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Belated Cheers from Kampala

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Having been to Uganda once before, I thought I had it covered. But I really didn’t. Without going into a whining rant, here is a succinct list of my so-called struggles during the first week of arriving in the Pearl of Africa:

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Stumbling out to Entebbe Airport at 3am.

1. I traveled for about 25 hours to get here: 15 in the air, and 10 wandering around Cairo on my layover.

2. My first meal after arriving was one out of the five emergency ramyun packets I brought from the US. It was heavenly.

3. I was called at with a lot of random ni-hao’s and hey, China!’s while walking the streets. I have to make the constant effort to tell people that I am in fact Korean.

4. I slept in a narrow, claustrophobia-inducing bed tent the first few nights, until I ditched it for a mosquito net that would go over my entire bed.

5. There’s a baby and her mother who lives with me too, and sometimes I would find myself talking to the baby in Korean as a strange way of comforting myself in such a foreign place.

6. I have to brush my teeth with bottled water, and I feel like an asshole every time.

7. I have to take large anti-malarial pills every morning.

8. I fall asleep to Rihanna and other random pop music blasting out on the streets of Kiwatule (/chee-wah-too-lay/), right outside my bedroom window.

9. This blog post (among other things) is about two weeks delayed because my Macbook broke down. I will be using a friend’s PC until the replacement part for my laptop flies in from France in about a month.

Lessons in Transportation

photo 1

Inside a matatu. It’s pretty cozy.

1. I finally learned to ride the matatu by myself. The matatu is a mini bus/van that crams 14 people at a time. It doesn’t leave until it’s full and when it finally does, it makes several stops every few hundred yards. It is the cheapest but slowest form of transportation besides walking.

2. I finally learned to ride the boda boda and negotiate prices with the driver. The boda boda is the ubiquitous motorcycle transportation that is the quickest, most dangerous, and most exciting way to get around the city. It’s more expensive than the matatu but definitely saves you time. Helmet recommended.

Cheers until the next time my computer decides to work,



BEKANWE! Welcome to Cantagallo

ELIZA SQUIBB : Shipibo Textiles: Creating economic viability and cultural visibility through craft.

The drive to the university through Lima’s morning traffic was an especially terrifying one. Being in the driver’s seat looked like a full body sport that required every neuron of concentration and frequent augmentation of the music’s volume. For me, in the passenger seat; drinking tea, spilling it everywhere, wearing my seatbelt, and seeing my life flash before my eyes; it was like witnessing a real life video game as we dodged through lanes of cars, combi mini vans, and busses. At times, we would blast down a side street, honking the horn as we blew through intersections to alert any sleepy pedestrians or other drivers, in an attempt to find another main road that was not clogged into a stagnant lake of cars. We made it on time however, and in one piece!

At a university cafe, I met with José Carlos Ortega Rupay, the coordinator of el Grupo Interdisciplinario Amazonia, (The Interdisciplinary Amazonian Group, GIA, my partners, and host NGO), which is comprised of anthropologists, architects, educators, sociologists, and writers who all focus their combined academic energy and free time to studying the Amazon and working with the indigenous Amazonian community in Cantagallo.

Cantagallo has existed as a place and a community since 2000, established by migratory Shipibo-Konibo artisans, who came to Lima to sell their traditional textiles, beadwork, and pottery from their native territory along the Yucayali river in the Peruvian Amazon. Persuaded in part by their artisan colleagues from the Andes, the Shipibo decided to set up a permanent residence in Lima to have better access to a market for their crafts,  healthcare and educational institutions, as well as other opportunities for employment.

The location of this transitory community’s settlement is symbolically located between two vias, as José Carlos explained to me, two “ways”: it is bordered by the Panamericana Sur, the railway, on one side, and the Rimac river on the other. Between the two parallel vias, the settlement is comprised of three distinct levels. The first level is the hardware market, a large space containing stalls selling all manner of tools and supplies. The next level can be distinguished by the materials from which it is constructed: bricks, wood, and prefabricated plywood structures, and both Shipibo and Andean artisans live there. The second level also contains the school, which is the very first school to incorporate elements of indigenous education, taught bilingually in both Spanish and Shipibo to over two hundred students, and it is approved by the Ministry of Education. The third level of the settlement, highest on the hill, is comprised of Shipibo residents only.

Google maps doesn't reveal much about the community...until you look at the satellite images

Google maps doesn’t reveal much about the community…until you look at the satellite images

Here the community appears, bordered by the railway on one side and river on the other

Here the community appears, bordered by the railway on one side and river on the other

Bureaucratically speaking, the community is represented by three different Shipibo associations. Primero: ASHIPEL-V (Asociación de Shipibos Residentes en Lima Pro Vivienda). Segundo: ACUSHIKOLM (Asociación de Communidades Urbanas Shipibo-Konibo de Lima Metropolitan). Tercero: AUSHIL (Asociación de Vivienda Shipiba en Lima). This final one is led by Ricardo Franco, the brother of Señora Luz Franco, the head of the textile artisan collective Madres Shipibas de Ashë (Ashë, meaning “craft”). Although there are other artisan groups, such as Menin Ainbo, connected to the second association, my contact has been with Ashë .

If all of that sounds unnecessarily complex, on the contrary, the community is in great need of legal representation. They do not own the land beneath the settlement, and the hill upon which it is constructed is actually a dump, a mountain of trash and mud which constantly poses health problems for the community’s children. Although the community is tightly knit; a safe, and mostly inaccessible fortress inside of which kids run around freely, looked after by all community members; Cantagallo is located inside of a larger, more dangerous inner city neighborhood.  The municipality wants relocate the Cantagallo community to a better terrain on the other side of the river, where they could have more permanent buildings and better access to amenities such as electricity and plumbing.  The move, however, would place them squarely in the suburbs, they would have to pay more for transportation, and they would no longer have such easy access to Lima’s center, where they sell their crafts. They have no fixed location for this enterprise, they work as mobile salesmen, except for occasional festivals or when people who are familiar with Cantagallo visit them to buy crafts.

One of GIA’s current activities is to design the relocation buildings, not in order to persuade the community to move, but to ensure that they have viable options when it comes time for them to vote and reach a consensus about their future.

And so, for the moment, Cantagallo exists as it does: a symbolic and very real addition to the ethnic diversity of this huge city, lending its cultural wealth, and functioning as a hub for indigenous Amazonian activity. Not only does the Shipibo community use Cantagallo as a base from which to move back and forth between the city and their native territories, but other urbanite Shipibos come on weekends to visit family, eat traditional food and be amongst their own. Importantly, the community also facilitates the government’s development plans for more remote Amazonian regions. When the government wanted to set up a medical post in Shipibo territory in the Amazon, they came first to Cantagallo to present plans and get feedback.

All of this, within a kilometer of Peru’s government palace.

This shows the community's position in relationship to Lima's historical center. The third point is the governmental palace

This shows the community’s position in relationship to Lima’s historical center. The third point is the governmental palace

After my meeting with José Carlos, it was time for us to go and visit the community. For the past few days, I have been working on a letter, and a portfolio of my own work, that will introduce me and my research plans officially to the Ashë artisans. The community requires these almost ceremonial introductions, which seem to be an excellent way of warding off any meandering researchers who might waste their time.

José Carlos and three other members of GIA, Lucia, Roxana, and Josefina had plans to screen a anthropological film about the Shipibo from 1953 in the school and facilitate a discussion in the community about changing customs. This youtube video shows some clips of the anthropological film, and also gives an excellent sense of exactly the sort of activity and discussion the GIA members were hoping to achieve (minus the American narrator). However, things never go quite as planned…

We arrived at the lower level of Cantagallo after passing through Lima’s historical center. With the hardware market on our right, we climbed the hill towards the second level.


Arriving in the community, we were bombarded by kids. They greeted us with hugs, hung off our arms, held our hands and escorted us through the narrow streets lined with small, two story homes, workshops and little stores, talking to us in Spanish, and to each other in Shipiba. We found the school abuzz with activity, most of it happening around knee or waist level as preschoolers and elementary students ran around in all directions in the courtyard hung with streamers to celebrate the school’s fifth anniversary.

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After we set up the projector in one classroom, lots of kids and parents gathered to watch the film that showed what traditional Shipibo culture was like sixty years ago. About seventeen minutes into the film however, the constantly shifting audience of children became more rambunctious than ever, and José Carlos announced a pause so that people could go see the “Chino” outside. Not being able to understand what this meant (a Chinese? a clown perhaps?), I went out too, to find the courtyard had filled with families and kids holding colorful candle-lit lanterns. One of the teachers was dressed as “Asian” and performing a dance with fans, much to everyone’s delight. I had no qualms about taking pictures like a tourist, because everyone else was taking snapshots as well. Music started up, and everyone trooped off on a candle-lit parade as night fell on the settlement.

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Undaunted by their audience’s desertion, our cheerful GIA group concluded that the evening had been a been a learning experience for all, and we joined the parade as they returned to the school for mass servings of hot chocolate and sandwiches.

Roxana, Lucia, José Carlos, Josefina

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In the chatty, celebratory atmosphere that accompanied the hot coco, I was able to meet with Señora Luz Franco and hear more about her collective’s activities. Although we had handed my official letter of introduction to her brother, Ricardo Franco, head of AUSHIL, Señora Luz assured me that we could meet up soon to discuss my research plans and get introduced to the rest of the group.

After saying our buenas noches to the community, we made our way back down through the emptying market. In the misty night, the lights of the neighborhood opposite the train tracks from Cantagallo rose steeply to an illuminated cross on the hillside, and disappeared into the fog.


The only thing left to do was to find my way home to San Borja. Luckily, Josefina also lives in that neighborhood, so together we packed on a crowded bus that took us along to an overpass, where we had to cross the highway on a pedestrian bridge and hop in a combi to a farther intersection from which I could walk to the house. Now I understand why each combi and bus has stenciled names along both sides: these are not exactly locations, but street names, so you simply hop on the one that will take you along the road in the right direction, then change transports when you need to go on a different road in a different direction. The accumulated effect of long-distance travel through the city, pollution and bouncy rides seems to put everyone into the same stupor, and most combi and bus passengers were nodding off, either rocked to sleep or intoxicated by fumes, it was hard to tell.


If you facebook…

ELIZA SQUIBB : Shipibo Textiles: Creating economic viability and cultural visibility through craft.

No matter what your personal politics are concerning the rise of social media, the most popular sites remain admirably free and accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Although it might be easy to discredit a news feed in which any one of your hundreds of “friends” can write about what a delicious sandwich they just ate, I can’t help but notice the potential for real and useful community building.

When first beginning my research and writing my grant proposal, I was interested (and surprised) to find that while the community I was researching doesn’t own the land they live on, they do have a facebook page. The Cantagallo Community page is updated frequently with announcements of communal activities, national news that relates to them, open invitations to visit the community’s festivals, AND formal introductions and photos of individual artisans and their work.

Here are some example screenshots of how the community uses social media to promote their artists, artisans, and cultural activities:

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Hello, my name is Harry Pinedo, my name in Shipibo is Inin Metsa Pei, which means scented leaf. I am 24 years old, and I have lived in Lima for 12 years.
I started painting because I was inspired by my uncle Chononmeni, also a Shipibo painter. I have exhibited in several group exhibitions. I am currently preparing a solo show.
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“Our artisan mother, Olinda, from the committee “Menni Ainbo” at the Native Art Fair 2013″
“Beautiful embroidery. I will try to go to the fair. What is the schedule?
“We are there approximately from 11am until 9pm! hope to see you there!”
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My name is Diana Ancon. I arrived 12 years ago in Cantagallo, my name in Shipibo is Wesna. I have 3 children. When I was 7 my mother taught me the art of hand embroidery with Kenë designs.


As for my partners, el Grupo Interdisciplinario Amazonia, GIA, they have a facebook as well. In fact, facebook chatting has been one of our most useful forms of communications, before and after my arrival in Lima. Although not constrained by a time difference, busy schedules make communication challenging, and chatting in mixed Spanish and English has an immediacy and informality that facilitated our planning and meetings.

Yesterday, during my first trip to Cantagallo with GIA, I fell naturally into the role of group photographer, and discovered something I could do that was of immediate help to the group. Of course, I need plenty of pictures for my own research, but also, my position as someone on the sidelines of the action helped me step into the role of photographer, a role that I usually find very uncomfortable. Later, uploading all the pictures to on online folder that all of GIA can access, it felt good to be able participate right away with something helpful. Today, the pictures I took have already found their way to GIA facebook:


Welcome (back) to Woods Hole!

Lizzie Kripke   Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA

On the southwestern tip of Cape Cod, Woods Hole is largely known as that place to catch the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. Complete with piercingly blue skies, a perpetually breezing sea, and politely zoned-out tourists, the scene is set for outstanding amounts of…marine research?

Eel Pond, Woods Hole

As it turns out, this tiny seaside stretch is in fact home to numerous renowned marine research institutions. As a Maharam Fellow, I am stationed at one of them – the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL). MBL, the nation’s oldest private marine lab, houses a couple hundred scientists year-round. In the summer, however, an additional 1700 scientists and students flock here to either conduct research or participate in high-level courses. It is an impressive place. Throughout its pioneering history in research science, it has been affiliated with 55 Nobel Prize winners; 118 Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators, early career scientists, international researchers, and professors; 202 Members of the National Academy of Sciences; and 178 Members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences ( And that’s just MBL. The other institutions in town, literally next door, boast similarly intimidating resumes. Together, they all contribute to a fiercely scientific community.

So what is the role of an artist at a serious science establishment such as this?

Great question! And I can confidently tell you that we still don’t know! Although, I can also confidently tell you that my work here is aimed at chipping away at that question. While it is clear that no simple or prescriptive answer exists, I am a firm believer that the fields of art and science are remarkably complementary. I suspect that exploring a practical mutualism between the two will lead to new insights, on both sides of the fence, which would not have been foreseeable otherwise.

I have been pursuing this idea throughout my time as a student in the Brown/RISD Dual Degree Program. The simultaneous nature of my studies in both neuroscience and painting has been crucial to my developing interest in integrating these two methods of inquiry. Both fields seek to confront the edge of human knowledge and experience. Perhaps this pursuit can become more comprehensive and broadly meaningful, both within and beyond the art and science communities, through a collision of diverse methods and ideas.

Last summer, I really began applying this line of thought when I fortuitously back-doored my way into MBL – specifically, into the lab of Roger Hanlon.  Dr. Hanlon is one of the leading experts on dynamic camouflage in cephalopods – that is, the astounding ability of squid, cuttlefish, and octopuses to change their body color, pattern, and shape on the timescale of milliseconds. See for yourself, it’s pretty unreal.

Our work together ended up being promisingly fruitful, but I am all the more eager, now, to push the collaboration even further.

I will be sure to provide more details about the exact nature of my work, and why it matters, in future posts – but for now, I leave you with some sunny photos of MBL. The top-notch research technologies and overflowing volumes of mental juice are not the only reason scientists flock here every summer…

Lillie Laboratory, MBL

Lillie Laboratory, MBL

My office is in the building on the right

Eel Pond. My office is in the building on the right

MBL/WHOI Library

MBL/WHOI Library


Bags of Supplies

When Keela went out to observe the special election in Coventry earlier this month, she received the three trash bags pictured below:Much to her surprise, these are actually the official supplies given to clerks, supervisors and wardens/moderators to run elections. How they are pictured above is exactly how they are presented to each respective official — organized in no particular fashion, stuffed haphazardly into a thin plastic bag. When we Skyped with Whitney Quesenbery she spoke of empowering poll workers and officials to “help voters vote,” and the importance of giving the right tools. Seeing some “tools” as they exist now have made Keela and I daydream about how improving just one seemingly small aspect of the election process could actually have a very significant impact…



World Economic Forum


Hello from the great city of New York and the World Economic Forum’s USA offices.

It has been about two weeks since I got settled into Manhattan, and as you’d suspect from a city with 8 million people, things are moving excitedly fast. The constant motion has kept things fresh and ripe for inspiration.


The first order of business in preparing for the Forum was to get caught up on all the literature surrounding “big data”. While I have come to see this term as overused and misunderstood (in a similar way to “design thinking”), there was definite value in getting a scope for how the world’s leading experts envision data driving society. Hand in hand with this preliminary research was watching The Minority Report, the 2002 film directed by Steven Spielberg, which I have found is widely cited in big data communities. The movie depicts a future where people are arrested for crimes they have not yet committed, and poses serious questions about rights and freedoms. With ever increasing amounts of data being generated in the world (it is estimated that there is more data/information produced per day than from 2003 to the beginning of recorded history – woah!), we are not that from off from analytical software being able to predict with great accuracy who will commit a crime

A week into starting things out with the Forum,  Edward Snowden set off a storm of press with his leaks of the NSA’s PRISM program. While I will not get to in depth at this point in addressing the politics of NSA and their initiatives, I can say that it was quiet a headline to come out the week of starting on the Forum’s personal data initiative. I don’t think I could have picked a more exciting time to jump into the world of personal data.

So what do we do about this (arguably scary) future?! What rules and regulations should be in place to ensure that individuals are protected, but also to avoid hindering positive social benefit and innovation through big data? These are exactly the problems that I am wrestling with this summer, and by approaching these topics from the background of an artist and designer I am presented with a fascinating perspective on how to best address this complex issues.

I will address more specifically my day to day work and longer term project goals for the summer in the next post, but for now if you are interested in reading more about the growing world of Big Data, check out the New York Time’s special section from this Thursday:

Cheers from the Big Apple,


P.S. Can’t beat coming to work and findingendless amounts of N’Espresso!



Board of Elections

Last Wednesday (the 12th), Keela and I paid a visit to the Board of Elections office in Providence to get an “official” tour of the building and see how things run there. We’ve both visited the office before and met with some of the people who work there, but it was nice doing a more thorough walk through of the place and getting to see some familiar faces. Tomorrow (Friday) we will be paying a visit to the Secretary of State’s Elections Division, the Board of Election’s counterpart in planning for and executing elections in Rhode Island. Stay tuned for more on that, and in the meantime here are some pictures from our visit!


The hearing room

The Board of Elections office

Keela and Bob Kando, the Executive Director of the Board of Elections

Keela and Bob Kando, the Executive Director of the Board of Elections

Forms, forms, forms

Mail ballots must be kept in this vault for 22 months after each state election in case of a recount

Mail ballots must be kept in this vault for 22 months after each state election in case of a recount

The ballot room

The ballot room

There are 39 cities/towns in this baby state!

There are 39 cities/towns in this baby state!

The voting machines

The voting machines

Each voting machine is designated for a specific polling location

Each voting machine is designated for a specific polling location

Bob Rapoza, the Elections Director, shows us a voting machine “in action”

All received ballots come here — the ES+S office (Election System and Software)

All received ballots come here — the ES+S office (Election System and Software)


First Steps

Greetings from Providence, Rhode Island! It has taken Kelsey and I a good 6 months or so to figure out how to pronounce the name of the fellowship (Ma-HA-ram, MA-ha-ram, Ma-ha-RAM…) we have used every variation possible. Reminds me of when the first Harry Potter books came out and nobody really knew how to pronounce Hermione’s name. But alas, here we are interning with the RI Board of Elections and Secretary of State’s Elections Division to research the current systems these office use and to offer insight about how these systems could be improved using design thinking and processes. We Skyped with Whitney Quesenbery last week and discussed her work as a user experience researcher and tester involved in helping improve election materials in several states. Her knowledge about the field and how to conduct research amazed us and we are excited to have such a great support system as we move forward. Here is a photo from our Skype date!

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Last week I visited a special election that was happening in Conventry, RI. It was a local school board election, but I got to tag along to see how the polling places were set up and run. At the senior center polling location I visited, there were no signs in the building to direct voters to the room with the voting booths. Actually I lied, there was one…


The challenges the Board of Elections faces regarding wayfinding systems and poll worker training are ones that we are very excited to delve deeper into during this summer. So stay tuned!