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June 7th, 2015

05:29 pm - The wisdom of trees
Grandfather 2

I have so much sadness inside of me.

This storm of loss and grief and hurt that I don’t even understand, that I can’t adequately explain. All the heartaches and horrors and wonders and beauty of my year in Peru; all the stuff I couldn’t emotionally process at the time because I needed to keep going, to keep living in that world and fighting to make it better.

I’m still fighting. I haven’t stopped, six months after coming home. I’m looking for answers in my studies, questioning always how any of this stuff I’m learning can work in the Peruvian context, still struggling with all the impossible questions I came home with. Emotionally I’m not in Melbourne: I’m in Lima still.

It hurts. My heart feels squeezed tight with the magnitude and hopelessness of it all.

I feel like I walked away from my responsibilities, like I turned my back because it’s all too hard and I’m too selfish to give so much of myself to changing things. Like I’m abandoning the friends I made along the way who are still there, still working on making things better. I barely talk to them, not just because missing them hurts, but because I can’t face the question that always comes: when are you coming back?
Help us.
We need you here.
We miss you.

Part of me wants to go. I miss being useful, actually making a real, tangible difference to the world. I miss the camaraderie, the inspiration of working with such amazing people. I miss the opportunities to get out there and see and do and meet people and feel like part of the solution. Here I’m just another part of the problem: another rich westerner over-consuming and sustaining the inequalities. It’s an inescapable fact of living here: inner-city Melbourne, studying at a first world university. It’s a lifestyle that’s inherently unsustainable and built on exploitation. Worse, it’s a lifestyle that’s not currently making me very happy, spending my days isolated, working away alone.

Lima though… Despite all my privilege, the rewards of the job, the travels and adventures, I barely broke even. The noise and the pollution and the chaos and the crime, the social injustices and environmental destruction that are in your face each and every day: on the streets and in the environmental impact assessments I’d review. No escape: no jumping in the car and driving away from it all, no solo hiking in the forest. The tolls on my mental and physical health were significant and linger still.

I don’t think I can make myself go back into that world. I think it would break me. I don’t want to acknowledge that: it makes me feel selfish; it feels like abandoning my friends, reneging on a promise and refusing my responsibilities. I want to help. I want to change things. I want to believe that I'm brave and good and will do what's right.

I need to find a way to be useful where the costs aren’t so high.

There are options, I’m learning. NGOs that keep you based in Australia, so you get to go out then come home again. Roles in policy and communication that don’t require being on-ground. Things to explore, at the very least. Alternatives.

Not now though. Not yet. I need to get back to myself first.

This sad, serious person? This is not me. I don’t laugh enough lately. There’s not enough play, enough silly. Too much of who I am has been eroded away by living in difficult situations with a wide-open heart. There needs to be more laughter, more dancing, more music. More time spent with good company. More time out of the city in the green, wild places.

Building that, though, requires effort. It means being present here, in Melbourne and putting down roots. It means working through this hurt and letting go of Lima. It means not being afraid of the losses to come as I pick myself up and move on again. It means prioritizing the things that are good for me, not the things I feel I should be doing. It means learning to live with the whispers in my heart of the people I miss who can’t be here.

I need to find my way home.


Current Location: here & now
Current Mood: reflective

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June 5th, 2015

06:29 pm

Autumn blazed briefly,

Now it is winter

The light without warmth.

Assignments still to be written

but counting the days

until the release of

being in motion.


(say something)

May 5th, 2015

12:08 pm - Words for salvation

What I want to do today is anything but
This essay that’s due:
        Cost-benefit analysis for biodiversity conservation
30 percent of my total mark for
        Environmental economics class.
The absurdity of placing dollar values on
        Nature itself
While spending my days sitting in
        Lecture theatres, staring at screens:
An indoor life while I Master the
        Environment. Outside
The fierce wind shakes the wires that
        Bind me electronically;
Leaves spin and settle in piles of
        Restless rustling, reflecting
My internal landscape: the urge to be
        Rushing, wild,
Over mountains, down river valleys
        Studying the world
Through observation and conversation, not
        Academic papers:
No essay captures the forest spirits, the
        Sacred places that
Nourish us and define what it is to be
Trap of my own construction; bound
        To the city,
To the written word and this white page
        In some strange attempt
To redeem myself and, somehow,

Greeting the sun

(say something)

March 3rd, 2015

01:17 pm - Not dead
T'other blog: Life in Transition/

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October 13th, 2014

05:42 pm - Conceit of memory
Looking through old photos of my Hobart life, trying to remember how it felt, who I was. Combing for evidence of the things that make me happy, that keep me grounded and connected; reassuring myself that it’s possible to feel that way.

I have had enough of Peru for now.
I have had enough of Lima for a lifetime.

Looking in, I have built a pleasant little life for myself here. I live on the cusp of the most bohemian part of the city, in safety and luxury with a little sea view and my every material need covered. I am succeeding in my project and have built strong links with my team. I have nurtured a lovely social circle of both Peruvians and expats: passionate, inspiring people who are doing great things in conservation and sustainable development; people who have welcomed me and claimed me as one of their own. I have wonderful opportunities to travel and go on adventures, to fill my life with art and culture, to dance and to sing…

Look a little deeper and see that I’m drinking too much, that I’m not eating properly. That I’m staying up late for no reason and am always tired, always worn down. Living in Lima reminds me of my marriage: from the outside everything seemed to be working, but on the inside I felt trapped in a life I didn’t want to be living.

This place has its costs and right now I’m about breaking even with the benefits.

Material luxury and a small sea view in Barranco

Modern + Vintage
Lima's pretty, hipster face, Barranco

I have been to amazing places: Huaraz, Paracas, Rupac, Pisac, Purus, Tingo Maria, Chachapoyas, Tarapoto, Cordillera Azul. I have seen and done incredible things, from catching poison dart frogs in the jungle to hauling myself up 4,850 m peaks. I have eaten an astonishing array of plants and animals, including aguaje, camu camu, pacay, taperiba, salt-dried Amazon fish, brocket deer and peccary (I did draw the line at suri grubs though). I have met lovely people and made many friends.

I have wandered through the ruins of multiple cultures: Inca, Atavilla, Chachapoya, Wari. I have met people and shared in the customs of many more still living: Amazonas, Yauyino, Cusqueño , Wari & Huanca in the sierra; Cashinahua, Saranahua, Mastanahua, Marinahua, Mashco Piro & Shipibo in the selva.  The great, heaving mix of selva, sierra, español, afro-peruano & chino-peruano roots and cultures that is Lima.

Helping out at a workshop on climate change adaption with representatives from eight local ethnic groups in Purus, deep in the Amazon

I will miss my people: Daniel, Ruben, Yeselia, Gina, the office crew, my housemate Isotta, Nath and the Green Energy group, Diego and Pete. I will miss the soaring peaks and cultural colour of the sierra, the ecological wonder and expanse of green of the jungle. I will miss the constant opportunities for grand adventures.

You can have your museums and galleries though, your restaurants and bars, your shiny big apartments, your cocktail meetings and salsa clubs.  I’ll trade you for a garden to dig in, for dirt under my nails, for sun and rain and wind on my skin. Exchange the noise and the colour and the chaos for an absence of upset stomachs and the presence of good coffee. Swap the night-life for days in the wild places where there’s nothing but the creak of old trees in the wind, the tread of my feet, the thump of my heart.

I miss my freedom. My deepest respect goes out to those who do this stuff for YEARS.

Dancers in one of many big parades for the Peruvian National Holidays here in Lima

Ah, but you know all this. It’s the same lament I’ve been singing since I landed in Lima 12 months ago, and as much now as then it’s my choice I’m here.  The experience has taught me much and still teaches, and no matter how hard the lessons I’m glad I came. Still, I am relieved that the lessons are nearing their end: time now to ponder the new life ahead and how to cultivate those good, nurturing things anew in Melbourne’s soils.

Uni plans are progressing. The application is in and now we wait for confirmation or rejection. Meanwhile I’m chasing up the paperwork needed for a back-up option and narrowing down what it is I hope to get out of the course besides a new debt and a reprieve from having to job hunt in the mire that is the current Australian job market. I have big ideas as to where I go from here.

I’m not ready to head back overseas again, not yet. Give me six months to a year. Give me time to re-build my health and feel like me again and not the sad, soft lump that Lima has made me. Give me the skills to properly frame my Peru experiences and see what they still have to teach me. Give me some mentoring and a chance to test my ideas and beliefs in the academic arena. Give me space to soothe the psychological bruises and feelings of moral failure. Give me time to sit with this latest incarnation of self to discover who I am now and where I want to go.

Chachapoyan ruins at the fortified citadel of Kuelap

Visiting Chachapoyan mausoleums in Revash

Looking back, I will be amazed by all the things I’ve done here, by what I achieved in such a short time. Right now though I need to take better care of myself so I can find the focus and energy to actually finish my projects and convert them all from well-intentioned ideas into implemented reality. I could be properly proud of myself then, both for producing something truly good and for taking on my own toughest demons.

As always: prioritise sleep, eat properly, avoid alcohol, exercise, keep focused at work and relax at home. As always: so much harder to do when life’s out of balance and your psyche is sending out distress signals.

Dear self:
Breathe; take the steps that are needed to get you where you want to be and remember that the grind is part of the journey, that it makes the getting there all the sweeter.
Breathe; remember that you really can ask for help when you need it.
Breathe; try to remember how to properly dream again.
Breathe; remember yourself.

Sunrise, mirador del puesto de control 16, Cordillera Azul National Park

Current Location: Lima
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

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October 4th, 2014

06:23 pm - And then there were ten
Where do you find yourself when the lines between memory and reality become blurred? When here and now and there and then dissolve into a memory of who you are and who you are yet to be?

Ah, but I know well where I am. Lima: the shoe a half-size too small, no matter how far you walk in it.

I wonder, now, if anywhere will ever feel completely like home again, or if I will spend the rest of my days on this journey of half-belonging. Home: a place where I can dig in and know the soil will always lie in wait for my return. Where the deep, dark mysteries are mine alone and an almond tree sets forth its bloom each September. I wonder idly when I will find it.

Ten weeks: eso es lo que me quedo. My brain now is a scramble of languages, crossing and uncrossing depending on the topic at hand and my blood alcohol content. I lose words in English and am grateful that my English-speaking friends here understand enough Spanish that it doesn’t matter that I speak in patois. There are phrases in Spanish I’m going to miss, in balance with the joy of recovering my full communicative abilities.

Ten weeks.

Last week I took off on my last great Peruvian adventure. Lima to Tarapoto by plane, a day to adjust to the upland jungle and then off again for 10 hours by bus, moto-taxi and colectivo to the tiny city of Chachapoyas, capital of Amazonas province. A bright colonial jewel where the jungle and sierra cultures fused for so many centuries; named for the Chachapoya, the culture native to this landscape where the northern Andes slide down into the jungle. Chachapoya: the people of the cloud forest, name bestowed by the Inca who failed to conquer this older culture until a mere few decades before the Spaniards arrived and history ended.

We visited a fortified citadel and hiked up some mausoleums the Chachapoya built for their dead in the fault lines of cliffs that embrace the river valleys. One of the last they such sites built, showing the influence of the conquering Inca and Spanish. No-one’s quite sure what to make of the Chachapoya: legend and genetic analysis suggest they were blonde and light-eyed, in stark contrast to the Asiatic roots of all other indigenous Peruvian cultures. At least they left behind plenty of mummies for DNA.

From Chachas back to Tarapoto in much-less-time via a white-knuckle colectivo ride back down to the Amazon heat and humidity. September 27 was the official start of Spring in Tarapoto. September 27 – my sister’s birthday – was 34oC. Ah, but the green buzz of it all, and the rain…

From Tarapoto we traipsed into the wonders of Cordillera Azul (Blue Range) National Park and two too-brief nights in a ranger’s station on the edge of pristine upland Amazonian rainforest. Photos don’t do the place justice so I stopped trying to take them and just grounded myself in the moment. Sunrise, sunset, a sky full of stars, hair full of bees (seriously, tiny sweat bees, they are irritating). That moment, stepping out of the “shower” made by diverting a creek along a hollowed-out log before dropping back into the waterway, when you realise that it’s late afternoon in primary upland rainforest in the Amazon and you’re completely enveloped by it and stark-bollocking naked. Alive!

Lima chafes, but there is so much to do in so little time: projects to complete, a future to initiate with so much paperwork and trepidation, friends who will miss me seeking my time. My grand adventures are almost over and that’s ok. I need to go home. I need to exist, for a while, in a place where fewer horrors assault me on a daily basis. Australia isn’t a good place right now, but no-one’s assassinating mayoral candidates, the corruption is several orders of magnitude lower and the water’s safe to drink.

So much I see here makes me want to shout, to cry, to rail against the injustices in this mad country. The things I’ve seen, I’ve heard, have dented my psyche quite deeply. Did I tell you about the friend and workmate who was mugged on her way home from our office? What about the pregnant lady who was car-jacked, or the colleague who got into a shoot-out with car thieves over his dad’s Toyota Yaris?

Did I tell you about the kids in Purus sick with preventable diseases, and the problems with alcohol and violence in the indigenous communities caught between tradition and modernity?

Did I tell you about the child trafficking and the institutional racism and erosion of human rights among the poor and indigenous? About the rivers running mercury from illegal mining deep into the Amazon? About forests being burnt for palm oil plantations? About the dismantling of basic environmental and social protections to appease the international investment beast and its hunger for cheap metals no matter the real price? About the things desperate and ignorant people do to feed themselves and their families NOW whilst stealing from their own futures? About companies used to getting around the rules and coming up against a SERNANP made more defiant by my presence?

My outspoken scientific opinion is all that currently stands in the way of a hydro project that would wipe out what seems to be a species of freshwater otter not yet known to science. By some miracle my team have convinced our department head to stand against the tide and our rejection of the project. I don’t know what will happen, but if I wasn’t here, no-one would have picked up on the probable impacts of the project as planned. The ecological understanding just isn’t there.

Ten weeks, and not one of my major projects finished, but they’re getting closer. A guide to the environmental impacts of hydro projects and the accepted mitigation measures: originally a series of look-up tables, now woven into a 16 000 word document that also provides all the background necessary to understand the industry and get to grips with riverine ecology at the most basic level. A rudimentary Environmental Management System for supervision, auditing, investigation and prosecution of activities within our national parks and reserves: A system standard, 4 procedures and all the associated forms and templates – it’s about half done and lagging due to the need to understand the complex mess that is Peruvian legislation and my own disenchantment with it all.

When the government itself is weakening environmental protections and undermining the Ministry I work under, what hope is there? The government itself has become a lame duck until the end of its term. Peru is run by those with the money - citizens or multinationals – and right now the puppet-masters are desperate to keep the “economic miracle” going, no matter the social or environmental costs. No matter how many poor or indigenous people suffer, how many rivers die, how many hectares of forests fall. The population goes along with it, ignorant of the consequences or too enamoured with material wealth to care.

Little wonder my psyche is bruised.

Peru has shown me many of its faces. I’ve managed to avoid the worst, but I’ve seen some things that make me lose faith in humanity completely. I have also met some of the best people in existence: real heroes who fight this shit every day to make a tangible difference to people’s lives and the environment. They achieve so much with so little: who am I to decry all this with my privileged western eyes anyway?

Who am I indeed. That will depend on what I choose to do with all of this, my Peruvian Pandora’s box. What do I do with it all?

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August 9th, 2014

10:52 pm - YES
Yes to this life, to being me, to doing what I'm doing, to being where I am right now.

To being a connector of people to each other, to nature, to the divine.

To living and loving and laughing and crying and being HERE and NOW.

To this life, and everything I can do with it.

To doing it all with love.

Yauyos yes

Current Mood: Connected
Current Music: Peter Sculthorpe (RIP) - Irkanda IV

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August 5th, 2014

08:22 pm - Tea cookies – a recipe
I have so much I should write about that I can’t get out because there’s too much going on to focus down and for long enough. Instead, here’s a recipe that was requested for my tea cookies…

Sunday afternoon, relax with a cup of coffee and catch up on the reading list. Have your attention caught by a blog post quoting Proust about the memory of madeleines dipped in tea and realise you’ve never eaten a madeleine and gods know where you’d find a tin for them in Lima, but sweet, buttery cake and dry, aromatic tea does sound good. Hmm, buttery, earl grey… cookies perhaps? Yes.

Get butter out of fridge to soften and walk down to Very Expensive Tea Shop to buy loose-leaf earl grey. Curse softly because it’s closed & you’ll have to go to the fancy supermarket where the expats shop that will hopefully have earl grey tea bags in stock. Feel a homesick pang for café culture and all that goes with it and realise that you haven’t had a good coffee in nine months and counting. Whimper.

Realise you need cornflour anyway so do the week’s grocery shop while you’re out. Visit the cheap supermarket, then the expensive one to pick up the sole box of earl grey in stock. Phew. Arrive home, put shopping away, realise it’s late and you’re hungry, so make leek & mushroom omelette. Sit down to eat, switch on the computer, hello Internet…

Way past bed time. Clean up kitchen, put butter back in the fridge; bed.

Monday: Get up, coffee,make lunch, eat breakfast, make self presentable: work-lunch-work-traffic-home. Dump bags, collect repairs from the tailors (yes) & backpack from the cleaners (come back tomorrow). Home again, open fridge to contemplate dinner options and spy butter. Remember biscuits. Remove butter from fridge to soften.

Make veggie stir fry. Realise the tomatoes are over-ripe, so chop and throw into baking dish & whack into oven. Reason that since the oven will be warm, cookies should be made. Place butter on stove top to accelerate softening. Eat dinner, talk to housemate. Consider not making cookies as it’s now 9 pm.

Return to kitchen to wash dinner things. Discover butter has softened to the “pooling” stage. Accept that cookies must be made NOW. Scoop up liquefying butter and guestimate the amount scraped into the bowl. Retrieve baking ingredients from over-crowded little cupboard and invent some cookies. Put remaining butter back in fridge.

Wait impatiently for tomatoes to be done so the biscuit tray can fit in the one-shelf oven. Do the dishes.

Cookies! Finally.

Toni’s Tea Cookies

  • ~7 tbsp unsalted butter

  • ½ cup sugar (brown/muscovado/rapidura – you want the caramel notes)

  • 3 rounded tsp tea (earl grey for dry&aromatic or chai for sweet&spicy) ground to powder, or 3-4 tea bags

  • 1 large free-range egg

  • 1½ cups plain flour (if gluten-free, add ¼ tsp xantham gum)

  • ¼ cup corn starch

  • 1– 1.5 tsp baking powder (Lima humidity = more baking powder)

  • Icing sugar (+cinnamon), for dusting

Soften butter then cream together with sugar. Add ground tea (or rip open tea bags and add contents) to mix. Beat in egg until mix is creamy. Sift and fold in flours and powders. Final mix should be a soft paste still shiny from the butter. If the batter sticks to your hands when rolling, add a little more flour and reduce the butter next time. I’m sorry, it’s very hard to measure semi-melted butter accurately.

Roll batter into small balls and flatten onto a lined baking tray, leaving space for spread. Flatter cookies will be crispier, rounder ones will be softer: your choice. Bake at 160oC (crispier) to 180oC (softer) until your nose tells you they’re done (10-15 minutes, just turning golden, tops firm to the touch). Remove from oven, dust with icing sugar (add cinnamon for the chai cookies) and leave to cool.

Enjoy. xoxo

Current Location: Lima, Peru
Current Mood: drinking the cooking wine

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August 2nd, 2014

11:12 pm - Reserva Paisajistica Nor Yauyos Cochas
Rio Cañete

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July 21st, 2014

12:25 pm - Chrysalis
If metamorphosis is the physical change from one state of being to another, a change of body form, what word is there for the psychological variant, for a significant change in self-identity? This feeling, this itching on the inside; change in response to environment and circumstance. How many times will I shed my skin?

Darwinian: the organism that best survives is not the fastest or the strongest or the smartest, but the one that adapts best to change (and passes on its genome...). The world is in a great state of flux: an unprecedented era of global stability and prosperity is ending and all the markers are there things will soon look quite different, at least for those of us from countries that have grown fat and recalcitrant.

My world is changing: politics and economics alter my options and opportunities and doors close no matter how much I’d like to keep them open. My industry, my vocation is under ideological attack and the landscape is suddenly very different.

I am changing; consequence of placing myself in a new environment subject to different pressures and stressors. Peru changes me, sometimes in ways I like, sometimes not. I have to be harder here to survive. In the game of ecological response the inputs have changed and thus the organism must adapt within the bounds of its own plasticity.

Adaptation: the realization that I can’t go back anymore, that I need to find a new route home if I’m going to be on the front foot, if I want to ride the wave of change and not be swallowed up by it. Changing self-perceptions, expectations, fiscal realities and displacement: this is the price of choosing to fight, but I believe it will be worth it.

Worth it, yet still difficult, and with so much going on inside I find myself longing for an outer familiarity in which to cocoon myself. In this context Peru feel even more foreign, strange and incomprehensible and I resent the energy I need to expend to live as part of this environment. Meanwhile memory screens evocative scenes in my dreams and I wake with a heart heavy with hiraeth.

Like all things, this too shall pass.


Hiraeth: a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past (Welsh).
Sisu: a powerful psychological potential which enables the individual to tap into mental strength beyond their pre-conceived resources, roughly translated as “Strength of will, determination, perseverance and acting rationally in the face of adversity” (Finnish)

Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

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