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Need and Greed

5 Jul

The line between need and greed is often very thin and difficult to distinguish.  It may be somewhat obvious for the average Australian when considering a sizeable purchase.  Do I need a new phone or new car?  Or can I survive with my current one?  Taking this many steps further, you could ask the “Do I need?” question on every single one of your daily decisions, big or small.  If you took this to the extreme, you may end up living in a cave eating berries.

Let me attack this from another angle.  I discussed in the previous article about the theft of the video camera, and whether this was driven by need or greed.  I have also wondered about this from other observations.  Metal security grills on houses in remote villages in the middle of the Pacific or in Africa seem a little unnecessary.  Surely crime doesn’t exist in such remote locations.  But I can guarantee these people wouldn’t have spent the money on security grills if it wasn’t necessary.

Another example shocked me when I was travelling through Kenya.  Travel in Kenya on buses means lots of stops, and whenever you stop, there is no shortage of people trying to sell you something through the window.  This is great, as it ensures you are never hungry on a bus, as it is mostly food being sold.  However, I was in a minibus one time and the driver slowed down enough to buy some oranges.  By slow down, I mean he didn’t stop, he kept driving at a slow pace so the women selling the oranges had to run along beside the car to make the sale through the window.  Just as the money was changing hands another woman barges in trying to out-sell the other lady, nearly resulting in both ladies tripping themselves up and tumbling along the edge of the road.  With a bit of jostling the first women kept her feet and completed the sale.  This was some intense competition between the two women (who probably live in the same village) and I wonder whether it was need or greed.  The need maybe between dinner and no dinner for her family or it may have been some meat for dinner versus another night of beans and rice.  The difference between need and greed is far too hard for me to tell and not for me to judge, regardless.

My current conclusion is the difference between need and greed is a personal decision and can be only judged by the individual.  This type of moral decision is ingrained in you from your upbringing. You alone are responsible for deciding what you need and what is greed.

Puma fact:

5) Pumas are just like all other cats, they like nothing better than having a snooze in a sunny spot.  It may last 15 minutes or it may take an hour.  Either way you need to be ready to go when he is.

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Sour Taste

14 Jun

So you’re volunteering away, everything is going well and you are having the time of your life.  But as more time passes and you look a bit harder, the rosie hue through the volunteer’s glasses begins to change.  It’s a typical come down.  You are all hyped to be in a foreign country and doing something new and exciting, but gradually this wears off and with more time, comes more opportunity for things to go wrong.

An event I sometimes wonder about, didn’t effect me directly but definitely effected my experience.  Two other volunteers were making a documentary about volunteering in South America.  Their main piece of equipment was a video camera and they had been making there way across the continent for the last 6 months, volunteering at various places along the way.  They were pretty discreet with their filming, mostly just about the volunteers and animals whilst they are out in jungle of the park.

We lived in a share house near the park, with about 4 bedrooms and 2 people per bedroom.  There was a lock on the front door, but we were kind of out of town, and it’s a share-house, and whilst you always mention security, no-one is ever sure who is the last to go to bed, so sometimes it doesn’t get locked.  Some people had locks on their doors as well, but these two guys didn’t.  They did however chain the video camera to their bed with a sizeable metal wire and padlock.  We awoke one night to the shouts of “Wake up! Check your stuff! We’ve been robbed!”.

Someone had come in during the middle of the night, gone straight to there room whilst they were sleeping, cut the wire and made a get-away.  No-one knows if the front door was locked or not.  But nothing else in the house was missing.

This was, needless to say, pretty upsetting for the two guys.  They had lost there purpose for the trip and all the material they had filmed in the park (they had backed-up there earlier material). Here were two guys set upon highlighting the benefits of volunteering, and someone stole their tool to spread the message.

The called the police which were about as helpful as you would expect of the Bolivian police.  The two guys searched the local town, scouring through shops and market stalls, looking for their camera.  They even considered going to the bigger towns nearby where there might be more of a market for it.  The never found it.

The obvious finger points to someone in the park, either another volunteer or a local who helped out around the place.  Thus, the few bad apples leave a sour taste in everyone’s mouth.  The volunteer community is small and word passes fast.

This definitely affected them, questioning what they were doing here, and it also affected me.  Was our work appreciated?  How are we viewed by the locals?  Are we this mysterious white beast from Hollywood or some music video?   Or is this just a few bad apples?

What I want to know is, was it need or greed that drove the thief?

Puma Facts:

4)  One single puma will normally have a territory of at least 1 square kilometre.  We had 8 pumas in a park less than 1 sq km.

Why not?

14 May

Why should I go?

As always there are lots of reasons.  Time to spare and a quest for the unknown are the main culprits.  I was travelling through South America for about 6 months (Buenos Aires to Lima overland) and knew I probably should volunteer somewhere along the line.  After bumping from hostel to hostel for a couple of months and one too many long bus rides, I was ready to stay a while and get a better understanding of what it’s like living in South America.  I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan, and you won’t see me waving banners at a PETA protest, but I like animals, so volunteering at an animal refuge sounded like a good idea.  Staying still for 2 weeks in the same room, no bus rides, practising my Spanish and meeting some other volunteers, all helped to make the decision a no brainer.  Sure, let’s see what happens.

Why am I here?

I turned up expecting to stay 2 weeks and spending most of it cleaning cages, however when I said I could stay for up to a month, they offered me the chance to look after Sonko, a 4 year old jungle puma.  I had no idea what I was in for.  I didn’t even know what colour a puma was.  But after a few nervous days you get use to the idea and become comfortable in your task.  I was amazed by this wild yet somewhat tamed animal, and being so close to it.  You become attached to him as he responds to your calls in the morning as you approach his cage.  Even a purr when he offers the chance for a pat (nothing quite like a big cat purr).

You also become attached to the place.  To the other volunteers you meet and the stories they have.  Whether it’s battle stories from the day’s activities or how they ended up on the edge of the Amazonian jungle.  Practicing your bad Spanish on the local volunteers and a chance to meet people from all over the world.  You also get to know the small little Bolivian town.  Where to buy the best fried chicken and what store sells what.

Why did I do that?

I guess I really didn’t put too much thought into why I went there.  I didn’t expect to make a difference.  I was in a flexible situation and an opportunity arose.  I certainly didn’t expect to get attached to an animal or to the people I would meet.  I didn’t think that far ahead.  Of course, when you leave, life seems to have lost some shine and you think you should just go back.  But of course, with more time comes more questions.  The hard ones: Do these people know what they are doing? What happens to this money being raised? What does the future hold for this organisation and these animals?

Puma Facts:

1)  Pumas like to walk on flat ground, but run up and down hills.  This makes for some interesting situations in the jungle when the path is dotted with unstable rocks and roots, even more fun in the wet.  If you are too slow and pull on the lead, the first thing he sees when he turns around is you and you may get jumped.

2) Getting jumped happens.  Getting jumped refers to your puma jumping on you.  Like a bear hug, perhaps with some teeth too.  The jump varies in height from the knees to the head.  This is why we work in twos.

3) Sonko’s favourite treats were chicken feet and raw eggs.

Attached to a puma

7 Apr

A question most volunteers will ask themselves at some stage while they are volunteering is ‘How did I get here?’.  I still ask myself this question when I look at this photo.

I was travelling through South America and looking for a volunteering opportunity that was slightly different from teaching English or working at an orphanage.  I found a note on a noticeboard at a hostel in Mendoza, Argentina, for an animal refuge and I followed it to Villa Tunari, Bolivia, on the edge of the Amazon Basin jungle.  I found what I was looking for.

The organisation is called Inti Wara Yassi, a small animal refuge that rescues animals from the black market and private collections, and tries to give them some sort of life.  It takes in anything including lots of types of monkeys (capuchin, spider, howler, night), cats (puma, ocelot, jaguar), birds and small mammals.  I worked with another volunteer and we were responsible for looking after a puma.  We let it out of the cage in the morning, took it for walks during the day, feed it, and then put him back in his cage for the night.  Our training consisted of a couple of days from the previous volunteers.

So I often asked myself how I ended up here, in the middle of the jungle in Bolivia, taking a puma for a walk on a lead?  The obvious answer is it is South America, a land of possibilities.  A land not tied down by restraints such a Health & Safety regulations and equally no public animal welfare organisation to help the animals, so it is up to grass roots organisations to try their best.  Whether they are having a positive effect on the animal’s welfare is a whole other question that I may tackle later.  The only employees of the organisation are the refuge’s manager and a couple of vets.  A few locals volunteer but the rest are foreigners.

Other answers to the ‘How?’ question lead into the ‘Why am I here?’.  ‘How?’ is easy.  It’s a bit more practical.  Let’s leave it there for now and delve into ‘Why?’ later.

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