a personal level, to look after those we know and to work to find mutually beneficial outcomes in dealings with those we don't know so well, and to pursue meaning.

There is so much we can learn from indigenous cultures around the world and here in Australia. Lessons of shared history, simplicity, connection to place, resilience, working in symbiosis with our surroundings. Despite the misconception that we in the developed world are "more advanced" than these communities, they are millions of years ahead of us, especially when it comes to respecting the land, and each other, and focusing on the important things in life.

I heard a great definition of indigenous today: meaning "a product of their environment". In that sense, we're all indigenous, but all too often we're moulded by the environment we've created for ourselves and not the natural environment we live in. This trip reminded me of the capabilities we all possess to adapt to our surroundings, to find a good outcome - and really, to survive.

Also, here's a timelapse from Cam of our sunset over Ngorongoro Crater.

If you're planning a trip of your own, I recommend:

Check out what the awesome people at Intrepid Travel are doing. They have a huge variety of trips throughout Africa.

Ideally, go early in the migration season or you risk missing out on seeing the big herds in the Serengeti. If possible, avoid the national parks and spend time in the private conservancies where you can go off road and get up close and personal.

Also, keep enough cash on your for tips, visas, and any incidentals because ATMs are hard to come by.

Key spots:

Everyday Heroism

At uni this morning my lecturer spoke about how being aware of all the big things we can do to make a difference environmentally becomes overwhelming at times. Sometimes you need to remember the small actions you can take.

This is so timely given discussions that have been happening in other parts of the internets (read my posts below) between people working for social good.

We were prompted to list the small heroic things we can do to make a difference in our own lives.

For me, when it all gets too much, I think of Curracloe Farm. I think about how great it will be living off the grid and connected to nature, our food and the way we live at a level I think very few people who live in the city really are.

I think about riding my bike, walking through nature, spending time in our vegie garden, cooking beautiful food, reading and writing about things that really matter to me. I think about having deep connections with people who really care about the big stuff, and who are doing small things to affect change.

And I think about how I wish I was there now.

Read some of my recent posts about this:

10 days ago: http://laramcpherson.com/2012/08/21/what-should-i-be-when-i-grow-up/

Last week: http://laramcpherson.com/2012/08/24/learning/

Today: http://laramcpherson.com/2012/09/01/jugglingstruggling/

I’d welcome any constructive feedback.

Systems Thinking

I'm deep in essay writing mode - its 7am and I've been at it for approximately 12 hours. I'm currently writing about the limits of environmental CSR initiatives in a neoliberal economy.Needless to say, it got me thinking about paradigm shifts. Conveniently, Donella Meadows is one of my key sources. Here are two extracts from Places to Intervene in Systems in Order of Increasing Effectiveness.

People who manage to intervene in systems at the level of paradigm hit a leverage  point that totally transforms systems.

You could say paradigms are harder to change than anything else about a system, and therefore this item should be lowest on the list, not the highest. But there's nothing  physical or expensive or even slow about paradigm change. In a single individual it can happen in a millisecond. All it takes is a click in the mind, a new way of seeing. Of course individuals and societies do resist challenges to their paradigm harder than they resist any other kind of change.

So how do you change paradigms? Thomas Kuhn, who wrote the seminal book about  the great paradigm shifts of science, has a lot to say about that. In a nutshell, you keep  pointing at the anomalies and failures in the old paradigm, you come yourself, loudly, with assurance, from the new one, you insert people with the new paradigm in places of public visibility and power. You don't waste time with reactionaries; rather you work with active change agents and with the vast middle ground of people who are open-minded.

Systems folks would say one way to change a paradigm is to model a system, which takes you outside the system and forces you to see it whole. We say that because our own paradigms have been changed that way.

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The highest leverage of all is to keep oneself unattached in the arena of paradigms, to realize that NO paradigm is "true," that even the one that sweetly shapes one's comfortable worldview is a tremendously limited understanding of an immense and amazing universe.

It is to "get" at a gut level the paradigm that there are paradigms, and to see that that itself is a paradigm, and to regard that whole realization as devastatingly funny. It is to let go into Not Knowing.developer.

People who cling to paradigms (just about all of us) take one look at the spacious possibility that everything we think is guaranteed to be nonsense and pedal rapidly in the opposite direction. Surely there is no power, no control, not even a reason for being, much less acting, in the experience that there is no certainty in any worldview. But everyone who has managed to entertain that idea, for a moment or for a lifetime, has found it a basis for radical empowerment. If no paradigm is right, you can choose one that will help achieve your purpose. If you have no idea where to get a purpose, you can listen to the universe (or put in the name of your favorite deity here) and do his, her, its will, which is a lot better informed than your will.

It is in the space of mastery over paradigms that people throw off addictions, live in constant joy, bring down empires, get locked up or burned at the stake or crucified or shot, and have impacts that last for millennia.

Back from the sublime to the ridiculous, from enlightenment to caveats. There is so much that has to be said to qualify this list. It is tentative and its order is slithery. There are exceptions to every item on it. Having the list percolating in my subconscious for years has not transformed me into a Superwoman. I seem to spend my time running up and down the list, trying out leverage points wherever I can find them. The higher the leverage point, the more the system resists changing it—that's why societies rub out truly enlightened beings.

I don't think there are cheap tickets to system change. You have to work at it, whether that means rigorously analyzing a system or rigorously casting off paradigms. In the end, it seems that leverage has less to do with pushing levers than it does with disciplined thinking combined with strategically, profoundly, madly letting go."

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