Monday, December 18, 2017

C'est fini!

I've been radio silent for a while...apologies. I had this idea that maybe I should actually work a bit.

Turns out, that wasn't a horrible idea! 96669 words later, I have a doctoral thesis submitted to the Examinations Office and a viva this winter. :)

Rather than reading my thesis, I suggest everyone stick to the acknowledgements. They say pretty much everything the academic nonsense actually means:

I am and always will be
the optimist
the hoper of far-flung hopes
the dreamer of improbable dreams.                          -The Eleventh Doctor
This project is dedicated to all those who and all that which
draws hope close and makes dreams real.
To Elliot Stoller and Khaled Alshawi, who acted on an idea to bring change-makers together; Dari AlHuwail, who asked if I would come write about divers in Kuwait; Abdelkrim Boublouh, who told me I should check out a little Moroccan NGO; Yasmeen Makarem, who connected me with a woman named Vanessa; and the many amazing AMENDS Fellows, who unapologetically rock the boat:
May you keep healing our world.
To Matt Zierler, who pointed out that I was allowed to blend my environmental and Middle Eastern obsessions; Mark Axelrod, who skilfully guided that blending; Mark Zeitoun, who asked if I might volunteer at a conference; Alex Loftus, who lured me to King’s with Marxist water theory; and Naho Mirumachi, who encouraged as well as she critiqued and let go as often as she redirected:
May you never forget that what you do changes lives.
To the Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the King’s College London Graduate School, School of Social Sciences and Public Policy Postgraduate Research Fund, Theme 13 Grant Scheme, and Department of Geography Small Grants Fund, which financed portions of this work and its dissemination:
May you continue to support communities as they explore.
To the indigenous women and foreign visitors of Dar Si Hmad, who share together in true collaboration; the Kuwaiti schoolchildren and international divers of the Environmental Voluntary Foundation, who clean beaches they did not make dirty: and the Lebanese journalists and Syrian refugees of the Media Association for Peace, who see creative solutions even in the dark:
May you always see I in Thou and Thou in I.
To Iorwerth and Rafael, who delighted more than they distracted and taught more with their laughter and tears than any book ever will:
May the Earth be good to you, and you to it.
And most especially, to the fog droplets in the Anti-Atlas that mystify; the cedar trees in the Chouf that inspire; and the sea turtles in the Gulf that entrance:
May this do some justice to your voices.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

ClimateKeys at Syracuse London

A huge thanks to Syracuse student Caroline Colvin for capturing what I was up to last night so well! Check out the original post and her other great reflections on studying abroad in London:

By the time 5:30pm rolled around Tuesday night, the 40 people chatting in Syracuse University London’s auditorium were doing so comfortably. Thanks to Cashew Catering, they were getting cosy with lentil chilli, slicking hummus and tapenade and yoghurt on artisan bread, savouring slow-roasted veggie salad and gently devouring every delectable, chewy brownie in sight.

These SU London students, faculty, staff and friends were gathered for ClimateKeys: A Musical Conversation about Environmental Justice. Similar to SU London’s free speech symposium, the evening was filled with discussion. But as the name would suggest, the event was dissimilar in that art reigned supreme as our medium of expression.

The night was kicked off by Jason, who introduced us to ClimateKeys and performed a piece about the power of music.

Next, we heard from Lola Perrin, who is also the founder of ClimateKeys. As a pianist and environmental advocate, Perrin is working at the intersection of creative expression and activism.

Shows in the 2017 ClimateKeys concert series have taken place elsewhere in the U.K., as well as in Canada, the U.S., Germany, Serbia, France, New Zealand, Turkey, Wales, Bosnia + Herzegovina, and Wales.

We then heard from concert guitarist Michael Poll and Rebecca Farnum, who is an expert in environmental and social justice as well as the Middle East.

We then were given binders to help lead our discussion. The couches we were sitting on were clustered by subject. The topics were war and conflict, technology and ethics, conservative voices (as in political diversity, not conservation), the media, non-human animals, food and agricultural systems, race and space, and global citizenship.

Inside each binder was a big question in our field of study that would get our wheels turning. There was also a sheet asking us to use David Schlosberg’s “three dimensions” from which we can analyze environmental justice issues. The questions we should ask are:

  • those of distribution, as in “Who gets what?”
  • those of participation, as in “Who makes decisions?”
  • and those of recognition, as in “Who counts?”

There were also relevant news stories in each binder that highlighted the timeliness of each topic.

After our discussion as groups, Terrin, Rebecca, Maggie, Iain and Francesco performed an experimental piece about the death of coral reefs. The experience was achieved through a trombone, a trumpet, a bass guitar, a violin and ocean sounds.

Afterward, each group got to speak their piece and answer their question. It was refreshing and yet, unsurprising, how passionate and well-informed my peers are when it comes to climate change issues. Being a social justice-inclined bunch as it is, I shouldn’t expect anything less.

When it came time for the media group to speak, Andre performed a piece about the malleability of the “truth” when it comes to climate change. Likewise, when we arrived at the global citizenship group, I got to perform my own piece. It is about navigating life as a consumer in a developed, “first world” nation with enough money to have a disposable income, but not enough to afford ethically made clothes.

As someone who loves fashion, only has so much money at this time and wants to ensure that marginalized peoples aren’t further marginalized, I have a lot of guilt about my shopping habits. Next to being elated to have an outlet where I could express this sentiment, I was so grateful I got invited to perform tonight.

As a whole, I am glad events like those apart of Perrin’s ClimateKeys exists. Words are great, obviously, but there is something so magical about music and words repurposed into lyrics (as spoken word is more akin to).

On a personal note, it’s been a minute since I wrote poetry. Rediscovering that side of myself lately was nice.

It was also my first time performing original work in front of an audience. It felt so good to share, which is strange. After suffering from intense anxiety for most of my life, the thing I was most afraid of now feels good.

Helping spark discussion and lay the foundation for civic engagement among my peers tonight made me feel like I was making a tangible difference in the world. Know that if ever there arises another opportunity for me to give back and provoke people intellectually like ClimateKeys provided, best believe I’ll sign up.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Fog Visit

Radio silence = Becca's been abroad!

I headed to Morocco yet again to visit research partner Dar Si Hmad. While I've seen most of the team, this has actually been on US and UK soil...I've hosted various staff members and volunteers for conferences and research projects abroad, but I hadn't actually been in Morocco myself in a year.

It was my first visit since the new form of fog nets were installed in the mountains. They are oddly beautiful, given that they're hunks of metal and mesh. I got rather excited about them, it must be admitted, and there are the visuals to prove it:

I took one of last year's UEA water security students, a Fulbright Scholar who had heard one of Dar Si Hmad's Environmental Youth Ambassadors speak about the fog project during a seminar in April. It was very cool to be able to make that exchange two-way and show Matt the project after so many months of talking about it. Of course the team welcomed us very warmly...with cous cous in the office our first day.

We also escaped to the beach of Sidi Ifni, the montane oasis near Agadir, and the market square of Marrakech for a bit of sightseeing and reconnecting with old friends. A very grand way to mark the autumn, indeed.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Sussex for TBC Graduation

Rafael and I woke up very early this morning to head to the University of Sussex. My pupils from Calverton Primary School, who worked with me to understand the engineering design process last term, were graduating from The Brilliant Club's Scholars Programme.

I honestly have more photographic evidence of our train ride than the day itself. Rafael LOVES trains (see grin below), and I was running around after him, joining my pupils on a school tour, and speaking during the certificate ceremony rather than staffing the camera. But a very grand day was had by all!

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Boys are Back in Town

I am a Becca with her boys.

After a month of holiday, Rafael is back in London. We had a joyful reunion this week, which in the first ten minutes included a song-and-dance routine to "Good Mornin'" from Singing in the Rain; quite fitting, given this week's weather. He seemed to like it!

Also this week came a Bram. Middle son of the Dutches - my parents' best friends and origin of my name. Becky and Ken lived in Cambridge for a year while she was a Churchill Scholar, just a couple years ago. Now Bram is doing his master's in computer science there, which means I get to continue torturing him as I have since he was a child.

Naturally, I decided that Bram and Rafael should meet. We went on a boat. Rafael was rather amused by the very tall man who wasn't quite sure how best to hold him. They must have got on, though, because Rafael offered Bram some of his banana, and then slept in his arms in a Greenwich pub.

And so a new academic year starts, with my boys in easy reach. :)

Friday, September 22, 2017

New Course! 'Catching the Clouds'

This term is an exciting one - I am teaching a brand new course with The Brilliant Club! It's based on Dar Si Hmad's fog-harvesting project, and I'm really excited to work with a cohort of A-level London students to test out the curriculum.

Catching the Clouds: Water Security and Sustainable Engineering is an interdisciplinary STEM course furthering students' knowledge of meteorology, chemistry, and physics. Using the world's largest fog-harvesting system as a case study, participants will examine the role of engineering in sustainable development. Students will explore the science behind fog formation, solar power, and renewable energies. Design thinking will be used to guide students in considering how we develop and implement sustainable technologies that can improve quality of life, especially for marginalised communities. The course will build pupils’ specific knowledge of Morocco's hydrology and the CloudFisher system while encouraging them to consider applied engineering and sustainable development more broadly.
During their final project, students will critically analyse an existing community intervention and suggest improvements for future work (which might include questions of efficacy, scalability, or sustainability). Pupils will reflect and expand on a case study chosen by them, and may elect to focus their examination on any region, problem, and disciplinary angle they desire. In this way, participants can apply their learning throughout the course to personalised academic interests. The assignment is structured to allow for maximum flexibility while emphasising analytical abilities and an understanding of the broader implications of chosen case studies, thus giving students a taste of the evaluation processes expected at university.
Participation in the course will build students’ capacities for applied engineering and awareness of sustainable development, empowering them to consider how their interest in science can be used to address social issues.

More to come about the programme, I am this space! (And in the meantime, please send good vibes as I attempt to teach engineering - HA!)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Hello again!

It's been an age since I updated this blog; apologies.

I was essentially in a cave for all of August, working to get my PhD thesis drafted.

September then started off with quite a bang.

So, updates!

1. My thesis is mostly complete. Its data chapters are now sitting with my research partners in Kuwait, Lebanon, and Morocco. As part of my participatory approach to research, they all have a chance to read and make edits on it before it is final. It has been an honour to share this journey with them, and I had a very emotional time writing up their stories and analysing what they have to teach us about environmental peacebuilding!

2. I have started a new job at Syracuse University's study abroad centre in London. I'm working in their office as a learning support officer and also teaching on a number of environmental justice and politics issues. In January, I'll be leading a study abroad seminar with them in the Scandinavian countries exploring equity and sustainability in Europe and teaching ethnographic methods.

3. I was in Poland this weekend, celebrating the wedding of very dear friends. The groom was an American Jew and the bride a Polish Catholic. They blended their various traditions very beautifully, and it was joyous to celebrate with them. It was also exhausting...when I left at 4:30am on Monday to catch my flight, I was leaving an active party!

4. I went from Poland to Manchester, where I spoke at a peacebuilding conference. We had a great environmental panel. I had the chance to finally meet in person some folks I knew well by reputation as well as connecting with some other great folks. Again, exhausting to go straight from wedding to intensive conference, but very well worth it.

5. And now I'm settling back into London, as are the new Marshall Scholars! I met them at Leicester Square for dinner last night and am more officially welcoming them at the Foreign Commonwealth Office this evening.

A very grand start to the autumn, indeed.