Since this past April I’ve been working on post production for a documentary I shot in Peru. Sorting through a wealth of material (four months of filming) with locations at the seaside, the Andes Mountains and the Amazon Jungle. Photos, videos, audio recordings, letters, books, legal documents, research papers, websites, government publications…

Edit Peru
I was busy moving files around on my laptop; sorting, deleting, archiving… when I found an unpublished blog post from August 2014.  I don’t remember the circumstances of why I wrote the piece or why it was never published, but when I read it tonight, I recognized my voice in each word. At that time, I imagine I got distracted with preparation for some project and set aside this opinion piece in lieu of packing, researching or fundraising… but today, June 22 2016, I feel compelled to publish this 2 year old plea to humanity.

Unedited, as I found it – From August 2014

It’s no secret I’m an opinionated, anarchistic, activist.  But lately, I’ve noticed that many of my friends and family have also taken up the gauntlet. Sure we all love to whine about how Facebook is controlling our lives, eating up our time and bombarding us with calculated and targeted advertising, but what we don’t fully appreciate is the way it’s given us a voice.

I hate game requests more than the next guy but I’ll excuse the intrusion in hopes I can influence just one more friend that we need to start making drastic changes or our planet is doomed. I ignore the ads which clearly have nothing to do with my needs and likes (Facebook must be confused if it thinks I’m interested in buying stuff, cause I’m not) but will spend hours scouring the feeds looking for ammunition for my own battle of reason or an opening to place a carefully constructed phrase in hopes that others will be moved to question, act or consider other possibilities.

Yes, Facebook is a corporately controlled monster that can be dangerous in the wrong hands but which also has immense reach and scope and the power to influence and educate. Over the past few weeks I’ve seen a definite shift in perspectives given the situation in the Middle East and recent escalation of conflict between Arabs and Israelis.

Christians, Jews, Muslims and all other believers (or non) have drawn lines in the virtual sand and are defending their positions. What’s interesting to me is that racial and cultural background seems to have little bearing on which side of the fence people eventually sit on. The Jewish Nations both inside and outside the State of Israel have condemned attacks against the Palestinians while Muslims in other regions have pledged support for Israel claiming Hamas to be the ultimate evil.

It’s hard to understand the inconsistencies but one can only surmise it’s got something to do with the misrepresentation of information and the long history of propaganda and lies dished out by both parties. For me personally, it’s a challenge to find the truth. No one is immune to bias. We all have it and we’ve all had it used against us. We’re only human after all.

No matter what your views or policies are, I urge you to speak up and speak out. Take control of the power at your fingertips and offer your opinion on that post. Share a link that moves or inspires you. Pissed off? Tell people why. It’s through constant reflection and questioning that we discover our own truths.

I’d love to hear what revs your engine…
share in the comments and don’t get so upset if everyone doesn’t see it your way. I challenge everyone to share their views on Global warming. How does it affect you? What needs to be done? Is it our responsibility or that of government and big business…?

Thoughts?
Is this still relevant today? What’s the same? What’s different?

Posted by: Noni | May 28, 2016

Embracing Death, living life.

Seven years ago, May 28th 2009, I found myself in a situation where I fully expected to die. As I lay motionless on a tiled floor a wave of calm swept over me. I waited for darkness to extinguish my light, I embraced that inevitability.  But my number hadn’t been called yet so I was gifted more time on this glorious planet. I’m grateful for every moment I’ve experienced since then.

alison 086

In the past 2,555 days a collection of events, both good and bad, have brought me a deeper understanding of my purpose in this world. I’ve changed. My goals have changed. My lifestyle has changed. The world has changed. Things that were once important are now insignificant. My perspectives have shifted from a state of wanting; more money, more stuff, more friends, more time…. to a place of acceptance and understanding. The journey wasn’t rapid as one might expect but rather a gradual shift and adaptation to a new-found understanding of what’s really important in this life.

So… what is important, you might ask me? Let me ask you… If you were to die next week, what would you do with your last days? If your answer is any different from what you have planned already, then ask yourself WHY?  The most important lesson I have learned in the last 7 years is this:

Live each day as if it were your last.

Since 2009 I’ve suffered many losses. Most of those deaths were unexpected. My children lost their father. My best friend lost her mother. I lost my mentor and writing partner. I didn’t understand why I was given a second chance while so many others were not. There are no guarantees in life but one is certain, eventually we all die.  So…

Live each day as if it were your last.

Cherish your family, appreciate your friends, share with your neighbors, give back to society, simplify your space, reach for new heights, count your blessings and

Live each day as if it were your last.

I didn’t ever consider that growing sprouts could be so easy. My first mistake was with quantity.  I used about a half cup of dried lentils when a tablespoon would have been more than enough.  Needless to say, I ended up with a massively successful batch for my inaugural attempt.

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Having returned to Canada from four months in South America I re-evaluated my eating habits. I had been eating a lot of food in South America that I didn’t really want to eat but that I had to eat out of necessity. (I was a guest and I thought it was rude not to eat the food that was served me.) I realized when I got home that I had freedom and choices so I started looking at all the food was eating and for ways that I could improve by choosing more sustainable foods. I wanted to focus on finding alternatives that were healthier for me while eliminating foods that were toxic or empty calories.

Sprouting seemed like an easy way to venture into the realm of raw and vegan with limited effort and minimal expense. When you consider cost per content yield, sprouts are packed with enormous value.

Experiment with different types of beans and seeds… it’s cheap and you’ll see near instant results. Sprouting is easy for kids and can be a fun way to supplement your diet while teaching how easy it is to grow your own food.

No special equipment is needed…. a glass jar (mason works well) or container with a net/screen/stocking as a drainage cover.

Have fun!

Posted by: Noni | February 5, 2016

Noni through the eye of the Llama

Noni through the eye of the Llama

Noni through the eye of the Llama

 


Peruvian Heartache
– Documentary Film in Production

Written and Produced by Alison (Noni) Richards

Llamas with blue eyes are rare.

Posted by: Noni | October 29, 2015

Breathing Easier at High Altitude

Greetings from Peru! I spent 9 days in Lima having a crash course in Spanish. It helps that I speak french which is somewhat similar but I still have a long way to go before I can carry on any sort of conversation. Luckily for me I have a wonderful guide and interpretor here in Cusco, high in the Andes.

image

Yeiber is from a small community, Maras, where they speak the original language Quechan. In Peru there are over 100 different dialects. He works as a tour guide and his company offers volunteer opportunities for youth from around the world.   Since the Spanish conquered the Incas much has changed in this country. In 1821 they gained their independence but have only recently began to be recognized for their diverse richness both geographically and culturally. Machu Picchu was recently  recognized as one of the Wonders of the World so tourism has exploded with over 2 million visitors per year. This has been great for the economy but not so good for the indigenous people who struggle to maintain their sustainable practices. Other influences they battle are pollution, mining and logging devastation and climate changes due to global warming. It´s important to support these people who are the keepers of the land. Small tribes fight valiantly to protect the rainforest from further destruction. The Amazon is responsable for over 20% of the earth´s oxygen so they have an arduous task. Please help me to share their story. We appreciate your support through contribution or sharing.
Donate/share

Posted by: Noni | October 29, 2015

Greetings from Peru! I spent 9 days in Lima having a crash course in Spanish. It helps that I speak french which is somewhat similar but I still have a long way to go before I can carry on any sort of conversation. Luckily for me I have a wonderful guide and interpretor here in Cusco, high in the Andes.

image

Yeiber is from a small community, Maras, where they speak the original language Quechan. In Peru there are over 100 different dialects. He works as a tour guide and his company offers volunteer opportunities for youth from around the world.   Since the Spanish conquered the Incas much has changed in this country. In 1821 they gained their independence but have only recently began to be recognized for their diverse richness both geographically and culturally. Machu Picchu was recently  recognized as one of the Wonders of the World so tourism has exploded with over 2 million visitors per year. This has been great for the economy but not so good for the indigenous people who struggle to maintain their sustainable practices. Other influences they battle are pollution, mining and logging devastation and climate changes due to global warming. It´s important to support these people who are the keepers of the land. Small tribes fight valiantly to protect the rainforest from further destruction. The Amazon is responsable for over 20% of the earth´s oxygen so they have an arduous task. Please help me to share their story. We appreciate your support through contribution or sharing.
Donate/share

Posted by: Noni | October 22, 2015

Buying Local – A lesson from people of Peru.

A day at the local fish market

A day at the local fish market

So far my experiences in South America have been incredibly eye-opening. First off, I noticed that for a city with over 8 million people it is relatively safe and clean. Everywhere I go I am treated very well. It’s obvious that I am a gringo, blond hair and blue eyes, but no one has tried to take advantage of me or rip me off. (Like so many other places I have been) The capital city, Lima, is a bustling center full of taxis and buses who somehow manage to keep moving despite a lack of traffic control. The honking of horns is at times deafening and most of the vehicles show evidence of mishaps (dings and dents) but no one seems too preoccupied with fancy cars here. The houses are modest and the neighborhoods a mix of industrial and residential. I was surprised when I accompanied my host, Ines, to the lumberyard and hardware store. I expected a journey by taxi or bus, but instead, we walked around the corner and into a tiny shop jam packed with just about everything you could imagine. A woman behind the counter took our order and returned minutes later with the required merchandise. We went halfway around the block and through a doorway into the Capenteria (lumber yard) where there was a mixture of new and reclaimed wood products. These are small locally owned and operated businesses each staying within their own specialty unlike the giant conglomerations we have in Canada.

When we finished at the lumberyard my friend and I rounded a corner at the end of the block revealing a large open market. Kiosks lined the street selling a variety of items and offering a full banquet of food choices.  When we approached a stall selling fresh chickens Ines greeted the vendor by name and specified how she wanted her order chopped. (one leg with the foot attached, toes removed) Admittedly I was slightly grossed out, but after hearing stories of supermarkets changing the best before dates on factory grown meats, that had been sitting for who knows how long… well, this seemed a lot fresher. Instead of shopping for an entire week or month worth of groceries, the Peruvians buy what they need, as they need it. Fresh! Sure you can stock up on staples but why have bread in your freezer when you can grab a loaf off the corner that has come straight out of the oven.

IMG_0679

Somehow we’ve been brainwashed into thinking that shopping for everything under one roof is easier. But is it really? And how much food gets wasted because we have a surplus that rots in the fridge? Personally I think running around a giant store with row after row of goods I’m not interested in, isn’t entirely convenient. People buy what they need, when they need it and they don’t have to drive across town to find it. Best of all the money spent stays in the neighborhood. It doesn’t go to some shareholder whose primary interest is to squeeze more profit out each transaction. In one store we received a coin that the next vendor pointed out as counterfeit. Ines knew exactly where it came from. We returned to the hardware store, handed him the coin and he promptly replaced it with a genuine one. Too many roof shingles from the building supply? They were returned within minutes with no explanation or paperwork required.

I’m sure many would argue that this system is outdated and archaic, but for me it made sense. A trip to the seashore for fresh fish convinced me wholeheartedly. I watched in fascination as a sturdy (strong as an ox from the looks of him) barefooted man waded into the ocean to receive the days catch from each of the returning boats. He hoisted the seafood onto his shoulder and plowed ashore where teams waited to clean and process it. I’ve only seen fresher fish when I caught it myself. No waste of energy transporting it to another location to clean and gut… sorted and stacked for sale within meters of the tide line. When I handed my money to the vendor it went into their pocket not someone else. Restaurants lined the shore competing for our business by calling out their specialties. No need to wonder where they got their ingredients from, you could see them grab the fish right off the pile and put it onto the grill.

bringing in the fishprocessing the catch of the dayfresh today

Since being here I have enjoyed each meal knowing there are no preservatives, additives or colorants. Sure, if you want a big Mac you can drive downtown but there isn’t one on every second corner like home. Variety is offered by the uniqueness of the business owner, not in how many brands of ketchup or salad dressing they carry. Everywhere I go I see things that are the same but that look different. Three stalls sit side by side selling fried chicken but each offering a slightly different rendition. It’s refreshing to be in a place where everything is unique; not cookie cutter uniformity. Perhaps that’s comforting to some, but I prefer an adventure and Lima has certainly dished that up.

Gracias

It was over 3 years ago that I wrote this piece. I had been out of the country for many years and when I returned to Canada I was saddened at the blatant destruction and devastation caused by mining and oil projects. What had happened to the Canada that I had loved and been so fiercely proud of? I’m inspired now. The people of Canada have raised their voices and claimed ownership of their land again. A powerful message to the world that we don’t want corporate control or corrupt leaders.  The damage had been done, pipelines laid and tar sands dug, tailing ponds overflowing… but change, CHANGE is the new buzzword. We beat fear with hope. I hold Justin Trudeau to the task. I will watch his every move and scrutinize his policies. We have hope. I breath deeply and wait for the dawn of a new day.The Pipeline - An Ode to Enbridge

written by Alison Noni Richards (c) 2012

It’s been a long day but it’s far from over. I stayed up most of last night packing,  sorting, organizing and making sure I had crossed the T’s and dotted the I’s on my list of preparations. I’m no stranger to international excursions so I appreciate that careful planning is critical to a successful journey.  I had booked my flights well in advance (July 27 for a trip mid October) but my first glitch arrived via email in August with a  notification from Cheapo-air explaining that my itinerary had been modified. A stop had been added between Toronto and Lima with an 18.5 hour layover in Quito Ecuador. Really?  Can they change a purchased flight so the passenger arrives a full day later? I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and planned to make a trip into the capital city of a country I hadn’t expected to land in. Making lemonade from lemons so to speak.

The second glitch presented itself this morning when I arrived at the Go Train in Oshawa only to learn that the UP train  (express to Pearson airport) was backed up due to a truck hitting an overpass.  Thankfully I had given myself plenty of extra time for the commute. I arrived at the airport in advance of the required 3 hours prior to international flights.

My flight was relatively uneventful. I was surprised that they fed us not once, not twice, but 3 times. I had a stash of nuts and dried fruits squirreled away in my bag but they still remain untouched. We landed in San Salvador and I had 50 minutes to connect to my next flight. Turns out it was the same plane that I had just disembarked from. I sat in the boarding lounge of airport and watched all the people in utter fascination. I soon realized that I was one of the few people with light colored hair and blue eyes. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I watched a young couple juggle with their bags and attending to a child who seemed quite ill. I hoped that it was nothing serious and that they wouldn’t be on my flight. I wasn’t sure if it was a boy or girl. He/she had thick dark shoulder length hair and black eyes. I decided afterwards that it must have been a boy or his mother would likely have dressed her in something other than jeans and long sleeve button down shirt. The child starting coughing and that led to projectile vomiting. Oh boy! Now I really hoped they weren’t going to be on my flight. I had taken so many precautions to maintain my health before traveling, I didn’t want exposure to whatever she had. Unfortunately the child was in a high traffic area and I was concerned that people would walk through the vomit and track it into the planes. I jumped up and grabbed the stanchions used for making line-ups and blocked off the area. The attendants behind the check in desk seemed completely unimpressed.

I watched with concern (for the child) and relief (for me) when the family boarded a flight through the adjoining gate. The next leg of the journey would have me land in Quito Ecuador. The first surprise of my trip presented itself upon meeting my seat companion. Nathalie smiled and greeted me as I settled into the aisle seat. Within seconds of our introduction there was a huge connection. We soon discovered that we had a great deal in common. She is an Investment Officer for EcoEnterprises Fund. I was in South America to shoot projects exactly like the type she funds. We had plenty to share on the 2 hour flight. I was particularly interested in visiting one of the initiatives that had been running successfully for 10 years. Eco Lodge Rainforest Expedition is run and managed by the local indigenous people.

After landing in Quito, I hit my next glitch. I was not able to leave the airport upon arrival since it was 1 o’clock in the morning and not safe to venture out on my own. I decided to snooze in the airport until morning then travel by bus into the city for breakfast. Here’s where my next glitch came in. As I wandered around a virtually deserted airport I spotted my backpack on the conveyor belt. I had been told it would be checked straight through to Lima. Thank goodness I saw it! Also was the fact that this was a new airport and farther from the city than the old one. I would have had to take a bus to the old airport then one into the city and return by same or taxi… all with my baggage, so chose instead to explore the area around the airport. I couldn’t risk missing my next flight.

I was tired from 48 hours with little sleep but my excitement kept me charged. Luckily all airports have free WiFi so I was content to read and study more about the region. Turned out that Quito is close to Zero Latitude and Zero Longitude. I was pretty much sitting right near the equator. I managed to keep myself entertained until my flight the next evening and after 2 days on the road I was finally landing in Lima!

My host, Joel,  met me at the airport and we pushed our way through the crowds to find a taxi outside. I was bombarded with offers… Taxi, Taxi! The men shouted and waved keys at me. Joel politely declined all offers and found a man he thought to be suitable. It was a highly competitive environment. When we arrived at his home I was met by his cousin and my first awkward exchange of broken English and unintelligible Spanish began. I slept well and was greeted in the morning with a traditional breakfast.

maca con lache

Maca con leche, freshly made papaya juice and bread with cheese. When I first saw the size of the juice (served in a beer mug) I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish it. Turns out it was no problem. My first day in Lima was spent in the city center. The sights, sounds and smells were overwhelming and I found myself wanting to photograph everything. (I took over 700 photos in less than 3 days) Vultures perched on edifices, lunch, street performers, a ride to the top of the city and an evening at a wonderful interactive water park.

Lima Peru Beautiful park with interactive fountains and displays

On the way home we opted to take a taxi instead of bus because I was dragging my feet a bit. (**notes from my cell phone)
**A taxi just hit our bus but no one seemed to notice. When he pulled along side us; our driver delivered a curt reprimand and we continued as if nothing happened, it was a non event. I’m certain that damage was done but, judging from the condition of the vehicles on the road, it’s just part of the daily commute.  Sort of the way North Americans may brush past each other on the sidewalk and mutter a pardon or excuse me under their breaths. As we traveled from the Barrio to the city diesel fumes and dust wafted through the windows.  The radio offered a mix of traditional Peruvian, CHINCHA NEGRA (music of the blacks) and remixes of American favorites executed with guitar and flute. Each bus, often a multi passenger van, has a helper who collects the money, calls out for passengers and navigates through the congestion.

We had a bit of a slower start on day 2 of exploring the coast since I was slightly jet-lagged and exhausted from the previous day.  We boarded a bus for the city where we would transfer to another to go up the coast to Chancay. The beach there was stunning. Lots of shore birds and children running in and out of the surf.

Day 3

**We hit major traffic on the freeway and a group of school children played in the street taunting joking with those idling in the snarl. Our co-pilot (the drivers helper) jumped out and wove his way in and around the trucks, cars and buses clearing a route for us to sneak through.  We exited the freeway into the barrio and the children squealed and cheered. A young man sitting opposite gestured toward my phone indicating that I best stash it in my bag. Another passenger slid my window (which was wide open) shut with a stealthful nonchalance. I began to understand that we were in dangerous   territory.  I was reminded how fortunate I was to have such an amazing friend who was guiding me through these days in the big city. I looked out my dust tinted window and watched as vultures circled overhead.  I felt like I was in a cartoon. As we snaked through the slums I took a moment to reflect on how grateful I was for all the freedoms and opportunities I had received in my life as a Canadian.

After a few twists and turns we emerged on a feeder route that ran parallel to the traffic which remained at a standstill. The assistant to the driver (I wish I knew what they were called) exited through the open door while the vehicle was going at a fairly quick speed. I have no idea how he managed but we were back in the flow which had come to a near stop.  Sweat poured off Joel and he removed a tissue from his pocket to dab his face. Pieces of lint clinged to his skin and I reached to help wipe them off. The blaring of horns drowned out his response which I soon took for embarrassment. The next thing I know he tapped my arm and I followed him from the bus onto the pavement. No danger of being run down by motionless transports. We back tracked about 100 yards to an opening in the barrier and then used an overpass to enter an industrial district.  We followed the freeway for about a kilometer then turned left into a whole new would. The air was heavy with perfume and when my eyes adjusted to the dim interiors through garage door openings I realized we were in the flower district.

What a wonderful detour!  I asked if I could take pictures but from the look on Joel’s face I knew the answer.  I saw a woman talking on a cellular and asked if I could use my phone instead of the Canon Rebel in my bag.  We entered a market and I hastily popped off a few shots as we passed by the displays and stalls. We exited through a different door and were back in bright sunshine again. I was happy to have the memory of the experience and cared little about the quality of the images.
We continued on our way until reaching a busy intersection where we caught another bus. After a short trip through the heart of Lima we were delivered to a terminal where cruise coaches lined up waiting their departure. One was pulling out as we entered and we boarded it (while it was still moving) and pushed towards the back to pick seats on the side facing the ocean.

We had about an hour trip to reach our destination so Joel tipped back he seat and promptly fell into a deep sleep. It never occurred to me that he may be stressed with the task of being my keeper. The ride north was uneventful except for a rotation of street vendors that got on and off at each stop. They were selling nuts, chocolate, drinks or traditional Peruvian foods. We passed a succession of towns, a large naval military base and a water slide park then turned toward the coast and the ocean appeared again shining like a crystal beside the barren cliffs.  The road was narrow and as transport trucks and buses passed us I could feel the vibration of the wind between us. I decided to keep my camera lense well within the window for fear of having it sucked from my grip.  When we reached the outskirts of Chancay the cliffs receded and gave way to fertile agricultural land. I saw corn, cabbage and a patchwork of greens and brown.

to be continued…

Posted by: Noni | September 17, 2015

Saying goodbye to Summer

IMG_9736I’ve been fortunate to spend a good deal of time this summer tending to a lush garden just outside of Toronto in Oshawa. My aunt and uncle have lived there for over 53 years but still add new plants each season. The high temps during August were hard on these perennial hibiscus but with frequent watering, at one point up to 3 times a day, we managed to save them.

Lucky for southern Ontario it wasn’t too dry a summer. The western provinces were plagued, and still are, by raging fires and drought conditions. In Canada we all too often take water for granted. I was recently reminded of just how precious this non-renewable resource is when I attended a reception at the Toronto Exchange hosted by WINDS OF CHANGE.  (More about them in an upcoming post)

As I watered our tranquil sanctuary this morning I thought about how lucky we are to turn on a tap and have access to a seemingly unlimited supply of clean water. photo credit - alison richards Yesterday I was ordering a personal water filter for my trip to Peru and was considering the multitude of illnesses that many face each day by not having a reliable source of clean drinking water. I reflected on the poverty created by droughts in agricultural regions as I photographed the dew of late summer morning.

I’m asking that you take a moment each time you turn on a tap and give thanks for fresh water. Use it sparingly. Cherish our resources. We’re too often careless with a commodity that many millions are denied. Thanks to Rob Scott, co-founder of Winds of Change Canada, for sharing your expertise with families in Nicaragua while stimulating opportunities for growth by building windmills to pump ground water to surface.

I’m inspired by these types of programs and will be documenting sustainable communities in Peru where both locals and international activists are creating meaningful, impactful change.

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