Monthly Archives: December 2012

From Angkor Wat to the Taj Mahal

One of my favorite days so far…

was when I rented bikes in Cambodia with Augie, Karl and Kristen and explored the temples at Angkor Wat for hours in the blazing sun.  We stopped at every temple along the 20 mile route to explore, to take silly photos, to video Kristen dancing, to be silly, to enjoy the vast expanses of bright green rice paddies. I was able to be carefree in a way that has been

Karl at Angkor Wat

Karl at Angkor Wat

too few and far between thus far. I’m hoping to cultivate this spirit and bring it back to life.  At one point while biking alongside Karl, he commented on how his friends were all busy taking exams back home. He looked to me with a smile and said, “I win.” Amen Karl.

Kristen at Angkor Wat

Kristen at Angkor Wat

India thus far…

Cambodia was amazing and I miss it already as I begin to settle into the routine of India. Vanessa now understands when I said how much I loved riding in tuk tuks in Cambodia because of their ease and quiet as we rattle along loud and busy roads in rickety tuk tuks here in Jaipur. I have to say, I am not shocked by India this time around. What a privilege to be able to experience a place two times; coming to it with different perspectives and expectations, with different people and senses.  I’m not shocked by the noise, although the constant and deafening sound of horns causes me to cringe. I’m not shocked or super annoyed by the constant haggling to buy just about anything. I’m not shocked by the random elephant walking down the busy street although I’m tickled and I’m not shocked by the camels slowly pulling carts of rebar or sacks of onions, although I definitely take notice and smile. I feel more comfortable and easy. I think I understand it better. I have more patience to deal with the countless papers one needs to sign solely to get a sim card only to have the phone not work for days, or the miscommunicated 20 minute conversations that end up in more miscommunicated conversations. After having to sign a receipt three times for one meal I shrug my shoulders and look at Niv, our Indian guide who looks back to me and simply says, “This is India.”

There are a couple of things that I am shocked by and don’t think I’ll be able to get used to; one being the poverty and the other being the constant stares by men as I walk down the street. We are staying in an apartment sponsored by a hotel but we take our meals at the hotel, a five-minute walk away. From the roof of this comfortable hotel I can see swaths of dirt where makeshift homes have been built out of sticks, canvas and plastic and I see kids squatting in garbage to pee and others holding their hands out when I pass. It is so striking to see beautiful women draped in brightly colored fabrics of pink and orange and turquois against this dusty brown backdrop. In America we hide our poverty in ghettos and trailers at the margins but here poverty is everywhere. People set up these makeshift homes along the sides of busy streets, on bridges and under them, next to homes and hotels. I’m currently reading a book about a slum in Mumbai called The Beautiful Forevers and highly recommend it to anyone interested in a glimpse into this world and for a fictitious and well-written book about India I recommend A Fine Balance.

Super foggy at the Taj. We could hardly see it!

Super foggy at the Taj. We could hardly see it!

We spent Christmas at the Taj Mahal and toured some other forts and temples around the area. We are constantly bombarded by people selling goods (postcards, mini games of chess, magnets, cheap jewelry, pens, etc.) and they are relentless. I don’t mind it so much, although it is annoying to our American sensibilities of space and privacy, hands thrown into faces, hands tugging shirts. It is the students who struggle. Some get annoyed and complain. Some buy gifts out of guilt, especially from the barefoot children whose teeth are yellow from chewing tobacco. Yet the students board our private clean bus and tune in to movies on their computers or retreat into their ipods and I stare out the window and think about the young boys trying to sell me goods because they are human and I don’t want to ignore them even though I don’t want to buy their stuff. I ask them their names, how old they are, why they aren’t in school, how much money they make in a day. They ask where I’m from and when they hear the U.S. they give a thumbs up, smile broadly and say “Obama” or “Obamastan.” I don’t know really what I’m trying to say here except give a description of what a day for me is like as a tourist here in India and what I think about. I don’t blame my students for retreating. It’s a lot to take in. I do hope, as they enter slums every day to teach students English and other skills over the next month, that they will begin to have a greater understanding of these kids lives and choose not to turn their backs on them, or complain at their attempts to survive. More to come on our unit on the purpose of education. You could follow along by picking up a copy of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed!

Writing to you as a red full moon rises over the hills and kites fly all around from near and distant rooftops.  Wishing you all a happy and healthy new year filled with adventure, laughter and love.  Thanks for all the letters, for the chocolates and for the dancing video. I miss and love you!!

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Whose responsibility is it to create change? Reflections from our unit on Sustainable Agriculture

The last seminar of every unit in our TBB curriculum is about how to create social change. We talk about the theory of social change movements, we look at who primary stakeholders are and what we can do to influence change among them and we look at our personal responsibility and how we can start to create change in ourselves. For the last seminar in the sustainable agriculture unit we had the students talk about someone in their life who they consider an agent of social change by describing what they do and why they look up to them.

Students shared stories about family members, former teachers, and heads of non-profits. And then it was my turn. So many people I know out there working to create change but the first person who popped out of my mouth was my friend Mimi.

When we think about agents of social change, I think we often picture big heroes such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi. And of course, why wouldn’t we? They are people to look up to for great revolutions that led to massive social change.  Yet in a way I think it is dangerous, this “heroification”, when we are taught that social change leaders are an exception to the rule instead of people we meet in our daily lives. In a way, it creates a sense of passivity.  I think my students sometimes struggle because they believe they should see results from their learning overnight, that they should immediately be able to formulate their opinions and know what comes next. And yet no change is immediate. We know Rosa Parks did not spontaneously decide not give up her seat on that bus in Montgomery but was part of a planned and intentional movement that had been in the works for years. Anyway, since we were focused on sustainable agriculture and creating change it made me think of my friend Mimi.

Mimi has been growing organic vegetables for years on a beautiful 5-acre piece of land in Marshfield Vermont. It is where I fell in love with farming and farmers and our rural communities almost 9 years ago. Every year for the past 10+ years she hires apprentices to help her grow food for a 150 member CSA. This is a financial necessity. Apprentices are willing to work extremely hard for very little money because they want to learn. And every year, Mimi turns out new farmers. I never thought of this as a particularly revolutionary idea, and yet when I think about our current agricultural system and the very fact that most young people are fleeing our rural landscapes for urban centers and the average age of farmers is something like 55, then in a way, this is quite revolutionary. We have not stopped to think about who will be our future farmers. Maybe because some believe so strongly in technology or that with GMOs we’ll need less labor. I don’t know, call me a hippie (and believe me, my students do just that!) but this is soulless.  I feel depressed and doomed when I think about Monsanto taking over our fields. Our current system is too large and it’s too industrial and we still have over 900 million people suffering from malnutrition and hunger in the world. It needs to change.

When I moved to Mimi’s farm in 2004 I finally felt connected to the world in a way I had not before. It made me reflect on my suburban upbringing, on our increasingly homogenized world, about a certain loss of connection. Do we know our neighbors? Do we get up from our couches on a regular basis to confront them and our communities, not only to organize but also to have fun? No wonder we don’t care about our food, about the ways cows are raised to get us our hamburgers, the countless pounds of pesticides sprayed on the vegetables we eat or the conditions workers endure who spray those chemicals. Why don’t we care?

And this is the question I struggle with every seminar 10. If we know what ails us, why can’t we change? Are we that addicted to consuming? Are we just too accustomed to our world the way it is, not really wanting to put in the effort it will take to create a fundamental shift in our consciousness and our behavior? We continue to rate countries’ progress based on their GDP but is this all that matters? Sure, people need to survive and I don’t mean to diminish that, but I do think there are other ways we can shift our thinking when we think about progress. Are we more connected to our community? Are we happier and more fulfilled? Do we have love? Are we kind and compassionate? Our current paradigm is killing us…literally, with more stress, more cancer, more pollution, more disease. Are we really progressing?

I received a letter the other day from Mijal, one of my students from last year. In it she told me how she has changed her major from education to sustainability and how she currently dreams of becoming an organic farmer in the future. Well, I can’t tell you how much this warmed my heart. This gives me hope. Mimi gives me hope. All the people I know out there who work day after day to better our communities give me hope. They are true agents of social change. I want my students to see that change is slow and cumulative and it takes all of us.

I want to end by acknowledging and thanking some of my farmer friends who have been an inspiration and continue to be. Thanks for making a small piece of this world a better place to live:  Mimi Arnstein – Wellspring CSA; Paul Betz and Kate Clamente– High Ledge Farm; Richard Wiswall and Sally Colman – Cate Farm; Beth Whiting and Bruce Hennessey – Maple Wind Farm; George Gross – Dog River Farm; Joey Klein – Littlewood Farm; Chris Jackson – Maple Hill School or wherever you are teaching permaculture these days; Theresa Snow – Salvation Farms (gleaning program)

Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts and ramblings…xoxo

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Photos from China…finally!

FINALLY I’m BACK…from the behind the firewall. Here are some photos from China to give a glimpse into what I was doing. (click on a photo and it will bring you to a slideshow) My next post is lengthy but I hope you’ll read it and enjoy.

Currently in Cambodia and I have reflections that I’ll post in a few days. Missing you and hoping everyone is well and not getting swallowed up by the holiday season. thinking of you with love…

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