Memories and lessons learned

Border Beat


If I could do grad school over again, I would:

1) Decide sooner that I wanted to do a dual degree program. It’s taken forever finishing one then starting another and now I’m broke and ready to start a job so that I can get PAID for my time… you know, instead of me paying the university to work me to death.

2) Make better financial decisions. First of all, this means living in grad housing only ONE year, not two!  I loved my little apartment in La Aldea, but honestly, it boils down to laziness on my part not trying to find a cheaper place to live after that first year.  Second, this means being more careful with my money – buying less clothes, not eating at expensive (and by “expensive” I mean anything more than $6) restaurants, and not caving in to so-called friends who insist on eating at expensive restaurants and have no consideration for your financial situation like texting you constantly when you told her you do not have unlimited texting or making you go snowboarding after you told her you can’t afford the lift or rental costs, etc.

3) Not being active enough.  I have a gym that I love and close group of friends that train with me there, but because of school, I’m too sporadic with my training.  I have spurts when I go all the time, but then school kicks in and I’m not in the gym again for months.  Then things slow down or I catch up and I can start training again, but that’s temporary and I stop again.  I think it may come down to bad time management.  Which brings me to my fourth point,

4) Better time management.  I don’t really think this needs much elaboration.  I think anybody that does anything more than sit on the couch all day in front of the TV can understand and relate to this problem.

5) Learning multimedia earlier and more thoroughly. It’s such a pain in the ass to lug around a camera, mic, and tripod, but it sure does add life to your stories. And while Final Cut was an even bigger pain, every time I use it, I learn about a new feature. My latest discovery is the master template. In the menu, choose Sequence > Add Master Template. So cool if you want to add an extra flare to your projects.

6) Learn photography and videography. Learning the software to put your pieces together is important, but if all you have are a bunch of blurry pictures and even worse video, there’s no real project to put together.

7) No regrets. I wish I had done a lot of things differently, but eventually I got around to most of the things I wanted to do and tried my best to correct the things that I messed up. And I’m sure one day I’ll have a job where I can put everything I’ve learned to use and build even more upon that.

Some of the BEST decisions I’ve made:

1) Looking at departments other than my own to take classes in.  Some of my favorite classes have resulted from this – Grant Writing, History of India-Pakistan, and Media Coverage of International Crisis (that last one was what made me decide to do the dual degree program with Near Eastern Studies and Journalism).

2) Being social.  I went dancing with my friends.  We had dinners at each others apartments.  We took trips to Mexico, California, and Las Vegas together.  Most of the time, we’d just hang out and talk.  And now I have lifelong, wonderful friends.  Grad school is crazy stressful.  I would’ve never survived if I didn’t occasionally play hooky with my buddies, or spent a day doing nothing with the people I feel so close to now.

3) Being active.  Not only does this keep you healthy, but it kept my stress levels down and I found a whole new circle of friends that have my back no matter what.  Not a lot of people train jiujitsu and just the sheer nature of what we do, you form intimate relationships with your teammates real quick.  More than a few very close friends of mine are from this group of fighters and being part of this close-knit community means that even when you visit another gym in another city, you have an instant set of new friends.

When I was an undergrad, I lived at home.  I didn’t make that many friends.  I don’t remember going to any parties.  I certainly didn’t workout much.  When I started the grad program, I corrected some of these mistakes but made others.  For my next degree (maybe something in the sciences???), I plan on correcting those mistakes.  One day, probably after my fifth degree, I’ll get it right…


Environmental (non)Protection?

Last week, Gov. Jan Brewer took Arizona out of the Western Climate Initiative set up to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in several US states and Canadian provinces.  In a move that really shouldn’t have surprise her opponents nor her supporters, Brewer’s move put business and monetary concerns before the environment.

Former AZ Gov. Janet Napolitano enlisted Arizona’s participation in the initiative in 2008.  The initiative calls on states to “identify, evaluate, and implement emissions trading policies to tackle climate change at a regional level”.

In an article for the Arizona Daily Star, Henry Darwin, director of the Department of Environmental Quality, explained AZ pulled out of the initiative because of the cap and trade system.  The “cap” is the limit of greenhouse gas emissions a company can emit.  “Trade” is the option to trade the excess gas your company emits for the the credits earned by companies that are below their caps.  This way, the maximum amount of gas set for the region remains at or below that limit.

The Grill has been a Tucson staple since the 1920s. They closed their doors for the last time tonight. (Image courtesy of the


Some of the best memories I have in Tucson are at The Grill on Congress.  I’ve spent the semester talking about the loss of and dangers to our natural environment, but what about the unnatural environment we make for ourselves?

One of my late night adventures here was the Halloween I was a scientist, another time when I met up with my friend that came home from Jordan to tell her that I was no longer friends with the girl she hated, and another night when my friends from school went out for my gym friend’s birthday.  And I’m pretty sure that each of these times, I had tator tots with The Grill’s awesome pesto dipping sauce!

Just for the hell of it, I decided to drive by the restaurant on Congress Street… I shouldn’t have.  It was a long night at the library and I didn’t get to go by until 1am.  It was a dark and sad memory of fun times in the past…

Local (endangered) wildlife

Maybe most of us can agree that it is tragic to lose a whole species forever due to human carelessness and lack of compassion.  A lack of vision toward the future and the indirect consequences our of political grand-standing is leading to the endangerment of many local wildlife across the border.

Much of this is as a result of the border fence that runs along the US-Mexico border which is inhibiting the migratory patterns of many animal species.  Congress gave the Department of Homeland Security the authority in 2005 to waive 36 laws protecting the environment in order to hasten border wall construction.

The US-Mexico border hosts a multitude of “threatened, endangered, and rare species,” according to an article published by the Center for Biological Diversity.   Some of these borderland animals include the Mexican gray wolf, Sonoran pronghorn, lesser long-nosed bat, cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, and jaguar.

These animals live along the US-Mexico border where there are several national parks and wildlife refuges — Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Big Bend National Park, Coronado National Forest, and Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.

The Sonoran Desert covers approximately 120,000 square miles of biodiverse land in Arizona, California, and Mexico.  It is home to more than 100 reptiles, 60 mammals, and 350 birds that are all in danger because of issues involving the border fence as well as mining, over-grazing, and off-road vehicle use, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

To check out some amazing environmental photography, take a look at the International League of Conservation Photographers, specifically their work in Baja California.

Days of the Dead

This past week has been filled with events leading up to the 22nd annual All Souls Procession. The procession started off as a performance piece by a local artist to commemorate the passing of her father, but has now grown to include more than 20,000 participants.

The procession is inspired by Day of the Dead, an ritual originally celebrated by the indigenous people of Mexico and passed down for thousands of years.  Today, it is celebrated by people all over the Catholic world.  Day of the Dead coincides with the Catholic All Souls day and All Saints day.

Alter at Mercado San Agustin

Ornate alters, or ofrendas, are created to commemorate dead loved ones.  They are decorated with candles, marigolds, pictures, and even bread and tequila.

Sugar skulls

Pan de Muerto – a traditional sweet bread made to celebrate the Day of the Dead

Some people leave bread and other food for those who have passed away.

On Wednesday, November 2, people set up ofrendas at Mercado San Agustin.  The alter was set up on the courtyard and people brought all kinds of keepsakes, sugar skulls, and pictures for their loved ones.  There was even a small urn set up in front of the alter for people to fill with messages and offerings to those who have passed away.

Before that, on Saturday, October 29, the organizers of the All Souls Procession held a Photography competition and exhibition at Studio 455, a quiant art studio tucked away in an alley street on Ferro Ave, just south of 6th St.  The exhibit featured photographs taken at previous years All Souls Processions.  After the winner of the competition was announced, Paul Weir and Nadia Hagen, board members of Many Mouths One Stomach, the organization that puts the procession together, made speeches thanking everyone for their contributions to the exhibit and answered questions about the procession.

This past weekend, the Procession of Little Angels took place at Armory Park [this was made possible when Occupy Tucson protesters voted to move their tents from Armory Park to Veinte de Agosto Park].  Parents and children flocked to the park to design and decorate angel wings and stars.  Tables were set up for face-painting, paper flower making, and sugar skull decorating.  At sundown, a mini-parade around the park occured and ended at the stage where children’s short stories, poems, and performances were held.

7 billion people!!!

Today, the 7 billionth person was born! Incredible!! In a world that’s overcrowded, has mass poverty, and rampant hunger, we’re still having babies and living longer than ever before.

So what does this mean for environmental sustainability?  According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, a two-pronged approach needs to be taken to address the challenges of supporting 7 billion people.  First, the education and empowerment of women to make their own decisions when it comes to reproduction.  Second, reduction in the consumption of natural resources.

According to Population Action International“Nearly half the world’s population—some 3 billion people—is under the age of 25 and entering their childbearing years. Their childbearing choices, and the information and services available to them, will determine whether human numbers climb to anywhere from 8 billion to 11 billion by mid-century.”

In 1804, the world’s population was 1 billion; 123 years later, another billion people were added.  It took less than 100 years to pass the next four billion people!!  What happened??  Several factors: populations in developing countries are growing, people are living longer, high fertility rates, and so on.

But despite the growing numbers, the rate of growth is slowing down.  Access to reproductive health services is getting better, however there are still many countries where women have limited, if any, access to reproductive health education, services, and contraception.  For example, in Yemen, Afghanistan, and much of sub-Saharan Africa, women have an average of more than 5 children.

So you weren’t the 7 billionth person born, so what?  It’s probably a good thing, actually.  But you can still find out what your number is by inputting your birthday on Population Action International’s website.  My number is 4,403,273,991.

And what about the border area?  According to an article published by the Migration Information Source in 2006, 11.8 million people live along the US-Mexico border.  Approximately a quarter of those living along the US side live at or below the poverty line.  This is double the rate of the national average.  Unemployment is also higher along the border compared to the rest of the country.

Population projection for US-Mexico border region (from Southwest Center for Environmental Research and Policy)

Locally grown, organic deliciousness

Sunday morning, my friend invited me to go with her to the farmer’s market at St. Philip’s Plaza, a bit of an upscale shopping plaza known for its nice restaurants, beautiful landscaping, and even a trendy nightclub – Level.

Lots of people show up every Sunday to try all sorts of samples from the vendors and of course to buy locally grown and organic fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and seeds among many many other things.

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One organization in particular stood out for me – Native Seeds.  They are a non-profit regional seed bank that 350 varieties of seeds unique to the southwest region.  Native Seeds works with native tribes to continue their long agricultural traditions.  The organization promotes the conservation of heirloom seeds, which are seeds that have adapted to the growing conditions in a certain area.   This promotes sustainable agriculture and agricultural biodiversity, according to their website.  One of the biggest issues Native Seeds is concerned about is what they describe as “the loss of ecological relationships” between humans and plants.  Please visit their website to learn more about Native Seeds’ current projects.

Map to St. Philip’s Farmer’s Market:

The end of the monsoons…

When I first moved to Arizona, it was mid-August. Right in the middle of monsoon season. Everyone kept telling me about the monsoons in Tucson: how much it rains, how much flooding there will be, how the lightning storms are beautiful but dangerous, etc. So I was kind of excited when the local weatherperson announced it was going to rain. My first Tucson monsoon!! How exciting!  Well, you can imagine my disappointment when it was a light sprinkle that day… 😦

BUT the next time it rained, it did live up to the hype. The rains were coming down hard, there was lightning, and a lot of flooding. My parents came to visit me that first semester toward the end of monsoon season and as they were walking around campus (I was stuck in class) they got caught in a sudden storm. To this day it’s one of their favorite stories to laugh about because they didn’t have an umbrella with them, they were lost, and my dad kept insisting my mom put a plastic grocery bag over her hair so her hair didn’t get wet!

So what exactly is a monsoon and how long does it last?  According to UA’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences website, “monsoon” comes from the Arabic word mausim which means “a season.”  32% of the normal yearly rainfall comes during monsoon season, which typically starts in July following the very dry previous months.  The monsoon season can produce anywhere from 0.35 inches of rain to 9.38 inches.  The average is 2.45 inches, according to the college’s website.

So what’s the big deal?  Well, one of the things that I learned while writing my story on the wildfires in Arizona is that when you have super dry months in May and June, especially when the fires have killed off all the grass and brush on the bottom on the forest floor, followed by heavy monsoon rains, it creates mudslides.    The influence of weather on the wildfire season is huge, as was illustrated in this great article in Science Daily, Plan Fires Timed to La Niña and El Niño Years.    Here’s some more information about El Niño and La Niña from the Climate Program Office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  And of course, there’s no need to emphasize how important rains are in a desert environment.

So how sad was I this morning when I heard on the local news that Friday is officially the last day of monsoon season?  I’m going to miss this kind of beauty:

And here’s a KOLD report by Chuck George in 2006 going over a little bit of history with Tucson monsoon flooding and how the city has adapted to grow around former flood plains: