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Thursday, June 7, 2012

The First 10 Days

Today marks day 10.  It feels like 3 months already.  In the last 10 days we have:

1.   Had our first hitch hiking experience. (Don’t worry mom, we were/are fine.)
2.   Ate the best hummus of our life- topped with mushrooms, or eggs, or tahini, or vegg.  (Seriously, be careful how you say hummus in Hebrew. If pronounced incorrectly, it sounds like Hamas. Yes, I’ve scared off Israelis when telling them that “I love hummus”)
3.   Drove through the Judean deserts with a guy named Samer. Who ripped me off, but engaged    me in lively discussion. He even told me that he thinks Hamas is alive and working…yeah, that’s what I want to hear as I travel with you in your cab through the desert.  Ironically, I had peace the whole time… I never felt scared on that 3 hour journey.
4.   Met some awesome people. Israelis, Palestinians, Yemenites, French, Germans.
5. Learned a lot more about the conflict. No one even agrees on the facts. Which makes it easy to avoid making opinions.
6.   Spent time on a half nudie beach. Lot of thongs. Men thongs.
7.   Watched the sunset go down from a hilltop as a young, Orthodox man played the piano.
8.   Killed several roaches in our apartment…..
9. and experienced walking through the checkpoints.  (not Thomas, just me. Don’t worry David case you read this. =)

From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to Jaffa and Palestine. Our Hebrew/Arabic sucks. A lot of people speak English, but I feel like that stupid American who expects it.  Everyone told us to expect Tel Aviv to feel like New York. They were right. Beautiful diversity, busy, noisy, dirty, alive and non-stop. Thankfully, we live in a quiet part of town, close to a large, outdoor market called the Carmel. We are also within walking distance of the beaches, Jaffa and a few main shopping streets.

I’m writing today from a very modern café, sitting outside, doing some people watching.  I’ve just finished a lively conversation with an Israeli lawyer about water issues.  I’m asking everyone I meet about their experiences with water. Water scarcity is an issue here, in the middle of the desert and everyone has a story to tell about it. The lawyer’s story was hilarious. He told me that as a kid they were told that all of their drinking water came from a huge lake in Tiberius. His family would often vacation there and they would swim in this lake. He would ask himself, “Am I swimming in the same water that I drink? Is it okay to pee in this lake? I always pee when I swim, but I don’t want to drink my pee.” Pretty hilarious.  Eiad, the lawyer, comes to this café every day. He sits next to an ex-Israeli secret agent, turned fiction writer. He’s an older gentleman with a “secret life” said Eiad. 40 years ago he had the idea to bottle water. And today, apparently all Israelis drink bottled water because they’ve been told the tap water isn’t clean. “Marketing, marketing, marketing,” says the novelist in broken English.

Palestinians have a different story about water. Eiad told me they have wells in their homes. Not sure if this is true or not. I’m headed back there on Sunday and I plan to ask a lot of questions.

Canaan Fair Trade Olive Farmer
The workings of God are truly amazing. I’ve been offered a paid position with Canaan Fair Trade for the summer. I wasn’t sure I would even have the opportunity to work with them, let alone be paid for it. I’ll be helping them to measure the impact of their work. They’ve been given a grant to interview farmers about how fair trade has changed their lives, economically, socially, etc. I’ll be managing a team of Palestinian students to do the interviews. Upon completion, I’ll be helping to analyze the themes of the interviews, looking for themes such as changed leadership capacity among farmers, better living conditions, etc. Again, the sovereignty of God is incredible. Just a year ago, I was working on outcomes measurement at my job in Boston. These are skills I had never planned on learning, but work that I really enjoy. Is fair trade making a difference? How? We will gather the narratives and use it strategic planning and as marketing material too. It’s SO exciting. I head back on Sunday and will get an apartment with a family there too. I’ll stay for about a week at a time and then do work from Tel Aviv on the off days.

Not gonna lie. I’m also really nervous. Crossing through the checkpoints has been one of the most emotional experiences of my life.  (In Bethlehem they didn’t even check our passports. We watched Palestinians put their shoes and clothes back on. But we walked on through. Tears streamed down my face as we entered Palestine. Driving through the desert was breath taking. I met some of the farmers who work for Canaan. They quickly loaded me up with fresh produce and stories.  The work of Canaan is incredible. They work with small olive farmers all over Palestine.  They help them press, export and market their olive products. (Dr. Bronner Soaps is one of their biggest clients.)

 I’ve needed courage. I don’t think I’ve ever really prayed for courage. Grace and peace, yes. But courage… this is a new concept to me. What does it mean to be a “fearless, courageous leader?” Fear is over-powering. The media shoves fear into our souls. They push their agendas and show us the violence. They don’t show us the lady who offers you tea and homemade cookies in front of her humble home. She speaks a mixture of Arabic and English and wants me to tell her about my life in “Ee-may-ricka.”  This is the people of the West Bank.

 I hate that I find suspicion creeping into my thoughts all the time, questioning the motives of almost everyone.  And here is where I am with this: There are beautiful people every place in this world. Some have evil intentions, but most do not.  I feel a great love for both the Israelis and for the Palestinians.  No difference. And I know that a lot of Israeli’s feel compassion for the Palestinians. And that many Palestinians want reconciliation and peace with Israelis. This is the majority. Why isn’t the voice of the majority louder?

Thomas loves his work too. He’s headed to the Wiseman Institute on Sunday to check out their labs. He’s doing some sort of hydro/soil experiments. Basically, I have no idea what he’s doing. Using heat to test the solubility of certain liquids? He’ll have to have his own blog if you want to hear about his work cause I’m like, “oh honey, you’re so smart with your science stuff. Way to mix those chemicals and do that lab stuff. You are working that sexy, lab coat with your nerdy-Rasta man ways.”

This weekend we are going to Jerusalem for the Festival of Lights. They light up the whole city. Should be awesome.  Tonight we are going to Jaffa for an Arabic dinner. Sunday to Wednesday I’m in the West Bank with Canaan and next Thursday we are going to Eilat to snorkel in the Red Sea. We are having the time of our lives…..and I hope wherever you are in the world, you are too

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Confession

So I have a bit of a confession to make. I don't confess my crap enough because, Ted will tell you, I really like being right. I like my opinions to be heard and I like thinking that they are right. (And that others think they are right too. Thanks for appeasing me dearest of friends as I know you have oh so often).  Even my most humble of moments aren't that humble. My intention here wasn't to confess about my lack of humility, although, hey, if I can rack up two confessions in one day, well, I may be good for the whole year. Hell yes.

My intention here is to say this: I thought I knew it all about Fair Trade USA and I was wrong.

Maybe it's Paul Rice's suave personality. Maybe it's his compelling anecdotes. Or his 15 years of hands on experience with farmers in Nicaragua. He's also a pretty smart businessman and not to mention, a good dresser. (it's true. Check out the video of him above.)

But I don't think that's it.

It's his point--that until now, fair trade been too exclusive. It has primarily been a tool, not for the poorest of the poor, but for farmers who are part of cooperatives. To be part of a cooperative you first must own land. If you own land, you aren't the poorest of the poor. So, unbeknownst to me, fair trade hasn't really served those who need it most- those living on a dollar a day. In fact, fair trade has excluded those folks. It's been for cooperatives only. What about people who don't own land? What about people, for whatever reason, don't want to join cooperatives?

I've had this naive image in my mind of a coffee picker in Guatemala who lives in bonded labor, picking coffee beans for pennies a day. Then one day, the plantation he works on gets fair trade certified. And all of a sudden he's making a livable wage. He's no longer a slave. He can send his children to school, put food on the table. Fair trade has revolutionized his world. That's not really happening. Under FLO's model, farmers must first own land. These land owner then must be organized in cooperatives. They must have governance and leadership. And then they can get the fair trade certification. That's a lot of steps to meet before getting paid a fair wage! 

 And it's for these reasons that Fair Trade USA left FLO and decided to be more inclusive of all laborers.

It just clicked for me during our interview. He's got a good point. And they've got a good plan. Read more about it on their website:

So am I anti FLO's model with cooperatives? NO WAY. Am I pro Fair Trade USA?  I think so. I think I am. Both models have a place in this movement. It's uncertain if certifying plantations is a great thing to do, but it's worth a shot. 

My interview with Paul Rice comes out tomorrow on Just Means and 3BL Media. I'll post the link to it on here late. It's really raunchy, in a social justice debate kind of way. It will give you a lot to chew on for sure.

In the meantime, say a prayer for me. I'm putting together a plan for research on the impact of fair trade on the lives of Palestinian olive farmers and I basically don't know what the hell I'm doing. And I'm trying to learn some Arabic. And we leave in 3 weeks. And it's finals for Ted and new classes for me. OMG.
Such beautiful first world problems these are....

Lots of Love.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Interview with Fair Trade USA tomorrow!

What's up friends?

Thanks for all the recent lovin'! Us consumers are what makes the world go round and its great knowing all of you are doing your best to love people you've never met with your money.

I've got a ton of great information coming your way soon:
1. Victoria Secret and "fair trade" cotton lingerie. It ain't so angelic. But I found some companies who are!
2. CLAC: a new way to approach the fair trade model: the farmers set the standards. (um, what a thought!)
3. A preview of my summer writing: Palestinian olive farmers, brought to you straight from the West Bank.

And tomorrow, big news: I'm interviewing Paul Rice, the CEO of Fair Trade USA. Yes, I'm excited. Yes, I'm shitting my pantalones a little bit. Yes, I will let him speak. Yes, I will be as open-minded as possible. Yes, I will be kind to him. And yes, I will throw him some major hard balls. The phrase that keeps coming to me is this: agree to disagree. Send a prayer up for me for confidence, grace and really kick ass questions.

Happy Easter! 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Series of postings on 3BL Media

Yours truly is officially a published author! I did an in depth study this fall on the controversy going on in the fair trade world. 3BL Media offered to publish my work! It will be a series of blog postings over the next few weeks. Here's the link to posting #1:

On a different note, I want to give a major shout out to my dear friend, Grace who recently became the mother of baby Sophia. Grace has a strong commitment to living simply and justly and I am inspired by her motivation to do this as she raises her family. Many Congratulations to you Grace! I can't wait to meet Sophia!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Confusing Changes to FT USA Label

There are so many ugly men in the NBA. Has anyone else noticed this? (My husband wonders why my favorite team is the Miami Heat. Two reasons: Dwayne Wade and King James.) I was floored when my friend Ben and I had this conversation:
Me: "I love the Heat. James and Wade. They are soo fine. I mean, I love their balling skills"
Ben: "Yeah, they are pretty hot men. But Chris Bosh is ugly." (note: Ben is straight and married to a hottie himself)
Me: "Oh my gosh. He totally looks like some kind of dinosaur. "
                                                                Ben interjects:
                                                                 "A velociraptor!"
                                                          We laughed uncontrollably.
It's true. Steve Nash from the Arizona Suns. Good skills. But is he Amish? Oh and Lord have mercy on Paul Gasol. The foreign thing is the only thing hot about him and it don't do nothing for him. That's a damn shame. And let's be real: The new all-star, Jeremy Lin, on the Knicks, he's got ivy league nerd/MIT written all over him. (yes, I know he went to Harvard. But he looks like the typical dorky MIT kid.) That buzz cut needs to GO. I mean, I know these men have an easy time getting the ladies.(and, oh yeah, that's it's their skills that matter more)  But they could really use some help from Stacy and Clinton: what not to look like to be a hot NBA player. Step one: avoid making faces which resemble dinosaurs and make it too easy for bloggers to make fun of you.

The Good News:
The rest of this blog will not be about NBA players.

The Bad and the Good:
Most of you have heard about the controversy between Fair Trade USA and the Fair Trade Labeling Organization. (If not, read through some of my former postings). Fair Trade left FLO in Dec. 2011 and created their own standards. Much lower standards. But because they were dissed so much by almost everyone, they changed some of their standards. And they created an entirely new label to stand for those standards. Why is this bad? CONFUSION. How the hell is the consumer supposed to know which label stands for what? Here's the short version of this label: This label stands for products containing 100% fair trade ingredients. Fair Trade USA will still use the black and white label for a period of time. Will this be confusing?
YES. Do they think so? Of course not. Their words:
"We don't believe so because first and foremost, consumers are looking for the words "fair trade certified." While both marks may share the same space for awhile, we actually believe consumers will appreciate the simplicity of the new mark and be drawn to it. It pops more on shelf and the words Fair Trade Certified are front and center.  Read here for more info

Read between the lines folks. MARKETING. Click on that link above and read their reasoning for the new label. Why are they changing it? Their words:
So that the label pops more. Raising visibility in retail stores. Consumer awareness.

Are they still allowing big purchasers like Sbux and Green Mountain to be involved? Yes. Are their standards still low as hell? YES.
They will also have this label for products which can have only 20% fair trade ingredients.  That's 3 different labels. PURE CONFUSION. To me, we are back to square one with them. They are still marketing products with low amounts of fair trade ingredients as fair trade. The word, ingredients, doesn't do it for the average shopper. AND, do products with 20% ingredients change communities? I want to see the research on this. Read here for more info

This says something: Equal Exchange left Fair Trade USA!! That is hugely momentous. They are now certified under Fair Trade For Life. Here's their label. I don't know too much about them, but they are on my agenda to learn about. But if EE is switching labels, we need to pay attention. EE don't play with fools.

Happy Weekend everyone!
PS: Stay tuned for some really good news!