Saturday, February 24, 2007

The bright side of (field)life…

Where the pineapple is born?

Did you know that both me and Bartek had thought that the pineapples grow up on the trees?!?!?! You could imagine our faces when seeing this…(as a consolation I’ll add that I’ve already got messages from two European that they had lacked this knowledge as well! :) And I’ve always wondered why the pineapples have this strange, hard end and where it came from! Well, I still have a lot to learn…

I was almost on the Nicaraguan television!!!

The day of the workshop at INETER Bartek was watching the evening news and he saw the director of the geophysics I was just talking with, giving a TV interview. I completely forgot that the television was there and we didn’t catch the whole report, but I saw the people from the event… So funny. I have to write to them and ask about the copyJ Maybe I am there too…

What is the best way to learn riding?

I had never before mounted a Nicaraguan horse. I had never before ridden any horse! I had never climbed a mountain on a horse! I had never before climbed a volcano on a horse!!! What an experience! Telica volcano reached! Generally speaking I’m afraid of animals and have a little fear of heights and I don’t know how I survived this most extreme riding school! It was fun, but after 6 hours there was only weeping and gnashing of teeth! :) The local farmer took no notice of my pain, tears and frustration, just making fun of us by showing the acrobatic manoeuvres on his animal. But the view was worth it.

(How did they do this??!!)

(view on the San Cristobal -the highest volcano in Nicaragua)

(And on the way down...)

(No, I didn´t like him any more ... :)

(But I survived...)

And after all I managed to talk a little bit with our “teacher” about the volcano and hot springs San Jacinto.

I was also satisfied with the visit at San Jacinto village. Again, after reading some materials about these hot springs (connected to Telica volcano and emitting SO2) I thought also about going over this place with a toothcomb, but one geologist I had talked to said that San Jacinto was so local phenomena that I could be disappointed by doing research there (he also wondered if there was any point doing fieldwork there – well, I thought about the words on the website of my university that says: no ecosystem is too small to being investigated. I think these words are also relevant for any group, community and even relation). And he was right. There are a few families that are living near Hervideros de San Jacinto and the SO2 isn’t so unbearable as I had supposed after reading the reports. It’s also a finding one could say :)

It was also funny to read danger plates round the village that says like this one: “Be careful. There are dangerous places at the hot springs. Please use a guide!”. Being a guide round the hot springs is almost the only source of income for the local. Playing with a fear?

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The gases of Masaya

Yesterday I found two reports about the Masaya volcano. One made by INETER in 1990 and the other from 1999. I paste a map from 1990 that shows the area of the gas emission from this volcano. I don’t have tools, so the look is a little bit clumsy, but it illustrates what I want to show. The orange means the area most affected by the gases. We are not living there (firstly, on account of our health and secondly, it’s not easy to find an accommodation there). We’re living in an area of “medium risk” as the map states (I’m not yet 100 % if I marked our location correctly). People here say that it’s only a few times a year that the wind changes and the gases come to La Concha. “Then you just close the windows and don’t go out” (said a lady who owns windows! There are not much of them here).

Based on “Analisis de riesgo volcanico. Caso complejo volcanico de Masaya” by Garcia-Spatz, R.M. 1990, UNIO, Managua, s. 6
The other report states:

“The large quantities of SO2 released in the atmosphere by Masaya produces volcanic air pollution, which consists of poor air quality, hazy atmospheric conditions or smog, and acidic rains (McBirney, 1956, Johnson and Parnell, 1986; Stoiber et al., 1986). The effects of this volcanic pollution are geographically widespread downwind from Santiago crater and include damage to forests, cultivated crops, machinery, and buildings. In addition, many people report headaches and respiratory difficulties during periods of poor air quality.
We monitored the average SO2 dispersion and dry deposition of the plume with a network of diffusion tubes (Downing et al., 1994) and sulfation plates (Huey, 1968). These passive reactor devices were exposed during four weeks in March-April 1998 and February-March 1999. The 1999 surveys reveal that Masaya's plume affects a region of about 900 km2 (…). Time-averaged concentrations of SO2 exceeding 30 ppb are commonly observed under the plume up to 30 km distance from Santiago crater. Such high gas levels are considered unheathful (e.g., Turco, 1997 (…)).”

“Integrated geochemical, geophysical and petrological studies illuminate magmatic process at Masaya volcano, Nicaragua”. By Delmelle, P. et. al 1999. EOS, Transactions, American Geophysical Union, s. 7

At least I have already one scientific evidence! J I am sure I’ll find more at the INETER or CIGEO’s libraries, but there are mostly geological and such analysis of the crater, not the influence on the people. We’ll see. I’m going to read the rest of the reports and prepare myself to meet the doctors tomorrow.

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The project revisited. We’re moving

After one month I suppose it’s high time I rethought the project with which I came here. I think that after one month one should really stop finding any excuses for doing nothing that have something to do with for example the problem definition included in the paper. You can read my whole project here (Norwegian) and here (summary in Spanish). I’ve already mentioned it in English in some old posts.

The most crucial element for my work was meeting between the local people (lay perspective) that live under the volcanoes and the experts (like geologists, medical stuff and so). By this I wanted to see how those two groups are interacting with each other and how the communication/transmitting/translation of the scientific data is going. I wanted to investigate differences in the perception of the nature, danger, risk and health issues. I didn’t want to compare those (it’s both a time issue and experience I obviously lack), but rather see how they coexist in the given situations like evacuation (also forcible), education projects, campaigns and information about the geological hazards. That is why I needed a real meeting between the experts and the lay and I wanted to participate in such. While writing a project it seemed easy to carry out this task, but when I came here things began to look different. After conversations with some specialist (both geologist, volcanologists, doctors and representatives of the Red Cross, Ministry of Health, Defence and others that have something to do with the natural disasters) I realized that people actually don’t meet the representatives of the “scientific world”, and definitely don’t deal with “scientific data” as I had thought. It meant that I would need to spend more time with those groups separately and then make some comparison. I don’t think I have time to this. Neither I feel like doing this kind of fieldwork. It was so easy to imagine the conflicts and the dynamics when I was just reading some reports from the education programmes and so. It’s not the case. Well, maybe it would be if I could participate in some of those programmes, but there are not any right now and I didn’t want to risk that I would be sitting and waiting for anything to happen.

The other problem was that the health issues don’t seem to be so important/dramatic as I had supposed after reading some reports (for instance SINAPRED’s reports). I was explained at one meeting: “Those reports are focused at only one case and it can look really terrifying when you are reading them, but it isn’t so. Additionally, when doing reports about risks in the area we base on the worst scenario. It can be dangerous, but doesn’t have to be. And if nothing happens, nothing happens”. It’s also a finding – the politics of the information available to the public, but I can’t take up every aspect and phenomenon I discover here, right? And because I wasn’t interested in POSSIBLE ERUPTIONS, but in a CONSTANT HEALTH HAZARDS I was in a fix. Wanting to stay near my (written) project I had some alternatives:

1. The first one was staying in Leon and doing fieldwork about people’s experience with the eruptions in the past and their feelings about possibility/probability of the eruption. I had taken this plan B into consideration before leaving Norway in case of what I had described above, but I really don’t feel any passion for this kind of “probabilistic” investigation. Well, the results can be interesting, but I am so influenced by Douglas and Wildavsky’s idea about “the risks that are socially constructed” that I feel strange to ask people “Aren’t you really afraid of living here?”. I addition I think that this kind of question is so ethnocentric that I just couldn’t base my work on them. Also, I didn’t want to fall into a trap of using place identity to explain every phenomenon (like risk perception and management). Maybe I will have to – but I don’t want to take anything for granted.

2. Moving to the capital and working only with the group of experts. I want to make such a study some day, but for now I feel that I’m not brave enough to talk with those people. In my opinion this kind of study requires a lot of self-confidence. You have to be able to talk freely with people that have some kind of specialized knowledge and not necessarily are interested with sharing it and, what makes it more difficult, belong to the same epistemological system as you do (I really assume that this is the case). And of course I wasn’t prepared for this kind of work, both mentally and theoretically (I do love Bruno Latour, but he scares me to death!:) I had no idea how I could change my project and use it to a new study. I didn’t have time to write/think a new one. I really felt paralyzed by my previous writing, plans I had made and, of course, by my expectations. “It could be so great if it was like in my paper”, I thought. But It wasn’t and I had to do something with this.

Luckily, I turned out to be a textbook example for the fieldworker that can say: “A lot on the fieldwork depends on coincidence!” During the workshop with INETER (governmental institute for geosciences) in Managua one of my contact persons suggested that I should try to go and visit Masaya volcano south from the capital. I was said that “People there are living in the gases! You can see it, you can smell it. It’s a constant risk and people live there. And there are still people who are moving in there. I don’t know why. And nobody does anything with this case”. I got a brainwave! How could I miss this volcano, why nobody has told me about this case before, why haven’t I found any report about this case?!?! Is it really truth that nobody makes an investigation of the influence of the gases on the people that are living there? I felt myself getting goose pimples all over and finally I felt something I needed – a real interest. INETER organized an excursion and next day we went there.

I was speechless at what I saw. The wind this day was perfectly designed to feel the drama of the Santiago crater. I could hardly breathe. The view was fuzzy, the houses and persons were vague because of the SO2 (sulphur dioxide) emissions.

Do you see the gas plume?

(No, it´s not so bad quality of the pictures, it´s a cloud of volcanic gases)

Later, when I asked one person about why there is no medical investigation done there, he laughed and said that “maybe because they want people to die calm”. I don’t know if it’s true that nobody makes research in this zone. Tomorrow I have a meeting with somebody from the Medical Department at the UNAN (University in Managua) and will surely ask:).

Anyway, we came back home to Leon and packed our stuff (God, how much I managed to collect in one month!!!) and moved to Masaya that is about 120 km from our previous location. Next day we went round the volcano and find a room in La Concepción (popularly known as La Concha) that is about 10 km from the maximal affected zone. Finally I feel that my work has began, although I am still a little bit confused what my next step should be, but I’m really excited and I feel that this place is a right one for us.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A question to anthropologists (and not only)

Do we need/have to like our informants?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Les raisons du Momotombo

I had no idea that Victor Hugo was here! Momotombo is a real miracle! It doesn't surprise me that he became a national simbol. And what beatiful poems were written about him.

Les raisons du Momotombo

« Le baptême des volcans est un ancien usage qui
remonte aux premiers temps de la conquête. Tous
les cratères du Nicaragua furent alors sanctifiés, à
l’exception du Momotombo, d’où l’on ne vit
jamais revenir les religieux qui s’étaient chargés
d’aller y planter la croix. »

Séquier : Voyage dans l’Amérique du Sud.

Trouvant les tremblements de terre trop fréquents,
Les rois d’Espagne ont fait baptiser les volcans
Du royaume qu’ils ont en dessous de la sphère ;
Les volcans n’ont rien dit et se sont laissé faire,
Et puis le Momotombo lui seul n’a pas voulu.
Plus d’un prêtre en surplis, par le saint-père élu,
Portant le sacrement que l’Eglise administre,
L’œil au ciel, a monté la montagne sinistre ;
Beaucoup y sont allés, pas un seul n’est revenu.

O vieux Momotombo, colosse chauve et nu.
Qui songe près des mers, et fais de ton cratère
Une tiare d’ombre et de flamme à la terre.
Pourquoi, lorsqu'à ton seuil terrible nous frappons,
Ne veux-tu pas du Dieu qu’on t’apporte ? Réponds.

La montagne interrompt son crachement de lave,
Et le Momotombo répond d’une voix grave :

« Je n’aimais pas beaucoup le dieu qu’on a chassé.
Cet avare cachait de l’or dans un fossé ;
Il mangeait de la chair humaine ;
ses mâchoires Etaient de pourriture et de sang toutes noires.
Son antre était un porche au farouche carreau,
Temple sépulcre orné d’un pontife bourreau ;
Des squelettes riaient sous ses pieds ;
les écuelles Où cet être buvait le meurtre étaient cruelles ;
Sourd, difforme, il avait des serpents au poignet ;
Toujours entre ses dents un cadavre saignait ;
Ce spectre noircissait le firmament sublime.
J’en grondais quelques fois au fond de mon abîme.

Aussi, quand sont venus, fiers sur les flots tremblants.
Et du côté d’où vient le jour, des hommes blancs,
Je les ai bien reçus, trouvant que c’était sage.
— L’âme a certainement la couleur du visage,
Disais-je, l’homme blanc, c’est comme le ciel bleu ;
Et le dieu de ceux-ci doit être un très bon dieu.
On ne le verra point de meurtres se repaître.
— J’étais content ; j’avais horreur de l’ancien prêtre ;
Mais quand j’ai vu comment travaille le nouveau,
Quand j’ai vu flamboyer, ciel juste ! à mon niveau !
Cette torche lugubre, âpre, jamais éteinte,
Sombre, et que vous nommez l’Inquisition sainte,
Quand j’ai pu voir comment Torquemada s’y prend
Pour dissiper la nuit du sauvage ignorant,
Comment il civilise, et de quelle manière
Le Saint-Office enseigne et fait de la lumière,
Quand j’ai vu dans Lima d’affreux géants d’osier,
Pleins d’enfants, pétiller sur un large brasier,
Et le feu dévorer la vie, et les fumées
Se tordre sur les seins des femmes allumées ;
Quand je me suis senti parfois presque étouffé
Par l’âcre odeur qui sort de votre autodafé,
Moi qui ne brûlais rien que l’ombre en ma fournaise,
J’ai pensé que j’avais eu tort d’être bien aise ;
J’ai regardé de près le dieu de l’étranger,
Et j’ai dit : — Ce n’est pas la peine de changer. »

Victor Hugo "La Légende des Siècles”


O vieux Momotombo, colosse chauve et nu...
V. H.

El tren iba rodando sobre sus rieles. Era
en los días de mi dorada primavera
y era en mi Nicaragua natal.
De pronto, entre las copas de los árboles, vi
un cono gigantesco, "calvo y desnudo", y
lleno de antiguo orgullo triunfal.

Ya había yo leído a Hugo y la leyenda
que Squier le enseñó. Como una vasta tienda
vi aquel coloso negro ante el sol,
maravilloso de majestad. Padre viejo
que se duplica en el armonioso espejo
de un agua perla, esmeralda, col.

Agua de un vario verde y de un gris tan cambiante,
que discernir no deja su ópalo y su diamante,
a la vasta llama tropical.
Momotombo se alzaba lírico y soberano,
yo tenía quince años: ¡una estrella en la mano!
Y era en mi Nicaragua natal.

Ya estaba yo nutrido de Oviedo y de Gomara,
y mi alma florida soñaba historia rara,
fábula, cuento, romance, amor
de conquistas, victorias de caballeros bravos,
incas y sacerdotes, prisioneros y esclavos,
plumas y oro, audacia, esplendor.

Y llegué y vi en las nubes la prestigiosa testa
de aquel cono de siglos, de aquel volcán de gesta,
que era ante mí de revelación.
Señor de las alturas, emperador del agua,
a sus pies el divino lago de Managua,
con islas todas luz y canción.

¡Momotombo! -exclamé- ¡Oh nombre de epopeya!
Con razón Hugo el grande en tu onomatopeya
ritmo escuchó que es de eternidad.
Dijérase que fuese para las sombras dique,
desde que oyera el blanco la lengua del cacique
en sus discursos de libertad.

Padre de fuego y piedra, yo te pedí ese día
tu secreto de llamas, tu arcano de armonía,
la iniciación que podías dar;
por ti pensé en lo inmenso de Osas y Peliones,
en que arriba hay titanes en las constelaciones
y abajo dentro la tierra y el mar¡

Oh Momotombo ronco y sonoro! Te amo
porque a tu evocación vienen a mí otra vez,
obedeciendo a un íntimo reclamo
perfumes de mi infancia, brisas de mi niñez.

¡Los estandartes de la tarde y de la aurora!
Nunca los vi más bellos que alzados sobre ti,
toda zafir la cúpula sonora
sobre los triunfos de oro, de esmeralda y rubí.

Cuando las babilonias del Poniente
en purpúreas catástrofes hacia la inmensidad
rodaban tras la augusta soberbia de tu fuente
eras tú como el símbolo de la Serenidad.

En tu incesante hornalla vi la perpetua guerra,
en tu roca unidades que nunca acabarán.
Sentí en tus terremotos la brama de la tierra
y la inmortalidad de Pan.

¡Con un alma volcánica entré en la dura vida,
Aquilón y huracán sufrió mi corazón
y de mi mente mueven la cimera encendida
huracán y Aquilón!

Tu voz escuchó un día Cristóforo Colombo;
Hugo cantó tu gesta legendaria. Los dos
fueron como tú, enormes, Momotombo,
montañas habitadas por el fuego de Dios.

¡Hacia el misterio caen poetas y montañas;
y romperáse el cielo de cristal
cuando luchen sonando de Pan las siete cañas
y la trompeta del Juicio Final!

Rubén Darío

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III Conference on Multidisciplinary Environmental Research, Managua

I was to write about my fruitful week in the last post, but of course I changed the subject. Last week I did what I had to do – ha ha, did you think about Sinatra right now?! I did! “I did what I had to do….. I did it my way…”. I have no idea where it came from! It’s so inappropriate to sing New York songs here ;). I did what I had planned – sounds better and free from associations. I went to Managua to participate at the conference I was writing about before. Frankly speaking, I expected a lot while going there. Actually, I was waiting with all my decisions (like for instance choosing a specific place for my fieldwork) until this event. I hoped to talk to people I mailed from home and to get all information needed to start my real work. I can say that this meeting has come up to my expectations. Of course I hoped for a real enlightenment, that all my questions would be answered and that I wouldn’t stand on a desert of the a great unknown any longer. Wishful thinking! It’s like when in bed, we love to think that tomorrow will solve everything for us. It doesn’t happen.

The conference had three parts: geosciences, environmental medicine, and biology and ecology. I was listening both presentations in geology and medicine. Extremely interesting! Both subjects that were raised and the character of a scientific meeting in Nicaragua. It’s so different than in Norway.

The event was inaugurated with a national anthem, something that gave a dignity to the event. And the opening words seemed to go on endlessly. Every member of the organizing committee was welcomed and mentioned by name, academic title, organisations and institutions one belongs to and a post one has. Importance of this courtesy is similar in Poland, I think. The titles don’t mean so much in Norway. At least they are not mentioned so often and for sure use of them is not compulsory like it is in Poland. Where does it come from? Norwegian equality again? (Some words about meaning of det folkelige and how it influences, or may influence Scandinavian academia at

The other difference between the South and the North (generally speaking of course) is the idea of TIME. Yes, we all have read about buses that go when they want, meetings when we have to wait hours for somebody to come just to hear “I came now, because I came now and didn’t come earlier”. When I came to Norway it surprised me, and even drove me crazy at the beginning, that people there have everything planned days, even months in advance. Every meeting has its own schedule and every change is announced, if not – people just get angry. At the conference, seminars and such, you are obligated to speak only 15 minutes if the plan allows only 15 minutes. The moderator gives you an ark which says “3 minutes left!” and so on. The organizers make plans that you demand and as such they require that you obey to their rules. Now I am used to such a play and it works for me. Of course, it can be frustrating in some situations, but generally the Norwegian owns the art of planning.

In Managua I saw the opposite. The plan was to start at 8 A.M. and nobody is there at 8:15 A.M. NOBODY. When I asked one guy if the presentations weren’t to start at 8, he said: “Sí, a las 8, más o menos” (Yes, at 8, more or less) and smiled and added: “Yeah, don’t care, they are going to come”. Well, I wasn’t mad at all, but it was something new. Especially at place like that, under the flag: science for development. Everybody has his own rhythm… Forget “3 minutes” sheet as well! They are talking! And do love it. And people hear, or not, but they don’t get impatient. All in all, I was at home at least 2 hours later than estimated every day. So funny how it all works. Of course, it has disadvantages, like for example: Yey! Let’s make a meeting with a respondent. We are waiting a third day to go with one guy to his mother who owns a farm and wants to show us how to process sugar cane. Well, I know that he really wants to show us this, but “today is not the day”. At one point I’ll get used to this.

The presentations were incredible interesting. Especially those in medicine. A lot staff about water contamination with lead and mercury, about methanol intoxication and respiratory problems. And most of them concerned Nicaragua, which meant a huge flow of new and essential information for me. Every presentations was followed by a discussion that almost always ended with talk about politics, the new government and changes in policy that are essential to improve the health condition for the people. Representatives for the Ministry of Health was talking a little bit about some projects they are conducting (like education at the country side about health hazards connected to using pesticides), but right away they were criticized for not being sufficient. What I observed was that presentations from Sweden (the conference was organized in cooperation with Lund University) were more “society friendly”. I mean that they presented not only results from their research, but also suggestions for how to apply this knowledge into society. They were talking about communication with people, about easy solutions, about first and small steps that can be done to improve the situation. They weren’t neither afraid to say that “You guys are responsible for all this!” while talking about pollution for example. They didn’t mince their words while talking about Nicaraguan policy. It was really obvious that they have much more experience with working with people (who are not experts) than the Nicaraguans and that they know that closed meetings are not enough. Of course, the Nicaraguan researchers are aware of this also, but I had an impression that they don’t know exactly what has to be done in practice to make a difference.

I can say that I made my first observation. I have (not much, but some) material from this experts meeting. And I did my first interview! 40 minutes! It was pretty strange, because we discussed some issues in a break between presentations and suddenly I had 40 minutes recording. And everything in Spanish so I didn’t talk too much, my questions wasn’t sophisticated at all, but I am still satisfied and happy that I found the courage to approach those people and talk to them (I still fight with this). I also talked with a lady from the Ministry of Health and some geology students which are working on improving communication between the experts and local people on the Ometepe Island that suffers from the Concepción volcano. I am going to Managua next week to meet them and maybe I could participate at one of the evacuation that is planned this year.

All in all, last week was really great. I am a little bit nervous about not having decided a place to go yet. I really don’t know. Have some options and hopefully next week will bring me enlightenment! :) I’m finishing my school Friday and I want to spend next week in the capital finding “my way”! :)

Personal/methodological implications/questions: How to say our hosts that we are moving?!

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Rocking in a rocking chair

Things are different every day. Thoughts are different every day. Things are the same every day. Thoughts are the same every day.

But I can say that last week was fruitful. Here, in León, where I am doing my Spanish course, things go really at a snail’s pace. This month except last week my days looked like:
8 -12 Spanish course

12-2 trying to survive the noon heat. Most of leoneses have a midday break, eating lunch and doing I don’t know what.

trying to do SOMETHING. Reading, writing (though I don’t have much to write about), hanging out, watching news, visiting nearby garbage dumps, museums, ruins of colonial churches, watching baseball games and trying not to panic.

About 6 P.M.
it’s getting dark and every day I am still deluding myself that it will be more chilly than during the day. Silly me! It’s frustrating how exhausting it can be. Anyway in the evening I am actually doing nothing more than during the day J. But the evenings are quite unique here. So what does it mean to “go native” among the residents of León? Well, it means sitting in front of the house or inside with the door open and let the time goes by… The most important furniture here in their houses is a rocking chair. Not one! They have thousands of them. Each house in my barrio owns at least 5 rocking chairs, because every member of the household has his own chair. And they are rocking and rocking and rocking… Sometimes speaking, sometimes laughing, waiting for … nothing! Yes, I am still surprised that they aren’t waiting for anything! They are just rocking. You can call me a townee and everybody who has lived in the country side has experienced the moments of the time laziness, but León is a city! City which does live! During the day it can be really busy. I don’t know why, but after dark everybody seems to transform their houses (and fronts of them and streets. I don’t know actually how to describe this really unique form of buildings here. After the revolution in 1979 all colonial residences were parcelled out and every room became a house for one family with a common patio for every room-house. That is why the houses here don’t have a “real” door, because they actually were back door from the colonial rooms. Every block – the whole city is based on blocks – has more “doorish” door on the corner, which means that it could have been a main gate to the house. I need to read how the process of parcelling out looked like. Grrrrrr, it’s difficult to explain with words how their houses look like. I’ll better put some pictures of the street and houses tomorrow) in a quiet haven, so different from the noisy life of the mornings.

And I have to admit that sometimes it cost me a lot of energy to hold out the silent rocking whole evening. Especially that my understanding of Nicaraguan language, although better than three weeks ago, still leaves a lot to be desired. So frustrating! But I try to rock as well as they do and keep small talking with the women from the barrio. And I feel that the boundary between kindness, curiosity and acting is really fuzzy and I have some issues with “the anthropologic patience” as I called it yesterday.

A garbage dump in Leon, where garabage is burning
every day... As one of the local told me: we have toburn it,
otherwise it will grow really high! Strange logic.

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Cerro Negro (as promised)

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