Blog

Italy

Italy was a memorable and fulfilling destination for research. During my time in country, I attended and presented at a conference focused on spirituality and sustainability in both Rome and Assisi. This conferences purpose was to bring together visionary people from a range of ecological and/or spiritual perspectives, centers, and movements. Attendees participated in dialogue on transformative global change based on spirituality and sustainability. The conference explored strategies to deepen and implement the United Nations new development agenda and to protect and nurture sacred places. The conference hosted dialogue on how individuals can work together on the way forward toward a just, sustainable, and peaceful future that will support human development. Much of the dialogue overlapped with my studies on globalized trade policy and its effects on small farms. I also had the privilege to meet many experts knowledgeable on these topics.

IMG_8446
Assisi, Italy
download
Assisi, Italy

I was honored to be asked to present on the Earth Charter panel as well as a panel focusing on youth perspectives on spirituality and sustainability. The Earth Charter is an ethical framework for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the 21st century. It seeks to inspire in all people a new sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility for the well-being of the human family, the greater community of life, and future generations. It is a vision of hope and a call to action. Some of its guiding principles are respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, social and economic justice, democracy, and nonviolence. If you would like to read the Earth Charter, I have attached a PDF in English: http://earthcharter.org/invent/images/uploads/echarter_english.pdf

During my portion of the panel, I was able to discuss some of the incredible work my home institution Florida Gulf Coast University (an Earth Charter Affiliate) is doing in terms of environmental and sustainability education. I also discussed how I have woven teachings from the Earth Charter into my own independent research both last summer in Geneva, Switzerland and this summer with the Circumnavigators Foundation Grant studying trade and agriculture. I was even privileged enough to meet some of the writers of the Earth Charter, all inspiring and dedicated individuals. I learned more about the development of this document and its meaning to those who spent countless hours creating it.

download (1)
Individuals from the Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education
download (2)
Discussion continuing after an engaging panel

In Rome, I was able to attend a Papal Audience where Pope Francis hosted a ceremony to introduce five new Catholic cardinals to the Vatican. The Popes speech addressed inequality, poverty, and other social issues plaguing our world today. It was very interesting to hear this speech and relate it to my research on empowerment based regional policy and global governance. People gathered from all around the world, some making pilgrimage many miles to attend this event. I was able to include it in my research and to learn about the Popes role in international agenda setting.

img_83621.jpg
Rome, Italy

20272024_1543579465692209_1189392101_n

20272208_1543579699025519_1403206455_n
Moving from Rome to Assisi, Italy I was truly in awe – Assisi is a gem of a city that holds so much wonder. The home of Saint Frances and Saint Clare, much religious history is embedded into the region. Also evident in Assisi is a history that includes environmental stewardship (as Saint Frances was known for his deep connections to ecology). Assisi is gifted with small agriculture, olive groves and olive oil production being very important.

IMG_8412
Olive Trees in Assisi, Italy

During my time at the conference in Assisi, the Mayor Stefania Proietti attended. Being a woman interested in public service myself, it was great to meet her and discuss her role in the government of Assisi. As a professor of Engineering at Guglielmo Marconi University, Stefania is integrating energy systems and environmental sustainability into her work as mayor. It was an honor to visit with her and learn more about her inspiring work.

IMG_8439
Me with the Mayor of Assisi

Many other panels took place during the conference such as:

  • Current Expressions of Ecological Spirituality and their Indigenous Roots
  • Great Transition: Earth Charter, Ecological Civilization, United Nations Development Agenda, and New Paradigms of Science, Economics, & Law
  • Transformative Paths: Education, Policy Advocacy, Movement Building, Life-styles, & Sustainable Communities

The overall experience was a transformative one for me as a young scholar. I was able to get in touch with many helpful people working in Rome with the Food and Agriculture Organization as well as countless international scholars who attended the conference. I was also able to share ideas with a community of individuals dedicated to making lasting positive change in the world and gained valuable mentors in the process.

If you or anyone you know is willing to donate to my research experience, please see my go fund me page linked below. Travel based research is costly, and any help is greatly appreciated.

https://www.gofundme.com/maryssas-researchtrip

 

Lithuania

Lithuania was a fascinating part of my research journey. Not often visited for tourism, I found my time there to be authentic and enriching. Getting to Lithuania from Peru, however, was a bit hectic. I had seven connecting flights all together, and spent two full days and nights in the airport/on a plane.

Things I have discovered during this traveling extravaganza:

  • Airports in Finland play bird sounds in the bathroom. From owl hoots to small chirps, they have them all.
  • The London Heathrow airport has very inexpensive pods you can rent to sleep in or shower (I didn’t find this out until too late, but it’s a great idea). They have them in a few other airports, too. I believe the price for one person in London was around 35 euros. Check here for more information: http://www.yotel.com/en/

I landed in Vilnius, Lithuania and stayed in the city to adjust to the new time zone. What I did not expect, however, was some of the most intense food poisoning I have ever experienced. I ended up having to stay an extra day in Vilnius that was not planned because I could not leave bed. I am not sure if this was caused by the two full days and nights of travel, something I ate, etc. Regardless, I had my first case of travel illness on my journey. I do not believe any time can truly go wasted, however!  I put on a podcast related to trade policy and got some rest. To anyone who has not discovered the wonders of podcasts, I would encourage you to listen to some when you have a chance. They are usually less demanding than an audio book and great for those times during travel when you are a bit too exhausted to strain your eyes to read. I am very diverse in my listening, and do not choose podcasts that always align with my own beliefs. My suggestions come from objectivity and interest in all ideas related to my research. This being said, my most visited for this trip have been:

London School of Economics: Public Lectures and Events

Guadalajara Geopolitics Institute

PBS Women, War, and Peace

International Food Policy Research Institute

When I was feeling better, I traveled by train to Šiauliai – the fourth largest city in Lithuania. This city is most famous for its “Hill of Crosses”, featuring thousands of crosses large and small that visitors have placed there. It was important for me to get an understanding of the culture of the area, so I arranged a homestay with a family that owned a small farm. During my time in the homestay, I learned much about the history of the USSR in Lithuania and the transition of agriculture after independence. Some of this intense experience of communism and Soviet occupation in Lithuania can be traced through a history of land reforms. Nationalization of land and large farms occurred, and much land was redistributed to small farmers. Some of the communes and small farming communities are still operating in a similar fashion today, the one I stayed at being 52 years old. I was able to help on the farm and discuss the current state of affairs for small farmers in Lithuania as well as learn more about its political and economic history.

Lithuanian has a culture full of color and life. The Summer Solstice Festivals are a good example of this. Large feasts occur, people build fires, and everyone dances and sings.  I celebrated summer by making a traditional flower crown while walking through the garden (which the grandmothers loved)!

19437331_1547763888581848_8065217591702407770_n

Traditional_Lithuanian_dress
Traditional Lithuanian Folk Costumes found: By Lee Fenner from Kaunas, Lithuania – Lithuanian traditional dress, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3923119

 

I was also able to experience Lithuanian agriculture through incredible food- one of my favorite dishes prepared being a soup called borscht. Borscht is a beet soup with tomato, carrots, cabbage, and potatoes (sometimes beans or meat). I enjoyed it so much I forgot to take a picture, but have found one on the internet:

Classic-Ukrainian-Borsch-5-600x400
Photo taken from http://natashaskitchen.com/2010/09/26/classic-russian-borscht-recipe/ (which also has a recipe if you’d like it!)

I think what struck me so deeply at first was the bright red color (and then afterwards the comforting warmth and taste, of course). We had this soup for breakfast with fresh wheat bread and sour cream. I am looking forward to making this when I return home to Florida – I love soups. Let me know if you would like to join me! I find that “reverse culture shock” happens after returning home from a long journey, and it is always a good idea to have great foods that remind us of our travels. I learned this terminology from our International Services office. We had a “reverse culture shock” lunch with many of the students that recently studied abroad last year, and it was great to hear other experiences coming back to school in the US.

The farm itself was entirely organic and had a large hoop house/green house. Many different kinds of tomatoes were growing inside. In addition, there were many fruit trees (apples and pears, mostly). Although none on the tree had ripened yet, it was a pleasure to see the small fruits growing. Traveling from Peru, it was interesting to see the transitions to colder climate agriculture. Much of my work growing up and working on farms in Florida deals with tropical environments. I had much to learn in Eastern Europe.

img_8244.jpg
A pear tree and its small fruits
IMG_8208
Tomato vines and other assorted plants in the greenhouse

There were also many strawberries to pick after dinner (some of the sweetest I’ve had) while I spent quality time with the farm dog Garry.

IMG_8230

IMG_8228

My time in Lithuania was quite short (6 days), some of that time being incredibly ill, but I still learned great amounts. It was a pleasure to be truly integrated into a rural lifestyle, and I will remember this time for years to come. I am looking forward to bringing you along to my next stop: Rome and Assisi Italy!

In addition, if you or anyone you know is willing to donate to my research experience, please see my go fund me page linked below. Travel based research is costly, and any help is greatly appreciated.

https://www.gofundme.com/maryssas-researchtrip

 

 

 

Madre de Dios, Peru

Hello all! My second stop in Peru was in Madre de Dios — the heart of the Amazon rainforest. As we drove to the Alliance for Sustainable Amazon’s field station, I saw roads of papaya farms. I noted the expansion of monoculture into the biodiverse rainforest surrounding the region. According to ASA, Madre de Dios is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. However, major threats to the region include illegal gold mining and timber logging, which is uncontrolled and unregulated. A second major challenge, according to ASA, is the expansion of the agricultural frontier. With the completion of a new highway in the region, loggers have invaded the rainforests along its margins, and once the valuable timber has been extracted, the forest is often cleared for cattle pasture or agriculture. A wave of papaya plantations has recently gripped the region, as mentioned before. However, with the increases in papaya production have come drastic drops in prices. Many farmers are currently looking for alternatives and ways to make money during this hard time, and help is needed to create empowering programs that can aid farmers before they turn to illegal logging and mining for income. Most of the papaya farmers in the region have been letting the papaya fall to the ground to rot because the prices are too low to harvest, so they were very generous in letting us have a taste. The picture below features one of the naturalists from ASA enjoying a papaya. Also, make sure to look closely at the technique of the planting into the background. Many of these fields have become ridden with disease because of monoculture, or single fruit tree planting. We were lucky to find a healthy papaya for breakfast, but understood the dangers of such a practice.

IMG_8030.JPG

There is a need to introduce sustainable agriculture into the region that will not harm the areas natural wonders while also empowering farm workers. I had the privilege of helping ASA complete an analysis of cacao for the region. The local government has encouraged the introduction of cacao as an alternative to papaya, and I helped to evaluate their proposed programs. In addition to data collection from governments, I was able to do fieldwork to understand how small farmers are feeling about these issues.

The sight I stayed on was beautiful. I enjoyed watching the sunset from my window (usually around 5pm, something I wasn’t used to). Some of the tallest trees were brazil nuts. I was shocked to see how big the seedpods were. I was warned not to walk under them during season, as they might cause a head injury when they drop. In the pictures below, the tallest tree on the left is a brazil nut and a brazil nut seedpod.

brazil tree

IMG_8069

My housing at ASA was a wooden hut featured in the picture below. There was no running water, and our shower was a lovely stream. It was great to completely disconnect from modern technology such as my phone and laptop and truly experience the wonders of the area. I found that it was good to have a deck of cards for nights at the field station, and was happy I had brought along a harmonica for after dinner music. We ate by candle light in the nighttime, and used headlamps to navigate our way back to the sleeping area.

hut.jpg

I wrote a poem found below that explains very simply some of my daily experiences:

Here,

Dampness molds what nature allows

 

Swinging low

The circus of circumstance

The ingenuity of the human

On the streets with no name

Where anything can be built

 

I had two hands

Each with a papaya

Walking the mile back from Planchon to the kitchen

 

Sassy the dog

Jumped eager at my feet

Holding memories of

Chickens past and table scraps

 

The sun sets early

A deep mist congregates around the canopy of the Brazil nut trees

Big enough to share

 

I am tangled in the mesh

Of the mosquito net

Thinking of the cacao

Planned to cover the grasses around my hut

 

Thinking of the woman

Selling ice-cream in Plaza de Armas

 

I had a wonderful time with the other researchers and naturalists on sight, here is a picture of us on my last day.

IMG_8115

Thank you to the Alliance for Sustainable Amazon for housing me and allowing me to volunteer with you. If anyone is interested in ASA please have a look at their website for more information. They offer volunteer programs, internship programs, and various jungle expeditions.

https://www.sustainableamazon.org

Please stay tuned for my next post on Lithuania. I look forward to bringing you along with me to this wonderful place, and sharing what it is like to live on a small farm in the rural areas of the country. In addition, if you or anyone you know is willing to donate to my research experience, please see my go fund me page linked below. Travel based research is costly, and any help is greatly appreciated.

https://www.gofundme.com/maryssas-researchtrip

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru has greeted me with beautiful mountains, incredible people, and friendly alpacas. My first event in Cusco was visiting the famous San Pedro Market, where I had the chance to talk to locals selling food products such as vegetables, fruits, cheeses, meats, and breads. ­­Many of the fruits reminded me of the Floridian food forest I planted at a Shelter in Naples, and of course the abundance of the FGCU food forest. I even made some of the women laugh by singing the names of my favorite fruits in Spanish. “La cherimoya, la maracuya, y la granada…”— all local favorites. They let me try fresh breads and sample juices they say keeps the body and mind healthy. I have found that most of the women selling produce buy it from local farmers and then sell the products in the market. It will be interesting to learn more about how this food system works while in different areas of Peru.

fruit.jpg

I stayed in the Millhouse Hostel in Cusco, which was very accommodating. They have a female dorm, which served me well as a solo traveler. They have free tours on Saturdays at 1pm, which impressed me. I jumped on the opportunity to explore the city with locals and fellow travelers. This gave me a chance to become oriented in a group, making exploring the city alone much easier. The tour was extensive, lasting over an hour. I was able to visit many parts of the city, try local foods for free, and ask the guide many questions about food networks in the area. For those wanting to conduct research, this hostel is also very close to the Municipal Government building in Cusco (about a one-minute walk). While they did not have much research-oriented information in the building for scholars, I was able to speak with individuals working in rural development who pointed me in the right direction. My Spanish language courses came in handy, as many in the building did not speak English. With a map, they showed me the city and many places to visit such as the Ministry of Agriculture. While planning and preparation online is helpful, visiting local government gave me new ideas I could not find on the internet. In addition, I was able to go over some of my plans with them to make sure they were worthwhile (with such limited time in Cusco, it was best to make sure that it was being used wisely with the help of locals). Millhouse Hostel also collaborates with the Mantay Shelter for abused women and children. The Mantay Shelter has artisan workshops where the women staying at the shelter make craft related goods. These products are then sold in many places around the city and 100% of the profit goes back to the Shelter. I was happy to see this collaboration, as I am interested in women’s economic empowerment. I have looked into Peruvian policies related to women and children, and have found that many Shelters have vocational rehabilitation that also includes agricultural training.

llamas

June is a wonderful time to be in Cusco, as there are many local celebrations. I was able to see the Corpus Christi celebration in the Plaza de Armas. Corpus Christi is celebrated in many places in Peru, but I have heard it is most extravagant in Cusco. Sixty days after Easter the religious celebration brings everyone together near the Cathedral of Cusco. Bright and beautiful colors covered the Plaza, along with joyous music and dance. To my surprise, every ministry was represented in the celebration, including the Cusco Ministry of Agriculture! Traditional garments were worn during the dances, including intricate facemasks and beautiful handmade dresses. I even tried on this clothing during the previously mentioned free city tour.

ag flag

IMG_8124

During my stay in Cusco, the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law has been incredibly helpful. Not only was I able to talk with scholars, many of them also sent me materials related to my research in the region of Cusco and future travels in the Amazon. In addition, as a School of International Training alumna, I was able to connect with the SIT program in Cusco focused on Globalization and Indigenous peoples (which helped me to locate scholars studying these topics). I interviewed individuals at the Cusco extension of Agrorural, a National government program of Peru. Their mission is to “…design, promote, and manage rural agricultural development models that facilitate the articulation of public-private investments and contribute to the reduction of poverty and the inclusion of rural families.” In addition, Agrorural helps rural families in Peru improve their quality of life by implementing sustainable rural development plans and policies with regional, local and other social stakeholders. I learned much about the city of Cusco along with important information about the country of Peru and its agricultural trade.

Regional

Getting to and from interviews in Cusco, I primarily used Uber. Once you are set up with a driver, you have the ability to share your destinations and driver name with anyone. I found this to be helpful as a solo traveler, making sure someone knew where I would be as I was attending interviews alone. Taxi fares range in the Cusco area depending where you are. Leaving the airport, of course, there is a high charge to get where you are going. From my hostel, I found that the Uber cost me 4 soles (1 USD being equivalent to 3.27 Peruvian Sol) to travel about 10 minutes by car (and a taxi got me back to the hostel at the cost of 6 soles). However, using Uber takes wifi, and sometimes it is not an option when there is no internet connection.

Studying trade and agriculture, it was very important for me to visit the Incan archeological sites around Cusco. The Incans had fascinating and advanced systems of trade routes, and many ruins are still evidently tied to a history of agriculture. I am a student, but I was not able to get the student rate for the site because my ID did not have a date. To future student travelers, make sure you have dated documentation that you are a student before purchasing tickets! I spent the day at Saqsayhuaman, which had some of the most incredible scenery I have ever experienced. Located above Cusco, I was able to look down and see the beautiful city from an aerial view. In addition, I was able to view some of the remains of Incan agriculture by exploring terraces. I made friends with a local from Cusco who showed me a large smooth rock that many of the children in the area use as a slide. Many of the children cheered and encouraged me to go down, and I eventually got the courage.

cusco

ruins n me

slide

From much of my research so far, it seems that the Cusco region of Peru is much different from the Amazon in terms of agricultural production. I am eager to compare these two regions, and update once I have traveled more around my next destination – Madre De Dios, Peru.  According to the Alliance for Sustainable Amazon, “The Madre de Dios Department of southeastern Peru has been called the ‘Biodiversity Capital of the World’ – more species of plants and animals can be found here than almost any other place on the planet. A few hectares of tropical rainforest in the Las Piedras River basin, for instance, contain more species of tree than all of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the most biodiverse park in the United States.” (Alliance for Sustainable Amazon) I am looking forward to updating you about the wonders of the jungle! As I head out onto my next adventure, keep in mind there will be little to no wifi in the Amazon.

In addition, if you or anyone you know is willing to donate to my research experience, please see my go fund me page linked below. Travel based research is costly, and any help is greatly appreciated.

https://www.gofundme.com/maryssas-researchtrip

 

Goodbye Florida- Hello world! 

Naples, Florida pier – a day before departure

It feels exhilarating to be departing for my circumnavigation around the world tonight. Leaving from Naples, Florida (my sea level hometown), I will be traveling up 11,000 feet to the breathtaking sacred valley of Cusco, Peru. I will be flying first to Bogota, Colombia where I will make the connection to the city of Cusco. I have never been to this high of an altitude, and I’m curious to see how it may alter the lifestyle of those living in the region. I have read up on altitude sickness — I hear the views are breathtaking! I’m hoping to have an easy transition.

Cusco is home to many indigenous peoples, and I’m interested to see how globalization has led to an increase in rural to urban migration. Why did some small farmers or indigenous peoples move to the city? What is the history of farming movements in the region? What part does Cusco play in Peruvian trade relations?

From preparatory research, Cusco seems to be a place for dialogue and expression of the concerns of small stakeholder farmers. From farmer protests to international meetings, there is an evident movement emerging out of the region. I am eager to understand this more in depth as I meet and speak with locals and experts in the area.

I’ve planned great amounts for this trip. Below you’ll find some apps I’ve found very useful during that process. Most of them are a must have while traveling:

STA app for planning flights and receiving updates

Booking.com app for reserving and checking prices of hostels

Hostels.com app for reserving and checking prices of hostels

Airbnb for inexpensive housing

Geniusscan for scanning documents on the go (you take a picture of the documents, it converts it to PDF format, and sends to your email)

WhatsApp for communicating via text and call

Venmo for transferring and receiving money

Showaround for inexpensive tour guides and translators

Google Maps for directions/ planning routes

Duolingo for language prep

I’m looking forward to all that lies ahead. Be sure to stay updated as I make my way around the world! You can also follow my instagram @maryssatradingplaces for more pictures and videos.

In addition, if you or anyone you know is willing to donate to my research experience, please see my go fund me page linked below. Travel based research is costly, and any help is greatly appreciated.

https://www.gofundme.com/maryssas-researchtrip