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Chapter 5: The Study of Life




Doing a program of PhD studies in the social sciences is a strange and in many ways unnatural way to learn. It is based on traditions with roots in Greek antiquity and aspires to ideals first taught during the Enlightenment. These include freedom of thought and speech, the power of reasoning, the standards of evidence, and guidance from bodies of theory. All are legacies we should not take for granted. At the same time, the relevance of higher education is a cause for concern, as are questions around social inclusion and scientific accountability. What research is for and who it is for are critical questions neglected in the university teaching environment. My experience studying anthropology at university confronted a few of these limitations and hinted at new pedagogical strategies that later became important to my professional development and to the approach to action-oriented research developed by Jacques and myself.

In the fall of 1984 I entered Carleton University’s PhD program in sociology and anthropology with a significant amount of field work under my belt. I was not, however, accepted into the program without conditions. With an undergraduate degree in Fine Arts, and a multi-disciplinary Masters degree in Canadian Studies, the head of the department insisted that I beef up my knowledge of sociological and anthropological basics. This was in keeping with the linear approach to learning typical of universities where disciplinary building blocks are put together in an orderly fashion and transmitted from professor to student. The learning process is broken into several programmatic steps, much like the assembly lines of the modern factory: course work, three comprehensive exams on distinct topics, followed by a dissertation proposal before any field work could begin.

One of my exams was on the anthropology of fishers, supervised by John Cove, a specialist in the people of the salmon on British Colombia’s West Coast. He gave me a second edition (1966) of the original 1946 book “Malay Fisherman: Their Peasant Economy,” by the New Zealand anthropologist Raymond Firth. Firth, who did his original field work from 1939 to 1941, was a contemporary of Malinowski and also taught for decades at the London School of Economics. His contribution was not methodological, as was Malinowski’s, but rather to the development of the field of economic anthropology — the study of human economic behaviour in its widest historical, geographic and cultural scope. My thesis in the Yukon, also completed at Carleton University, fit within that field as did many of my later studies.

Firth had a concern for improving the economic conditions of peasant communities, a perspective that informs much of what later became “international development studies” and the core of my work at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). John Cove passed away a decade ago so I cannot ask him again why he gave me Firth’s book but reflecting on it now brings several things to mind. First, it is a richly detailed study of virtually every dimension of fishing livelihoods one can think of, illustrated extensively with straightforward photographs of people, places and activities. I admired this. Second, it provokes in modern readers a critical understanding of the colonial thinking of the time and its attention to so-called “administrative problems” of the British Empire. John, as an academic personally involved in Canadian Indigenous politics of the 1980s, was acutely aware of the risk that anthropologists might become government spies, knowingly or not. Firth was aware of the risk too, and in his Preface takes great pains to situate his book between disciplinary concerns (curiosity-based science) and a genuine preoccupation with the improvement of livelihoods (action-oriented assessments). He and others in this tradition got it in the neck from both sides — by theoreticians for being “merely practical” and by politically aware researchers for being “naive” about the use of anthropology to advance the interests of Western colonial powers.

The ethical issue has never really faded. Eric Wolf, the eminent American anthropologist and author of “Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century,” spent the last years of his career fighting against the Vietnam War and forcing the American Anthropological Association to re-write its code of ethics to prevent anthropological data from knowingly being used in military campaigns. As a student of anthropology, the possibility of a different and ethical approach to useful learning was just beginning to form in my mind. In the institutional context of a university, I had little real choice, however, but to toe the line of student-centred study based on theory without practice. Fortunately for me, John Cove, my teacher in several courses, could embrace both practical work and an “eyes wide open” perspective on who research is for, whose values it promotes and how it might be used. He even allowed me to include “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville in my reading list for the comprehensive exam. I couldn’t image completing a review of the literature on fishing cultures without experiencing the classic novel, and discovering the detailed descriptions of whales and the search for truth beneath surface differences built into the novel’s narrative. I see now that this choice of books highlighted the tension in my own life between self-reliance and connection to others, another theme of the novel. As an expression of thanks, I did a drawing for John of a traditional West Coast _Tlingit_ fort he was fond of.

Others in the department were also sympathetic to the unusual situation I was in of having selected a research topic and encountered the real world before starting the PhD program. Placing students in complex situations from the start, and helping them progressively develop the capacity to deal with difficult obstacles and the inevitable unknown, a learning approach Jacques and I later promoted through our work together, was tolerated but considered unwise in the university context. I came to learn why it is risky. In a course on statistics I was required to take I made use of data from a creel survey (fish count) I had conducted the year before in Jicacal. I knew the analysis would help my dissertation, so I decided to use the statistics course to move ahead as efficiently as possible with analyzing and writing up field data. Once I started to crunch the numbers, however, I realized that my sampling method improvised the year before was flawed. I could count fish numbers and species and individual boats on a particular day, but couldn’t account for how many times a day or a week the same boat was sampled. This made it impossible to calculate the overall level of fishing effort per fisher, greatly limiting the utility of the exercise other than as proof I could do a frequency count using a statistics software program. I remember presenting my dilemma to a specialist at the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans I had met as a result of my work in the Yukon, hoping he could find a solution, only to be kindly told not to bother. The data was useless. This was embarrassing, and made me feel I had wasted not only my time but also the time of Gustavo, the assistant that meticulously and sometimes covertly counted the fish in the bottom of his friend’s canoes. In retrospect, the incident showed me that it was not such a bad idea after all to learn a few basics before striking out in the world. At the same time, the mistake undoubtedly accelerated learning about sampling techniques that came in handy later when I had to design more consequential surveys.


Image: Grilling Fish in Jicacal.


My life circumstances at that time differed little from earlier experiences of ease and flow, financial and otherwise. I did not have much money, but enough through grants to pay rent and eat lots of rice and beans. I experienced close-up the abrupt end to Jacques’ marriage, and helped him and his new partner, Michelle, set up a home with me in a ski chalet out of town. I got to know his young children, and hers, when they visited on weekends, and listened intently to their stories of friends at school even though my command of French was rudimentary. It was a painful time for all of them, but also the logical outcome of adults discovering soul mates. I observed the pain and the joy of love complicated by life’s entanglements, experimented with different photographic styles, and continued to explore relationships with different women. I had an open heart but felt no compelling call to commit. Jacques and Michelle moved on after six months or so to more permanent arrangements while I continued with my studies, completing the coursework and all but one of the comprehensive exams by the end of my second year in the program. I corresponded with Amelia, my son’s mother, and sent him gifts for his birthday, but remained happily unattached and carefree in my student life.


Image: screened nude.


Under the Volcano

While making use of prior experience in a program of PhD study was not prohibited at Carleton, there was no getting around the standard requirement of extensive literature reviews. As with most sociology and anthropology departments around the world, post-Marxism was the dominant theoretical orientation of the day, reflected in Wally Clement’s approach to political economy and Jacques’ own anthropological take on peasant societies. The prominent Marxist scholar Leo Panitch worked next door in the Department of Political Science. Fortunately for me, Mexican social sciences was at the leading edge of critical thinking on land, conflict and agrarian struggles central to my experience in Pajapan. My fluency in Spanish meant that I could offer Carleton faculty access to the dense theory and rich contextual analysis of Mexican authors such as Gustavo Esteva, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Roger Bartra, Armando Bartra, and Luisa Paré. I moved to Mexico to read them in context, settling into the tourist village of Tepotzlán near Cuernavaca, Malcolm Lowry’s home when doing his own alcohol soaked research for the classic novel “Under the Volcano.”

Away from the main square, the village was a quiet place of cobbled stone streets and a mix of modest local homes and weekend retreats for families from Mexico City. A good location, I thought, for reading Mexican anthropology with few distractions. Soon after I arrived, however, I met a Mexican doctor living next door. I knocked to introduce myself, and was greeted at the door by Rosa Maria and a young peasant child visiting her house. Joy radiated from her face as she laughed and introduced the child scampering away. We talked for a while, and later she invited me to visit a nearby archaeological site. It was a one hour climb up a steep gorge starting behind our houses to a high bluff overlooking the valley. She and friends visiting from Mexico City would take the hike for exercise, and the spectacular view from the top. We hiked it together early in the morning several times a week for a month, and I attended small gatherings of her friends, including artists and writers of regional renown. We sat on the rooftop of my house, playing music, drinking wine, and sharing political views and stories about family. Her father was also a doctor and her brothers and sisters engineers and lawyers from an upper middle class family in Mexico City. Yet she was living alone in a village and practising paediatric medicine for peasant and middle class households. She spoke English very well, having completed a masters degree in Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but was proud of her strong Mexican accent overlaid on grammatically sound English. We spoke together in Spanish, and she told me that my fluency and good accent meant that she was not embarrassed to be dating a pale-skinned and bearded North American. I was captivated by her laughter, self-critique of her own wealthy class, and how she carried her body dressed in simple cotton skirts and blouses. I made her a painting of the view from the top of the bluff to consolidate the experience of being together. After a few months, we confessed our love for each other and decided to marry.

In the late fall of 1986, a year after we met and after I had completed an additional period of field work in Pajapan, we went to a temazcal or hot bath left in ruins by a pre-hispanic people. Friends joined us, and we stripped down to bathing suits to muck around in the shallow pool of water and mud. Rosa Maria noticed a lump on my back and said I should have it looked at by a specialist. She applied mud to it, in keeping with the skin cleansing purpose of mud baths. A few weeks later I returned to Ottawa for Christmas and arranged to visit a dermatologist, who excised the lump. The laboratory analysis came back showing a Clark’s Level V malignant melanoma, which comes with a 90% probability of death within five years. The news, delivered gently by the dermatologist as we stood in his office, took the legs out from under me. I sat down, immediately.

The tests that followed brought even worse news. A suspicious tumour was spotted on my liver, and a biopsy showed malignant cells indicative of metastatic melanoma. The oncologist who took on my case called me on the phone as soon as he got the result to say I needed to put my life in order. He said I probably had three to four months to live. This news took my breath away, and shocked and frightened my parents, brothers, and friends.

What followed was a profoundly moving experience, shared in conversation with friends and cancer patients and documented later in a short text I circulated called “Cancer and the Healing Mind.” Obviously, I did not die, and after six months the tumour on my liver disappeared, leaving me with the original 90% probability of an early death. The metastatic melanoma never returned, although my face and trunk have many tiny scars from other skin cancers removed over the years. Hours in an open fishing boat on the Gulf of Mexico and other sun exposures early in life were not a good idea for the son of a freckled, red-headed mother of Irish descent. Three things, however, stand out as relevant to people and families when they hear of their own cancer threat, and to my own trajectory in life.

The first is the value of sinking deeply into the emotional terror that comes inevitably in the face of death. As a fit young man, near death seemed incomprehensible, a dissonance I resolved in part by sleeping on the floor and subjecting myself to other small gestures of bodily mortification. I stopped talking for a time, ate sparingly and occasionally harboured violent thoughts, including the wild notion that I would travel to Chile and assassinate Augusto Pinochet, the military dictator and perpetrator of Chile’s Caravan of Death. What proved to be vital to my later recovery was that I was fully present with my fear, anger and anguish. I felt it deeply. Importantly, the people around me did not immediately launch into promises that everything would be alright. My father fell apart in his own way, and my mother was paralyzed with fear. Friends and family were present and supportive, but did not try to force me out of the negativity of the experience I was living. I realized from this that there is wisdom in holding true to what is, and being held by others in place rather than rushed on to somewhere else.

The second insight, several weeks into the storm, came when a dream presented me with a choice between a black alligator and a child protected by a green alligator. In the dream I moved away from the black side and towards something else more complex and inviting — a child, a window, a hillside, a green alligator. Soon after, I resolved to use my body and mind to heal, inspired by Bernie Siegal’s book _Love, Medicine and Miracles_. The book had just been published, breaking new ground in popular culture regarding the role the mind can play in fighting illness. I embraced the idea of visualization as a sharp instrument I could direct to excise the tumour on my liver and sweep aside any other rogue cells floating around in my bloodstream and lymphatic system. I also extended the metaphor and associated meditative practices in a deeply personal and creative direction. Imagery from dreams and elements in nature such as rain and wind became my friends and vehicles for visualizing my body’s own immune system at work. As I showered, I imagined the water inside me washing away cancer cells. When I walked, the breeze blew through me carrying away what was not needed. Sunlight coming through a window or noticed out of the corner of my eye connected me in my mind to the source of all things — the sun, stars and the space in between. By the time various ultrasounds determined that the growth on my liver was shrinking rather than spreading as the doctors expected, I took the good news as no great surprise. Of course, I thought, I cured myself through meditation, diet and a relentless will to live. Only later did I come to see the experience with less hubris. The body is wise, I see now, and needs only be free of the turmoil of the mind to find healing. This interpretation did not require me to conclude that I cured myself directly through an act of mental effort, but rather that I had created favourable conditions (meditation, food, visualization, light exercise) for my body’s own immune system to distinguish the cancer cells from healthy tissue and act accordingly. There was agency, but not control of the outcome.

A third insight came later, many months after the crisis was over. While I was changed by a daily four hour practice of meditation, a strict macro-biotic diet, Hatha yoga and a deeply personal visualization practice, I came to realize that the transmutation itself was mutable. Any wisdom and higher state I managed to wrest from the opportunity presented to me was fragile, subject to the ebb and flow of time, new circumstances and new challenges. In other words, while I had been lifted by the experience, even this “life changing” experience had not created a permanent change. The relationship to myself, others and my surroundings would need to be reaffirmed and reworked day-by-day and moment-by-moment. Impermanence applies to everything, even that which transforms and is transformed beyond earlier recognition. A Rumi poem embraces the mystery I felt at the time and still feel today: “You must have shadow and light source both. Listen, and lay your head under the tree of awe.” I remain in awe of the fact that I did not die within months or even within the expected five year probability window. I also remain connected to the memory of the experience of inner peace that friends and medical practitioners said they could see in and around me in the months after the initial diagnosis. I can call on this memory and internal point of reference but only through a new act of will that cuts through the fog of daily delusions.

Photo: Baseball on the streets of Minatitlan, Veracruz.


Holding Rightness and Awe

My experience with cancer was transformative, but also reinforced my commitment to the path I was on. I did not feel compelled to drop my PhD studies and become a monk or run from the Mexican sun forever. Several months after the period of active crisis, when ultrasounds and blood tests could not detect any cancer cells, I resumed plans to write my comprehensive exam on the Mexican Marxists and continue my relationship with Rosa Maria. I returned to Tepoztlán and she bought a wedding dress. I tried to assure her that I was committed to living in Mexico, buying a brand new pickup truck and putting in an offer on a small property in Tepotzlán. She came to Ottawa to meet my parents. Soon after, however, she broke off our engagement. Exactly why was never completely clear to me, but I believe the insecurity of my ties to Mexico, the country she was committed to, and my uncertain health were key factors. She also had another suitor, a friend of her brothers she had previously dated. The day we broke up definitively she told me she had travelled to Tepotzlán on the back of his motorcycle. I was heartbroken, and returned shortly afterwards to the Ottawa region to complete my studies.

I moved into a cottage in Quebec, a few miles from Ottawa overlooking the Gatineau River and hills beyond. I said to my new landlady that I was writing a book, and needed the peace and quiet of living close to nature to get it done. I spent a year there, watching the seasons change as the leaves turned red and yellow, the river froze and broke up again, and the summer days healed my heart. I made slow but steady writing progress. Wally, one of my supervisors, advized me, “Just do it. Everyday, all day, until it is done”. Jacques had similar advice. It took another woman, however, to actually make it happen.

In the spring of 1988, I met Debra. Our first date, at an outdoor patio restaurant, captivated my imagination. She wore a single silver snake earring, spoke of her Indigenous and Spanish heritage and feminist perspective on the world, and showed a keen interest in the outdoors. Dark haired, dark eyed, and with beautiful skin, her smile made me smile. I told her about my son Daniel, and firm decision to be part of his life. She accepted that, and was also open to having a child together, a proposition from my decisive dream I brought forward early in our relationship. We fell in love.

Debra and I met with my mother in the final days of summer at an outdoor patio in Ottawa’s downtown. We sat together for lunch, talking about Debra’s family in Sudbury and my mother’s own connections to northern Ontario. She had been born in Engelhart, a tiny village on the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario railway half way between North Bay and the mining town of Cochrane. Her father, descended from Irish stock that came to Canada a full generation before the Irish Potato Famine, was a conductor on the train. He had married a woman from another old Irish family from Tipperary with whom he raised 10 children. My mother was the third in line, more or less a middle child like me. Little did we know when eating and chatting together that her lungs were already heavily laden with a cancer that killed her five months later. She was only 64, younger than I am today, and had just started the phase in life that for people with financial security offers time to explore and to dance. She gave us her blessing, and a gift of a diamond, in intimate conversations we had as she was dying. One of the last times I sat with her alone, I gently took her hands and placed them on my face and on my head, crying quietly. She wondered how my father would fare after she passed. It was the evening of his birthday, and she had valiantly clapped with her frail hands to join in the celebratory birthday song. As we sat together she looked at me and offered another gift, saying that she and I were kindred spirits. The truth of this overwhelmed me, and the sobs racked my body as I continued to hold her hands to my face. A few days later, she died in her bed, surrounded by her three sons, husband, and two sisters reciting the Lord’s Prayer as she took her last breath and grew still.

My parent’s deaths — my father died several decades later at 93 — showed me two views of passing, both graceful and full of family love. When she died, the wisdom that says we live on in the memories and actions of others seemed true and right. Her love of beauty and her empathy for others has been a guiding light for me in all my days before and since. My father also passed at home, cared for by his second wife and his three sons. Casey slept in his bed with him for a week so that he could be on hand to help him go to the bathroom and get back safely. When finally he died in the dead of the night, I was alone with him, listening to his breath become more laboured and somehow softer as well. His last breath was a complete letting go, a deep exhale followed by stillness. I called to Casey and he roused others to join us in the moment. Before they arrived, and as I sat holding my father’s cool hand, I both felt and saw a wispy light lift slowly from his body and move decisively up and away. The wisdom interpreting this experience says that at death we start another journey, a soul journey. Both fountains of wisdom imply movement in death, forwards to another existence or resting back in the memories and kindred spirits we leave behind. Death, however, is also the antithesis of movement. It is stillness. As I am unable to fully resolve these views, I simply wait for the unarguable truth.


Entering the world

After my mother’s death, I turned again to study and marriage. Our plans, however, hung on completion of my dissertation. Debra, a practical person, did not want a lingering PhD project hanging over our married life so she made getting it down a condition of the marriage agreement. I obliged, just barely, by submitting the final version of the opus to my committee 24 hours before we got married. While not yet defended before a committee, this was good enough for Debra.

The next day I was a happy man, married and with a final version of the dissertation submitted. My older brother Steve, and my father, both attended the dissertation defence, as did Debra. Jacques chaired while Yvan Breton came from Quebec City to be the external examiner. The biggest challenge of the afternoon defence, a necessary right of passage, came from the “internal external examiner,” a professor in Carleton’s Norman Patterson School of International Affairs. He asked some tough questions, but seemed satisfied with the answers and supported Jacques’ recommendation of “graduation with distinction.” However, a B+ I had received from the Patterson school for a paper on the fisheries of Alvarado, Veracruz, submitted at the beginning of the PhD program, made me ineligible for the award. Straight A’s, which I had received on other courses, were required. This was another effect of the linear path of academic excellence but a small price to pay. Too many PhD students become mired in endless literature reviews, immobilized by the pretentious goal of writing the _Magnus opus_, or rushed into the practical demands of making ends meet — some 70% of students entering Canadian PhD programs in the social sciences never finish, and those that do average 7 years to completion. Thanks to Debra’s practical wisdom, I had completed the degree from start to finish in four years, dealing with cancer and my mother’s death along the way.

Throughout my PhD studies, Jacques supported the most efficient path to graduation, a position he could defend by virtue of his own academic reputation. Coursework produced empirical analyses and comprehensive exams became chapters in the dissertation. Wally Clement, who had supervised my thesis in Canadian Studies, was a strong supporter too. Other faculty would not casually challenge their judgement. In later years, Jacques became more vocal in his criticisms of university studies at all levels, including undergraduate, that are divorced from student engagement with the real world and the crucible this provides for grounded and strategic learning. I was his first “experiment” in the benefits of a pragmatic and experiential approach to student learning. The department eventually created a PhD program called “Engaged Anthropology,” which Jacques helped to establish. The initial program was a disappointment to him, however, as it treated the challenge as a topic of research rather than an opportunity to fundamentally change how students actually learn the trade and do their own research. Ironically, participatory action research traditions did not become central to the department’s approach to anthropology or hiring, despite the program name.

Finding a job after completing my PhD proved to be difficult. The late 1980s was a period of economic recession. While a graduate, I was not a good candidate for the few university positions available in Canada at the time either. Most universities were well stocked with white, male faculty and hard pressed by declining budgets and stagnant student numbers. Women and visible minorities were the only graduates getting interviews for entry level university positions. This made sense to me, of course, and I was not so committed to university life that I would not consider other livelihoods.

As an Ottawa resident, reaching out to the Federal Government was simple enough but here too I met with resistance. I knocked on a lot of doors, and was greeted with polite indifference to my doctoral degree. One official at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) remarked after listening to my pitch, “We only hire people that have worked for us before.” I guess he meant that I needed practical work experience in government to prove that I was more than just an academic with my head in the clouds. Ironically, I was caught between two images of professional development, neither of which really applied to me. I did not have the theoretical orientation of committed academics passionate about the literature or trying to make a mark on key debates in their field. Nor was I devoid of practical experience, although none of it was in government. Perhaps what I really needed was a better designed C.V. and elevator speech highlighting my Yukon bush skills. What I could do, however, is write, so I put time and energy into writing a grant proposal that included a modest salary for me and the prospect of moving to Mexico with Debra and an anticipated child. Jacques sponsored and joined in the process, bringing in as well a fellow Quebequoise.

When I had been in Tepoztlán reading Luisa Paré’s pioneering work on the Mexican rural proletariat, I decided to seek her out at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City. I learned that she was originally from Quebec City. By becoming a professor in one of Mexico’s most prestigious universities, she had accomplished something difficult in a field with strong nationalistic hiring practices that blocked most foreigners from permanent university jobs. A contemporary of Jacques’ and sharing political views from Quebec of the 60s and 70s, Luisa was a formidable activist and an effective researcher, respected by very sophisticated and politically engaged intellectuals at UNAM. Jacques later arranged for her to receive an honorary PhD from Carleton University, in recognition of her many contributions to Mexican anthropology.

Happenstance brought us together again when she visited family in Gatineau, across the river from Ottawa. She, Jacques and I met at a patio restaurant across the street from CIDA headquarters, and hatched a plan to write a proposal for an action-oriented research project. We called it “Sustainable Development of the Sierra de Santa Marta,” quickly funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) as a joint project between UNAM and Carleton University. Our book on the Gulf _Nahua_, still in draft form at the time, provided the background for the proposal, giving it a depth that must have impressed IDRC. We organized the proposal around new and emerging concepts of community development and engagement as the basis for the conservation of natural areas and collective resources. This too appealed to IDRC, which at the time was moving strongly into critical and participatory approaches to environmental research (see Chapters 8 and 9)

Jacques was interested because he was actively questioning the ivory-tower mindset of university life, informed by his own experiences with his PhD studies in Peru and the complexity and real-life dramas we witnessed together in Pajapan. The project offered a practical way to follow up on his commitment to making a difference in the world, and support me in a kind of post-doctoral experience. From my perspective, it was an opportunity to imagine my own job, and launch my professional life as a married man. I wasn’t enjoying the small consulting jobs in Ottawa I’d managed to find, and knew we would need to leave the Gatineau cottage that had become a dear home to me. The proposal meant that Debra and I could move to Mexico, pregnant with our son Ryan. This was a reasonable adventure for me, with my Spanish language skills and good knowledge of Mexico’s geography and people. For Debra, however, it was a leap of faith. She showed remarkable courage, and was willing to put on hold her own career as a journalist and editor. Her explanation now is that youth, and nine months she had spent a few years earlier in Botswana working on an anti-apartheid campaign, made her think she was invincible. “People disappeared in the middle of the night there,” she said of the situation in South Africa and Botswana at the time, “Mexico,” she went on, “would be relatively tame in comparison.” She felt excited about the prospect of starting our life together with an adventure far from the suburban lifestyle of most Canadians of her age and professional situation.

So we moved to Mexico, although as it turned out not to pick up coordination of the Sierra de Santa Marta project as planned in the IDRC proposal. The grant application was successful, and the research project laid the foundations for creating a non-governmental organization, the Proyecto Sierra de Santa Marta, A.C. (PSSM), that thrived for several decades. The organization in turn played a critical role in establishing the region as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and supported many livelihood initiatives with the _Nahua_ people we had studied. It did so, however, under Luisa’s leadership. A different dream job in Mexico unexpectedly came my way.








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