Get on de boat, de banana boat!

Ships headed for the Panama canal

Earlier this month the banana giant Chiquita filed a lawsuit attempting to block the release of documents pertaining to the various payments it made to paramilitary groups that the U.S. considers terrorist organizations. That sounds like a tale out of a different, era, yeah?

Unfortunately, it’s all too current. Chiquita paid a $25-million fine just six years ago after admitting that it had funneled money to multiple Colombian groups. That’s part of a larger phenomenon where multinationals essentially operate above the level of governments in many parts of the world — often engaging in illegal shenanigans — precisely because the corporations have so much economic clout.

A development professor on mine has labeled countries like Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica essentially a “dessert” economies. It’s a fitting moniker given the number of bananas and pineapples they produce. What large-scale industrial fruit-culture has done to the landscapes and social organization of these countries is hard to fully comprehend without visiting. And I note that Global North citizens — particularly Americans — are complicit, what with our year-round demand for exotic fruit of uniform shapes at cheap prices. That consumer demand leads precisely to Chiquita acting like, well, Chiquita.

Fruity boat

If you think capitalism’s rising tide lifts all boats, you’ve got the wrong metaphor. Capitalism’s tsunami wave overwhelms most anything that lacks the political or financial power to get out of the way. And to understand just how far back this goes, check this history of the United Fruit Company, Chiquita’s predecessor.

You can see today just how enmeshed corporate agriculture is in the economies of Costa Rica and Panama; these images are just from my bus/boat/taxi/plane rides there in 2012 but vast swaths of the land look just like this — plantations, pesticides and underpaid workers all in the name of foreign export. It’s the same in a number of other countries in Latin America. Certainly some things have changed, but control remains highly concentrated in the hands of a few.

Where your bananas come from

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We gotta reduce, re-use, recycle

Bad news bears, or something

Dharamshala kids form their own recycling brigade. Basically, they’re on the poorest rungs of society. School is not so much an option or concern; sorting through trash to boost family income is their vocation.

They were collecting and sorting their glass and plastic along the spiritual hiking path surrounding the Namgyal Monastery.

This is reality in an over-poor, over-crowded country. At least it helps mitigate the ever-growing volumes of trash 1.2 billion people produce (though to be fair, India’s waste output in raw terms remains far behind the United States).

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Sabji walle!

Dharamshala vegetable sellers

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Women, the real power in village labor

Hauling brush

I title this blog facetiously. Women in rural India — like much of the world where paternalistic orders still apply — share an unfair burden of the drudgery and muscle-rending, joint-stressing, fatigue-inducing labor that is day-to-day existence.

Not that men don’t work hard as well, but it would be difficult to say that division of work doesn’t shift more physical work to women while men are more likely to occupy positions of authority and thereby relative ease. Such is reality in a society where modern, Western ideas of equality are still working there way down from on high.

Above, women in Rajasthan carry brush and fire kindling through rocky scrub, which for much of the year is blisteringly hot.

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They are brick…. wallahs!


Meet a father-son recycling team in working Hauz Khas village salvaging brick and stone and rock from a building renovation. India is fantastically diligent about reusing anything of value. Well, at least we’re better than the West.

See more below.

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Squat for a shave

Old Delhi street grooming

Across India, barbers eschew the classic shop for something a little more open air. In this case, on the teeming bazaar road of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, you can get a close and proper shave for pennies on the dollar while sitting on the sidewalk.

Huzzah to the shaving wallah.

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Sabji hei!

A little young for this job

A sabji (vegetable) wallah from Jodhpur’s old city. Much of the fresh produce in India is still sold from open-air stalls and carts. Shiny, air-conditioned supermarkets are still a relatively new phenomenon and usually only found in big cities.

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Phoolwallahs of jodhpur


Early in the morning, the scent of flowers mixes with the reek of cow dung in Jodhpur’s old market lanes. Meet the phoolwallah, the flower salesman, stringing together garland of flower petals.

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I’ll never be your beast of burden…

You still look like an ass to me.

Donkeys plod the crowded market lanes of old Jodhpur.

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Sea lions and fishmongers

Begging for scraps

The small-scale fish market in Puerto Ayora draws a crowd every day as fishermen bring, gut and hawk in their catch. And that’s not just a crowd of people.

Sea lions and pelicans also gather to pilfer and pinch scraps and sometimes whole fish. It’s a comical scene, as the fishermen are not technically allowed — National Park rules — to swat or otherwise harm the pesky-but-cute critters.

This is small-scale fishing that is generally far more sustainable (and in the Galapgos, more regulated) than elsewhere in the developing world. It’s also a significant part of the local economy, one affected by tourism, as restaurants and, at least, boats buy locally.

But having been underwater for many hours in the islands and having talked to a number of activists, it seems clear that the ocean flora and fauna remain under significant pressure.

More photos of the fishmongers below.

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