Thursday, 19 January 2017

Burn Baby Burn: A tale straight from the book of the Clumsy Canadian

Warning some of the images may not be suitable for everyone… unless you like bacon… human bacon.

The first time I drove in a snowstorm I ended up in a snowbank. Luckily it was while entering my driveway, and even more fortunately no one was hurt and neither was the car. I got out of the vehicle, declared I would never drive again and that was that. Except it wasn’t. My mom forced me to drive again later that day, once the snow had been cleared. What does this little anecdote have to do with a blog post entitled Burn Baby Burn? Well… follow along.

The other day, only moments after posting a story in which I declared I’d survived 43°C temperatures without getting a sunburn, I found myself safe in my flat, working away, while boiling water to drink over the next few days. When the first pot had reached its perfectly boiled state, I began to remove it from the “stove” aka a propane tank with a burner placed on top*. However, somewhere between lift off and placing it on the floor, the pot’s contents leapt from within and made a b-line for my hand, which may have led to an excessive use of some choice four-letter words**.

Immediately I ran to the sink and began running cold water on it, but after several minutes and the burning sensation growing worse, I started to think maybe I needed to seek some advice. So, naturally I consulted Dr. Google, who consulted with NHS***, who informed me that I needed to keep my hand under running cool or lukewarm water for approximately 20 minutes. This, of course, left me in quite the predicament – do I forgo this suggestion in an effort to conserve water, or do I turn a blind eye and go for it? I opted for the latter...

But, as the 20-minute mark approached, and the pain not subsiding, I called in back up – a friend who either had first aid training himself, or was more than likely around someone who did. I was instructed to go to the clinic, since part of my hand was growing puffy and white…or whiter than usual. And this, it turns out, was some solid advice, because I sustained first degree burns to two of my fingers and part of the palm of my right hand. Not only was a lucky to have credible first aid advice at the other end of a phone call, but a boda driver who immediately came to take me to the clinic, helped me lock up my flat, and also waited with me in the clinic, and later called to make sure I was okay****.

Where I was not so fortunate was in the moments between making the phone call for Isma (the driver) to come grab me and when he arrived, because realised I needed to put on some semi-respectable clothes. And, I will confess, putting on jeans with only one hand, while the other feels like it’s melting off, is not the easiest task.

Meanwhile, as I’m waiting for Isma (pants now on), water running over my throbbing hand, my three-year-old neighbour came to visit. Completely oblivious to my condition, and me not wanting to frighten him, I tried to remain as calm as possible as he proceeded to inquire about any candy I might have for him*****.

Eventually, I was treated at the clinic, on my way home where I rested until it was time to eat dinner that evening. And, just like that time I hit the snowbank, I used the same pot to cook my dinner that night, all while still managing to get a good 2L of water out of that pot******!

My hand post-clinic. It’s shiny because of the burn cream I have smeared all over it!; My dinner

 Bacon fingers!!
My hand today... looking and feeling much better!
Now the waiting game is on for the healing/pealing process to begin. But until then, I’ll just enjoy the fact that my fingers currently look like bacon. Mmmm bacon…

-the Orange Clumsy Canadian

*It’s perfectly safe, I swear!
**Rhymes with firetruck…
***The UK’s National Health Services… or what’s left of it…
**** So, if ever any of you back home were ever worried that I didn’t have good people around me, here is your confirmation that you needn’t worry!
***** If he wasn’t so cute, I might have hurt him! Also, lesson learned, never give a stubborn three-year-old candy without having ample supplies on hand… Whoever came up with “it’s as easy as taking candy from a baby” clearly did not know just how determined this child is to get his hands on it!

****** But I should probably refrain from lighting the match with my burnt hand…

Sunday, 15 January 2017

The Harsh Realities of My Return to Soroti

It was the middle of March last year, when I set foot in Soroti for the final time before heading back to Canada. In the months that I spent working in Kampala, I had the pleasure of travelling to this district on several occasions with my then-colleagues. These trips played an integral role not only in the amount I fell in love with Uganda, but also my desire to return and essentially settle here. So, having the chance to return this past week – although only briefly – was pretty incredible!

Our journey to Soroti started just before 7AM.  The sun was just peaking its weary head from the previous night’s rest*. Along the three/three-and-a-half-hour drive from Jinja to Soroti I happily took in the sights, which included endless landscapes, farmland, and just overall breath-taking views. That drive rarely disappoints. However, there was something different about this one.

Perfect sunrise! One of the many “terrible” things about life in Uganda! 

I’ve been pretty vocal over the last few months about the failing rainy season, the lack of rain in general, and therefore the emerging challenges related to food production and harvest. Only a few months ago, I watched, soberingly, as my neighbour pulled up her garden, because instead of the crop she had hoped to find, there was nothing but lifeless vegetation. And although rain has come from time to time, it has been sporadic at best, and without the power to enable much to grow**.

The drive to Soroti and back – particularly the more up-country we found ourselves – made the impacts of these lacking rains undeniably apparent. My heart began to sink the closer we got to Soroti, because it became even more evident just how dry things had become. And once we arrived in town, I was shocked to find winds carrying large amounts of dust, in a similar way I would have witnessed blowing snow following a recent storm. But the reality became even more obvious, once I realized that this same week last year, I was also in Soroti, and it was much, much different. Yes, things were a bit dry, but there was still life flowing pretty much wherever you looked.

Dry conditions just outside of Soroti on the way up. 
I was told that the last real rains took place seven months ago***. When I was last in Soroti, the first rains of the year had just begun. These rains can be so intense at times, that when it started part way through our meeting, we had to scurry to tear down everything, pack up and get out of the area quickly because there was a high likelihood that we would get stranded due to flooding. And, even though that was in March and not January, it’s still quite a drastic difference****, which only further proves that climate change, in this part of the world, is going to hit hard, and fast. I see the impacts of this reality every day, although usually in smaller ways – through conversations with farmers and market vendors that I interact with on a weekly basis. The challenges that this country – and much of this continent – are going to be facing, isn’t what most of us in the West could ever imagine. In fact, this is really the area of the world climate deniers need to visit… provided they’d actually care about an area outside of their own. In other words, my heart is a bit heavier than I’d like.

This photo was taken in January 2016. Although it’s not along the roadside, it
is still clear to see that there is a pretty big difference between this year and last!
Views from the highway just outside of Soroti... she’s lookin’ pretty dry!

But, the trip wasn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, it was actually quite enjoyable, despite this sobering reality. I was able to catch up with an old friend, complete a number of tasks (which was the actual purpose of this trip), and even meet up with my former colleagues who also happened to be in town at the same time! There may have also been a little tea-test, which although the below video states otherwise, was actually a winner!

Happy to be back in familiar territory! Behind me is Soroti Rock. 
Artha is a tea connoisseur. His approval basically makes or breaks how he feels about a place. 
This only one of the many weird and wonderful things that defines this epically quirky dude!

Regardless of how much things have physically changed, Soroti still holds a good chunk of my heart. However, I feel equal parts fortunate and frightened when I allow myself to fully take in what is happening around me. Seeing these current challenges only drives me further to work hard at meeting my goals, because I know things can turn around with enough effort. I’m not suggesting that my tiny contributions will solve the issues of climate change in this area, but that I can at least provide a bit of support to those who are already struggling to face these challenges. It’s these current conditions that make my work even more relevant and necessary – again, not that I have all the answers, but that I’m at least trying to help those with an equal determination, to at least mitigate some of these struggles.

-the Orange Canadian

*Yes, I am aware that the sun doesn’t actually rest…
**The results of this were noticed even more, during my most recent visit to the market. My choices were extremely limited – even tomatoes seemed to be in short supply. This was not my experience during my previous stay in Uganda. Yet, prices don’t seem to be reflecting this, which makes me question whether or not the full impacts of this dry rainy season are truly understood.
***Which is about when the first rainy season of the year would have ended…

****Not only physical differences in terms of vegetation health, but even temperature itself. When I was in this district last January, the highest temperature was 34°C (93°F). This time around it was 43°C (109°F), which, for the record, is the hottest temperature I’ve ever been exposed to… and still, somehow managed not to get a sunburn!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

What’s the deal with fish kills?

Part-two of my exciting* investigation into ocean health and its relation to climate change – a discussion on the recently emerging concern over fish kills, or mass fish deaths, that have been occurring at home and around the world! To tackle this topic a general background of the impact on climate change on fish will take place, followed by a more in-depth look at what seems like a newly emerging trend of something called a fish kill.

In the previous post about the impact of climate change on the oceans, it was discussed that fish migrations are one of the biggest concerns. This was due to rising water levels and temperatures, changes in circulation cells and current patterns, as well as ocean acidification leading to a lack of nutrients for fish species to feed on. But related specifically to fish populations, there is a bit more to it than simply understanding ocean health, itself. Of course, all the aspects noted in the previous post have impacts on the habitats of fish species, which was discussed briefly. This first section will look at two much broader issues, that do impact aquatic ecosystems: ocean acidification and rising water temperatures.

The rise in acidity prevents species such as shellfish and coral to produce their shells. But it’s not just the species that appeal to humans – either visually or deliciously – that are impacted directly by this process. Ever hear of a thing called zooplankton? Well, this is one of the main staples for a good chunk of aquatic species. Zooplankton, like the above mentioned species, also have shells, which are prevented from developing through the process of acidification. If zooplankton cannot form, what will the fish that rely on it as a source of nourishment use to supplement it? In other words, ocean acidification doesn’t just hurt our own food sources, but that of the aquatic species we like to eat!

Rising water temperatures are linked to ocean acidification, meaning this, too, impacts the food sources for many fish species. But, this aspect of ocean-related climate change actually impacts fish in another way. Fish require specific temperatures in order to maintain healthy, happy lives. When water temperature fluctuates – one way or another – it can affect their ability to metabolise the foods they have consumed. When this ability has been compromised, it leads to a species’ inability to grow to full capacity, reproduce, and therefore continue to repopulate – thus completely altering its lifecycle. This, obviously, leads to a variety of challenges, both related to the fish populations themselves, but also, to us human-folk who rely heavily on many of these affected species as a source of food. This problem, of course, is further exacerbated as we continue to participate in over-fishing practices, which lead to additional decreases of the aquatic populations.  Which leads me to my next point/topic: fish kills.

The discussion of fish kills became a widely discussed subject in Nova Scotia in recent months. Some of you may recognize this article, or one of several-like ones. You may have even seen a variety of Facebook posts including pictures of shorelines covered with various aquatic species. And, yes, this does appear to look quite alarming… but is it really?

The basis of the above CBC article and subsequent posts on social media put into question a recently placed tidal turbine in the Bay of Fundy, as a possible source of these washed up fishies. The article did debunk this suggestion, and knowing the extent of research that has been conducted over the years related to this topic, I was sceptical of these allegations, myself. Any large scale project, such as this, would have been subject to fairly substantial environmental impact assessments (EIA) – even despite Harper’s rewrite of EIA law and processes in Canada a few years back. But, given that there were 4 reported cases of fish kills between the end of November and throughout the month of December, it is understandable to think there might be something related happening in Nova Scotia’s waters.

So, to get started on the topic of fish kills, perhaps a brief definition is in order!

Also known as fish die-offs, a fish kill relates to the occurrence of mass, or highly noticeable, fish population deaths. They are usually made noticeable when the group of dead fish wash up on shore, creating a rather alarming sight. While they can be caused by human-related activity, most cases of fish kills happen as part of some natural process. These causes include:
  • Algae blooms and red tides
  • Biological decay
  • Diseases and parasites
  • Droughts and overstocking
  • Oxygen depletion
  • Pollution and Eutrophication
  • Toxins
  • Underwater explosions
  • Water temperature

But, for the purposes of this post, I will be focusing on oxygen depletion, water temperature and toxins.

Lack of oxygen has been frequently noted as the number one reason for the occurrence of fish kills. Like us, fish also require oxygen in order to breathe – although their method of accessing it is a bit different from ours! While you or I would get oxygen through the natural processes above water, fish retrieve it through dissolved oxygen found within the water, itself. When fish aren’t able to gain enough oxygen, just like we would, they begin to struggle to live, and eventually, if that isn’t corrected, will die.

Now, there is a pretty substantial link between oxygen levels and water temperature rise. You see, cooler waters hold greater amounts of oxygen. So, as water temperature rises, the amount of oxygen found within a particular body of water will begin to drop. However, fish kills can also occur when cooler temperatures happen rapidly, because, let’s face it, any drastic change in temperature affects most living things. By this, I ask that you think about how extreme temperature changes affect us, as humans, with an ability to bundle up or peel down. Fish don’t have this luxury; therefore, they are more directly affected by these fluctuations. These warmer temperatures can also breed algae blooms, parasites, and other forms of aquatic disease, all of which have a direct impact on fish populations.

Finally, it is important to touch on the topic of toxins**. This, of course, is a much less natural occurrence, and is something that we actually have some degree of control over changing. It isn’t overly difficult to understand how toxins can negatively affect not only fish species, but the ecosystems in which they inhabit. Depending on the size of the body of water contaminated, the outcomes of the introduction of a toxin can have varying results. In other words, contaminating an entire ocean requires far more toxins than, say a small lake. But, toxins can come in several forms, some of which we may not think of. Oil spills are usually what comes to our minds in these cases, but are only one of many ways that toxins can enter a body of water. These situations can also occur through agricultural run-off, improper disposal of chemicals or hazardous waste, and sewage, to name a few.

So, while the appearance of fish kills can certainly provide us with a sense of alarm, these are actually natural processes. However, there have been few reports of total population losses as a result of these occurrences. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep an eye on things, but rather that when it does happen we shouldn’t be quick to blame things we might feel are the obvious causes. Either way, there are some correlations between human activity and fish kills. Climate change is also certainly having an impact of fish species, making it all the more important to make conscious efforts related to how we are interacting with the natural world – both as individuals and a wider species.

-the Orange Canadian

*Perhaps it’s only exciting to me…

**Say that 10x fast!