Xiao: Good morning. Hello everyone. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening. My name is Xiao and I will be your host for our weekly global Awakin Call today. Welcome and thank you for joining us. The purpose of these calls is really to share stories and to tell stories, stories that help plant seeds for a more compassionate society while fostering our own inner transformation. We do this by holding collective conversations with guest speakers from all walks of life who inspire through their actions to live in a more service-oriented way and behind each of these calls is an entire team of Service Space volunteers whose invisible work allows us to hold this space. Today our special guest speaker is Jane Baldwin someone who really embodies today's theme of stories from women in displaced natural communities. Thanks again for joining today's call. Let's start with a minute of silence to anchor ourselves. (Minute of Silence)
Xiao: Welcome again to our weekly Awakin Call. Today we are in conversation with Jane Baldwin. Here's how the call works. In a few minutes our moderator Anne Veh will engage in a deep dialog with our speaker Jane Baldwin, and by the top of the hour, we'll roll into Q&A and a circle of sharing. We invite all your reflections and questions. I've opened up the queue right now, so at any time you can hit *6 on your phone and you'll be prompted when it's your turn to speak. You can also email us: Ask@ServiceSpace.org. This week's theme as I shared earlier is stories from women in displaced natural communities. Our guest is a photographer who has chronicled women in displaced communities. Her artistic process as she describes started without an objective or intention and through curiosity the project became an act of discovery. Can you recall the (creative) the project you have done yourself has become an act of discovery without specific intention? Our guest will also preserve through the stories of women and the culture bridging actions in a modern world at a time that begs all of us to pause and to reflect. At what cost do we seek process? How do we heal each other and the planet Earth? Since we have the pleasure of a remarkable moderator, Anne, today, I thought we could start by asking her to kick off our circle. Anne is an artist, art curator, mother, wife, a seeker and a force of love. With Anne all small things become sacred. All mundane moments in life become magical. You can find out more about her journey in our recently-archived Awakin Call. Anne, thank you for joining us. Do you have any thoughts about today's conversation?
Anne: Yes. Thank you so much Xiao. Such a beautiful introduction. It's just a joy to be on the call and a great gift to be in conversation with Jane as well. When your key question about a project that kind of evolved naturally and this process you elude to, I think about my time spent at a wildlife sanctuary down in Half Moon Bay and how I was just drawn to be on the land and to be with the animals and the people there who really hold a vision of healing -- not only healing each other or healing ourselves but wild animals and the land itself and how just visiting the land over time opened up this beautiful opportunity to get to know the founder and to share stories and now to create a film about the sanctuary with a dear friend Rajeesh. It's just amazing how you just never know where life will lead you. To me it's that sense of just listening and knowing there's something more and just keep listening and your life will take you on that path. Jane so beautifully will share this morning how her path has been one of deep listening.
Xiao. That's wonderful Anne. Now I'm going to pass the mic to you to take us on the journey with Jane today.
Anne. Well thank you. Spending time with Jane is very special. She has a beauty and a presence that invites deep listening. I know Jane as an artist, a mother, a colleague and a friend. Our friendship, both professional and personal, has deepened over the past four years. I've known Jane and her stunning photography for many years. I've learned so much from Jane. One lifelong learning is her honoring and reverence for relationships, She doesn't step into anything fully until the time is right in an intuitive way into a deep act of listening. I was reflecting on my own life. I experienced a sense of this when I was studying in France in my early 20's. After living in Paris on my own for three years, I experienced this total embrace of the French people. It was almost as if they were saying, "Okay. You're here. You're not just visiting. I will invite you into my heart and family." This is the way of noble friendship and this is the spirit and the way Jane lives. The overview of Jane's work presented on the Awakin page is very complete, so we'll not go into great detail of Jane's travels to the Omo other than to share that this immersive experience of spending time with the women and families at the Omo River valley and southwestern Ethiopia and Lake Turkana in Kenya over the past ten years has profoundly changed Jane in the sense that her experiences continue to inform and open her to new possibilities of how to share this lifelong work in the world. On a recent trip to the Omo, Jerry, her husband, her companion on many of these trips to Ethiopia, described his impressions of Jane in the beautiful quote by Claude Levi Strausse that reads, "I am the place in which something has occurred." I'll just repeat that and just allow the words to really rest in your soul: "I am the place in which something has occurred." So attuning to the rhythm of the Omo, a sensibility beyond a Western sense of linear time, Jane found herself quietly sitting with the women. listening and observing while present. The women of the Kara, the Dassanech, the Hamar, Nyangatom, the Kwegu, the Mursi and the Turkana were often surprised and often would question Jane: "Why do you want to talk to us? Nobody does." The trust that developed over ten years allowed Jane to engage in deep relationships with the women. The spoke openly about arranged marriage, of women's right to education, mourning, coming of age and community rituals, and the roles and duties of being a first wife, a second wife, a mother and an elder in a patriarchal culture. These experiences allowed Jane to record and document a culturally complex and interdependent way of life currently on the threat of extinction. So before we begin our conversation, I just wanted to share a visual picture of Jane's early life. She was raised in Seattle and fondly recalls spending summers at their summer home on an island off Seattle where she and her siblings roamed wild and her days followed the tide charts. The sense of adventure and freedom filled her spirit as she recalls running through the woods to meet at the famed Leopard's Limb. She is a twin with her sister Joan, and they were born to older parents who always referred to the two of them as "the twins." Both girls experienced the pain of not having a voice and a sense of identity. The importance of having a voice and, as Jane wrote on her bucket list, to "give voice to the voiceless" has become one of her greatest gifts. Her empathy and understanding of humanity is quite extraordinary. Storytelling is a way of honoring our past, our ancestors and our humanity. I wanted to begin this morning by asking Jane to share a story, a story about Crocodile Man, an elder in the Kara tribe who talks to crocodiles and has a relationship with crocodiles. This story is also the story Jane alluded to in her sharing about an act of kindness that she'll never forget. So good morning Jane, and thank you so much for joining us today.
Jane: Well good morning Anne and good morning to everyone who's participating in this call. I'm delighted to be here. So Anne, would you like me to relate the act of kindness before I go into Crocodile Man's story?
Anne: Yes. I would love for you to give a picture of what you experienced on the riverbank -- that act of kindness -- because I feel like this story captures kind of the essence of the Omo. Then we can go into more detail. Yes. Thank you.
Jane: Okay. It was in approximately 2008 or 2009. We were headed over to the Omo riverbank to a particular spot where we knew Crocodile Man spoke to the crocodiles and where he also dug for crocodile eggs that he would barter with a neighboring tribe. The Kara do not eat crocodile eggs, but the neighboring tribe does. There were three of us. My husband and our guide and I were walking along the top of a bank, and I stopped to linger and look out at the river, and all of a sudden I realized I was alone, that Jerry and our guide had moved ahead and gone around the bend, and I had a moment of primal fear. I've always been comfortable being in the Omo River but I'm very aware of the dangers that are there. Crocodiles are everywhere along the bank just underneath the water, so I stood, and I had this moment of just fear because I didn't want to move forward. I felt I needed to stay put, to not attract any attention to myself. All of a sudden, this young girl appeared. She came out of the underbrush and she was approximately 8- or 9-years old and took my hand and led me down to the area where my husband and guide and where Crocodile Man was located, and the fact that she appeared when she did -- and I had never met her before but I was able to spend time with her that afternoon and was able to photograph her. I didn't have the opportunity to get her story or to interview her, but it was really a very powerful moment for me feeling that, in a sense, she really rescued me from my wild imagination of standing there all alone and being able to see a crocodile floating and looking towards the banks out in the river. So that was my story about an act of kindness. And then I'll move into Crocodile Man...
Anne: I just wanted to share that the essence of that story is so beautiful on so many levels and also it speaks to your own listening, of being up on the riverbank and being able to visually see the crocodile but knowing not to move, knowing to just stay there and then it's almost like this child just appears and holds your hand and you allowed that. You allowed her to come and take your hand and there's this trust, the sense of being on the land. I want you to also share a little bit about your childhood because there's something about your comfort of being in a place that's wild, a place that you're listening on different levels, and that's something that is so beautiful about getting to know you and how you listen and the way you listen.
Jane: Well thank you. As a child, my family had a summer house on an island off of Seattle, and as soon as school was out and pack up the car and our cat, my Siamese cat, knew when it was time to go to the, beach and she would jump in the car and was always in there before we climbed in. This was a time when we had an old cottage right on the beach and there was a boardwalk going along the front. It was surrounded with lots of woods and small berry farms and peach farms and the wild tree cherry tree here and there. My sister and I were really wild children in a sense that, because we were basically the same age there was always someone there, always someone to take off and explore, and we were always exploring, prowling through the woods. The tide chart was really important to us because we knew that high tides and the lowest tide of the season just brought so much exploration and magic from looking for Dungeness crabs to digging gooey ducks, found objects. We had our small rowboat and we'd go fishing and we'd be catching frogs. We were incredibly -- as I think back on it -- we were fearless in many ways and curious and adventurous but we were very comfortable just out exploring. As I think back to those years and think about my comfort in being in Africa in general and specifically the Omo River, I... When I first arrived in the Omo, it felt familiar and it was very difficult for me to understand. It's incredibly sensory. It's about the sense of smell, the sense of touch…
Anne: Jane, can you share a little bit about what the smells were like, because when you talk about it, there's such a visceral connection.
Jane: Right. There was one trip, actually it was my first trip, when we landed on a bush airstrip on this -- if you didn't know the airstrip was there, if you needed to find a landing point, you'd never see the airstrip because it was just so minimal and tiny, but of course the pilot knew. When we landed, the door to the airplane opened and there was this sweet scent to the air, something about the smell that was just really really potent for me, and I felt this immediate connection which is hard to put into words. What I have said to Anne is, at that moment and then getting out of the airplane, it felt familiar to me, and not being able to explain that other than it was incredibly comfortable for me to anticipate spending two weeks along the Omo getting to know the people. Then there is a time in the evening when I would be out in the boat. Most often we would travel by boat to go up to visit the different villages and, in the evening when the sun started to go down and the air cooled a little bit, there was a scent almost like tea rising up from the water. So there was this, by just the sense of smell you could in a way almost tell the time of day.
Anne. That reminds me. Can you share when you would meet with the women and you would communicate in a language beyond what we would call language, how to communicate, what time you would meet them for a conversation? Can you share how that evolved?
Jane: In different ways. I think there was a time when a woman I actually became quite close to, her name was Mutse, and she came into camp and took my hand and she had a small "ono" (which is a house) right along the river because she planted her sorghum and gourdes. During the growing season, that's where she lived. She took my hand and walked me down to her small ono so that I could have coffee with her. There was no communication. I didn't have an interpreter with me then, and I didn't feel the need to. It was just a connection through laughter, through smiles. She would show me the gourds that she had planted and would talk. We would have a conversation. She would speak in her language and I would say a few words in mine, and by pointing we just were able to have a conversation just based on the quiet intimate moments of sitting together along the river. Then other women would come and join us. There was one morning when the women began to sing, and this is when I first learned about the lullaby and the oral tradition of how they passed down their stories and the history of their ancestors through lullabies. That was the beginning of realizing that the cultural complexity was way beyond anything I could intuit or even know. When I first arrived in the Omo, I knew...I understood intuitively that I had to leave my Western sensibilities at home, that I couldn't bring any of my Western judgments that so often creep in when people visit areas like that, and I knew that if I was going to learn, I had to listen. Not listen and project what I thought I was hearing, but just listen. As time went on, I realized that these stories were their stories and I wanted to give them a voice and let them tell their own stories because the culture is too complex and it would have been...it would have been... I'm not exactly sure how to say this other than arrogant on my part to even assume I could tell their stories.
Anne: And maybe you can go a little bit more into the morning you were with Duka and Zilly.
Jane: That was on another trip actually where I was sitting with the women and there were probably five or six women and several younger women with young babies and Duka, her mother, started to sing and it's a call-and-response kind of singing where there's usually one woman who sets the tone and then the other voices come in. I noticed that Zilly had tears in her eyes and I thought, Is Zilly crying? And it was later that I learned when I talked with my guide that when mothers sing lullabies to their children, it evokes this deep emotion because they are being told about their ancestors, and the ancestors that they are being told about represent either being a good wife, a good mother and that they're layering these strengths and characteristics of their ancestors in this case Duka was layering those onto Zilly and Zilly felt this incredible pride and she was tearing. Anne: Zilly is a woman, so she's not like a young child either.
Jane: Zilly was probably 22 to 24. It's very hard to tell age because they don't know how old they are. So they associate age with the growing seasons of a particularly good harvest, so they'll go back to those memories. Zilly was the daughter of Duka whom I came to know quite well. In fact, sadly, this is a little off-subject Anne, but speaking of crocodiles, Duka's son when Il days before I'd arrived I think it was in 2012, Duka was so sad, incredibly sad, and I was told that several days before I arrived, her young son had been taken by a crocodile and he just was gone. So that was...oh. My heart went out.
Anne: Jane, as this -- what I want to also share too with everyone on the call is that your incredible empathy and understanding and sensitivity to each woman and their lives is so special. It's extraordinary that you can actually -- when you found your way to bringing your camera with you and photographing the women, what really touched me about your work is, in each photograph, you feel the presence of the woman and with Duka, you feel the sadness, you could see it in her eyes as if you are with the woman, and it's like time even goes away. To be able to share that in an image is extraordinary. It speaks to the trust and the relationship that you have, and it is quite extraordinary. I've never had that experience as I have with your work.
Jane: Well thank you. The whole tradition of lullabies is -- they're a culture without writing and so their history is transmitted through the oral traditions of storytelling, mostly through song, and many of the oral traditions stories are based on myth as a better way to understand and make sense of their world and universe. It's the oral traditions that keep their culture and family histories alive. This is where this element of storytelling is, I think, so important. Even cultures like ours with a rich history of literature, the written word, the element of storytelling often gets lost. I'm thinking of the times I would plead with my mother to tell me stories, tell me stories. It was difficult for her. In the cultures of the Omo, that's just a natural part of their culture. So when the lullabies were sung, each child would hear a song that was unique to its family and unique to the child and its namesake. So that was really extraordinary. I just couldn't get enough of listening to their stories, and they were so eager to talk because in patriarchal cultures, they rarely can voice their opinions. The fact that, initially, they would say, they'd ask my interpreter, "Why does she want to talk with me?" Then the intimacy and the trust developed, and they were so eager to talk. So I really listened. This whole element about the art of listening has intrigued me because it's not just about hearing. It's also about observation, it's about interpreting what you think you're hearing, it's about context -- where you are brings in the senses. I think that there's something about -- you know. information is information but learning, knowledge is really about listening, active listening without projecting your own point of view or biases. I was aware of that early on. It was just instinctive for me that, if I was going to learn, I needed to listen with an open heart and an open mind.
Anne: You were very blessed with a wonderful guide in Lale who you speak about in terms of, you know, the land that you say that, when you say "with the Kara" you know it was his ancestral land. So to have he as your guide but also so connected and that's just through ancestors to the lands is quite special. One image that I had that I've always held in my mind from many of your stories is that time when Lali -- he was a male interpreter -- when he wasn't with you and you had Kuna, a woman with you, and how with you and how when you were in an ono with the women how it would be a different experience just women to women and the giggles and the sharing and how special that was.
Jane: Yes. That is the one thing if I could have done anything differently or changed anything, I would have wanted to have a woman interpreter whose English was strong enough to really be able to get into the subtlety. There was a time when I was with Kuna and probably six or seven women, and we were sitting around, and the questions! The questions that they asked were coming right and left, and yet when my guide was interpreting for me, when Lale was interpreting for me, I would always end each interview with, "Do you have any questions for me?" and they, with the exception with one or two women, would always say, "No. I have no questions for you." And I knew that they did, which came out when I was with Kuna, sitting, talking. The one questions that they were really really curious about was they wanted to know what I wore to bed at night. How did I sleep? At first I thought, Hmm. So I answered the question and told them that I had this tee-shirt that I wore. I went through demonstrating. I'd pretend pulling off my clothes, and they all started to laugh. Tears -- one young woman -- tears were running down her cheeks because they said, "We could never do that. We could never do that." They are so modest, very very modest. Now, they're often bare-breasted. Sometimes they'll wear what I've referred to as a modesty panel, it looks kind of like an apron that they wear around their neck, but they never take off their leather skirts. Ever. When they give birth, those leather skirts are still on. So they're so, so modest and the fact that I would undress, as I explained to them, and go to bed was beyond anything that they could relate to. So there were personal questions along that line. Sadly, I didn't have that many opportunities to engage at that level with them, but I was really happy to have had that opportunity.
Anne: Now that you've mentioned Kuna, I would love for your to share about your relationship with Kuna and her family and how that developed over the ten years.
Jane: Yes. Kuna's a Hamar. The Hamar people do not live along the river. They live inland, closer to an area called the Buska, Buska Mountains which are to the east of the Omo River. Kuna -- well this experience -- a film could be made of her early life. I met her in camp in 2007 and the -- I don't know that I'm going to go into that level of it. I met her in 2007, and she at that point was in school and could speak a little bit of English, but Kuna along with all the women had a presence about them. They lived in this patriarchal culture, but they all had this sense of strength, dignity and presence. So Kuna knew a little bit of English and would come in and say, "Good morning, Jane. How are you?" She was really remarkable and then, over the years, as she continued in school, her English improved. So Kuna was always in camp with me when I was there, and then I would have her assist me in just engaging with the women. We would go up to the village and hang out and sit and she would attempt to explain, interpret some of my questions to the women, but there was always laughter, there was never any tension. There was always laughter, and I always felt incredibly accepted. Then Kuna's husband...oh Anne, I'm not sure...
Anne: Maybe we could go more into her mother and sisters and the compound that they lived in and maybe just speak to, of your experience of visiting her family and just your impressions.
Jane: Okay. So several times I would go with Kuna into her mother, Duka's compound. It took a couple of hours to get there. It was a long drive across the Omo valley. There were no roads and it took a long time to get there, and there were two occasions when I spent the night in these small little, they're called "fly tents," to just be with her mother and her two sisters Bona and Turme. Kuna's mother's husband, Kuna's father, went off to war, one of the many wars that was going on in Ethiopia, and he never returned, so her mother was widowed which traditionally in the Hamar culture, and this is the case with the Kara as well, that when you lose your husband and you're widowed, your husband's brother takes care of you. So Kuna referred to him (her uncle) as her father. He lived up in the Buska Mountains but would come down and visit Duka, Kuna's mother and her two sisters, and provide for them. Duka had such incredible pride in her compound. It was absolutely immaculate. She built the boma that went around her ono, her house and the area where she would bring in the goats for the evening. Sometimes there was a chicken coop, sometimes there wasn't and then there were four gates that entered into her compound, each one symbolic of a tradition within the Hamar culture. So she (Duka) had a very quiet way about her. Kuna was very open, gregarious, strong, very strong young woman and always spoke her mind. Kuna and her mother Duka were extremely close, so I felt over the years a closeness to Duka. She was somewhat shy, but in my last trip in 2012, I went to visit her. We drove to her compound, and Kuna's father had come down from the Buska Mountains to meet me. So it was really wonderful to be able to spend time with him. Then in 2014, Kuna and I were headed in to visit her mother. I was going to interview her, but there had been tremendous rain and by this time the ecosystem and ancestral land of the Kara had been completely bulldozed, over 10,000 hectares, to make room for a Turkish cotton agri-business that devastated their land and their entire ecosystem of that part the Omo River. So we were not able to get across all the mud that was just like red Crisco. We tried for 45 minutes to find a relatively dry area where we could get across that part of the valley that had been bulldozed and we weren't able to. So I relied on Kuna, then, to tell me the story of her mother. That was, I had a really special relationship, I feel, with Kuna's mother and her two sisters and especially with Kuna. Kuna married and now has a baby girl and a baby boy. Her baby girl was first-born and the Hamar term for a namesake is "mago." So she named her baby Jane, my mago, so this is my namesake, so that's really thrilling to have Jane and have been able to spend time with her.
Anne: Can you speak a little bit more to Kuna's role just as a woman, because she bridges kind of this modern and ancient culture so beautifully.
Jane: Well Kuna ... In Hamar culture and also Kara culture they say that girls within their tribe are guests because they're going to get married and move away from their families to the family of her husband, so Kuna's first husband was a Dutchman and (its' a) very complicated story. So she married outside of her tribe which meant when he was killed in a motorcycle accident in Nairobi, traditionally, as her mother's brother-in-law took care of her when her husband was killed or didn't come back, but Kuna had no one because she had married outside of her tribe. So I had become so close to her, and Jerry and I had a long conversation and so we stepped up and she was really in dire straights, so we stepped up and said, "We really want to help you." The word we used was, "We really want to sponsor you" which Kuna said, "I have to think about this." She's very very proud. So the next morning she came around in the dining tent and she said, "Yes, I accept your invitation." So Jerry and I continued to help her and sponsor her. She remarried, not a Hamar, outside of her tribe, and I don't think it's a good marriage, but it is but it is, and she had two beautiful children, but she is absolutely a survivor.
Anne: I'm actually holding a piece of jewelry that you gifted me Jane which is so dear. It's a beautiful bracelet that Kuna has beaded, and her bead work is just extraordinary.
Jane: Stunning. Stunning bead work. Art is so much a part of all the cultures, and she made the most beautiful bracelets for me, and it's actually a copy of one that she had worn and I think Anne it's visible in her portrait. She made one for me and gave it to me as a gift as well as many other bracelets and necklaces. We even sat together and I designed a ring that I wanted her to make. She made, I want to say in a half-hour, she made three of them, these simple beautiful made with tiny black beads, these really lovely rings. She's incredibly smart, talented, intuitive, thoughtful, quick to laugh, so I haven't heard from her for a little while and there's no way I can get a hold of her. Every once in a while, maybe every eight or nine months, she'll send an email -- very short, to the point. But I think about her all the time.
Anne: We don't have time to go into the complexity of what's happening environmentally in the area, but maybe you could just give us a picture of kind of what some of challenges are to these tribal communities that are living so harmoniously along the Omo and how their life is really changing so dramatically. You may have been -- it's hard to even say fortunate -- but to be able to have experienced it when you did. You know, now it's not possible.
Jane: Right. When I first had the opportunity to go, it was because I had the opportunity, I went. It was totally isolated. There was no road that actually went in to the Omo River. You really had to have a guide and know how to get in. And it was through the Dutchman who had set up this camp. There were probably not more than 20 or 30 people here for the short while, the first couple of years, who had the opportunity to go. I felt so privileged to spend time with these cultures who lived so self-sustainably within their ecosystem and how much a part of the ecosystem they were. Then, as I began to interview them, some of the women started to talk about their fears, about the survival of their people and their communities because of the Gibe III dam which was being built in the highlands upriver from where these tribal groups lived. So then there were land grabs where the Ethiopian... There is no privately-owned land in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Government has seized and leased thousands of hectares of Kara ancestral land to a Turkish agribusiness company to plant cotton all without compensation or consultation with the Kara or other indigenous communities of the Omo River Valley. Cotton is one of the most destructive of all the plants that you can farm. So what's happened is that when I was in in 2014, just 10,000 hectares just flattened. Nothing there. The Kara were wedged up against the river. The women seemed sicker. The babies seemed to have a lot more eye infections. And this is just based on my years of going in. There was a shift because that ecosystem had been so devastated and the Kara were such an integral part of that ecosystem that they were equally as affected because no longer could they go and forage for the seasonal nuts, seeds, the spinach sort-of leaf that they would collect, you know, medicines. They lost a large part of the forest where they would have their beehives for honey. I mean, the area was devastated, and I just had a conversation with a contact in the Omo River a month ago in that the (Gibe III) dam has come online and that the river in many places is no longer navigateable. It's affecting Lake Turkana which is the highest desert lake in the world because the Omo River feeds Lake Turkana. And you're looking at, depending on where you start to count, 200- to 300-, 400,000 people. Their culture and lifestyle is threatened. In a way it's catastrophic. It's absolutely catastrophic because these people have no voice. No one comes and talks to them. No one asks their opinion. They're not part of any decision making at all and for me what's been really important is the sense of giving voice to the voiceless and getting these women's stories out in the world because what's...
Anne: Jane could you -- I know we're going to open it up to a Q&A soon, but I wanted to end with how the Kara and the other indigenous communities speak to the land and call the river their mother and father and maybe you can even share the creation myth of the "trail of the bull" to give a perspective of...you know, they... You can't displace communities, it's just...
Jane: Well, "The Trail of the Bull" is a -- women never told me that story, it's always from men. So what I'll do is talk a little bit about maybe Gnegne who was the first woman to be elected to a position of authority. Even though their culture is patriarchal, they recognize a strong woman and if she has, as they say, "good ideas," they will ask her opinion, but one of the things that she talked about was, she'd say, "This river provides for us. It's like mother's milk for babies. It feeds us." That was said to me in one way or another over and over and over again. "If we lose our river, we will die. If the government is going to take our river, our water, then they should come and kill us..." because that's the only life that they knew. One of the sayings that they all had was, "If we don't see with our own eyes, we don't know for sure, but this is what we hear." So they would refer ...so that was the basis on which they would tell me their stories about what they had heard about the Gibe Dam. They would refer to the river as their mother and their father. It was a life-force to them. Without that river, they will die. The entire ecosystem will die. The crocodiles, the fish, the animals that rely on going down to the river at night for water, they will all disappear, and that's happening right now.
Xiao: Thank you, Jane, for all the wonderful stories and telling us the damage that human development has caused for the local community there. For the listeners online, if you have a question or comment, you can dial *6, or email us: "Ask@ServiceSpace.org" and we will have a final question with the moderator and then the Q&A question will be opened up.
Anne: Thank you Xiao. I wanted to ask you Jane if you could share a life-changing moment for our callers.
Jane: Yes, I can. This was very, very powerful for me. There was a time I landed on this little airstrip, and when I got out of the airplane, the air just smelled of honey and the entire valley was just filled with white blossoms, and the cattle were grazing with the blossoms rubbing their bellies and I had never ever seen the Omo River valley in full bloom like that. So I headed to camp, and was late, went to bed, got up the next morning and just before sunrise, I went out and sat next to my tent overlooking the Omo River, and I could hear the soft sound of the African honey bees leaving their hive and then the Fish Eagle and the Egyptian Ibis began to vocalize, and I want to say there were thousands, hundreds of thousands of white butterflies all over the white blossoms. The entire landscape was just in full flower and the air was so perfumed with the scent of honey. Then it was at that moment I was no longer Jane Baldwin but just a single entity in this pristine, beautifully-balanced ecosystem, and it was really a transcendent moment for me where I really understood at a visceral level what a balanced ecosystem meant and that I was just part of it. I wasn't separate from it. We think so often in the Western world we somehow feel we can dominate the natural world, but we're a part of it and we're just as vulnerable as the ecosystems that are being destroyed. That was a huge, huge moment for me. I felt transformed. I felt different after that.
Anne: Thank you Jane.
Xiao: Yes, thank you. Jane, I have a question. So when before you had such a vivid and a visceral experience with nature, do you have a regular practice that helps you attune to nature in your daily life?
Jane: Well, I live in the country, and I live in Sonoma Valley, so I'm surrounded with beautiful oak trees and we hear owls at night. So being in the natural world has always been important to me. I enjoy cities. I love being in cities visiting them, but for me, most important is to live my life in the country. So it's a very important part of my life.
Xiao: I know some coaching on listening to birds, so I wondered, do you have any tools for every one of us to practice, like just by listening to the birds, the trees, anything specific?
Jane: What I say is, sleep in a tent because when you're in a house there are sounds at night that we never hear unless you're really sleeping in a tent or under the stars because there's an ecosystem that you really wouldn't know by sleeping in your cozy, comfortable house.
Anne: Jane could you also maybe share the experience of over ten years you also recorded the sounds, the ambient sounds of the Omo and how those sounds changed over ten years.
Jane: Yes. I had my recorder and I would record the ambient sounds throughout the night. I would set a quiet alarm and would wake up at different times during the night to record. The ambient sounds would actually change between midnight and five o'clock you'd have completely different sounds. When I was back to the Omo River in 2014 with the devastation to that ecosystem, the Omo River valley, no longer did I hear the sounds of the Egyptian Ibis, and I didn't hear the crocodile mother in the middle of the night calling her young or the Fish Eagle vocalizing. The bees were gone. So that ecosystem -- ecosystems are so fragile. They're so fragile. That particular section of river where the farm had been put in was just, had been changed and transformed and totally gone.
Xiao: I remember there's an indigenous elder who once said, "I thank, therefore I am." I'm curious to know if the women along the Omo River have a special way of expressing their gratitude.
Jane: Yes. There's no (exact) word for "thank you" in the Kara culture. One day -- to specifically answer your question -- no, I don't know of a word, or a way. (“The word for appreciation, (thank you) is “baryo hanante ko’ime”. It was told to me that it’s not a direct translation of thank you, but implies appreciation, gratefulness and gratitude.” -Jane Baldwin, notes.) It was just a feeling that I would get of appreciation, but life is so difficult for these women that they're working all the time. I don't think that they have time to sit and reflect. They're working. They are the lifeline of their community. They do everything within their own ono and their homes. Men might help with harvesting some of the sorghum, but in general the women do everything. So no, there wasn't a way to express gratitude specifically the way we think of expressing gratitude. But I was given a quart of honey by one of the women's husbands who wanted to thank me for the time that I had spent with his wives because they appreciated my taking time and talking with them and gathering their stories. So that was the only time I had a sense of gratitude as we know it.
Xiao: I think that silence is more powerful. Silence says more.
Jane: The reaching out of the hand, touching someone's arm, which would happen. We were walking along together and Mutse or Kuna would often take my hand and we'd walk hand-in-hand, so you'd connect in different ways.
Xiao: Wow. There's an online comment from San Jose: "Jane, you speak so eloquently about natural systems and telling their stories. What have you noticed about generosity and a gift-economy within nature and indigenous ecosystems?"
Jane: Okay. Let's see. Hmm. I want to make sure I understand that question. Could you read that question again for me please?
Xiao: Yes. "What have you noticed about generosity and a gift-economy within nature and indigenous ecosystems?"
Jane: Well, if you manage, as the Kara and all the different different indigenous communities in the Turkana, if you manage an ecosystem, what provides for you, what provides for them, according to the seasons, the ecosystem will provide for you. I think it's a balance that each provides for the other and the balance is so, so, so critical. For example, the flood that would come down the Omo River to bring nutrients to fertilize what was called "flood-recession agricultural" along the edge of the riverbank where the Kara would plant their sorghum. Now that the dam has gone in, there is no flood. So, in two years, the nutrients will be gone from the riverbank, and so their sorghum will just wither and will no longer provide for them. I hope that answers the question.
Anne: Jane, absolutely, because there's an abundance, and nature will always provide when there's that beautiful balance that you speak to. I was hoping you could also maybe speak to how the women hold a seed bank and how they determine which seeds to plant each season.
Jane: They have a highly-sophisticated understanding of farming, of planting, and they even have a collection of seeds, a small seed bank. So depending on the year, the amount of the flood, they'll plant certain seeds and then, at the end of harvest, they'll always collect the seeds they feel are the strongest to plant again the following year. So they understand the height of the water, the best places to fish. So it's really -- they're remarkable. I think that self-sustainable farming is really what we all need to think about and that we all should probably have our own small garden in our back yards somewhere that can be self-sustainable in some way because right now I think in Western cultures we really depend on corporations for our food. That's getting a little off track. So they're completely self-sustaining, and their ability to farm is really, really remarkable.
Anne: And their sense of gratitude to honoring the river as the mother as the mother and father. We didn't have a chance at the beginning to go into Crocodile Man and his story, but maybe you can just say a few words about how he talks to the crocodiles, that beautiful relationship to the natural world and to the animal kingdom.
Jane: Yes. Well crocodiles are everywhere, and they are some of the largest -- they're Nile crocodiles -- and they are some of the largest in the world. They're enormous. You see them when you're in the boat basking in the sun. Crocodile Man would have -- this is the story that was told to me. He would gather, he would go to a special place on the river and perform a ritual of dipping a bundle of these special leaves and branches into the water and then, as he talked to the crocodiles, he would say (this is a quote): "This place is ours. Let my people come to this spot on the river for water. Let our cattle drink from this river. Let our children swim here." It was said that that Crocodile Man had a special relationship with these really ancient reptiles that was passed down to him by his father. I was told that, at this particular protected spot, no one had ever been killed or taken by a crocodile. So I know the crocodiles are opportunists, and when Duka's son was taken, I don't know where he was, but I would hear this all the time: "Oh yes. When you're in that part of the river, you are safe. You can go in there." Of course there was no way I was going to go into that river. Crocodiles are opportunists, and they're always observing. If they see someone going to the same spot every day, they'll just hide out under the bushes and several people have been taken. People would say, "You always go to a different spot on the river every day, not the spot that was blessed by Crocodile Man, but any time you were going to the river, you never went to the same place two to three times in a row. I spent quite a bit of time with Crocodile Man and was with him when he was digging the crocodile eggs which are so beautiful, and he died several years ago. So I had a couple of years when I was able to go by the riverbank where he was usually hanging out.
Anne: It would be interesting to know if his gifts were passed down to either...
Jane: I'm sure they've been passed down to, if not his son, then a nephew, someone, because the crocodiles are such a danger. They can be 14-, 15-feet long. They're just enormous, and they're quite beautiful.
Xiao: I'm always so amazed by the intimate way that the indigenous people have with nature, and it also reminds me of what Masanobu Fukuota wrote in the One-Straw Revolution, "The world exists in such a way that, if people will set aside their human will and be guided by nature instead, there is no reason to expect to starve." So it's such a respectful way towards nature. We do have a caller online that has a question. Shall I open that?
Nipun: Thank you. Hi this is Nipun. I'm calling from Berkeley. Jane, thank you for your work and for your stories. It's been inspiring to hear and the ways in which you bring life to a lot of this indigenous wisdom. I was wondering, my question relates to this conversation that a few of us recently had with an author named Gary Zukav. He wrote a book on science and spirituality, and it was titled The Dancing Wu Li Masters. When we asked him how he got that name, he mentioned this sort of conversation he had with people in Taiwan where they told him about "Wu Li" and "Wu Li" had so many different meanings and all of them sort of pointed to the beyond, pointed to something that was in this world but that was also a bridge to something beyond the field of mind and matter. I was wondering if you could share some thoughts on your experiences with indigenous cultures and how they related to the divine. Did they have words for it? Did they choose not... Like, you're were speaking about gratitude, earlier and saying that they don't even have a word for gratitude, that you just sort of felt it and you related to each other in that way. How did they relate to something that transcended sort of the mundane so to speak and pointed towards the sacred?
Jane: Well, all the different tribal groups have a god and the Kara's god they call Bario, and all the indigenous communities are animus who believe that all trees, animals, people have a life-force and energy with a personality and a soul greater than themselves, and they're incredibly intuitive and sensitive about people. They read people really, really well, and they want to get to know you before they really want to engage. So they have their god and, the Kara, after someone has died, they have a big ceremony. I was never part of any of those ceremonies, but I know that across the river there's an area called Lokulan and that is where they believe their ancestors reside. Lokulan is an area is an area, there's a small oasis there. My guide has told me stories about hearing voices when he's there. But they never talk about their -- once their ancestors are gone and buried, they never talk about them as opposed to when I was recently in the Okuvangu Delta, I asked my guide, "Do you have a god? How do you reach your god?" And he said, "Oh yes. We have a god." And he said, "But we access our god by talking to our ancestors." And then the ancestors, through the ancestors, they reach their god unlike the Kara who, it's Bario, but, once their ancestors are buried, they think it's bad luck to continue to hold them in their minds. I hope that answers your question.
Nipun: Yeah. So their practice is sort of just let it go, it seems.
Jane: To let it go, yes. And the grieving is -- there's very much of a grieving process. You get into the patriarchy, men are grieved for much longer than women. That's another subject.
Anne: Jane, do you have a chance to share the story of Bacha and her mourning? It's an extraordinary story. We can see if there's time. If not, it may be something we could share.
Nipun: With that, it's too tempting not to hear it.
Anne: Oh I'm sorry. Okay, you'll have to share Bacha. It's beautiful. It's very moving.
Jane: Okay well Bacha was just this really lovely young woman, and I met her husband in 2005 to 2007 or '08, and he was well known within the Kara. He was a leader, a highly-respected leader, and so he was one of my guides early on when we would go over the Nyangatom and the Nyangatom and the Kara were often in conflict. He unfortunately was killed, murdered, by a Nyangatom when he went over to buy bullets from someone in the Nyangatom village...
Anne: But also, you should also share, this is important, when he went to the Nyangatom and was actually in the ono of the Nyangatom...
Jane: Yes, for time, I'm not sure how much time I have, but alright I'll say the whole story. So he was invited into the ono, and culturally when you're invited into someone's home, you're safe. So, he put his gun down and was sitting having coffee and a Nyangatom came in and shot him and then fled. So they never found the man who killed Kornan is this young man's name. The Kara heard the gunshot and they knew what had happened. So Kornan's wife was named Batcha. Batcha also heard the gunshot, and theirs was a marriage of love. Very few marriages -- there were arranged marriages, but they had a marriage of love. So she went into mourning and moved down to along the river, built this scrappy-looking little ono that I don't know how she survived there, but she mourned for three years. Normally it's six months or so, but she mourned for three years. The elders would come down and say, "Please please. You must come back to the village." And she would say, "No. I can't. I still see him in my dreams. I still hear him." So it was three years which was really extraordinary. So she told me her story about mourning and her feelings about her loss. So that was really remarkable.
Nipun: That is. Thanks for sharing.
Xiao: We have another caller online.
Pavi: Hi Jane. My name is Pavi, and I'm calling from Belmont in the Bay area. It's lovely to hear you and Anne in conversation. I'm so moved by the way you've carried yourself through this work, and I think there's so many people who go to other parts of the world to help or to serve. The approach that we take in those endeavors matters so much, and there's so much quietness and respectfulness in your approach and so much to learn from that lack of judgment that you try and bring into your travels. I was wondering, it's been more than a decade of these interactions, and I was wondering what kind of transformation that led to in your own life, in your own way of looking at the world, how it changed you.
Jane: Well, like I said, my experience sitting on the bank of the Omo River when I had my transcendental moment about really realizing connections. I talked about the ecosystem of the Omo River, but then we have the ecosystem of the world in that I think of the Earth in a way a ship and we're all on it and if we don't manage, our ecosystems, this ship is going to sink in one way or another. I think that I'm more reflective in my life today. I think that life is always about self-discovery, learning about yourself, but things that mattered when I was younger no longer matter and I just want to spend my time helping those who necessarily can't help themselves or supporting organizations with the experience and knowledge that I've gained from ten years of really being on the ground in Ethiopia with a first-hand knowledge to help them. For example, International Rivers who's working internationally to stop dams and to provide them with the knowledge that I have. So I hope that answers your question. I think I did.
Pavi: It does. If I could just follow-up quickly with this question of bridging the two worlds that you do, or the many worlds that you do. Do you have to suspend judgment when you come back to California or to the Western world?
Jane: In a way I do. I think that sometimes I come back and feel, particularly with what's happening right now with fracking and oil, with farming that's not sustainable, sometimes I come back feeling helpless. What can one voice do? What can I do? So sometimes there is that, I mean, definitely I'm changed but I'm also, I feel this sense of helplessness at times.
Pavi: Thank you.
Xiao: We still have a couple of minutes. So there's an online comment about resonating with your creative process when you do a project without a specific intention. This is by David Doane. He says, "Seeking progress in the sense of being open to progress that occurs from engaging in present process doesn't cost progress." He thinks our humanity towards one another and the natural world move together. So I wondered if you could talk about your process in your creativity.
Jane: I'm really. I guess I would call myself an "experiential-ist." I kind of like, I need to roll in the dirt. I need to just move from my head to what I call my gut, and that's what I look for when I take a photograph. It's so easy to go click click, but I look for that moment within myself that's not intellectual. It's this, "I've got to take this photograph. I've got to do that." So I guess I come at my work, I just let it evolve. I've found if you try to plan it too specifically, it never ends up that way. So I just let it evolve. I have a passion for Africa. There's something about Africa that just touched me deeply since my first trip in 1991. So I feel very connected to the African continent, but it's all about allowing myself to be informed by the environment that I am in rather than trying to inform it myself. So that's pretty much how I work. I maybe have an idea. When I first went to the Omo, I didn't know what my project was going to be. I just knew that I wanted to go and be there, and it was a real struggle. I would wonder around and think, "Oh," and some of the people I was with would click click click click click and I just said, "No. You have your own style of working. You will figure it out. You will know when something has presented itself and it's right." So I noticed that the women were always in the background. So I just began to engage with them, and it was at that moment of engagement that the project began to evolve over a period of time.
Xiao: As time approaches to the end of our conversation, we always ask, "How can we as the larger Service-Space community support your work?
Jane: Hmm. Well. I think what you do in terms of humanity and life supports so many people and places. And I think supporting my work is -- I'm having trouble separating my personal work from -- I guess what I would say is... I guess I would go back to the important stories and the importance of getting people listening and getting people's stories out in the world that in a way support what Service Space does. I see it as reciprocal. How can I support you? I'll have to think about how you could support me because I'm getting literal there with that question, but I think it's, we support each other.
Xiao: Yes. Thank you so much Jane for spending time with us, sharing all the powerful stories and painting a vivid picture about how you came alive when you were in nature that was fully alive. And also your pain of experiencing the damage we have done to the planet and to our own people, to all beings. So now we will have a minute of silence in gratitude, and after the silence we'll open up the line and do our gratitude out loud together. But first let's do a minute of gratitude.
(Minute of silence)
Xiao: Okay I will count to "1, 2, 3" and I will un-mute all of the listeners and we will shout together, "Thank you Jane." One, two, three:
All: Thank you Jane!
Jane: Oh, my pleasure.
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