Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.'s Journal|
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|Saturday, May 16th, 2015|
|Thursday, July 11th, 2019|
|Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa
I found another really interesting historic travelogue
. In 1795 Scotsman Mungo Park (is Mungo a Scottish name??) traveled for 18 months in West Africa through what is now Gambia, Senegal and Mali (right around Guinea where I've spent time), he wrote about it, not in overwrought flowing descriptions but with a keenly observant eye. Where every other European writing about Africa prior to ... 1950 ...seems to describe it as an anarchic dystopia full of nothing but savages -- but from the start Mungo Park describes the local people in very human terms completely free of cliches and assumptions. He portrays an Africa full of villages knit together by established political systems and people as individuals with their own aspirations and lives to live, taking time to describe the various tribes, cultural groups and customs. Mungo Park is robbed repeatedly until he is left literally penniness but even then he points out that if some foreigner were to attempt to traverse the English countryside bedecked with rare items of priceless value to locals, they would undoubtedly be robbed blind too. And henceforth he continues his journey begging from village to village, noting that often the most charitable people he encountered were the poor or slaves themselves. It's amazing to me that he kept on persevering on his quest to find the source of the river Niger rather than turn back even after all the setbacks he had encountered, though he apparently died on a second expedition.
He also recorded some funny local beliefs about Europeans I'd never heard before but make sense that they'd think them -- namely that Europeans ATE the countless slaves they continuously shipped off in boats never to be seen again, which would certainly instill terror in those bound for the coast; and they were convinced the Europeans used ivory for some mysterious purpose no European would divulge to them, since it made sense to them that they'd put such a high price on something used to knife handles and piano keys when wood would work just as well.
|Thursday, June 20th, 2019|
|Solo: A Star Wars Story -- Review
So last night I finally saw the Han Solo movie, on netflix. Altogether I found it really disappointing. The following review will contain lots of spoilers.
( Spoiler alert!Collapse )
Bonus: Rogue 1!
In looking the other things in my Star Wars tag I was shocked just now to realize apparently I never wrote a review of Rogue One?? From this distant vantage point it's hard for me to remember much of value of specifics so much as to say I recall I really liked it, I think to me it captured the feel of the original trilogy the best of all the movies that have come out since. It was just kind of bittersweet watching it knowing that all the characters had to die to explain why they don't show up in any subsequent movie. Though I think knowing they were going to die the writers didn't write them with the kind of wankery assumption that we'll love them as new upcoming trilogy stars as they did with all those irritating characters around Rey in the new movies. I really liked the Rogue One sarcastic robot in particular. (sarcastic robot in Han Solo seemed kind of a sad immitation of him, and why does a robot have to so clearly correspond to a human ethnic cliche??)
|Tuesday, May 14th, 2019|
|Betrayed on Treasure Island
So I recently downloaded this version of Treasure Island on Audible, because, as I mentioned, I having stumbled across some of Robert Louis Stevenson's other writing I thought I should revisit his most classic. From the getgo something seemed a bit off. After awhile I put my finger on the most noticable thing -- there were no "he said" "he growled" "he muttered" prefixes before speech, though this recording used multiple voice actors to make it clear who was speaking clearly the original written form must have noted in text who was speaking. So maybe they just deleted the speech directions as redundant with voice actors, which annoyed me but, okay. But as time went on it still just, seemed a bit off. The writing seemed really uninspired. Keep in mind though I was entirely listening to it as I drove so when most annoyed and suspicious I couldn't investigate. When I tried after arriving at a destination I couldn't pull up the full information on it on my phone. Finally I remembered while at home and googled up the exact version I was listening and sure enough, not prominently displayed but hidden at the end of the summary it does say "Audible Originals UK are excited to announce this reimagination of Stevenson's coming-of-age story that will captivate all of the family." Re-imagining! Y'arrrgh!
So I pulled up another version and made sure it was true to the original and listened to the remainder of the story in that version. What a difference! The re-imagined version kept some of the original speech, but also deleted or simplified a lot, and added a lot more so it could turn more narration into speech as befits a radio-drama which it was more like. It did keep narration but only that which couldn't possibly be turned into dialogue, and generally across the board it simplified the reading level to a much simpler form. Don't get me wrong, as a beloved story of children, I don't fault their decisions to simplify it for a presumed younger audience and adapt it more to radio-play style, I'm just a bit salty that they hadn't made that more clear. As far as reading it as a fan of good literature they had cooked nearly everything good out of their version. It was kind of an interesting exercise though seeing the difference between the writing of a epicly good writer compared to boiled down uninspired writing of the exact same thing.
|Wednesday, May 8th, 2019|
Also I recently read Oscar Wilde's The Portrait of Dorian Grey. It didn't really have a plot hook until at least a third of the way through, nor had it by then, or indeed ever, made me care about any of the characters... if I didn't know something was going to happen with the portrait and that it's a classic I think I would have been like wtf this is going nowhere. Mostly it seemed to be the main characters languidly quipping witticisms primarily consisting of "unexpected" pairings such as "in A [foreign country for example] they do B (negative behavior) but in C [more familiar subject, such as Britain] they do D [ironically stated worse behavior]" in such a manner that I can almost hear a laugh track. Also weirdly no female was any more than literary furniture. I thought this guy Oscar Wilde was supposed to be great, I was thoroughly disappointed.
|Tuesday, May 7th, 2019|
|A Novel Approach to the Mueller Report
I had a book idea today. Not something epicly original but ...
I've been listening to the Mueller Report on audible. I thought it would be 19 hours of mind numbing legal tedium but I actually have found it quite interesting and easy to follow and I feel "informed as fuck" and better for it all. And yet, I still feel like a lot of people will still find it too dry and legal to get through it, because I know the reading capacity of your average person. BUT, what if one were to "translate" a vulgate version of it, so to speak. A novelization of the Mueller Report. The report is, after all, mostly reporting on events as they occurred -- what if one were to re-recount them in a more fluid readable manner, maybe inserting you know how the weather was that day or other mundane details to make it flow better as a story, and deleting tediously long recountings of the supporting evidence of a fact (leaving a footnote with the page in the Mueller report if someone really wants to know the support for an assertion). Similarly with the purely legal arguments it ends with, write summaries in plain speech while not inserting any personal opinion or trying to make any arguments that aren't in the report. Basically it would be the report, just written to be more readable to the non-legal audience. What do you think?
|Friday, April 19th, 2019|
|In Which the USS Trilobite Gets Hulled
Someone in the Americans in Melbourne FB group asked if anyone wanted to go camping this weekend. I put my hand up, so did a few others, we formed a group. We began to plan. After a few days I realized it was me and three young women, so I made sure Cristina was okay with that. She dutifully sent me a few fire emojis to indicate she was a fiery latina and gave the go ahead. Our camping plan was to head to the Grampians mountains about three (?) hours west of Melbourne, so the girls would take the train west to the town of Ballarat, which I'd drive to (it's 54 km north of me). I'd pick them up. We'd go to the mountains. Recall (or did I mention?) I have a new (to me) car as of about five weeks ago, a champagne colored honda civic I've named the USS Trilobite.
This morning I left home just after 10am. It was a beautiful morning. I began listening to Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde on audible. Arrived at the train station in Ballarat just about a minute before the girl's train. I arrived at the platform just as they were making their way to the exit and they recognized me. Immediately they commented on my Australian accent. We hadn't known much of anything about eachother, which was a part of the trip I was rather excited about, I like trips with unknown people, it's a grab bag of experience. I had been dreading of course that they'd be overly prissy and difficult but they seemed quite nice. All were professionals in their mid twenties. One appeared to have a Filipino ethnic background but the other two were ambiguously American. One was from California the other two were from not-California (which is how Californians such as myself classify Americans ;) ).
We decided to get lunch before leaving Ballarat since it was lunch time and there'd be fewer choices anywhere further from civilization. We drove up and down a few blockfaces looking for a specific nice looking beer-pub I'd visited once before. The streets in Ballarat are wide and lined with grand edifices reminiscent of the 19th century. After failing to find the place I was looking for I decided to park in one of the many parking spots at a 45 degree angle to the street. CRASH!! The car was slammed violently and suddenly there was a red car just beside us and the woman in the driver's seat already yelling imprecations at me. It took me a moment to even understand what had just happened. My passengers all seemed fine. I got out and surveyed the scene: a red car had somehow come between me and the curb I was about to park against. There was no conceivable reason for a car to be there. During a break in the woman's exclamations about how I needed to look where I was going I calmly told her that I was turning into a parking spot adjoining the lane I was driving in and there's no reason she should have been there. She started telling me it was a two lane road and she had been on the inside lane. I looked at the road, it was wide but I would never consider treating it as two traffic lanes, and even if there had beeen, I would have been driving in the "left hand" one adjacent to the parking spot. Anyway, I only explained myself once, as she kept on arguing (for some reason she thought it was important to mention there were no skid marks repeatedly) I said well we'll get the police to come here and sort it out there's no need to get our blood pressure up. Her male vehicle occupant seemed to agree and got her to stop loudly trying to argue with me.
The cars haven't been moved. Note its in the parking area. Essentially she was trying to drive through parking spaces as if they were a traffic lane and thereby t-boned a parking car.
Because we were in the city center the police arrived within minutes. One asked me for my statement and I said "honestly I didn't see where she came from because I was just turning directly from the lane here into the parking spot here." He nodded, made some affirmative noises, walked around the vehicles, and joined the other officer where the woman was giving her explanation to him full of wild hand gestures. I was soon gratified to hear the officers, having to raise there voices to communicate with her, saying things like "no that's not how it works!"
Apparently they didn't have IDs or wallets on them. "we aren't required to have them on us!" the woman rebelliously told the officers. I felt like the way all three vehicle occupants insisted none of them had their wallets on them seemed implausible and badly acted. The officers then asked for a name to run through the system. The first name she gave them didn't work, which irritated the officers somewhat, I believe I heard "we could just arrest you" but she made some corrections and gave them a name that worked and they seemed satisfied.
Talking to the officers again myself, they mentioned that the other party was definitely at fault and they were writing them an "unlawful driving maneuver" citation or something, and that the insurance company would be able to get that to prove fault. Then they told us to exchange information and departed.
I'm not sure I have a lot of faith in the accuracy of the contact information the people gave me, or that they gave a correct name to the police, though I have the car's plate number. But the larger problem is that they loudly mentioned a number of times that they don't have insurance. I don't have insurance either, it's not required here. So I think getting money out of them would require actually suing them, and they seem like they'll be every bit as slippery and obstinate as they possibly can. Once we pulled the cars apart it was apparent there's a huge dent in my passenger side as if it was hit with a wrecking ball. Did I mention I've only had this car five weeks?
After this we parked the car in the spot I'd been trying to get into and went for lunch. I wanted to sit down and sort all this out in my head. We found the beer pub but it was closed for Good Friday so we instead proceeded to the Ethiopian restaurant I know of in Ballarat. That was really nice actually, because the owner is so warm and friendly and I've talked to him many times so he recognizes me immediately. To be in a familiar place with a warm sympathetic proprietor was really nice. Ethiopian soul food.
Talked to my parents and my authority on all things related to vehicles in Australia, my friend Billie. We still didn't know if my car would be able to drive. If it could I'd hobble home with it, if it didn't, probably I'd see if it wasn't exhorbitantly expensive to tow it home (54km recall). Either way the girls would be taking the train back to Melbourne. They were still enthusiastic about camping on this four day weekend though and we discussed getting a rental car and trying again tomorrow.
Got back in the car and..... it seemed to drive fine! Took the girls to the train station. Recall, the took the train (appx 1 hour 45 min from Melbourne), five-ten minutes later we were crashed into, had lunch, and now they were headed back whence they came.
Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde was just the right length that I finished it just a few minutes after getting home. I'm thinking of either doing to Portrait of Dorian Gray next, since it's kind of a similar theme I think, or Robert Louis Stevenson's most famous, Treasure Island. My dad read it to my brothers when we were wee bairns as a bed time story, and major plot points are saturated into our culture but I think it may be worth revisiting, especially now that I can appreciate what a truly good author he is.
The girls have sorted out a rental car. I'll take the train into Melbourne in the morning to catch up with them there. As to the car, on Tuesday (Monday is "Easter Monday" here) I'll take it to the mechanic across the street to assess the damage and also call free legal aid to see about my options.
Anyway, that was my day.
|Saturday, April 13th, 2019|
|LJ Idol Write Off
I appear to be sick, a fortunately rare occurrence but here it is. So I don't feel like writing much at length, buy my mom is in a write off for 6th place / top five in Livejournal Idol and at the present moment she's fair number of votes behind. I strongly encourage you to go vote for her
, and then read her continuing sci fi saga about a colony on Mars.Please vote for Furzicle here
|Friday, April 5th, 2019|
|Dismissed Out of Hand
I submitted my Dominican Republic travel feature to the LA Times last night my time, which would have arrived there some time the night before Thursday morning. Their very snarky submissions guidelines said it could take as long as 12 weeks for them to get around to evaluating a story so I settled in to not expect a response for awhile.
So I was a bit surprised the next morning to have a response from them. Looking at the message header, it appears they wrote their response at 7:01:46 am their time, Thursday morning. It reads in its entirety: "Thank you for your submission, Kris. I'm sorry I can't use it."
Given the timing of email, I suspect they started their workday at 7:00 and had rejected my submission without bothering to even look at it within the first two minutes of their day. I rather suspect they don't consider it even worth reading a submission unless it comes from a known established writer. Ah well the thing is already written I guess I'll see if I have better luck flogging it off on a different newspaper.
|Sunday, March 31st, 2019|
When I returned from a month out of country last winter, and of course immediately had to go to the grocery store to stock the refridgerator and pantry I'd left bare, I was taken a bit aback when the cashier asked if I'd like to buy a bag. I looked where the plastic grocery bags had always been, there was nothing there. The cashier was indicating a seperate pile of sturdier plastic bags. What was this madness??
"uh, how much are they?" I asked
"uh, okay" I said, still a bit shaken by this break in the normal reality of such a mundane transaction.
"Ta" she said, which my brain invariably translates as "fuck off and die" though they say it cheerfully.
It took me awhile to get used to keeping the bags in my car, especially since they're invariably brought in to the kitchen when full of groceries and then I'm not about to go back out to the car after loading them into the pantry and fridge, esp if its cold and rainy out, so I still regularly find them not in the car. Or I happen by the grocery store in the work truck -- since I live way out of town, if work brings me by the grocery I'm gonna run in for resupply, and find I have no bags in the work truck. Even though they're only fifteen cents, I have long since bought so many bags that I refuse to buy one more.
And so, more often than not I am limited to simply buying only as many groceries as I can hold in my hands. I really wonder how many other people have adapted this strategy. It's gotta be hurting their sales, since they're always strategizing to trick people into seeing and buying things they didn't really need. Surely I'm not the only one who will now forgo that $5 tub of icecream for want of a $0.15 bag. Even people that remember to bring their bags, if they brought three bags they're not going to buy four bags of stuff.
The other day I was caught out with slightly more than would be easy to carry out to the car by hand. As I even then hemmed and hawed about buying another bag, the cashier helpfully pointed to a stack of cardboard boxes that had been located near the entrance and asked if I'd like one for free. Of course I did. Ta. Since then I've noticed ever more customers loading their groceries into cardboard boxes. We are learning to make do. The consumer ecosystem adjusts.
They claim the reason is environmental, I think. I have never seen an official statement on the subject. And I consider myself a serious environmentalist, but I have questions about this whole thing. These new bags are made from the exact same material as the old ones, I'm told, just thicker. Why can't they just make bags out of a biodegradable material? Surely that is possible. Or even make them out of a material that was recyclable (recycle bins are ubiquitous but the shopping bags never qualified). I frankly, cycnically, suspect the decision to go from free bags to 15 cent bags was economic not environmental in motivation, but it really seems to me like it would be causing people to purchase less. Or maybe its politics, because I think the decision was made not just by one grocery store but seems to have been simulteniously adopted by them all, and so, as happens in environmental politics, like the EU randomly banning pesticides due to political pressure rather than science, I'm guessing some politicians decided banning single use plastic bags would buff their environmentalist credentials. And I guess put that way, yeah I'd be in favor of "banning single use plastic bags," that's the right set of key words to get my environmentalist blood up, as I visualize sea lions choking on plastic bags blowing in the wind. But key words or key word phrases are a toxic element of politics that short-circuits thinking a problem all the way through and facilitates portraying things as black and white. Is it black and white? Are you totally for single use plastic bags or against them? What I'm for is not choking sea lions -- surely in this day and age instead of doing that with a more survivable multi-use plastic bag of the same material we can come up with some biodegradable single use bag that will get your ice cream home but if exposed to sustained sunlight, submerged in salt-water, or chomped on by a sea lion, it will give with the consistency of cotton candy? Like, I don't know, it's almost like you cold make a bag out of recycled paper or something....
|Sunday, March 24th, 2019|
|Wound Up With Conclusions
The Wind Up Girl, a review
Recommended to me by lookfar when we were discussing post apocalyptic books, this book takes place in a future where the global economy has been wrecked by petroleum having run out, and then "calorie companies" competitively destroyed rival crops with engineered crop diseases until much of the world was starving and dependent on buying food or sterile seeds from one of the small number of surviving campanies, all based far away in the US midwest. The story takes place in Bangkok, which has surprisingly survived all this, thanks in part to a seed bank they've managed to maintain in isolation. The author, Paolo Bachigalupi, has managed to fill his world with so many interesting details its a marvel to me. But what I think I like most is the complexity of his characters. You don't know which of the several main characters the book follows to really root for: one is a secret agent for the calorie companies who is written is a very sympathetic way such that its easy to feel like he's the good guy you're rooting for until you think about how the end goals he represents are pretty evil; one works for the very conservative, brutal and corrupt "Environmental Bureau" but you find yourself sympathisizing with their goals of protecting the country from the dangerous outside influences; one is a Chinese immigrant stuck beween all these larger forces who at times seems selfish but he's also just desperate to survive; and of course the titular characer, the wind-up girl, is a genetically modified person who faces a very great deal of mistreatment (big trigger warning if you're sensitive to these things, she suffers a LOT of abuse by people who consider her a less-than-human toy) but as one can guess from the title, ends up having an important role. Altogether I loved the book for the complexities of the characters and the detailed, vivid, thought-provoking world that Bachigalupi created. I strongly recommend if this sounds like your kind of book at all.
I'd like to continue reading all the Bachigalupi I can get my hands on but before I drift too far from traditional apocalypse I'm starting on the 1957 novel On The Beach by Nevil Shute. Should be a good comparison with Alas Babylon which I just read, which was published in 1959. I've only just begun On the Beach but I'm a bit excited that it actually takes place in Melbourne, near me (Though the protagonist lives in a fictional suburb called Falmouth which I just googled and learned is based on Frankston, across the bay from me).
Trying To Find The Best Conclusion
Still tinkering with the conclusion of my Nicaragua article. First I tried rewriting it entirely several times only loosely using my favorite words from previous iterations. As that didn't seem to solve my problems I decided to actually try writing it in verse, not as sometihng that would go in to the final product but to maybe shake some better turns of phrase out and/or exercise my sense of pacing since the pacing of it seemed off.
( Several variations on a conclusionCollapse )
|Saturday, March 16th, 2019|
|Nicaragua for the American Bee Journal Part 3
Notes From the Bee Club Meeting That Might Bore You With Jargon
Last night, Friday night, I attended the Geelong Beekeeping Club meeting for the first time since November. They meet 8:00 to 10:00pm on Friday nights which I find quite rather inconvenient, especially since it's an hour drive for me. But having not been in some months I felt I should make an appearance.
As always, regardless of who was speaking the meeting was dominated by two guys who, even when they didn't have the floor were strongly of the belief that everyone needed to hear their opinion. The feature presentation of the evening was by the former president, a nice fellow, about "pack down." I was a bit curious to find out what htey meant by this because they really seem to go on about it this time of year (the end of summer).
Apparently it hinges on the assumption that they've been heretofor for some reason giving their bees too much space and it involved merely taking off the top box and rearranging the frames inside in some hotly contested manner (one of the two opinionated guys voiced his opposing opinion on every point from the back). The general opinion in the club seems to be to automatically do pack down on some (hotly contested) specific date.
I call this doing of things sight unseen by dates "paint by numbers beekeeping"
Me I'm still _adding_ boxes as many of my hives are _still_ expanding on the sugargum bloom, which is great. When they stop expanding I'll stop adding boxes and when I see its become cold nd the bees have consolidated out of the existing 3rd and 4th boxes I'll remove them, but hey what do I know?
Talking to a friend after the meeting I found myself frequently laughing and mentioning new things I've tried this year which may or may not be a mistake. I changed a fair few things this year -- relevant to "pack-down" I started putting queen excluders over the bottom brood box instead of the bottom two -- I suppose I will remove the QXs once honey production ends.
After the rest of club business was over the loud guy from the back asked to speak for two minutes and proceeded to harangue the entire club about how he's been misquoted and there's rumors going aorund that he was completely against feeding the bees sugar syrup to get them through winter, that he is NOT against that but he IS against that BUT only in the following complex specific circumstnaces and... ::collective eyes glaze over::
One of the reasons he listed against this was that then the sugar syrup ends up being harvested as fake honey, but the universal advice is of course that you never feed sugar syrup when you're going to pull honey. It's just to get them through the food deficit in winter. I mention this though because another experimental idea I had already thought of is mixing blue food coloring in with my sugar syrup so it makes "blue honey" which I'll know not to harvest if it somehow stays around till harvest time (since I'm now harvesting from the 2nd box (in re QX over 1st box as mentioned above) there is now a remote possibility of this that there wasn't before.
Continuing Nicaragua Article
Continuing the article from last entry. This is kind of the heart of the matter, trying to disguise a travelogue as a technical account. ;) (but seriously)
As before, I'll use strikethroughs not to denote deletions but what you've already seen. Also have included the final two paragraphs because they're just two short paragraphs. I might post another entry dedicated to the conclusion because I really want to strengthen it.
Ironically, despite spending some 30 years of my life in Southern California, I had made my first visit to Central America by traveling the wrong way around the world, traveling two thirds of the way around the globe from Kyrgyzstan to Nicaragua via Australia. This occurred because the Nicaragua project had been planned and tickets purchased before the Kyrgystan project (see June American Bee Journal), and changing the flights turned out to be exorbitantly expensive, so I had to return to Australia (where I've been living), not even long enough to return to my house before catching the flight on towards Nicaragua.
Partners for the Americas is a US based non-profit NGO founded in 1964 dedicated to development and aid in the Americas. Among other things, they administer USAID funded Farmer-to-Farmer programs. After a day off to “adjust” during which I joined Vincent and Dr Van Veen, I was off to the north of the country!
It was a four hour drive from Managua. Halfway we stopped for lunch in the town of Esteli, where a wall covered with a mural depicting the civil war (1978-1990) was also pockmarked with bullet-holes from that same war. An air raid siren began its banshee wail and I quickly scanned the horizon thinking one of the numerous smoldering volcanoes had finally erupted, but no one around me seemed phased.
“They just do that to mark noon” my driver said after it ended and conversation could resume. Then the bells of the nearby cathedral began to toll. “they do that too” he added.
“I much prefer the cathedral bells” I commented. [***like this bit, too obviously in the realm of travelogue? May possibly delete the cathedral bells. I general I think the bullet holes and air raid siren are relevant ot the sense of potential euroption of violence pervasive to the place***]
To get to where the project would be based we continued up into forested mountains in which pink-tiled adobes peeked out from among the trees, until we came to a town named Somoto. It had quiet cobbled streets with more pedestrians than cars, in which shopkeepers and residents often could be found sitting on their streetside steps in the evening.
The local host organization was Fabretto – named after Padre Fabretto, a much beloved priest who had worked tirelessly and selflessly to improve conditions for the children and youth of Nicaragua. When he died suddenly in 1990, the Fabretto organization continued to operate the many schools and projects he had run.
Marcus, my Fabretto liaison, gave me a tour of their Somoto headquarters, which was also a primary school, and then we headed out to visit some beehives! A few kilometers out of town, by a mud adobe house, we pulled on yellow bee suits as chickens pecked around us. And then … we pulled on second bee suits over the first. Yes. Africanized bees.
From my personal experience, purebred African bees in Africa are not as bad as the hybridized Africanized bees I became extremely familiar with in California. The bees in Africa are certainly more aggressive than good gentle European stock, and I always approach them fully suited, but I can usually take off my gloves if not the veil, while around me beekeepers are usually wearing all kinds of haphazard homemade suits. Approaching an Africanized hive in California I always wear a full suit with duct tape over the zippers and ankles and wrists, and often that is not sufficient as the angry whirlwind of bees pelts my veil like someone is throwing gravel at me, and by sheer force of will bees end up in my suit anyway. No one has ever proposed wearing two layers of suit in Africa, but here we are, in Nicaragua.
In California we still fight it. We religiously requeen any swarm we catch in Southern California, we make sure we have the marked queen we know isn't Africanized, and if we find they've requeened themselves we re-requeen with a marked European queen. Not here in Nicaragua; they've accepted that Africanized bees are what they have, and so, double suits. On the plus side Africanized bees are much more resilient against pests and they don't seem to have to worry about varroa.
This first set of bees we looked at, I could tell the hives were very badly looked after. The dark burr-comb connecting frames was so thick and solid it was clear these hives hadn't been inspected in months. One was laying on its side nearly submerged in tall grass; another leaned precariously on a failing stand. Several didn't have enough frames in them, the extra space filled with robust buttresses of burr comb.
“Let's fix this toppled hive,” I say
“They say they will do it later,” says Marcus.
“You see a problem like this, you should fix it immediately,” I say.
“They call him 'el Gato'” Marcus tells me the next day as we're headed to another bee site.
“The cat?” I ask.
“Yes, the cat” he says, chuckling.
“Why?” I ask.
We meet el Gato by his family home, another adobe farm-house in the quiet shade of large trees. Unusual for the area, his eyes are green, and they gleam intently. Cat-like. He is very young, maybe 18. We look at the fifteen hives he runs. They're perfectly maintained, standing straight and clean, everything in order inside and out. His enthusiasm is apparent in his gleaming eyes as he answers my questions through Marcus' translation, and talks about his bees. We grin at each-other, the mutual love of a craft transcends language.
In these training projects I sometimes talk about “aptitude” for keeping bees. You can train someone without the aptitude until the drones come home, but someone who isn't enthusiastic, can't overcome their apprehension of working with bees, will never become a beekeeper. Someone like el Gato is a real resource. He'll do great, he'll inspire, encourage, and ultimately train others around him. Later Fabretto transferred the hives from the first family to el Gato's care. I never did learn his real name, no one called him anything other than el Gato. At least he still has a name other than “the bee guy,” as so many of the rest of us are known in our local communities.
El Gato also showed us two stingless bee hives, they were small and oblong, like a large shoebox. He had gotten them pre-made from another organization. The bees (a melipona species) were only filling a third of the box and seemed uninterested in the rest. I was able to transfer some knowledge I myself had only picked up the other day – in Dr Van Veen's stingless bee presentation the hives had all been longer vertically than horizontally; I suggested that maybe these hives were made for a different species and the local stingless bees would prefer a more vertical arrangement.
We were able to try some of the stingless bee honey (they produce only a few cups of honey each per year), which was very tart. I've always found it very interesting how different stingless bee honey can taste from honeybee honey from presumably the same plants.
On the weekend we drove an hour deeper into the mountains to the tiny mountain town of San Jose de Cusmapa, draped over some ridges high in the mountains. In this very quiet town there seemed to be fewer than half a dozen vehicles, and the clip-clop of horse or donkey down the cobbled streets was very common. While Fabretto's headquarters is in the national capital, this small town, founded by Padre Fabretto himself, I gather is kind of its heart and soul. I stayed in a guest house with several European volunteers working for Fabretto as teachers at the local school. One day while exploring the outskirts on horseback with a french volunteer, our local guide said
“It's two more hours this way to Honduras”
“By car?” I asked naively,
The French girl laughed “no one drives here. By horse.” [again not beekeeping related but I feel like I have the momentum for it to carry through here]
We did drive on one of the days, up and down some absolutely hair-raising narrow dirt roads on the mountain slopes to a very remote community called La Naranja. There, at the end of the road, we found three adobes with the cracked plaster of a zorro film, under a lush tropical canopy and surrounded by banana trees (but no oranges that I recall, despite the name). Several young men came to receive bags of flour and supplies that Marcus was unloading from the back of the landcruiser for them. Then he looked at me with surprise,
“This boy says he knows you”
It turns out he had been at the Sweet Progress training I had gone to. Small world.
As Vincent later explains to me, Sweet Progress actually partners with Fabretto, inviting Fabretto beekeepers to come down to training seminars and including Fabretto honey in their packaging since they are able to leverage a better price for the beekeepers.
The hives in La Naranja were pretty good, though with a bit more small hive beetles than I'd quite like to see. I prescribed rotating out the dark comb a bit more. Small hive beetles really love dark comb.
Back in San Jose de Cusmapa, we later visited the Fabretto hive-making carpenters in their workshop. Sometimes there is a big disconnect between people making hives and the beekeepers, but it was nice to see they had already tweaked the design and were very willing to discuss potential improvements. Returning to Somoto we visited some other beekeepers, and another nearby organization that made and sold beehives. Both the technicians this organization sent to the field with us were women, and we worked for the longest sustained time of this trip going through hives. I had been concerned in the tropical heat it might be impractical to spend hours working bees wearing two layers of suits, but it proved doable.
I made a presentation at the Fabretto headquarters. It was supposed to be for the students but apparently there was a miscommunication and no students were informed. Instead all of Fabretto's teachers came. My computer, which had worked an hour earlier, of course chose the moment we started to fail. Par for the course in aid work. Presentation goes on without powerpoint. The fallback plan for a fallback audience. This is aid work.
As I watch the volcano smoke plumes recede below from my airplane window, I think about the turbulent recent history of the country. The violent civil war from 1978-1990, illustrated with bullet hole riddled walls and murals, and personal stories everyone has. The unrest in 2015 and 2016 which affected me by the cancellation of my project. Despite this violent background, the persistent kindness of people like Padre Fabretto and Vincent Cosgrove, the charitable organizations they build around them, and the volunteers that flock to help are truly an inspiration.
In mid 2018 violence again erupted. 300 protestors were killed in the course of three months, paramilitaries besieged a church in which protestors took refuge, more black columns of smoke in the sky. But Sweet Progress, Fabretto, Partners for the Americas, and many others keep on working to help the people.
*"drones" was originally "proverbial cows," this isn't too contrived a hijacking of the usual phrase is it?
So there you go. I guess really I am more interested in thoughts on the pacing, thematic arrangement, various big picture things like that, then commas and grammar which I'll sweep up as I go through it. Anything ring off to you? Anywhere you think I could insert a better description? I really want to strengthen the end a lot more so I still might post another entry dedicated solely to it. The end is important.
|Thursday, March 14th, 2019|
|Nicaragua for the American Bee Journal Part 2
Update from Venezuela
Power apparently has been restored to much of Venezuela. and today after not hearing from her for three days, as I sat in a grassy forested glade overlooking a lake to jot down notes in my beekeeping log I received facebook messages from Cristina. Apparently she missed me (: Connection is still only sporadic, we tried to talk on the phone but after about a minute it devolved into weird noises and disconnected.Here's random picture I don't think I ever posted from later in the Nicaragua trip.Back in Nicaragua Continuing my plan to post my next article in segments
. This next bit I'm particularly concerned about because writing about Vincent's organization almost entirely from second-hand information its hard to keep the feel of an in-the-moment travelogue-esque narrative. And all this is kind of frontloaded in the whole narrative but I can't think of a better way to structure it.
In the below quote I'll use strikethrough to denote not deleted segments but parts you've already seen yesterday.
In the back of the truck with me is Vincent Cosgrove, a cheerful and energetic American who runs an organization called Sweet Progress in Nicaragua. Vincent had first come to Nicaragua in 2013 as an entrepreneur in the healthcare industry. He found himself in Tipitapa, a satellite town of Managua, and there was a problem. 62% unemployment, 82% among the women, meant that no one had money for even much needed healthcare services. Where others might have moved on to somewhere with more money, he instead started thinking about how he could improve the lot of locals.
One day while Vincent was on his way to visit a USAID water project in Tipitapa, at an intersection a little girl approached his beat-up ford ranger to sell him a bottle of melipona (stingless native bee) honey. He suddenly remembered working with the beekeepers of the Middlesex Beekeeping Group in Boston twenty years earlier. He had been a chef, they'd regularly come into his restaurant and ultimately taught him beekeeping. Beekeeping was the answer! He bought the bottle of honey.
He started helping locals form co-ops, especially of women's groups. They needed equipment and training, he set about tackling both these issues. For equipment he realized just giving people things would be unsustainable and not create a sense of ownership, so Sweet Progress organizes micro-loans for equipment that are paid back in the form of honey over four years, with no interest. In this manner the groups are able to get necessary resources without becoming trapped on a repayment treadmill. Vincent came originally as an entrepreneur, but he doesn't make a profit out of this, I believe he has found the greater satisfaction of helping others.
As to training, Vincent has worked tirelessly to bring in volunteers for training and organizations as partners – among them non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and universities in the region and in the US. Volunteer teams have taught seminars (342 of them apparently) on not only directly beekeeping-related activities but also business management and leadership and some activities not related to beekeeping at all. In 2018 for example Sweet Progress delivered 27 classes per month to a total of 344 women, 83 teenage girls, and 143 teenage boys.
As of this writing (March 2019) Sweet Progress, working with the American Nicaragua Foundation and Professor Van Veen, has started construction on an FDA registered honey processing plant expected to triple the annual earnings of the co-ops. He anticipates within five years the co-ops will be producing 3,800 tons of organic honey per year, infusing $9,500,000 into local communities. They are also finalizing the export of 54 tons of raw honey, which he notes with his Boston accent, “marks the first time a charity organization has connected a honey project to the global market in the Western Hemisphere.” I am impressed, export is always a goal I strive for. Merely selling honey to neighbors doesn't actually bring wealth into the community, but exporting does.
I first came into contact with Vincent in 2014, when I was answering the phone for the Orange County (California) Beekeeping Association, and he called asking if we would be interested in organizing a team of volunteers to come down. I was quickly able to assemble a “dream team” of five experienced beekeepers enthusiastic to go. Sadly, international events intervened and the planned trip dissolved amid clouds of tear gas and the clatter of stones against riot shields – the Nicaraguan government nationalized a vast swath of land as part of an ill-conceived China-funded scheme to build their own “Panama Canal” across the country, the result: thousands of farmers kicked off their land, marching the streets, clashing with government forces. This was 2015 and 2016. Cows now graze in the recovering scar where the canal was barely begun. In 2017 I finally found myself in Nicaragua … for reasons entirely unrelated to Sweet Progress.
I was able to spend my first day in the country with Vincent and Dr Van Veen though. On this occasion Dr Van Veen was giving a presentation at the National Agricultural College near Tipitapa. As other students herded cattle past outside, some thirty students sat in a classroom while Dr Van Veen made a powerpoint presentation about beekeeping, in Spanish. It was almost unbearably hot, the numerous ceiling mounted fans only granting a little relief if one was directly below one. The beekeeping presentation seemed very interesting with a lot of specific information about different types of flora in the area, and I wished I could understand it but it was of course in Spanish, which I didn't speak. After the general beekeeping presentation, by popular demand he made a presentation about native stingless bees, which I was even more regretful I couldn't understand because I find stingless bees fascinating. Stingless bees are kept in artificial hives in Nicaragua, as I would see later, and their honey harvested.
After the presentations, we had to hurry to make the airport, and got mired in traffic. Eventually, desperate, we followed other cars into a side street and navigated the labyrinthine city sprawl, sometimes having to go around pigs sleeping in the street, or reverse around corners with barely centimeters to spare on either side after coming to an impassable chokepoint in the narrow streets. Miraculously we made it to the airport in time for Dr Van Veen to catch his flight.
I have it in my head that it can be improved by both (1) describing it as actions Vincent is portrayed taking, which I've done a bit with substantial improvements over the first draft I think, and possibly (2) putting parts of it in his own words as if he's telling me this in the back of the truck. This would also serve to distance me from claims such as regarding the "first time in the Western Hemisphere" which I assume is true but can't verify and that freaks me out, or his anticipated future production. but the problem is that especially the part about the processing facility pertains to now-present events he couldn't have possibly told me about in 2017... I'll no doubt keep dwelling on this.
Its an interesting exercise because it resembles the kind of writing I suppose journalists are always doing, but I've actually managed to heretofore entirely avoid.
There follows the one paragraph transition paragraph between the above and getting into the actual project and I was there for:
Ironically, despite spending some 30 years of my life in Southern California, I had made my first visit to Central America by traveling the wrong way around the world, traveling two thirds of the way around the globe from Kyrgyzstan to Nicaragua via Australia. This occurred because the Nicaragua project had been planned and tickets purchased before the Kyrgystan project (see June American Bee Journal), and changing the flights turned out to be exorbitantly expensive, so I had to return to Australia (where I've been living), not even long enough to return to my house before catching the flight on towards Nicaragua.
I feel like I can already hear people saying this is unnecessary and convoluted but I want to link into the similar reference to the convoluted journey in my earlier article, and as a series of travelogues which will hopefully include many more installments, I have a travelogue theory that it's important to develop oneself as a character
and this going through convoluted journeys and now being peculiarly far yet close to/from home I feel is part of the character of the protagonist of these narratives.
|Wednesday, March 13th, 2019|
|Nicaragua for the American Bee Journal Part 1
What I'm Reading After What I Was Reading
So a bit ago I posted about what I was reading, notably a remarkably bad book called One Second After which I wasn't even done with when I wrote that. It continued to be just as eyerollingly bad through the end (additional notes: surprise surprise the bad guys turn out to be satanists, and while I wasn't surprisedto find out he teaches at the same college his protagonist does, I had assumed he had had a similar military career as his protagonist, until he described a battle and with my high qualifications as an arm-chair general of RTS games (please read that very sarcastically) (::sucks on the nub of a cigarette and looks grizzly:: kids today think they were hot shit if they fought in Arrakis in Dune 2000. Man I was there for Dune II ::thousand yard stare::) I immediately became suspicious of his military credentials. Looked him up and no he doesn't have any military career as far as wikipedia mentions. So his promoting his socket puppet self to the rank of colonel was just a colossal self aggrandizing wank). After finishing it I kind of wanted to see a professional reviewer rip it to shreds but a brief search of reviews only brought up some good reviews and I gave that up, disgustedly (admittedly I didn't search too hard, after the first two or three the disgust set in and I aborted).
Then I read Alas, Babylon! on wpadmirer's recommendation, and got literary whiplash from the difference in quality. Especially coming right off One Second After I just couldn't believe how well written it was. Published in 1959 it follows a small community of characters in Florida through nuclear apocalypse. It's surprisingly upbeat considering the topic.
And then, also from comments to my earlier entry, I started reading Paolo Bachigalupi - first a collection of short stories ("Pump Six and Other Short Stories" I believe it was called), and now I've started the book length "The Wind-Up Girl" and I am definitely a fan! Some of his stories remind me of William Gibson's Neuromancer series, but it's definitely not derivative. His short stories seem to take place in one of several different post-apocalyptic options that are intelligently and creatively thought out extrapolations of current trends. I definitely recommend.
What I'm Writing After What I Was Writing
I don't know what's come over me. I've always been such a procrastinator. Maybe I'm procrastinating procrastinating. That Kyrgyzstan article? The Editor had said maybe he could use it for August and here I wrote it in February. He decidedly didn't invite me to write a second article even after I strongly hinted I could write more such "gems" (he didn't discourage me from doing so, he just didn't address the point). I figure I probably shouldn't submit a second article to him for at least a month.. and here I've already written it! So now I guess I have a month to dwell on it and keep tweaking things.
I don't feel as good about this one as I did about the Kyrgyzstan one, and since he really seemed to like that one I want to show that that wasn't just some fluke but a quality I can consistently deliver. This Nicaragua one, Nicaragua jumbled around in my head for awhile as I tried to figure out what the thematic arrangement of it all was until I felt like I literally had a eureka moment: the trip would be bookended with volcanoes/violence. I would start with being stuck in traffic in Managua with a volcano ominously billowing behind us, talk about my friend Vincent's organization (necessary because I feel I don't have really enough to say otherwise), then do the usual mix of travelogue / beekeeping observations, then talk about how there's unrest there again and conclude by lauding people like Vincent who stick through it all there trying to help people.
So that is/was the plan and what I have written. Since we have ample time and people are better at digesting smaller bits anyway, I propose posting here for constructive criticism the article piece by piece.
August 25th, 2017 - In the back of the pick-up, I keep nervously glancing between the billowing plume of smoke rising from the volcano behind us, and the traffic in front of us. The line of cars and trucks grinds to a halt. The only vehicles coming the opposite direction on this two lane highway, it becomes evident, are ones from our lane that gave up and turned around. On either side, the road is hemmed in by the leafy verdant outer sprawl of the Nicaraguan capital; bougainvilleas blending with colorful laundry waving on lines, cinderblock houses almost hidden by the irrepressible branches that tumble around and over them. People get out of their cars and chat with one another. Not speaking Spanish, I don't know what everyone is saying, but I gather no one is actually concerned about the volcano, the volcano is normal, the traffic is not. We're a bit panicked because Dr Van Veen, head of the Entomology and Apiology Department of the National University of Costa Rica, has a plane to catch and time is ticking away.
In the back of the truck with me is Vincent Cosgrove, a cheerful and energetic American who runs an organization in Nicaragua called Sweet Progress. Vincent had first come to Nicaragua in 2013 as an entrepreneur in the healthcare industry. Finding himself amid the impoverished community of Tipitapa, a satellite town of Managua, he realized the locals were far too poor for him to make a profit in healthcare. Where others might have moved on to somewhere with more money, he instead started thinking about how he could improve the lot of locals.
There follows about a page which I assembled from his promotional materials and asking him questions about his organization, but I'll post that hopefully tomorrow! But because it's directly related, here is the end of the section about Sweet Progress / being stuck in traffic:
After the presentations, we had to hurry to make the airport, and got mired in traffic. Eventually, desperate, we followed other cars into a side street and navigated the labyrinthine city sprawl, sometimes having to go around pigs sleeping in the street, or reverse around corners with barely centimeters to spare on either side after coming to an impassable chokepoint in the narrow streets. Miraculously we made it to the airport in time for Dr Van Veen to catch his flight. Discussion topics:
Is it a good start or too much of an immediate deflation / shameless attempt at a hook that I let the reader think we're fleeing a volcano for several sentences and then say we're not? Between the initial description and the details in my second blockquote, does it give an adequate sense of a city that looks like this
? Keeping in mind they don't get the second part until a page after the first part so does the first part stand alone well enough? Any other thoughts??
If you for some reason want to see the whole thing it's here
, I'm definitely changing it a bit every day and hopefully I'll render those changes to the google doc too.Meanwhile in Venezuela
Venezuela has been without power for going on five days now. I really don't know if they'll be able to get it back again. I'm glad Cristina is on her comparatively safe little island. They still had power there last time I talked to her but I assume their telecom network runs through the mainland and it's been out so I haven't been able to communicate with her in two days ):
Its ironic in a not-very-funny way that the bad book I recently read is about a total failure of electrical networks and thats exactly what is happening to my girlfriend's country. And also in the "rah rah rah America!" book by this point the oh so meritorious protagonist was already conducting summary executions, as in, big bad Venezuela is turning out to be more civilized?
|Saturday, March 2nd, 2019|
|Kyrgyzstan for the American Bee Journal
As I mentioned the other day, I was encouraged to write about my projects in Kyrgyzstan for the American Bee Journal, a very well reputed monthly beekeeping magazine (I think it could be very reasonably be said to be THE premier beekeeping magazine of the world). Please find below the first draft. I finished it and then started tweaking sentences here or there so its possible at this moment some transitions ended badly or there's other resultant problems. I'll hopefully catch that obvious stuff in a subsequent read-through but I welcome feedback, not just on the easy quibbling on obviously tidbits but anything you think could be better put another way or arranged another way or other big thing please let me know!
It assumes the reader has a basic understanding of beekeeping which you may lack, though I'm not sure there's really even a lot things here that would be confusing without that background.
I may or may not edit this to reflect ongoing changes, though obviously thats a secondary priority to the original word file I'm working from. EDIT: okay the most up-to-date version is here as a google doc. I added snorting camels ;)
I'm crossing my fingers its not too traveloggie or overwrought for them.
There's a few things like thoughts to myself in italics, but that formatting was lost in the cut paste and I'm not going to stress about fixing it here. There will be a few notes to you readers in square brackets.
Yes I don't really introduce myself or give full context of like, where I am in life. I dislike to do that. Its a style thing! (You can still tell me if you think my omission is awful).
And of course in the magazine it would be accompanied by some of my photos which will illustrate some of the things mentioned.
If you were to follow the ancient Silk Road east out of Europe across a thousand miles of grassy plains through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, north of Afghanistan and south of Kazakhstan, the “Mountains of Heaven” (Tian Shan) would rise up like a serrated wall before you. You would journey into their imposing embrace in the fertile Fergana Valley, at the end of which lies the 3,000 year old city of Osh, under a rocky outcrop noted in ancient sources as the “stone tower.” Once, snorting camel caravans had stopped here to prepare to cross the mountains, now it is dusty and post-soviet, full of crumbling monuments and grey apartment blocks. A statue of Lenin still graces a central square, ["gesturing with the hand of Ozymondias" or am I getting overwrought here?]</i> but leaving town towards the mountains you pass a prouder more modern statue of Kyrgyz folk hero Manas astride his horse holding his sword valiantly aloft. I came into Osh by air, but then followed the approximate route of the silk road for two more hours by car up winding roads surrounded by increasingly large green hills, occasionally waiting for shepherds on horseback to move their sheep off the road, until I came to a village named Kenesh beside the icey Kara Darya river.
The river valley seemed stark and empty in the cold of early Spring. Other than the village and river there was nothing to be seen but grass and distant herds of sheep or horses. The Tian Shan mountains looming at one end and the Fergana Valley at the other. The village itself consisted of a smattering of dull grey houses often with cheery red or blue hand-carved wooden scrollwork along the eaves. Each house had its own yard delineated by a rustic fence of rough branches, and each yard contained a kitchen garden, some fruit trees in the very beginnings of blossom, the family horses and maybe a cow or two. Some sheds and barns were actually thatched. Arriving at my host's house, I walked past a row of strangely large beehives set under some cherry trees resplendant with blossoms, I had arrived at my destination. We no longer live in the days of Bactrian camels on the silk road but still it took me 44.5 hours to fly from Melbourne to Canton to Paris to Istanbul to the Kyrgyz capital at Bishkek. Snow storms had blocked the passes to get from Bishkek to Kenesh so it took one more flight from Bishkek to Osh, and here I was, exhausted. It was March 2016, and I had traded the onset of Autumn in Australia, where I'd been living, for two weeks in the crisp beginnings of Spring in Kyrgyzstan.
After this very long and arduous journey I was excited in the morning to have a look at those hives and see what the situation was. With the several trainees assembled in the flowery yard, we went to inspect the beehives under the cherry trees … only to find every single one full of dead bees. Freshly piled on the baseboard, diagnosis: recent and sudden. It would seem that in preparation to not have an embarrassing amount of varroa mites when the “bee expert” arrived, they had given them an extra strong dose of miticide the day before I arrived. I mightily facepalm and look to the sky, thinking of all the USAID money that went into getting me to this remote village, to say nothing of my volunteered time. Welcome to aid work.
This project was one of many put on by a non-governmental organization with the inspiring name of ACDI-VOCA. The funding comes from United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through their farmer-to-farmer program.
So then let's start talking about proper dosage and integrated pest management. What miticide do they use? The locals shrug, they don't know. Well, show me the container? Oh it's all written in Chinese. We're off to a fantastic start here.
Soon, however, we were back in business, of a sort, because a short walk or horse-ride to the other side of the village and there was an older villager with dozens of hives full of live bees under some leafy trees by a gorge. These hives, like the dead ones, consisted of huge rectangular wooden boxes like steamer trunks. The frames were much bigger than our “deep” frames and the hives contained about 20 frames each, all in a horizontal line like a topbar hive with frames. My understanding is that during winter they'd use dividers to pack in three individual hives of six (giant) frames each per box, and, during spring and summer they lug these massive chests up to the flower covered mountain slopes and shift the frames so each hive is in its own box without dividers.
It can be tempting, when one learns of a system so different, to start evangelizing the beekeeping innovations of the Reverend Langstroth as they have become canon to us – they use the same knowledge of beespace and frames, its just not our orthodox interpretation of box dimensions [I really wanted to insert an "eastern orthodox" pun here but it wasn't fitting easily and anyway it would falsely imply the locals are Eastern Orthodox rather than Muslim as they are]. But maybe this system works better for them in these conditions. They are high altitude (the mountains are essentially the northern arm of the Himalayas), and have cold snowy winters, so maybe combining three to a box like this is what they must do. On any account, I don't want to be that guy telling everyone to do things my way, so I listen intently and observe, and then by way of sharing I describe the langstroth hives I use. Maybe they'll be interested in the ease I describe of moving boxes and adding supers … but then again they don't need to remove supers to look at brood, maybe they think I'm the one who is backwards. They do tell me they have a type of hive like I'm describing, with boxes on top of boxes, which they call the “corpus” hive. When I later encountered it, however, I found it uses supers that are absolutely massive (see photo), such that one person would probably struggle to lift one alone, which kind of achieves the worst of both worlds.
The bees themselves I found to be incredibly docile, as if they had never received the memo that stinging was a thing they could do. The beekeeper applied just the slightest wiff of smoke, and no bee ever gave anyone even an aggressive buzz. There were light head veils available which on this occasion one non-beekeeper donned, but most of the other non-beekeeper family members and villagers who my presence had attracted were at ease and confident in the bees' non-aggression, crowding casually right around the open hives. I never saw a full suit in all my travels in Kyrgyzstan. One piece of headgear I did see a lot was the distinctive Kyrgyz felt hat known as a “kalpak,” that forms a tall dome or miter above the head. I was quickly gifted one and though it felt silly at first was soon un-self-consciously wearing it all around the country (and then before leaving the country picked up half a dozen because all my friends clearly needed one).
With half the beehives in this village dead, and not nearly as many beekeepers to work with as I was led to expect, I looked around this remote wind-swept place, shivering, and wondered how I could make it worth the trouble. I had an interpreter, a young woman named Nurzat on her first interpreter gig. She was clearly anxious about whether she'd do it well enough but in fact she really went above and beyond. Realizing that we didn't really have much to do out here in Kenesh, she somehow lined up a whole slew of beekeepers for us to meet down the valley by the larger town of Kurshab. I really don't know how she did this since she wasn't already plugged in to the beekeeping community, but I couldn't praise her enough in the final report.
We caught a ride with the brother of the village headman, who was headed in to Osh. Back down the valley (but we had to proceed up-valley first, because the downriver bridge had been swept away years ago), down to Kurshab, a slightly larger town just where the river met the Fergana Valley. In this town Nurzat's in-laws had a house, it was a nice house, but notably there was a yurt in the yard (or a “yurta” as they seem to call them). I have found the Kyrgyz to be practically allergic to being indoors, and to love their traditional yurtas. Even with highs in the fifties they would take most meals at a table outside happy and oblivious to my chattering teeth. The yurta, the traditional dwelling of their nomadic ancestors, they fondly hang on to and I noticed many houses in town had a yurta in the yard. Later as my perambulations took me further into the hills I would see that many herdsmen still stayed in yurtas while up in the high hills and mountains and probably many beekeepers too – the beekeepers I met with nearly all had a house in town surrounded by their hives but took them up into the mountains for summer.
Because of a risk of theft, hives would not be left unattended but accompanied by the beekeeper or at least a family member 24/7. While this may seem costly, and the price they get for honey is certainly less than we like (writing five years later, the enticing detail of honey price is not in any notes I can now find), the cost of living is itself so much lower that one person can support themselves and family with a hundred hives. How I envy them! Give me a yurta, a hundred hives, and a horse looks off wistfully into the distance.
Before, after, or both, every beekeeper we visited would offer me tea and a smorgasbord of fresh home made jams and other fresh delicacies either made at home or at least by a neighbor. Even the tea was often picked by the wife from local plants. For dinner every day in the Osh area we had a dish known as “osh,” a rice pilaf with meat in it. When I returned for my second project in the east of Kyrgyzstan I was staying in a crumbling Russian hotel that was a bit of a cliché of itself – assigned seating! Tickets for meals! Borshkt again? But when I ate out the food seemed to be cousins of things I've seen in Turkey – the Kyrgyz culture is part of a Turkic-Mongol continuum.
Everywhere I go I find beekeepers to be innovative lot, and Kyrgyzstan was no exception, I witnessed many interesting home-made tools and interesting techniques. While it seems most common to simply put beehives on the back of a flatbed, one man who was also a math and chemistry teacher at the local high school had built an impressive bee trailer with sixty hives built into it which could be accessed from pull-out drawers on the inside, and also within the trailer was a miniature extracting room with two fold out bunks, a fold out workbench over the extractor, and the extractor itself drained into storage tanks slung under the trailer.
Several of the more experienced beekeepers seemed to be adept at queen breeding, and yet one thing I saw over and over again was that beekeepers in Kyrgyzstan seemed to generally significantly rely on queens from far away in Ukraine. Even though it was hard to get them, there seemed to be a persistent belief that such queens were inherently better than anything locally bred could be. I am a firm believer in locally adapted stock. One thing I've seen again and again on projects is beekeepers hoping I'll bring them some golden bullet, expressing eagerness and hope I'll have some revolutionary new idea, but whatever change I really do recommend they don't really want to hear. In Egypt it was allowing hives to grow beyond one box in size (“ten frames? Time to split!”). Here it was breeding and buying local queens. Of note, Drs Sheppard and Meixner's research on bees in the area have identified a distinct subspecies, Apis mellifera pomonella, which, as the name suggests, has co-evolved in particularly close conjunction with apples, which apparently originated in the same region (see Sheppard & Meixner, “Apis mellifera pomonella, a new honey bee subspecies from Central Asia, Apidologie, 367-375, 2003).
August 11th, 2017, Australia – I wake up wrapped in blankets against the Antarctic winter cold. I'm supposed to fly to Congo that evening. I put on my glasses and blearily look at my phone to see what emails came in overnight and find I am not in fact going to Congo, the plan has changed and I'm instead going back to Kyrgyzstan! If you had asked me in high school if I wanted to be a professional beekeeper I might have said “no, I want to travel!” Little did I know.
This time I headed east from the capitol by car to near the large mountain lake of Issyk-Kul, a lake so big you can barely see the mountains on the far side (and a comfortable temperature for swimming in. Looking back at the beach you only see a smattering of yurtas on the shore and can truly wonder what century you're in). Up here in the mountains in the summer I saw first hand a great number of pastoralists living in their yurtas in quiet mountain valleys. One day as I walked along the road near my current host's house I encountered some young men with pet eagles. Not hawks or falcons, these raptors were huge and I had read of the eagle hunting done in the central asian mountains. I happily paid the lads the equivalent of about $3 to have my picture taken with an eagle perched (on thick leather gloves) on each arm, one proceeded to take literally 114 photos on my phone while the other failed to figure out he should take the lenscap off my DSLR, we had no common language and of course my hands were held in the grip of terrifyingly large talons. When I later told my host of the eagles, he made a face and said “they probably don't even actually hunt with them,” as if it is a positively shameful dereliction of duty to NOT hunt with eagles. Adds “have pet eagle” to Kyrgyz dream life.
Early in my arrival in Australia, in 2016, one of those old guys that haunt beekeeping meetings (you know the type) had declared for one and all that you should never put “stickies” (ie extracted frames), back in the beehive because “they will have begun to ferment and any alcohol will kill all your bees!” At the time I had rolled my eyes because I think giving stickies to hives is the best way to clean them up, even if you're just gonna take them off 24 hours later to put them in storage (but in Australia you must put them on the hive they came from unless you want to literally play with fire, since you can't treat for AFB and must depend on barrier quarantine). I bring this up now because here in Eastern Kyrgyzstan I met a Russian beekeeper who swears alcohol aids queen acceptance and was out there dribbling vodka right into hives as he introduced queens!!
In addition to reliance on foreign-bred queens another obstacle to the local beekeepers became apparent to me. Kyrgyzstan had been a part of the Soviet Union and during that time they had been freely able to transport their product throughout the vast Soviet empire. Now Kyrgyzstan is just a place the size of Nebraska that's separated from the big markets in Russia by several international borders. My sources told me even getting into the markets in the capital of Bishkek was hard because you had to know the right people and those people favored their existing friends (and, they alleged, adulterated the honey). This was beyond my purview as a technical expert though I suggested a strong national beekeeping federation could maybe help with these issues. I was informed that such an organization did exist but the people I talked to did not believe it was effective. I did leave a suggestion with the development office that they bring some specialists in these larger issues to help with the national federation.
I will admit, like probably most of you, when I had first heard of Kyrgyzstan, my response was probably “Klargobarkastan? That's a made up place like Bashkortostan!” [this is kind of an in-joke because the next international beekeeping conference is in 2021 in Bashkortostan, which is, indeed, a place] But I came to love the kind, earnest, hard working people in this bucolic place whose loveliness is perhaps preserved by the fact that most in the West have no idea what or where it is. The fact that there is still a place on this earth where people regularly live in comfortable yurts in the mountains with their hives and ride their horse to go visit their neighbor warms my heart.
By and by the second project ended, and I had to leave the flowery mountain pastures. A day's drive back to Bishkek, followed by 96 hours of flying: Bishkek to Istanbul (interrogated by secret police) to Dubai to Melbourne (47 fahrenheit) to Los Angeles (had to run to catch connection) to Atlanta (first Five Guys burger in years) to Managua, Nicaragua (is that volcano supposed to be smoking?), where another story begins.
I'd like to mention the interesting Durgan wedding I was invited to attend while I was there by way of highlighting ethnic diversity in Kyrgyzstan and the interesting cultural experiences but it doesn't relate to bees at all and I don't know how much purely travelog content they will tolerate.
The editor actually asked for the article for August or September so I'm ahead of the game like never before but figured this wasn't actually a thing I'd want to put off until the last possible minute. I'll probably try to give it a fresh look tomorrow (Sunday) and integrate the feedback from you fine people and my other beta readers and then send it to the Editor to see if he wants me to like strip all non-bee-related content from it or something.
|Sunday, February 24th, 2019|
|Round Up of Things I've Recently Read
On The Road
When I was a mohawked teenager and my disreputable friends used to hang out at the local coffee shop every evening, back before it was bought by starbucks, one of these characters used to carry around a copy of Jack Kerouac's On The Road as if it was some sort of bible. The group was the usual mix of people who desperately wanted to be artists of some kind, even if just in spirit. Some may have had the spark, but many of whom would never be more than poseurs. Somehow Suzanne's carrying about of the Kerouac book like some kind of totem didn't inspire me to read it but I vaguely assumed it must contain some truly mystical stuff.
Looking for what to read next with my reading-ears on audible the other week I remembered this book and gave it a listen. And a fair bit of the wind was taken out of the shellacking I was about to give it when I thought I'd read what Wikipedia tells me the critics say about it before having a go myself, and reading the plot summary I realize somehow I must have thought it was over about 40% of the way through, or my brain just stopped listening, because I swear I have no recollection of the happenings of parts 3 - 5.
So now with the caveat that I may have only read parts 1-2, I was frankly fairly disappointed. It countained no beautiful descriptions, poetic observations, epic wisdom.. as a travelogue it doesn't really hold any value as he seldom describes things around him much. Reading the plot summaries it sounds like maybe the protagonist might come to some realizations towards the end but throughout what I read its just like the rambling wanderings of a young guy with irresponsible friends and bad money management skills. ::shrug:: I really don't know how I somehow thought I was at the end when I apparently wasn't. It sure did seem to end randomly.
Travels With A Donkey In The Cevennes
After finishing that, or at least thinking I had, and feeling very unsatisfied, I looked in my Audible wishlist of titles I'd previously tagged as interesting and came across Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes, which I recalled having been mentioned as a pre-20th-century travelogue (takes place 1878). This short book I found to be everything Kerouac was not, vivid descriptions, insightful humor, well crafted philosophical observations. It was so good that I thought immediately to look up other works by the same author, whose identity I hadn't really registered. Somehow the name didn't even register when I clicked on it, until I saw "Treasure Island" and "The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde" listed and was like oh OH it's THAT Robert Louis Stevenson!
Maybe I should read Treasure Island again, I think my dad read it to us as a bedtime story when my brothers and I were wee? And one is always vaguely familiar of various cartoon or tv versions of it but reading this latest work of his reminded me that he IS a really good author and it might be time to revisit the original of the source of most of our current pirate cliches.
Next up, I think I had been inspired to google historical travelogues. This brought me into awareness of muslim traveller Ibn Battuta who traveled as extensively as Marco Polo just about 30-60 years later (1325-1354), and wrote extensively about it in a book known as the Rihla, which wasn't fully translated into English until ... 1994. The book was not available on audible but I ordered it on amazon. We've come a long way since 1354 but I still can't magic his book into coming to me, like many books it wasn't available on amazon Australia and had to be shipped to my parents house in California from whence hopefully they will dispatch it to me presently.
The Travels of Marco Polo
Following this vein, it's been bothering me for awhile that Marco Polo himself is someone we all vaguely know in a general sense traveled a lot and wrote about it... but has anyone read his travels?? So I conjured up what seemed the best version of Marco Polos Travels on the audible -- there didn't seem to be any strictly direct translations but this one was a retelling of his travels with discussion of what he said about every place, which I was relatively content with. He had quite the interesting life. I kept thinking they should make a tv series about his life, then I remember that they did and I found it kind of disappointing. The netflix series, in my opinion, fell victim to the frequent problem of low budget and/or failure of production vision that it made everything seem close together and overly simplified and more soap opera esque.
And randomly here's a picture I took on Friday from not far from where I live
One Second After
After that I was just perusing audible recommendations or something and came across the description of a book about what happens in a small American town after America is hit with an electromagnetic pulse weapon which shorts out all electronics. Well this sounded just like my cup of tea -- I love interesting takes on post-apocalyptic situations and creative explorations of the ramifications of unusual weapons. Well as soon as it started with a forward by Newt Gingrich I began to suspect I'd walked into a doozy. And then I realized "with a forward by Newt Gingrich!" was written across the cover almost bigger than the title (selecting books on audible its easy to not pay too much attention to the cover). So this wasn't merely the-kind-of-book-that-would-have-a-forward-by-Newt-Gingrich, it was the kind of book that would very proudly broadcast that.
That being said, the book isn't terrible, but it's so full of unimaginative Norman Rockwell America cliches that the author actually references Norman Rockwell twice in like the first chapter, and its full of things that will surely give republican readers huge stiffies, such as all the protagonists being veterans, the bad guys all being druggies, lots of good guys with guns, hippie-types being referred to with condescending pity .... I keep wanting to roll my eyes and think of it as verging on republican pornography. I think the protagonist even has a mild Oedipus complex for his mother in law. There's some stuff to unpack here.
But I haven't thrown it out the proverbial window yet because other than reading like propaganda it moves along and I'm curious to see how they handle the disaster. They've had some weird interpretations of what they think their American duty is so far, in my opinion, and being as at the point in the book I'm at they're 10 days on and still fending for themselves, I think the author is being willfully ignorant of the fact that by this point unless the rest of the world has also been blasted they'd probably be being visited by either European aid forces (but wouldn't that wilt the gop-boners!) or an invasion force of whomever did it (not yet determined). And also our heros with guns are somehow bullying the nearby much larger town, which seems to be stretching credulity in ignoring the fact that the nearby much larger town would have many more guns and resources and would easily impose its will on them. If anyone happens to have read this book, "One Second After" ("Pulse" would have been such a better name, considering literally nothing happens in the one second after!), I'd love to discuss my building stock of disagreements with it with you (:
Keeping Up With My Career-Twin!
My career twin has published a book. That's right. There's another guy, who I believe is around my own age, who travels the world doing beekeeping and writes about it. William Blomstedt had contacted me after my Beekeeping in Ethiopia article was published in the American Bee Journal in 2012. He's been a regular contributor to the venerable ABJ, while I haven't submitted anything since. Well the realization that he's just published a book, Foraging Afar about his travels around the world with bees made me realize I really need to get on the stick. That and, while a mention years ago that ABJ was "tired of" stories about beekeeping abroad had been the reason for my lack of effort in that area, I had recently heard they were back into it. So I recently contacted the editor and... they said the editor who had been so enthusiastic on the subject had already been canned ... but he still expressed an interest in an article about my project in Kyrgyzstan.
A lot of things in the ABJ are very dry. Oddly I haven't actually read one of Blomstedt's articles, they all seem to be in issues that I miss. But I'm gonna try to put as much of the best traveloguing magic I can into it while still balancing it with enough technical discussion to keep them satisfied! The ABJ has a circulation of probably several thousand and actually paid me $300 for my other article, which more than the intrinsic value of said money makes it really feel validating as serious writing.
|Tuesday, February 5th, 2019|
Just a reminder to go vote for me in the Livejournal Idol poll
After posting it I went and stood-by at the fire station since we were on high alert that day. Nothing happened here but a brushfire caused the evacuation of the town of Hepburn Springs
two hours north of here and I haven't been able to find a map of the burned area but I have some hives up there so I'm a bit concerned.wildfires in this state the day the "firebreak" story was due.
In totally unrelated news I've finally started reading Jack Kerouac's famous "On the Road," am about a third in and... I dunno so far it doesn't seem nearly as deep as I'd been led to expect, its like the diary of a young guy who is irresponsible with money and always chasing girls, and not even in a terribly exciting way. He definitely writes in a way that flows nicely though. And there's certainly room for hte character to grow a lot from his current mindset so who knows maybe he does?
UPDATE: Currently tied for the third elimination position. Please god no don't put me in one of the stupid 24 hour "runoffs!" Vote for meeee
|Saturday, February 2nd, 2019|
The pager's distinctive tone and buzz jolted Murray as if he'd touched an electric fence. He plunged his hand into his shorts' pocket and fished it out.
"Grass fire, spreading. Yurrangamete." He instinctively jerked his head up from the message to stare at the azul sky in the direction indicated. Beyond the golden grass and knotted eucalypts the sky was blue and clear. No smoke yet. Yurrangamete was twenty kilometers away, and he had a lot of work he meant to do today, but the hot wind was blowing straight in his face when he faced Yurrangamete. He wiped the sweat from under his battered felt brimmed hat. On a day like this any fire could be disastrous. He glanced at the sheep around him, their coats the same golden yellow of the surrounding grass. The gates were closed, nothing he needed to do before leaving. He jumped on the ATV, calling out "Come on Scomo!" to his dog, and gunned it for the house.
"There's the smoke" said Graeme from the driver's seat as the firetruck hurtled down the country roads under its wailing siren. Sitting behind him, Murray leaned forward to see out the front window. In the distance beyond the dry trees a plume of white billowing smoke was rising like a mushroom cloud.
"It's a goer!" commented Baz in the passenger seat.
"Hell of a day for it" commented Muzz, behind Baz, as they all braced themselves for the momentary washboard jolting of the truck going partially off the road to pass a car which had pulled off on the other side of the narrow road.
Most of the ride there wasn't much talking in the truck cab, the men alone with their thoughts, aware that the ride was the calm before the storm. The radio traffic constantly announced trucks arriving on scene and getting dispatched.
"Yurrangamete control this is Warree Tanker Two we're one minute out where do you want us?" Baz queried the radio as the truck entered the shadow of the wall of smoke that loomed in front of them like a tidal wave.
"Warree Tanker Two go to the west flank on Rickett's Outlet road," the radio instructed them.
"Warree Two roger that" Baz said into the radio as he panned around the map on the GPS screen mounted on the dashboard. Muzz was simultaneously paging through the map book. Muzz and Baz then had some sharp disagreements about the correct route to take, but Graeme, with his young honest farmer's face under straw blonde hair, unflappably sparsed a route. Murray fitted his goggles on, pulled the bandanna up over his mouth and nose, and pulled the gloves on. Soon, around a corner, the leaping orange flames could be seen dancing behind half a dozen busy firetrucks in a field. Graeme brought the truck to a lurching stop just inside the gap that had been cut in the fence, calling out "alright boys mount up!!"
Murray pulled the helmet onto his head as he swung open the door. The oven heat of the day took him by surprise after the air conditioning of the truck cab, and the acrid smell of brushfire filled his nostrils as he quickly descended backwards down the steps from the cab, followed closely by Reece, the young firefighter who had been in the middle of the back. Then both leapt up the steps to the platform on the back.
"Go go go" Muzz said into the intercom handset mounted to the back of the cab, and all three on the back fell against the tank as the truck lurched back into motion. On the back they picked up the hoses from where they were stowed in readiness, pushed the valve levers into the "on" position, and as the pump rumbled into life they all gave test shots over the side to ensure everything was in order.
On the back Murray couldn't hear the directions being given by the strike team leader for this flank, but he was glad to just concentrate on the job at hand. A large fire like this, one doesn't get in front of, so the trucks were working on the flanks, in this case the west side of a fire moving south with the wind, or "on the black" in the burned area behind the fire head. The truck came in behind another firetruck on the flank and the three on the back let loose with their hoses. As the pump throttle --controlled from inside-- ramped up, Murray was almost pushed over backwards by the force of the hose and had to brace himself and put all his weight against the push of the hose. As they got close to the raging flames the heat was so intense all three kneeled down as far behind the sidewall of the truck as they could while still keeping their hose on the fire.
Later, in the surreal orange light of the smoke the crew rested their tired arms while the truck sucked water from a cattle-pond to refill its tank.
"It doesn't feel like we're making any headway on the fire" said Reece, who looked a bit like a rockstar or pirate with his gold earrings.
"It would be a lot worse if we weren't here I'll tell you that" put in Muzz, eating a fruit-bar.
"It's okay as long as we keep it channeled south it'll hit the firebreak along the Canterbury highway" remarked Graeme.
"Good thing too, you live right in the path otherwise doncha Murray" commented Baz, between drags on his cigarette.
"Hope to god it holds!" remarked Murray looking south.
"You were there when we burned it in, of course it will" chided Muzz. Murray recalled the day earlier in the season they had carefully burned a thirty meter swath along the north side of the highway. He couldn't help but feel a bit anxious though. At the time the grass had been barely flammable and it hadn't felt like a serious precaution, more a community service they went through the motions of because they had to. "Did we ever come back and burn off the grass in the gulley under the wombat creek bridge?"
"Yeah of course we did" retorted Muzz, with a dont-be-an-idiot look on his grizzled face. YOUR house isn't just on the other side Murray thought to himself.
Back on the fireground, the fire steadily moved south, what should have been a sunny afternoon was spent bathed in surreal hellish twilight. They fought the flank, and then they spent some time "blacking out" hotspots on the edge of the burned swath to prevent new fire outbreaks. This was a nice break from the intimidating fury of the main head of the fire, the hotspots giving a satisfying hiss when hit with the hose, and then they were were rushed to a "spot fire" where some embers had started a new fire in a neighboring field but were quickly able to get it out before returning to the main fire. Hours went by, almost too busy to think, but Murray couldn't get the thought of the gap in the firebreak out of his mind. It had been too difficult to get the trucks into the gully under the bridge, and he hadn't thought about it too hard at the time, but now it haunted him, he imagined it like a fuse through the firebreak. Somewhere outside the smoke, real twilight came and the fireground was quickly enveloped in true darkness canopied by the red glow overhead against the low smoke ceiling, and glowing brightly in the direction of the fire.
Draughting water again through a thick hose from a cattle pond in "the black" behind the fire wall, Murray found it an unnerving moonscape, the ground all smoking ash, with the red glare of fire in almost every direction, as trees and sheds in the fire's path continued to burn after the main fire had passed by.
"What do you reckon caused it?" asked Murray, leaning tiredly against the truck.
"Probably a cigarette" remarked Reece, his face lit up by the greenish blue glow of his cell phone.
"Cigarettes rarely start fires" commented Baz, the orange glow of his cigarette hovering in front of his face. "Probably arson"
"Firebugs will tie a bunch of matches to a cigarette and toss it in the grass" explained Muzz, his face starkly lit from the side with the orange glow of fire, "then, when the cigarette burns down it ignites the matches and THEN it starts a fire and the bastard is long gone"
"There's a special place in hell for people who start fires I reckon" commented Graeme in the darkness.
"Still though," remarked Murray, "I smoke from time to time but I wouldn't light up on a total fire ban day like today was."
"It's perfectly legal," responded Baz, "hardly any fires are started by cigarettes."
Water began spilling from the underside of the truck. Murray threw the lever to shut down the pump, followed a second later by Baz decoupling the intake hose. Reece's phone glow blinked out and Baz's orange cigarette glow fell to the ground and disappeared underfoot.
The clock said 2:07 by the time they pulled the truck into the Blerang firestation and descended the steps. They were all dog tired, Murray still felt like he was constantly being pushed backwards by the hose. The fire was an orange glowing line in the dark on the horizon. The truck seemed undomesticated and out of place here far from the fire, smelling strongly of fire and dripping water. The exhausted soot-covered crew shook hands with the oncoming crew who would takeover the truck. No rest of the truck. They all got into the Warree command vehicle to go back to their home station, and didn't talk much during the ride. Beside Murray, Reece fell asleep during the ten minute journey. Muzz drove to give Graeme a break. Murray couldn't sleep, he was worried about his home and family, they were right in the path of the fire.
2:37am -- Murray stood in the high brush under the Wombat Creek bridge. Framed beyond it the wall of orange was alarmingly close. He could even faintly make out the alternating red and blue of emergency lights by the edges. He had laid down a alarmingly thin barrier with a foam fire extinguisher he'd grabbed from his shed. He wrapped the matches around a cigarette, twisting a rubber band around them. Graeme with his honest innocent face, saying "there's a special place in hell for people start fires" played back in Murray's mind over and over again. Would this work or would he lose control of it? Even if it worked would people understand? He reached into his pocket and fished out the cold plastic cigarette lighter...
Because this livejournal was subject to subpoena last big brushfire I feel I should state explicitly this is entirely a work of fiction and all people, places, and events are entirely made up.
|Tuesday, January 29th, 2019|
Protesters and security forces continue to clash in Caracas. A broad coalition of other governments have recognized the opposition leader as the rightful leader of the government (because his legitimately elected position is the highest one that appears to have been lawfully filled so the Venezuelan constitution does support this interpretation), and the EU has called for new elections within eight days (As of Saturday, so six days remain), to which president Maduro said “No one can give us an ultimatum … Venezuela is not tied to Europe. This is complete insolence.” So I quite rather feel it may pan out like the LJ Idol entry I wrote the other day, it will take a large scale mutiny of troops deciding they'd rather support the protesters than suppress them.
You may recall my girlfriend is in Venezuela. She, fortunately, has been posted to the remote island of Gran Roques, which is remaining relatively peaceful. I still worry about her family and friends back in Caracas though.
I tried to resist making my lj entry explicitly specific if for no other reason than I'd drive myself insane trying to get all the details right if I had set to make it explicitly that situation -- for example, my earlier idea for the topic was to write about the episode of Jason and the Argonauts where the harpies keep stealing food from an old man every time he tries to eat it and spent several hours researching exactly where that most probably would have taken place, where there were iron age settlements around the Bosporus, what the specific place I was thinking of using was called at the time (Galata, across the Golden Horn from old town Istanbul (where there was an iron age settlement), was in the earliest recorded reference "the other side with fig trees"), what direction the current flows through the Bosporus...
I realized after I wrote it that I did accidentally give the protagonist's general boss the exact name of who his boss plausibly would have been, the defense minister General Vladimir Lopez. And I did read somewhere that Venezuelan security forces were running out of tear gas. And there have been small troop mutinies but not enough to accomplish more than the arrest of the mutineers. For descriptions of the troops and the water cannon trucks I used what I saw myself in Taksim Square in Istanbul when I was there while protests were ongoing. And of course I had to borrow the iconic red woman of Taksim.
While I certainly believe President Maduro should step down, I didn't want to portray the security forces as the monolithic "bad guys" its so often tempting to do in stories of repressive regimes, but rather as boys in uniform with little choice until it comes to actually pulling the trigger, and the almost-sympathetic protagonist as sandwiched between preserving his family's very good quality of life under the current regime or backing the opposition.
Anyway, I'm currently in last place in the LJ Idol poll! Soo I would really appreciate anyone going over there and voting for me!
Also you should read and vote for furzicle, who used her "bye" to get me off the hook the previous week when I miscalculated the deadline and missed it :-
|Saturday, January 26th, 2019|
Colonel Mendez took a big bite of the hefty ham and cheese sandwich. It was maybe not quite the normal thing to have sandwiches for breakfast but he really enjoyed sandwiches. On the TV in the corner of his office the news was replaying footage of clashes between protesters and security forces that occurred overnight. It made him feel very annoyed but he tried to concentrate on the delicious sandwich his personal chef had made him from his personal stores. His phone rang, and he was prepared to ignore it but glancing at where it was laying on the desk he saw it was General Lopez, so he hurriedly swallowed his mouthful and put the sandwich down while picking up the phone and answering it, hastily muting the TV.
Good morning colonel. We're expecting a lot more protests today so your brigade needs to be on it. You still have the south-east section of the city."
"You can count on us sir"
"I hope so. There have been some small-scale mutinies in other brigades, are you sure we can count on your troops?"
"Make sure of it. There's some isolated protests you need to put down this morning and a possibility of a march in your area in the afternoon, make sure you're ready for it"
"Okay. Be ready for anything else that comes up during the day. I'll let you know. Also make sure to work with the secret police, they may need you to move fast on something and we can't let this get out of hand."
The colonel scowled for a moment, and then lifted the sandwich back to his mouth. Just then there was a sharp knock on his door.
"Yes??" he demanded with great annoyance. The door creaked open and the sentry, a skinny private, took a quick step in and stood at attention
"Sir Major Sandrino is here to see you"
"Yes, yes, send him in" Colonel Mendez growled. Was the private eyeing his sandwich hungrily? Under his withering glare the private quickly saluted and stepped back out. The major then quickly came in, his green uniform well pressed and gleaming. He made a perfunctory salute an then reported anxiously
"Sir, we are almost out of teargas"
"How 'almost out'?" Mendez demanded
"We only have about a dozen canisters left"
"We're going to need all we can get today Juan. Call central command, tell them we need it"
"I did, it's stretched thin throughout the department, they say there simply is no more"
Mendez groaned inwardly, and his eyes darted to the television, in which in the dark of night a street was illuminated by the flashes of fireworks being thrown by protesters. It made the scene look like a war-zone, though the fireworks fortunately didn't cause terribly much harm.
"Any other bad news?" he demanded"
"Sir, um" the major fidgeted, "two of the five water cannon trucks are inoperable and in need of repairs."
The colonel suppressed the urge to shout. Sweat beaded on his forehead.
"Why aren't they repaired?? I'll have the maintenance crew jailed for treason!" he threatened, raising his voice and curling his hand into a fist
"Sir, there's no spare parts, I went over there last night to inspect the situation myself."
The major did look a bit tired.
"I trust you put the fear of god in them nonetheless?" Mendez demanded. Everyone needed to be fully motivated in his opinion.
"Yes sir I actually ordered their arrest and let them beg until I was convinced they really were doing everything they could."
The colonel puffed his cheeks out. Well, the major could be counted on.
"Okay, Juan. Assemble the company commanders, I'll brief them on the day's operations in" he looked at his watch "twenty minutes."
Colonel Mendez was feeling a little better after a few hours. A raid on student protests at one of the universities had gone very smoothly, the students fleeing as his troops clad in tactical riot gear came charging in wielding batons and clear plastic shields. The ring-leaders were handed over kicking and screaming to the secret police. As the unmarked van pulled away and his soldiers filed out of the university gate a report crackled through his radio that protesters had taken over a small government office in the sector
"Captain Hernandez, take your company to the government office on 17th street asap," he ordered into the radio, "use lethal force if you have to, they must be made an example of." So far things were well under control but it was still morning and unrest would heat up as the day progressed. He carefully looked over the troops around him to discern if any seemed disgruntled. None would meet his eye but that was normal. Did those two just coming of the gate have something a bit depressed about their gait?
As he rode down the broad streets of the capitol in his staff car he noted how little traffic there was. Very few people were out and about today. The FM radio was reporting that the arrest had been ordered of the leader of the national assembly, for treason and sedition. Colonel Mendez was glad that was not his sector, that would be a sticky situation. He tuned the radio to one of the pirate radio stations run by the opposition. A strident voice was declaring the recent election to have been a complete farce and citing the constitution that head of the national assembly should now be the head of state. Mendez turned off the radio and glanced at his driver, who was looking blankly ahead.
"I can't believe anyone would believe that." Mendez said to the driver, just in case he thought he believed it.
"No sir" the driver said.
Mendez thought of his family and their nice house in the north-west of the city. If the opposition were to win, he'd lose it all. If the higher-ups doubted his loyalty, they had his family and house in the sector commanded by Colonel Douro, and he could be a right bastard.
They stopped to inspect the troops stationed near a major intersection. The sky was blue overhead and the sun was warm but not too hot. A faint smell of teargas blew in on the wind. Well someone's using it Mendez thought to himself.
The troops, mostly just 18 and 19, stood around in their black armor, chatting with eachother, their shields piled nearby. Several of them across the street joked with a group of girls who were hurrying by. Spirits seemed alright. Mendez consulted with the unit's captain about placement of the barricades and water cannon truck that had been assigned to this post. The water cannon truck looked like maybe a small black weaponized trash truck, square and blocky, beetley, with metal skirts around the base to prevent anything being rolled under it, metal grates over the driver's windows, concertina wire around the upper edge to prevent anyone climbing on it, and and a seeemingly small stubby firehouse nozzle on top protruding from a remote controlled turret. There was the sound of a series of small explosions in the distance. Probably firecrackers or fireworks.
A call came in from the secret police, they wanted assistance raiding an apartment for someone they wanted. Mendez detailed a squad to help them. A call came in from the general's adjutant, a large mob was forming to march down one of the major streets. Mendez looked at the city map on the table in the command van, yes this march would lead to one of the intersections they were already preparing. He ordered one of the water cannon trucks to the intersection, the barricades to be realigned to completely block the approach of the march, and ordered troops to several of the side streets along the route so they could close in on the marchers from all sides once they were stopped. It was only two blocks from where he was so he had the driver take him there.
They heard the racket of drums first, before the mob came around the corner. It would not do for a high ranking officer to suffer the indignity of having rocks thrown at him so he got in the command van which was parked behind the lines, to watch through the reinforced window. He had to admire the courage of the protesters, as they kept coming on to the line of black clad armored troops pointing guns at them. A sergeant bellowed at them through a loudspeaker to disperse, but of course they didn't. Mendez could see the protesters in the front clearly now. They had bandannas over their mouths and noses and sunglasses or goggles on their eyes. Mendez cast his eye over the troops at the barricade, they were looking steadfastly ahead, pointing their guns at the oncoming mob. The several that had the tear gas canister launchers had them ready in the firing position.
"Hit them with the water cannon, we need to break up their momentum," he ordered into the radio coolly.
"Roger" came quickly from the cannon truck operator, and then the stream of water blasted out, bowling over most of the center of the front of the mob. Like a startled school of fish the crowd pulled away in every direction, but the two sides flowed around the stream and ran at the barricade. Rocks and bricks pelted down on the shields of the troops. A protester on the left side received a teargas canister to the chest and almost somersaulted over. On the right side a canister hit the ground right amidst the oncoming protesters. Effective placement Mendez thought, as it obstructed the oncoming protesters on the right, but did the soldier intentionally not hit anyone?. Those that made it all the way to the obstacles were beaten with batons until they retreated. On the right side some troops began to push forward over the barricade to pursue their now retreating opponents.
"Hold the line!" Mendez hissed into the radio and watched as a sergeant got the troops back in order. The cannon truck had shut down the stream after its blast, to conserve water, and now the crowd was reforming, pelting rocks at the soldiers. Something bright came hurdling down from above and broke on a soldier's black helmet spewing liquid flame over several soldiers. A molotov cocktail. The soldier affected stumbled backward out of line and rolling on the ground, while the other troops around him also backed out of line and slapped at the fire desperately. The pitch of the water-cannon truck suddenly changed and then a weak spout of water gushed out and fell right in front of the truck. Mendez was struck for a moment with a fear the pump had failed, but the pitch ramped up a little and the spout strength increased until it was landing right on the burning soldiers and Mendez realized the operator had throttled down the pump to put out the fire. Smart thinking! he thought proudly. The lieutenant was beside one of the tear gas men and was pointing to the window the molotov cocktail had come from. The man fired and got it right into the window. A good shot but because they dozen canisters the entire brigade had were spread so thin, he couldn't afford to be expending them like this, Mendez thought to himself.
"Alright boys, let's break up this party, we're going to hit them with the water again, and then charge out there and break it up. We don't want a massacre but use lethal force if you have to. I don't care about the ones in the back but let's try to arrest everyone in the front. When I say go, go for it. Lieutenant Ortez take a squad in the building to the left and get up to the apartment they were bombarding us from. Water cannon NOW" he ordered. Some in the crowd realizing the cannon truck was occupied putting out fire had already started to come forward again, but the truck was able to quickly throttle up and fired again, a strong sustained stream that it worked from left to right repeatedly.
"Okay, GO!" he ordered and the troops rushed forward into the still falling mist, bowling over anyone who was still standing with the batons or shields. Mendez watched the crowd break and begin to run, with satisfaction, and prepared to close the trap behind them.
An hour later Mendez was at another intersection, similarly situated enjoying a roast beef sandwich in the command truck for lunch. It wouldn't quite help morale for the troops to watch him eat it, their rations weren't terribly great. But they should be grateful, at least they had food. Another larger protest march would be coming down this way soon. The general himself had called to say this was a major one. This time he'd taken the precaution to assign a sniper to watch the windows of the apartment buildings on either side. He'd wanted to have two of the water cannon trucks here but one was out of water and looking for a functioning fire-hyrdant to refill.
He chewed on the sandwich very deliberately as he watched the crowd coming down the street. How could he hold back thousands of people with four tear gas canisters? He had seen the questioning way even the major looked at him some times, all he'd have to do is give the order and his entire brigade might switch to the opposition with him. Or if he didn't they might switch to the opposition without him. He thought of his wife and children, of the good food they enjoyed and the nice house. In Colonel Douro's sector. He chewed the sandwich very deliberately.
This crowd had many signs with slogons which they held aloft, and a man with a loudspeaker, who called no the troops to join them and support "the rightful leader."
Once again the water cannon fired first, bowling over members of the crowd like bowling pins. The man with the loudspeaker was interrupted mid sentence with a squawk. After the stream shut off the crowd quickly reformed and the now-dripping man with the loudspeaker immediately put it to his mouth and began again.
"Hit them again!" Mendez ordered.
The stream shot out briefly but then spluttered out. Causing the crowd to pull back and then quickly reform and jeer.
"Shoot them!!" Mendez yelled into the radio.
"Sir the pump has broken!" came the panicked response of the cannon operator, as a wisp of smoke appeared above the truck. The troops at the barricade seemed to shift nervously, several looking back. The crowd began to come forward
"Tear gas!" ordered Mendez. First one canister was fired, and then another, they'd been told to use them sparingly. The protesters would stumble away from the choking smoke but there were always a few who would hold their ground (and presumably their breath) and continue coming on. As the crowd kept coming, a fourth one was fired. A woman in a red dress stood defiantly amid the swirling white tear gas smoke. She didn't even have a gas mask or goggles. How did she do it?? Mendez couldn't help but admire her courage.
"Sir, we're out of tear gas" reported the lieutenant nervously. As the smoke from the expended canisters dispersed the mob reformed into a solid line and began to march forward chanting.
"Shoot them. Live rounds" he ordered gravely. He didn't like to give the command but it had t be done. Hopefully the crowd would quickly see what was good for them.
"LIVE ROUNDS! NOW!" he nearly screamed. He could see the Lieutenant looking back at him, the radio next to his face. A number of the troops at the barricade were looking back at the command truck as well.
"Colonel orders live fire" he heard the Lieutenant call out. Some troops leveled their guns at the oncoming protesters but no one fired. The chanting crowd continued to approach, slowly, intractably. Mendez watched in horror as one of the soldiers lowered his gun. And then the one beside him did too.