Primary forest, sustainable life cycle

Old growth

At Arutam, the Shuar community where I worked, the villagers are responsible for a couple thousand hectares of Amazon, allotted to them by the government. Their model, with the hands and dollars of ecotourists and paying volunteers (me), is to develop a small portion of the forest — cutting for banana plantations and fish ponds and whatnot — while keeping pressure off the remaining primary forest.

The above photo shows a tree reaching into the upper jungle canopy. The tree, by the estimates of our guides, could be 200 years old. In the present model, it’s protected because of, not in spite of, the community clearing land nearer the road and their homes for agriculture and aquaculture.

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Old men and the sea

Early morning

Plank boat

I have a fondness for fisherpeople. Being on the southeastern coast of India, Pondicherry is full of them.

They’re poor, diligent and seafaring. They’re lives are precariously tethered to the global marine ecosystem, something we in the West (and particularly in the Midwest, away from coasts) tend to ignore. Yet it’s our pollution that causes stuff like this, for example.

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Street life

Street ledge home

A family keeps its household wares sprawled out on a step along the sidewalk where they sleep. The New Horizon Sugar Mill is now defunct.

Pondicherry hip shot.

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Getcha hot, salty nuts here!

Masala peanut

Peanuts are my favorite snack in India, by far. Maybe my favorite snack anywhere (especially since I learned baby carrots are simply shaved big carrots).

The photos come from an afternoon visit to a peanutwallah in Pondicherry. Mom bought peanuts, I took pictures, he demanded an extra 10 rupees.

I’m used to the fact that people want money when I take their picture. I treat cases individually. For journalistic photos, I try to explain in bad Hindi about photoJ ethics and how I don’t pay for photos. In personal settings (i.e., photos of a peanut wallah), I’ll usually just cough up the extra few rupees. C’est la vie.

I do balk at extortionate demands. Like the one from the guy who wanted five hundred rupees for a picture of his monkey (true story) in Delhi. He got 50 out of me and that was a stretch, made possible only because the monkey backflipped. PETA was crying.

I should also note that the peanut wallah also had a disabled right eye. Disabilities can often relegate someone to the bottom of the economic ladder in India. Indeed, as a street snack vendor, he’s one of the country’s huddled masses living on a couple dollars a day.

But he does roast a damn fine peanut.

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Brickmakers of Akurdi

Placing charcoal

Family of brickmakers

India’s construction boom requires bricks. Bricks are labor intensive. They are carefully molded and dried in the sun. Then they’re intricately stacked amid charcoal, for firing in what is essentially an open kiln.

Here, a family of brickmakers are getting ready to fire another batch of bricks (more photos below).

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Keep the dung fires burning

Resourceful, them Gorkhas, huh?

Dung rolled into balls and left to dry in the sun. It’s pretty common in the developing world to recycle animal waste into fuel. Or as plaster. Or flooring.

This comes from a front-step of a house in Ghoom, near Darjeeling. During the winter across northern India, poor people use these dung fuel for heating fires. They’re also used year-round for cooking.

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Unexplored Andamans: A scientist’s playground


Click a photo for a larger view

More often thought of as paradise for beach bums and scuba divers, the Andaman Islands are also a scientist’s playground, an alluring cache of uncharted island biodiversity. The archipelago lies about 1,200 kilometers from India in the middle of the Bay of Bengal.

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These are times of tall men and short character

On a wall at the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Center in Darjeeling

On a wall at the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Center in Darjeeling

Click the photo for a larger image. I’ve retyped below (with reasonable punctuation) for better reading.

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Not exactly Tyson, Perdue or KFC

Pretty healthy for an Indian chicken

Pretty healthy for an Indian chicken

I’m not saying that this chicken’s life is perfect, especially since this shot was taken in front of a butcher shop, but I feel far better eating meat here in India where farming remains a less corporate endeavor.

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A year-in-review

2009 kinda kicked ass

2009 kinda kicked ass

This past year pretty much rocked. And the New Year came in fine manner.  No kisses, but a bonfire amid the palm trees (above), new friends, lobster, a decent cigar (thanks, C!), champagne and even the Harry Connick, Jr., band playing Auld Lang Syne at midnight (never leave home without the iPod).

I meant to post this sooner, but here’s a little look back at my new life (as chronicled on this blog):

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