Stalking #4: Communication Between Cultures

Over the last few days, I had the opportunity to work on a skipjack in in a waterman’s town and really immerse myself in the culture that is Deal Island, Maryland. I ate at the local hangout spot, worked in their marina all day and spent time talking with people around town. After spending a few days in the heart of this watermen’s town, I began to understand the lifestyle of these people of the community, but only after we found a productive means of communication.  We all speak the same language, but there was a barrier between us because of the nature of our very different communities. It was more difficult to find a way to express my thoughts and explain my way of thinking. This trip to Deal Island highlights the significance of communication.  Communication is the one of the most important skills that we have learned throughout the semester. It is more complex than simply having a conversation with a person. It is a strategic process that requires one to assess a situation and react accordingly to bring about a productive and meaningful conversation.

The people of Deal Island are simple people in the sense that they are not caught up in the modern fast paced lifestyle. They are all part of a small and tight knit community. With the people of Deal Island living so close with one another, the communication between them and their neighbors and townspeople is often. The people in this community spread information throughout the town by word of mouth and because these interactions with each other are so frequent, the community is very connected. Everyone knows the most recent town news and the current gossip of the day, but this steady stream of communication really encloses the people to the town. Outsiders seem intrusive in a sense and it becomes difficult, but not impossible to find a way to communicate with them. This is true for any community. There is comfort in knowing the people around you and likewise there is often hesitance towards change or the unknown. Our job as students is to acknowledge this hesitance and break it so that we may learn from these communities in a comfortable conversation.

While visiting Deal Island, we used the local restaurant as a bridge between our Washington College community and that of Deal Island. We ate at this local hangout spot a couple times a day. At first our interactions with the people of the town were polite the conversation was no more than one or two questions and responses when we were asked if we were from the college or what we were studying. It felt as if we were just any other customer ordering sandwiches for lunch. The following interactions were very similar to the first and it was not until we took a drive around the island to get a glimpse into the workings of the community that we really were able to find a common ground of communication. Our last night at the restaurant, we set up a slideshow of pictures we had taken during this drive around the island. We each took a few minutes to explain why we had taken this picture and why we thought it represented the community and its culture. Only then were we able to partake in an in-depth conversation with the people of Deal Island. They felt comfortable explaining their thoughts about our findings and they shared stories and insights into their culture. These pictures and our short descriptions and questions about their culture exemplified our curiosity and were the tools we were able to use to break the hesitation of these people sharing their stories with outsiders.

The most important aspect of opening up an in-depth conversation is the trust between the two parties. Either side should not feel interrogated or on the spot. Everyone should feel comfortable sharing their ideas and asking and answering questions. The tools one can use to get to this trusting relationship are endless and can be as simple as a picture or an honest and innocent question. It is inevitable that we will all come across a situation in which we need to open up a meaningful conversation and this semester has provided us with the necessary opportunities to experiment with different tools of communication. It is a fundamental skill that is often forgotten, but extremely important for the purpose of learning from the people different communities. There is much to be learned through the sharing of cultures and it is our responsibility to bring this out as we experience new people and societies.

Entertaining Education


Photo Credit: Victoria Alpaugh

Throughout the semester we have had the opportunity to learn in many unconventional settings. We have observed the low crab population while trot lining, identified organisms walking through a salt marsh, experienced the cultures of countless communities and all of these experiences have been imprinted in my mind. I will not forget them. There is such a difference in the effectiveness of learning in these unorthodox classrooms as compared to sitting at a desk and reading from a chalkboard. I have always heard students say that “hands-on learning” is the most effective way to learn, but over the last few months I have found that it is more of making a subject entertaining than it is making it hands-on.

It may be that our generation expects to be entertained because of the way our society has evolved, but we have surely evolved to thinking old learning techniques are boring because they do not excite us. While talking with Sandy Cannon-Brown, an environmental filmmaker, I was intrigued by her profession. How is it that there is such a profession? It is no longer acceptable to send out a data sheet and a paper explaining how our environment is in danger. Posters and fliers will not get people to listen anymore. We want to be entertained while we are learning. Mrs. Cannon-Brown must produce informative and entertaining documentaries to engage her audience and get them to be interested in an issue. On one hand I find it amazing that she can reach more people by making these amazing videos, but on the other hand it is a little saddening that we have to go through all this work to make a documentary so that we do not get bored while we are learning.

What is Your Cultural Marker?

20131201-123943.jpgWhile exploring Deal Island, we were told to keep an eye out for cultural markers; aspects of the town that exemplify the unique culture and present a photograph to explain our marker to the rest of the group.  So I begin to take pictures of everything. I snap a few shots of the marshlands separating the towns, the skipjacks lined up in the marina, the graveyard, the store signs and a half a dozen more during the ten minute drive. As we head back to our house, I start to think about what I could possibly present as my cultural marker. I looked back at the photographs and at first it just looked like I had taken pictures of any other small town, but I keep looking through them and I realize how unique this place is. I could have used any one of the pictures as a cultural marker. There is so much culture in every crevice of the town. Everything is unique in some way.20131201-124051.jpg

There are so many subtle aspects of our lives and our hometowns that we may not have thought were cultural markers. Communities seem to be similar as we are all part of the same culture of the United States, but there are so many little aspects that make these little towns so different from each other. If you pay attention to the details of a community, you will notice the cultural markers in abundance. And they will be in many forms. They could be flyers advertising the next holiday mass at church or the piles of crab pots stacked up in someone’s yard, but they are unique nonetheless. One very distinct marker of Deal Island was something I heard on the radio. The station was advertising a spaghetti dinner that they were hosting as a fundraiser for a woman. They stated her name, but did not explain why there was a fundraiser for her. Everyone must know this woman and would understand why she would need this fundraiser to be held, but to me, an outsider, I had no idea. This really highlights how close the people of this town are and how much they care about each other. Cultural markers like these can tell a lot about a community of people and they should not be overlooked.

Controversial Causes

Our efforts to say the Chesapeake over the last few decades have been a process to say the least. Successful strides have been made and when new environmental acts make their way through the political system, it always seems just that: a success. But is it really? In no way would I look at the smart growth plan and think ” that was a horrible idea because that will not help our environment whatsoever, ” but I am concerned if this is enough. Will these best management practices, development restrictions and nutrient plans make the kind of change we want to see in the Chesapeake Bay? If our population continues to grow at the current rates, our issues may be larger than any best management practice can solve.

Photo Credit: moretown

Photo Credit: moretown

The fertility rate of US citizens is on average 2.1 which would in theory keep our population steady. This, of course, is not the case. The population increase in the Chesapeake region by about 150,000 people a year according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform report in 2010. This issue of population growth may be  even more of a problem than the demise of oysters or nutrient pollution. The population increase will eventually outweigh the efforts to clean the bay if no action is taken. It seems as if the public is not as concerned or aware of this issue in relation to environmental degradation. There needs to be equal efforts for population control as there are for environmental regulation and there should be equal advocacy. We should be talking about this issue just as much as we talk about agricultural runoff. If immigration issues are an issue for federal government, then we need to take action locally in the mean time. Implement education of women  immigrants and migrant workers and give them access to birth control. By addressing the population issue along side the other environmental issue of the bay, I think there can be much success in saving the Chesapeake.

Down On The Farm

We have spent the last few days down on the family farms of Kent County, Maryland. Before we arrived to these farms, my impression of a family farm was a small little farm house on a decent plot of land with a few barns full of animals…or something along those lines. I assumed that most of the farmers would not have college degrees because of this family business they were born into. I have never been so wrong. The operations at work on these farms are so complex that it is near to impossible to run a farm without earning a degree. A farmer has to wear many hats. They have to be businessmen, economists, engineers, data analysts and countless others all while getting credit for just being a “simple” farmer.

Photo Credit: Sean Clougherty

Photo Credit Sean Clougherty

Sean Jones of the Jones Family Dairy Farm is one of these farmers with an amazing reputation among the agricultural community. His degree in Dairy Science from Virginia Tech may have given him the basics of running a farming operation, but the wealth of knowledge this man  has acquired must be an ongoing learning process. Science and politics seem to be the drivers of the conversations we had with Sean. Every stage of the process of raising dairy cows has a piece of science or math associated. Each of the 1200 cows on the farm are electronically tracked to maintain optimal health. Their diets are highly specific as to gain the most nutrients to become efficient milk producers. It is all a very specific and calculated method and Sean knows every aspect of it. The other side of the equation for a healthy and productive farm is keeping up with policies and the newest regulations. Sean has kept up and kept ahead of environmental regulations of the agricultural world by recycling the cow’s sand bedding, fertilizing with manure and constructing a phosphorus removal system . He has even been able to anticipate future policy by implementing some systems before they are required. Sean Jones is much more than just a farmer.

Photo Credit: Sally Colby

Photo Credit: Sally Colby

This is the world of today’s farmer. They are held to standards that many would never expect of a farmer. They are conscious of their environment and masters of their companies. They have intuition and the education to back it. With such a dependence on food as populations grow it is comforting to know that our farmers are able to keep up with this technology based world and use it to their benefit.

Stalking #2 Walls: Good or Bad?

Walls have become a popular instrument in our society. They have been used for protection, to keep people out and to keep people in. These physical walls have been effective for such needs, but have also drawn other barriers in the process. The wall enclosing Punta San Juan in Marcona, Peru has successfully restored the ecology of the area, but has restricted the rest of the community from the educational assets this sanctuary has the potential to offer. There lies a controversial issue within the creation of this wall. It is the reason outsiders cannot readily experience the reserve, but is the only reason there is any potential for experiencing what lies inside.


This cement barrier is the sole reason that the animals colonize in this specific location. Without such a wall, I would not have been able to experience the sea lions, fur seals, penguins or guano birds in such large populations. These animals thrive in seclusion and so islands are the ideal environments for them. This is the purpose of the wall; it creates an island. Naturally, these animals of the Humboldt Current want privacy, seclusion and isolation from the human activity that usually consumes locations like Punta San Juan. Before the wall was built in the 1950s, the abundance of animals on the peninsula was a fraction of what it is today. In this rare secluded habitat, the ecology thrives. The populations of fur seals have noticeably increased over the last few years and the Humboldt penguin, an endangered species, nests here. Punta San Juan’s colony is the largest colony of Humboldt penguins. This is all possible because of the barrier.

The wall provides the habitat for these animals, but also provides them with management they need. By secluding the access to a select group of people, Punta San Juan is able to provide much needed research to allow the conservation of the ecology to be efficient and relevant to the newest technology. Few people have direct access to this reserve and among them are the  members of Proyecto Punta San Juan, the conservation initiative in place at the reserve.  This project is run by a few individuals dedicated to the protection of the ecology of the reserve and this is all tied back to the creation of the wall. To be able to set up the research station, there needed to be animals to research and without the wall there would not be anything for them to study. There is no doubt that the wall is a key tool in the success of this reserve, but it has also created a more figurative wall between the reserve and the community.


Upon visiting this reserve, the wall is the first thing you notice. It is just under 4,000 feet in length, stands twelve feet high and encloses over one hundred acres of land.  It is a little intimidating. The people of the community may see this wall as a barrier and a way to hide the project from the people of Marcona. It seems as if the community is completely disconnected from the progress of Proyecto Punta San Juan. This of course is my own speculation of the situation at hand. I do know however, that the people who are visiting the reserve for educational purposes are not those from Marcona. The physical wall may not be the issue with the relationship between Proyecto Punta San Juan and the local community, but there is a barrier there. The people of Marcona should be involved with the project. They live in such close proximity to the reserve and have a large impact on the environment there. Marcona is a mining town, but also depends on the commercial fishing industry. Their fishing boats circle the reserve daily. The researchers of Proyecto Punta San Juan are worried about these boats coming in such close proximity to the habitats, but it does not seem like the fishermen have been informed enough about this issue. If Proyecto Punta San Juan reaches out to the community and opens up communication it could lead to greater benefits to the protection of the reserve. There needs to be a stronger relationship between these two parties.  By involving the community into the program at the reserve, both sides of the relationship would benefit. There is much to teach to the community about conservation practices and the protection of the animals in the reserve. Opening the barrier that the wall has created would be beneficial to all involved.

Simple Scenic Pleasures

IMG_4395Sounds are muffled as I am tucked back into a crevice along the trail to the Inca bridge. A small stone wall along the trail quiets the roaring river, but can not silence the sounds of the wildlife. Everything around me is alive. The birds are playful and singing as the trees sway in the wind and the sand of the trail is sprinkled along the rocks that lie at my feet. After a morning hike at eight thousand feet in altitude, I was exhausted, but sitting here listening closely to the mountain life, I am suddenly re-energized. The most noticeable sounds are the boots of the hikers as they make their way through Machu Picchu. There are about four or five groups that pass by me. They do not speak, but share a friendly smile: the universal hello.

As the second group of travelers pass by, I hear the heaviness of their breath. They are tired, but still smiling. The other groups that pass are just the same as the previous. Why are all these people straining themselves to make this journey to Machu Picchu? Their smiles answer me immediately. This place, the mountain and it’s scenery brings joy to many people including myself. I notice my own heart rate slowly decreasing as I rest upon the cool rock hiding in the shade. I too pushed myself physically just to see these ruins and the environment that surrounds them. The location of Machu Picchu is half of the awe. I could have stood on the edge of that trail staring out at the mountains all day. The sun warms your body and the breeze keeps you refreshed. I could not be more content.

Living With the Land

1462975_771694572847708_1704326680_nWeaving through the mountain roads into Parque de la Papa and observing the people and the architecture of my surroundings, I begin to understand the traditional nature of this community. Houses are still made of Andean soil, women are dressed in woven skirts with their children strategically tied on their backs and the community is still very centralized around potatoes. This community tucked in the mountains, fourteen thousand feet above sea level seems more connected to their environment than the communities in Cusco. It may be a result of the seclusion from the more modern cities that forces this community to live more traditionally, but the relationship between culture and nature is evident. The culture of Parque de la Papa is a direct result of the natural environment in which they live in.529152_771691422848023_1201267778_n

In the park, the altitude dictates what the community can grow and what animals they can herd. This natural environment is so restrictive and as a result the people are dependent a few resources to make a living. The potato, the medicinal plants and the llamas consume a large part of this culture. As we toured the park, we were introduced to each of these resources and I began to understand just how strong this relationship is. Everything is natural. No chemical introduction, no heavy machinery. The community has resisted modern practices and remained more dependent on the natural environment than the modern world.

llamas and alpacas provide the yarn necessary for making the beautiful textiles that flow though Peru’s markets, but there is a noticeable difference between those from the market and those from Parque de la Papa. Bright colors and perfect stitching is a sure sign of machine made products. The communities in Parque de la Papa use natural dyes and make all their textiles by hand and they seem to sell their items with more pride than those in the large markets of Cusco and Aguas Calientes where the selling process is more like a game. The farming of potatoes seems to bring nature closer to culture as well. Potatoes are planted using traditional methods that do not create such a barrier between man and the crop.

When people live so closely to their land and their environment, there is more respect for the resources and the work that was put in to produce a product. It is an important relationship and a very strong one as well.

Incan Foundations

The Inca are everywhere in Peru. They dominate postcards, clothing and tourist attractions, but more importantly this historic empire provides Peru with a foundation. It is a foundation structurally as well as culturally and is exemplified in Cusco. This city was the heart of Incan empire and the modern culture today is a direct result of this. Buildings are still supported by Incan architecture and the people still hold Incan beliefs to be true. The modern world of Cusco is greatly supported by the traditions of the Incas.

1426456_771685076181991_362891285_nThe city of Cusco was built upon Incan architecture, but not in a figurative sense. Incan structures were used as foundations for the Spaniards to build religious structures like a church and a monastery. The interesting contrast between these modern and traditional societies is very dramatically represented in the monastery of Cusco. Visiting Quirikencha, the Incan temple of the sun, it is evident that the traditional structure is stronger. After decades of earthquakes and other natural disasters, the modern structure, built by the Spaniards, has been ruined. The Incan stone work has outlasted the plaster and decorative structures of the Spanish. Even today the Incan structures are the foundation for the modern society as they support the growing tourism economy of huge city.

Although the culture of Cusco is very comparable to most cities, there are also traditional Incan practices that are still present in the culture. The people keep up with fashion trends and pop culture, but they may also give offerings to Pacha Mama or Mother Earth. This offering to Pacha Mama stems from the Incan sacrifices of food or animals for relief from natural disasters such as earthquakes floods or thunderstorms. Today the offering is much more discrete. Some Peruvians will splash the first sip of water on the ground before they take a drink for themselves. It is considered an offering to Pacha Mama and exemplifies the respect these individuals have for the gods, but it also shows the presence of traditional Incan culture in a modern society. It may seem that only few people of Cusco are still influenced by the Incas, but the legacy of the Incan culture is apparent when you now what to look for. Many individuals wear symbols of the Incan beliefs in the form of jewelry. The three sections of life which are the underworld, the natural world and the heavens are represented by three steps or three animals: the serpent, the puma and the condor. These symbols are ever present in the communities of Cusco, leading me to believe that the traditions of the Incas are very alive in the modern culture.

Depending on Access

Traditional communities of the Chesapeake Bay seem to be of a completely different nature than those of the highlands of Peru, but only at first glance. The traditional communities of the Chesapeake like Smith Island are often thought of as the small watermen communities that are in a world of their own because of a stark separation from the modern society. This separation is also found in the community of Parque de la Papa. The separation from the modern world is a problem because of a lack of modern information for disaster relief, medical emergencies and simple construction. Smith Island and Parque de la Papa are in need of outside assistance because of a lack of access to this modern information.

1452509_771691312848034_18129179_nThe women of Parque de la Papa rely on the non profit group ANDES to help market their medicinal products for sale to tourists and other consumers. These women already knew how to grow, harvest and prepare these products, though they lacked access to the knowledge of how to make it a profitable business. ANDES identified this issue and was able to help the women of this community who can now sell their products to make extra money for their families. A similar situation exists in Smith Island with the Smith Island Crabmeat Co-Op. The women of the co-op have turned to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for answers about the disposing of the empty crab shells. The island has also received help from the Army Corps of Engineers to build a bulkhead to help with the island’s erosion. The two communities have become dependent on outside assistance because of a restriction of access to information and education.

Because we are members of a higher education society, we sometimes take the access of information for granted. It is easy for us to take a class on marketing or waste treatment, but it is even easier for us to open up a web browser to find the answer in a matter of seconds. These communities are restricted from the modern flow of information and it is not as much a result of the country in which they are located, but the specific environment in which they live. The lack of access to information stems from the seclusion of these communities to the modern societies.