Sunday, 25 August 2013

The Day I Silenced The Bacon Sandwich

Hey, people of the world...
I tell you, right at this moment I can barely type. Not because I'm trembling with the sheer excitement of telling this story, but because I can genuinely barely remember how to. Spend a month away from technology and you'd be surprised at how alien it seems once you finally reunite yourself with your ball-and-chain (known colloquially as a computer, laptop, or anything with a WiFi connection).
"A month away from technology? Where were you, halfway up a mountain in the middle of nowhere, or something?" you snap sarcastically.
Oh... well actually, yes.

I've just got back from spending a month in the Indian Himalayas!
I'll cut my usual crap and tell you seriously - it was the most incredible experience of my life, and Ladakh, the region of India in which I was mostly based, is the best place in the world! And why am I telling you this? Well, to tell you the truth, it's because I got a job at a Ladakhi travel agency and am trying to push trips to Ladakh to any potential tourists out there. I get a commission from each booking, and the money's really not that bad. So, now you know. 

Let us begin:
The plane journey was a nightmare. 
Don't get me wrong, we experienced no real turbulence, and might I say that the cabin crew of Jet Airways India were very hospitable. But there was something else for me - the bane of my life:
The voice of a bacon sandwich in my ear, berating me furiously, for the entire duration of the flight.

"Don't you know air travel's one of the biggest man-made contributors to greenhouse gas emissions?" it screamed, enraged. "Have you learned NOTHING from me?"
"I thought that was cattle farming." I said tiredly. It was the middle of the night, and sleep had become a distant memory. "I'm going to India, I won't be able to eat beef even if I wanted to. I thought that'd make you happy."
It dimly occurred to me that the bacon sandwich would never be happy.
"NO!" it snapped. "Air travel's worse. Now, eject yourself from this plane immediately."
"But - but ... DO YOU WANT ME TO DIE?!" I cried in horror.
"Well, it would mean you'd emit less carbon dioxide..." it considered thoughtfully.

 ... Oh, well hello first - (and possibly last) - time readers of my blog! Please don't be too afraid of my strange, delusional rambling. This paragraph requires you to have read my
previous blog post to be able to vaguely understand it. Here's a clue: the bacon sandwich is a metaphor for my environmental conscience...

In plain English: air travel pollutes. Don't do it unless you have to. 

"Yeah, but, did you really have to go to India? Like, really? Was, like, someone going to die if you didn't go?" I can hear you inquire sarcastically, but I am interrupting your pathetic quibble, as I've heard enough of that kind of thing from the sandwich. I don't need you on my case too. 


"Maybe you should start telling people about the environmental side of your trip." the bacon sandwich says gently. "Because really, darling, you're just spewing bullshit."
Ugh. You know, people just don't realise how hard it is to be inside my head sometimes.
... No, no, please put the phone down! I don't need medical help!

Anyway, so. My job at the travel agency aside, one of the greatest pleasures I experienced on the trip was working for an NGO (non-governmental organisation) for the first time - in this case, the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust! I can hyperlink it if you want to learn more - - but if you don't then you have my word that it is a very worthwhile charity. Additionally, the name is quite self-explanatory.
We undertook our work with a small village community in the Ladakh area of the Himalayas, which is home to a (relatively speaking) large population of snow leopards. Well, it isn't really large at all - there's only an estimated 4,000 - 7,000 snow leopards in the world, let alone India. One of the main causes for the snow leopard's decline is human conflict. Snow leopards prey on rural farmers' livestock, and being subsistence farmers with other livelihood except their animals, they often kill any snow leopards they see to protect their sole source of income. It's a sad but true story being written all over the Himalayas.

Our project aimed to try and ensure the villagers have more than just their livestock to rely on - and that the crops and livestock they do have are protected. This was in the hope that people would stop seeing snow leopards as a threat - hopefully reducing snow leopard killings. Our eleven-strong team from far, far away (plus two members of the SLC-IT who needed to help us probably more often than they would have liked) set about building a fence for local farmers to protect their crops from predators. I have to admit, watching certain people in my group pick up a pickaxe and attempt to use it for the first time was highly amusing - if faintly alarming - but in general, I found the fence-building part of the project really enjoyable.

We also set about revamping the village's parachute cafe - a roadside tea tent run by the local women's group. The cafe met all the requirements a cafe should meet - but it lacked customers. Direly. It was down to the eleven of us, many with questionable artistic talent, to try and change this - with the help of four cans of paint. Results were mixed. I consider myself a particularly crap painter (as do the rest of the world), but some of the signs our group painted on rocks to attract trekkers' attention were exceptional. I mean, a fox shat on one of the best ones the very next day, but hey. It was still legible, and the cafe has since reported record profits - which makes me feel about as rewarded as I've ever felt. 

Yet through all the hilarity, I was reminded that as fun as building fences in the sweltering heat may be (in fact, it was vaguely reminiscent of a labour camp, and I fell victim to a particularly severe case of sunstroke, but that's what it's all about, isn't it?) there was actually a serious issue at the heart of it all.
To cut a long story short (something I've never actually managed to do), this one evening I was talking to the director of the SLC-IT at our campsite.  I was asking him questions about the charity's work so rapidly I don't think I gave him a chance to breathe, and they were all ridiculously over-complex, but eventually I cut the crap and asked him something simple:
"Do you think that without your charity, the snow leopards would go extinct?"
His response was... "Yes."
Well, that was bit of an anticlimax.

So, folks, you see where I'm coming from. It's all about the charities and NGOs.

...But it is also about you.

Because, when I asked about the leading causes of snow leopard decline, he gave me two reasons.
One was human conflict, and I will give you precisely one guess as to what the other factor was - because you sure as hell knew this would spring up at some point.
Yeah. That was not very surprising.
And what I am about to tell you now should also not be a surprise. Because this news has stopped being surprising. It has stopped being surprising when, every year on the news, we're informed of record Arctic ice melts. It has stopped being surprising when we hear of countless floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters caused by rising temperatures. And it has stopped being surprising when climate change comes up time and time again as the story behind species extinction.
It has stopped being surprising because the only thing that's changing about the world is its climate. Not people's lifestyles.

(ok I am generalising, but give me this).

I am telling you now: go over to the mirror. Look at the person in front of you, and sing these words:
"I'm gonna make a change, for once in my life. It's gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference, gonna make it right... I'm starting with the man in the mirror! I'm asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer, if you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change!"
I admit, if you are female, you may need to change the pronouns.
I agree with the philosophy of leading by example, so I went ahead and did just that. I also sang various other Michael Jackson songs and quite a lot of Elvis. But what is important is that I then followed through, and I made that change - and I have now been vegetarian for six full weeks!
And since then, believe me. I have not heard a peep out of that bacon sandwich since.

Arrivederci, folks!
- SavingTheWorldFromMyKitchen

PS - In case you are interested, India in general was flipping amazing. I miss it so much! I met people and saw places that will inspire me forever. 

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