Jul 02, 2010
Nnimmo Bassey, Chair of Friends of the Earth International has been in Italy for the last few days enjoying life in a sustainable village one day and denouncing oil companies in Rome the next.
These past few days I have been in Avellino, Cairano and Rome all in Italy, of course. Friends from the unit of Amici della Terra (Friends of the Earth Italy) – in the Avellino area invited me to participate in Cairano 7X – a week-long festival where artists, poets, writers, philosophers, musicians, farmers, carpenters, travellers, meet, have workshops and enjoy hospitality in the houses of the inhabitants of Cairano. I am sure you would want to be there! They are all engaged in a unique local struggle to show how a sustainable village can thrive and to make a plea that Cairano must not die. Local struggles in local contexts multiply like drops of water to form the ocean of our collective struggles and fights.
It is indeed a huge cultural experiment with seven projects over a seven day period. The dates set for the event this year were 20-27 June. But I was busy elsewhere at that time and had to visit Cairano a couple of days after the event.
Did I miss a lot? You bet! But, because Cairano is a living event, I still met the atmosphere and the footprints the festival left behind. I should let you know that Cairano is also the name of the village in which Cairano7X takes place annually. As we headed west of Aviello towards Cairano on a warm afternoon, my hosts Luca Battista, his wife and Letizia Leito began to fill me in on what to expect.
By the way, the Aviello landscape is incredibly beautiful. Mountains surround you in every direction; protected parks ensure that those who wish can stay green (with envy). We rode over a series of bridges with no rivers beneath them. That really surprised me. We eventually saw two minuscule rivers and an artificial lake (a dammed river).
A new humanism
Letizia, my interpreter, by the way, reminded me of the words of Franco Arminio, poet, writer and the Artistic director of Cairano7X. He had explained the Cairano project this way: Cairano 7x is a simple but a very ambitious idea: we think that a new humanism may develop somewhere and we think mountains are the best place for its development: we call this humanism “paesologia”, a discipline that looks at the villages as they are and as they could become rather than think of them as they were, typical activity of the scholars of “paesologia.”
One has to be at Cairano to fully comprehend what the festival seeks to achieve and what it is all about. Cairano is a village set on a hilltop and cannot be hidden. The hill itself is a sculpturesque cape that reminds you of so many things at the same time. Could it have been dropped here from space? All around the hill are farmlands and a little way off wind power generates electricity for equally far off places.
Cairano had a population of 1,410 people in 1951. Currently the population has dropped to about 300 or less, mainly elderly men and women who sit in the summer sun probably recalling the days of old when the village was bustling with folk. A few young couples live here, so you will find kids and some youths. There is only one kindergarten, so the young folks have to attend school in other villages or towns. Great thing, I soon found out is that you don’t really need a wrist watch here, because the bell tower at the church sends out chimes on the hour and also every other 15 minutes or so. I wondered if that continued through the night.
So here we were. A team was waiting to receive us, and then the tour of the village begun. Cairano7X’s focus this year was on migration. I learned that in the distant past this was a point where folks moving elsewhere paused before proceeding with their journey.
During the week-long event artists set up sculptures and dynamic art works that tell the story of migration. One very interesting one was made of paper cut-outs of birds and snails denoting rapid movement and the crawl. We found these paper birds sitting on door posts, window ledges and walls. Of course, the snails crawled at the base of walls. There were moments of dispersal and moments of convergence. Exciting.
And then a big scaffold that held different expressions of movements: barbed wires representing restricted access, a huge nest made of grass representing the idea of home. There were seeds in a trough speaking of life and settlement. So many symbols. You could stand before this architectonic sculpture for hours and there would still be more to see.
And what about the wooden chair that is stuck precariously up a wall? I could not figure that one out. Except if it means to say it is no time for sitting down. Keep moving. But then a piece of paper looking like a giant price tag tells another story: you may have to sell this, and move. My imagination ran riot!
How about the workshop in an abandoned building, with a giant wooden leaf on the floor and vertical poles rising from it? On the wall is a wooden block on which is a call for the world to move away from fossil fuels and leave the oil in the soil. Yes!
All around this area there are stone and concrete dice of different colours. The urge to roll the dice was so strong I had to move my attention to giant spider legs of sticks and a body of a bulbous glass jar.
Come with me. Let us climb higher up and see the beauty of this “deserted” village.
We were soon confronted with a brick and terracotta building constructed on the principles of a compass with horizontal and vertical axes, according to Luca. The architect who invented this compass and method of construction had used it to construct a hospital in Mali. And I suspect the same was replicated in the artisan markets of Bamako (where I must say is the only place I find hand made sandals that my feet love!) Ah!
Up at the pinnacle of this beautiful village is a brow of a ship constructed of sticks and ropes. It perches precariously on the precipice overlooking a lake in the distance and giving you a true sense of sailing… into the future. And then next to it are chairs and a bench.
It was instructive to observe that all the artistic projects here were executed with locally sourced materials. Nothing was imported in. As we left Cairano the young folks regretted that people had to leave after arriving at the village. The wished that folks would come to stay. Hmmm, it was sad to say goodbye.
I couldn’t capture the sounds of music that must have wafted across the Cairano landscape during the event. The plugs had been pulled and the platforms were being dismantled. The gardens developed by some of the participants were alive and well and I keep wondering how come flowers were already blooming if they were planted just the week before. As we descended from Cairano, I wished we could actually stay. The memory of the event hung thick in the air. And we took a part of it away to the seminar that was to hold the next day.
addressing the causes of climate change
The seminar took place at Avellino and I was honoured to speak about the structural causes of climate change, promote elements of the Chochabamba Peoples Agreement on Climate Change and also talk about the gushing oil in the Gulf of Mexico and the forgotten spills in the Niger Delta. I also read a poem I wrote in Bolivia, I will Not Dance to Your Beat. Other speakers spoke on the fact that the limitless growth was impossible in a finite planet.
Cairano is seen as representative of a place that is “sustainable in itself, not having yet saturated its ability to bear the pressures due to human activities. Giving a new demographic and economic meaning to these western territories is probably one of the most important policy actions for the environment having the goal of reducing the climate altering emissions and of ensuring civil rights not unrelated to health and safety provided by the environment.”
The seminar was followed by excellent local food and folk music. I felt like skipping to the beat!
July 1 saw me heading to Rome with Raffaele Spagnuolo, President of Friends of the Earth Campania. Max Bienati and Rosa Filippini of Friends of the Earth Italy were waiting having left Avellino the day before. Rome was the venue of a vital press conference to call the attention of the Italian public to the fact that although everyone speaks of the oil spill gushing in the Gulf of Mexico, United States, there are unreported disasters happening everyday in the Niger Delta of Nigeria. And an Italian oil company, ENI or AGIP is neck deep in the murk along with their cohorts.
The press conference was moderated by Rosa and addressed by me, Christine Weise of Amnesty International and Elena Gerebizza of the Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale. The press were there and so were representatives from the Italian oil giant ENI. Having the oil company represented was quite something!
gas flaring in the dock
The conference opened with a video clip of gas flaring around the world, produced by the World Bank. It shows the Russian Federation as the top gas flarer in the world, with Nigeria taking the silver medal.
Our focus was on the evil and illegal practice of gas flaring in Nigeria (illegal since 1984) and the fact that the BP’s spill in the USA shows clearly that the best oil industry standards are not nearly good enough. Plus the fact that reliable data is hard to come by. One high profile example is the BP spill that has grown from 1000 barrels a day to over 100,000 barrels. Not to mention their cut-and-paste environmental impact studies and spill response plans.
Christine spoke primarily of the fact that environmental rights are human rights and that the oil majors operating in the Niger Delta have played foul in every imaginable way – spilling equivalent of one Exxon Valdez every year over 50 years. Plus the human rights abuses ongoing in the oil fields and in Nigeria generally.
Elena focused on the footprint of international finance institutions in this mire. And she also brought up the case of the Italian oil company ENI getting a nod to receive carbon credits for halting an illegal activity in one location in Nigeria.
We went for lunch after the conference. I have thoroughly enjoyed pasta and cheese these past few days. Over lunch Laura Radiconci from Friends of the Earth Italy, who writes books under the pen name Camilla, presented me with a very apt give. She gave me a copy of her book “The Parachutist” – a story of an American World War II soldier who was actually a vampire, fierce, desperate and bloodthirsty. The question on the blurb of this book is “Will he see his love again and resist the urge to kill her?”
I told her that she might have to write a new story about another vampire, the oil companies, who have sunk their fangs into the necks of poor communities.
I had looked forward to enjoying this trip. I was not disappointed. Saying good-bye was not easy. But Cairano7X will also happen in 2011. Mark your diaries.