Category Archives: Sustainability

Extraordinary voices of ordinary women: Carla Geyser

Longing to experience the real, authentic Mama Africa in all her grit and glory? Love a good road trip? What about great banter around a campfire, sipping a gin and tonic, pausing every now and then to listen to the soundscape that only a night under the African sky can bring?  How about magical sunrises and sunsets? Or an impromptu coffee stop in the middle of somewhere intrepid?  Want your African experience to include some boots on the ground time for wildlife conservation and community empowerment?

That all important coffee break along the way…. Maputo Special Reserve, Mozambique

Then you need to meet my gorgeous friend, Carla Geyser.  Her Journeys with Purpose are all of the above and then some!

Carla with Izzy (another kindred spirit) on a boat… a day exploring the waters of Maputo Bay, Mozambique

I first came across Carla’s story in 2016 when she embarked on her epic Elephant Ignite Expedition – travelling 16 000km across 10 countries. Carla and her team visited 37 conservation organisations, engaging with communities along the way and distributing 20 000 educational booklets. The idea for this expedition was sparked by the plight of elephants across Africa – their plummeting numbers due to poaching and human wildlife conflict.

Then in 2018 I followed Carla’s next adventure, The Rise of the Matriarch, on social media.  This time an international all women crew set out with Carla for a 50 day, 11 000km journey through 4 countries.  This expedition raised global awareness for the plight of African wildlife, raising funds for conservation groups and empowering local youth, especially girls. 

I still have the diary from that time and scribbled in a margin is “Blue Sky Society Trust – next time”.

In May of this year I got to meet Carla in person.  She picked me to be part of her crew for a 2019 Journey with Purpose.  I have recorded this incredible adventure in previous posts:

Carla is a great expedition leader – the perfect blend of happy-go-lucky and down to earth pragmatism.  She knows Africa well and understands how to travel wisely.  Able to go with the flow while at the same time being uber prepared for every eventuality – a real skill in this environment!

Carla overseeing production of a delicious potjie… on top of the world in eSwatini

I love Carla’s attitude to life which is incorporated into the name of her not-for-profit – The Blue Sky Society.  Read here how the name came about.  She is a kindred spirit… we share a passion for Mama Africa, our birthplace.  Yet Carla’s personality is such that anyone from anywhere could not help but enjoy her company and be swept away in her enthusiasm for life and her work.

I consider it one of the greatest experiences of my life, that May Journey with Purpose.  I also consider it an honour and privilege to have shared the road with Carla Geyser and her fabulous landy, Dora.  And I cannot wait to go again and be a part of another Blue Sky Society Journey with Purpose!

Dora the Landy in Kruger National Park… this photo taken shortly after two spectacular leopard sightings

Carla is an ordinary woman just like me.  But her big dreams, her belief in the infinite possibilities of life and her “just do it” attitude make her voice extraordinary….

Four incredible Journeys with Purpose are planned for 2020 (click on the links to find out more):

Chasing Waterfalls

The Great Zambezi

Aqua Earth

Trekking Giants

Go!  Travel with Carla. Let Mama Africa embrace you.  Wander the road less travelled.  It will change your life.

Ritual, Food and Living Sustainably

As part of my journey with Dr Tererai Trent’s book – The Awakened Woman – I have been reflecting a lot about the place of ritual in daily life.

Dr Tererai Trent’s book with the companion journal from the Kikki K collection

She talks of the importance of ritual in helping her on the path towards her sacred dreams.  In the companion journal I am working through there is a section titled “grow your soul through ritual”.    She writes about the richness of her culture in the part of rural Zimbabwe where she was born. There is such beauty in the connection of her people with natural world and the rituals that result.  It is an inspiring read.

Dr Trent is not the first woman I have come across who speaks of the essential place of ritual in her life.

One of the prompts in the Awakened Woman journal was to list any rituals you practise already.  At first it was difficult to think of any rituals in my own life.  Looking to the past, my ancestry, the idea of a rich cultural history is fraught.  My ancestors come from a group of people who’s past actions and values I would prefer to distance myself from in many ways. 

Then I started thinking closer to home, to my family and my childhood.  I was lucky enough to grow up with my great grandparents and grandparents on both sides.  Family tradition in abundance.  As I began to list our family traditions a realisation occurred – it was me who turned many of these traditions into ritual.  Especially at this time of the year as we head towards the festive season I have become the keeper of my family’s rituals.  So without consciously thinking about this before, ritual has played an important place in my wellbeing – in feeling connected with the spirit of the past and in rooting deeply in the present to grow into the future.

There is another quote from the Awakened Woman journal I like,

“Rituals are the actions we can take to help us walk the path to our dreams.  They connect us to a more authentic version of ourselves, allow us to pause and focus on what’s important and strengthen our beliefs”.

So what can ritual look like?  I think it can be any action sacred to you, that you deliberately and thoughtfully repeat.  I believe ritual becomes a very personal thing.  I have rituals around prayer, meditation and a mindfulness practice… oooh and time on my Shakti mat!  Finding time for stillness in the day to day busyness of life has become essential for me.  Particularly as I currently live and work in a busy city – an environment that drains my energy.

The next prompt was to consider how the rituals you practise help move you closer to your dreams.  Definitely a concept I had never considered!

One of my dreams goes around treading lightly and respectfully on the Earth.  And so I got to thinking about whether ritual plays a part in my attempt at living sustainably.  And upon reflection it does.

My family has a lot of ritual around food.  We use food and precious family recipes as a way to commemorate family occasions, mark anniversaries and the passing of seasons.  As immigrants our food rituals connect us to a spirit of place and time as well. 

And what I now realise is that I have come to think of food and food preparation as a way to honour what Mother Earth provides – there is ritual in that.  I still choose to eat meat – not in large quantity and only if I know where and how it was produced.  I focus on what’s seasonal and grown locally.  In a country like New Zealand I am extremely lucky to easily know where and how meat, eggs, milk, butter, fresh fruit and veg are produced and make my consumer choices accordingly.  While cooking and preparing meals, I have now added in quirky little prayers of thanks to living things, plants and animals, that have given their energy to allow me mine.  A weird ritual perhaps but one that has given me “pause and focus on what’s important and strengthening my beliefs”.

All this has made me ponder the food thing when travelling.  How can you be comfortable without really knowing where the produce is coming from or how it was produced?  I then remembered my time as F&B manager at an ecolodge in the Okavango Delta.  The thought that went into sourcing food to provide a 4 star offering in a very remote location.  We did source locally as much as possible.  We did create menus based on seasonal availability.  So the food side of things became as considered in the journey towards a sustainable organisation as the energy use, green building materials or waste minimisation strategies.

Above are some images from my time in Okavango…. best office in the world!

So even on safari in really out of the way places, treading lightly and living sustainably is possible.  I take comfort in the knowledge that in their own way many eco-conscious tourism operations in Africa today do incorporate ritual.  Ritual that makes them respectful of the wildlife and wild space in which they operate. Ritual that makes them sensitive to the communities they impact and include in their conservation intention. Ritual that ensures their guests are supported to also tread as lightly as possible in their journey of exploration.

I am thinking again of kinds of organisations like Asilia Africa and Yellow Zebra Safaris… which I linked to in my previous post as well.

To Sustainability and Beyond!

On Friday 27 September 2019 I had the opportunity to participate in the Schools Strike 4 Climate Change in Auckland, New Zealand. As a conservation educator it was a thrilling moment to be able to march alongside my colleagues and the youth of the world as we speak up to secure our World’s future.  To continue to walk my talk of many years.

Image from Bitmoji App

Now not everyone agrees with Greta Thunberg’s or Severn Suzuki’s type of action.  But this is just one approach that supports countless others as we each work or fight for change in our own way.  The future of our planet really does rely on every individual, mindful action as well as policy change at the highest levels of government.

I was sixteen years old when 12-year-old Severn Suzuki gave her moving call to action at the UN Earth Summit in Rio 1992.  The South Africa I grew up in was only just emerging from the evil, tragic grip of apartheid.  Rio’s Earth Summit certainly did not play out widely in my troubled environment.  I didn’t even hear about Severn and the Rio Summit at the time.  I only got to hear about her and the Earth Charter at university a few years later while completing a degree in Environmental Science.

There was no such thing as recycling of rubbish while I was growing up.  But I did have an inspiring Geography teacher who talked about CFCs and the hole in the ozone layer, rising sea levels and global warming.

An immense amount of Good Work has been done since then.  Voices for action can derive hope from that, I think.  I know I do.

My personal journey with Sustainability started as a child, privileged to be surrounded by the magic of prolific wildlife.  Though back then I would not have described my passion as ‘in aid of Sustainability’. 

Wildlife conservation is my original passion.  For me, the heart of my desire to make a difference in the World has always been derived from my intense love of all things wild in Africa – wild, pure, open spaces and all the marvellous creatures that are so precious, deserving of their right to life and their perfect role in a thriving ecosystem – simply because they are, like I am! 

As I hit my tweens, I started to realise that the human world I had been born into was messy.    I became aware of the concept of Ubuntu.  In light of this ancient truth I could see that South Africa was in a dark place.  I am because we are – for me “we” is all aspects of Mama Africa, and by extension, Mother Earth.

The ‘wildlife’ concept of conservation had to be expanded to include human communities.  Some decades later I guess we would now refer to this more holistic approach as ‘Social Sustainability’.

My degree focused on Environmental Science and Conservation Biology.  I began to understand sustainability – the complexity of unsustainable human practices that focus on technological advancement, convenience and to some degree simply because we can…. pushing the human brain to its creative limits.  This level of advancement and focus on economics, profits and convenience is energy-intensive, to say the least, and the highest cost has been to Mother Earth.

Even to people whose compassion doesn’t extend beyond their own family it must be becoming alarmingly obvious that the outcomes of unsustainable practices, particularly since the start of the Industrial Revolution, will affect their future – health, ability to generate wealth, perhaps even their whole way of life.

You would think that I would be a sustainable living Champion, with all the information I have gleaned in my education and in the course of my professional life as an environmental scientist and conservation educator!  But it has been a journey of years to put  the picture puzzle pieces together and genuinely start living sustainably.

To be honest, my practical buy-in started really simply with the 3RsReduce, Reuse, Recycle.  What’s possible in terms of recycling looks different in diverse parts of the world, depending on infrastructure and resourcing.  It varies greatly between urban and rural areas in New Zealand, where I am currently living.  And it will continue to change over time, hopefully rapidly and for the better.  Even just getting the 3Rs right can be confusing, frustrating and certainly inconvenient, depending where you live.

Image from Bitmoji App

So here’s what I’ve learned … being mindful of how I tread on this planet, and making environmentally conscious decisions, has to supersede convenience.  I recognise that it is not my right to live conveniently at the cost of All around me.

These days I work with the 7Rs in mind – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rehome, Replant, Rot.  Here is an image of what that looks like, taken from ubuntunomad.com.

The 7Rs of waste-free living – ubuntunomad.com

I also like this image (below), with RETHINK at the centre, taken from a Google image search – Be mindful of your consumption, your relationship with “things” and your relationship with the Earth.

Google image search – difficult to trace the source of this image.

From a place of Rethink anything is possible.  This is motivation to mindfully, actively, continuously pursue the 7Rs strategy.  For example, we can find out about composting in our area.  For me a recent delightful discovery has been that my hair salon belongs to the Sustainable Salons initiative – I’m very happy to support ingenious organisations like this. 

There are so many amazing examples like this now.  Yes, it does take a little extra time and energy to do the research, but I believe it is worth it in the long run. Spending money with local businesses that have sound sustainability initiatives is a simple and practical contribution everyone can make.  I have found social media to be an invaluable tool in connecting with environmentally conscious groups and organisations I can support.

So that’s it in the daily micro-moments of my life. Turning off lights and electronics on standby, separating out the soft plastics for recycling, refusing disposable cups or straws or single use plastic bags, thinking about water use and saving where I can, being a mindful consumer as much as possible for everything from clothing to cosmetics, being aware of the palm oil predicament and only purchasing products containing certified sustainable palm oil.

The list goes on and I will make it longer as I learn to tread as lightly as I can.  I have to believe that each of our small mindful actions will make the necessary difference in the end.

In my bigger picture, I try to make my mark by taking my conservation education career very seriously – and I never forget about the beleaguered African wildlife that planted this seed in me that lead to greater knowledge of the plight of life everywhere . 

This year my focus has been to look at conservation and sustainability when travelling, which is another great love of mine.

I spent a number of years working in high end ecotourism lodges in Botswana.  Such an incredible time in my life!  What particularly stands out for me is the environmentally sensitive architecture used to construct these lodges –  the temporary footprint they are able to create, completely off the grid and very sustainable.  If this can be achieved in extremely isolated areas of the Okavango Delta, I think there is little excuse for organisations based in areas of the world which are better resourced!

I finally managed to get back to Mama Africa this year.  Previous blog posts cover this absolutely amazing Journey with Purpose.  I chose that particular trip because it ticked so many of the environmental and social sustainability boxes that I am trying to be mindful of in my travel choices.

On my bucket list, since always, is to visit East Africa, the birthplace of safari, so I constantly search in hopes that a perfect option and opportunity will arise.  I am looking for tourism organisations that focus on wildlife conservation, community conservation and sustainable practices in their delivery to guests.  My experience in Botswana tells me exactly what to look out for.

I have been following Asilia Africa on Instagram for a while now, and I find their authentic community conservation initiatives utterly inspiring.  Of course, their tourism offering looks stunning, too!  And Yellow Zebra Safaris appears to be a good bet to organise a truly caring, conservation-conscious safari in Kenya!  Their concern for solo travellers backs that up.

And so my journey dreams continue … next on my agenda is how to tackle the carbon footprint of air travel, especially from this part of the world?  For such a vast distance,  I’ll have to look further than contributing to the planting of thousands of trees.

I will finish off this rather long post with a thought-provoking excerpt from The Infinite Game – How to Live Well Together by Niki Harré:

“Well, changing the behaviour of other adults has always seemed to me both patronising and misguided. What we need, if we are going to promote human and ecological flourishing, is people working together on creative solutions, not experts training others like circus animals. The enormous beauty and power of our species lies in our capacity for collective innovation. It is an endless, uncertain task, improving this world of ours and trying to do so with love and joy. It takes both big, powerful players and small, discrete players each working within their sphere of influence – experimenting, adapting, and negotiating new practices; and the policies, laws and technological innovations that help hold these practices in place. We need to ignite that creative capacity in each other – not smother it with assumptions that ‘we’ (whoever ‘we’ may be) know best.”

Image by Bitmoji App