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Long overdue…

Sheepishly I begin this blog post. It has been a long time, too long since I’ve let you all know my whereabouts. Sheepishly I begin this blog post. I had told many of you before leaving that I would write at least twice a month, and now I believe I haven’t written in two months! Sigh…

robberg hikeI’ve fallen in love with South Africa. It’s like I’m seeing the ocean and the mountains here for the first time or perhaps with an appreciation I did not have before. Perhaps this is because I came on the heels of India. I’m staying in an apartment that overlooks the bay that spills into the Indian Ocean and the Titsikama Mountain range that runs from the north and seem to fall right into the ocean on the horizon. Every morning, every evening, this is what I get to look at. As one of my students Karl always likes to say, “I win.”

Ever since I arrived in South Africa three weeks ago I can’t stop walking. I let Vanessa and Nora take the car and spend half an hour walking to the beach and another 45 minutes back up the hill home. Sometimes I’ll do this twice in one day. India confined me in so many ways that all I want is clean air, open quiet spaces and lots of room to move. I didn’t spend much time outside while in Jaipur, which goes against everything that makes me me. My cells, composed of fresh air and clean water, my muscles of old mountain passes, my joints of river bends. But there it was- loud, dusty, too much for my senses. I’m sensitive, I can’t help this aspect of my constitution, so in India, or at least in Jaipur, I went outside simply to get from point a to b.

Udaipur - Woman dancing with bowlsThe sky in Jaipur is perpetually hazy, a mix of fog in the morning with dust from the desert and pollution from the cars. It smells like a mix of burning garbage (inhaled it burns the lungs) and of spices frying over open flames. And this sort of encapsulates how I feel about India. Immediate shock and wanting to hide coupled with a curiosity and interest in everything I see. I could ride around in tuk tuks all day just taking in the random sights along the streets – the camels, the men getting a shave in shacks along the CIMG0302roadside, the random wedding party on horses at night…I’m glad to be gone, although no matter how difficult it was, I’m appreciative for the opportunity to have experienced it again, especially in light of what it means to be a woman in this world.

Four days before we arrived in India (December 16) a 23 year old medical student was brutally raped on a bus in Delhi and left on the side of the road in a pool of her own blood. Two weeks later, she died in a Singaporean hospital where even the best doctors could not save her.

Coming to Jaipur on the heels of this tragedy, when the entire country was in an uproar, men and women taking to the streets in mass protests in almost every major Indian city for days to demand justice for women in a country heavily weighed down by sexism, my students were on edge. We, the program leaders, were on edge too. Nora was hit on the back by a man on a motorcycle passing her at dusk as she was walking from our apartment to the hotel. We were not only stared at, but glared at, almost in disgust. What did we represent to these men? I’m reluctant to say all this because I don’t want to paint a picture that is all negative, a picture that posits men vs women on every street corner. I worked with some very sweet men there. Still, every morning when I read the Times of India while waiting for our tuk tuk more than half the front page was covered with stories of women and girls being raped and abused. One couldn’t help but move with trepidation among the streets.

And then as I was drinking tea one evening watching the news (another story about the raped medical student) I remembered a women who lived in the apartment next to mine as college sophomores in Wisconsin. I remember it was May and it was the middle of the night when the phone woke me out of sleep. I remember it was raining. Her voice shaking and small. She had been raped, her car stolen, her body dropped in a suburban neighborhood, naked. Violence against women does not just happen in other places. It happens in our backyards. It happens to those we know and love. We have come a long way but are not immune to the affects of our own culture. A culture that continues to objectify women, a culture that glorifies violence. We can’t put band-aids on societal weaknesses and hope they just get better We can’t brush such incidents under the rug and hope the room stays clean.

Kristen teaching numbers with love

Kristen teaching numbers with love

On another note, We studied education while in India where the students worked with kids in slums, teaching English, math, basic life skills. Here is a link to one of the media projects written by three of my students regarding their experiences – I Am No Bird

Unfortunately, the last two weeks of my time in India were a blur due to the e.coli that ravaged my gut. 2 rounds of antibiotics later and now 3 weeks into South Africa my stomach is still not right…not because of the e.coli but the side affects of taking too many antibiotics – BEWARE! It immediately makes me think about the superbugs that are forming in our fields as a direct affect of too many pesticides! I feel good though (running on the beach in the morning and doing yoga) so don’t worry about me.

Here in South Africa: Our work with care givers in surrounding townships and focused study on HIV and public health has many of us talking about healthcare as a human right and grappling with why it is not looked as such in the U.S. We are all enjoying the freedom of Plett and our thoughts are definitely starting to turn toward home. For me, with a bit of trepidation, so uncertain is my future, but that is the beautiful thing about life. All the changes and the faith that things always work out.

I hope to write more before I return home, but no promises. If you’ve made it this far into my post, thank you for reading! Thinking of you

photo for you mom! xo

photo for you mom! xo

all as I watch a full orange moon rise over the Indian Ocean, as I walk the long stretches of sandy beach collecting the shells of abalone and sea urchins…

xo

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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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I’m So Grateful

Quilatoa Crater, Ecuador with Rachel Rosenblum

I’M THE LUCKIEST!  Here I am with one my Jewcy sisters,Rachel and her family, hiking in the Andes in Ecuador while on vacation.  We walked for miles from one small Andean village to another taking in the mountains and Indigenous way of life. Beautiful.

Along the Inca Trail, Peru

 

The Inca Trail…2 times in one year! How lucky can one girl be? Once again, I fell in love with the Peruvian Andes and I can’t wait to return here again someday. It’s so incredibly beautiful. I found myself stopping at regular intervals along the trail, not only to catch my breath but also just to gaze at views like this.

 

 

 

I must go now. We are catching a plane this morning…one of many on our journey to China. More to come…promise.

Lots of love,

a.

 

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from afar…notes from a chocolate forest

First of all, I am sorry it has taken so long to post. I am in the jungle without internet access. I know promised many of you that you would hear from me at least twice a month. I hope you can forgive…

Our home in El Poste.

I have never been as turned around as I am in El Poste. All the roads look the same – countless miles of rocks and dirt lined by plantain trees, yucca, cacao and hearts of palm.  A slight drizzle greets me every morning but never lasts long, although the clouds always remain.  I was first enamored with the thought of living in a chocolate forest – the cacao pods first plucked off the tree and cracked open taste sweet, almost citrusy, but once laid out to ferment  smell sour and yeasty. It’s amazing that something as delicious as chocolate must go through so many sensory phases.

El Poste, Ecuador

The houses in El Poste are spread far apart, there is no real center to the town, and are only connected by these dirt roads or paths through the cacao. I have been staying at the cultural center with the cultural leader, Don Jose and his family. At 36 years old, climbing up to the top bunk every night with cockroaches scurrying below, I think perhaps I’ve become too old for this kind of travel, but this is only a fleeting thought and soon I hear chanting from the area behind our cabin where people come from far and away for spiritual cleansings. Some involve a native plant (a vine) called ayawask that causes hallucinations, others a sauna with local herbs and I am reminded of the complexities of this world.  Especially the time when I was awoken at midnight by 3 large, brightly colored buses that managed to make it down the rocky road (30 minutes from the nearest town) so that the buses could get blessed. Yes, the buses. As the students work on media projects exploring the loss of Tsa’chila culture to the modern world, I can’t help but chuckle at the need for “modern buses” to get blessed by Don Jose.

Vanessa and Kimmi (one of the many adorable Tsa’chila girls that we lived with)

The Tsa’chila’s way of life, their culture, is yes dwindling due to the rapid encroachment on their land by mestizos and by a rapidly developing world. Up until the 1950s the Tsa’chila were still hunting and gathering and living their life relatively undisturbed in the jungle here. And then land was bought up and cleared for cultivation and since then, there is just too little jungle left to maintain a hunter gatherer lifestyle. The Tsa’chila converted to subsistence farming – cacao, yucca, plantain. I think about how homogenized our world is becoming, especially as I watch the students rush to the one local store here every day after lunch to buy Oreos and Coke – here amongst the cacao and plantain. And now, the Tsa’chilas try to hold on to their culture by basically being entertainers to the buses of foreigners who want a glimpse into an indigenous lifestyle (as I too had before arriving) and yet it feels like the cultural center is really the only place where they actually maintain tradition.

I’m traveling with a much larger group this year (18 students!) and it has proven, thus far, to be much more work than last. As it now stands, I see my work and greatest learning to come in the form of patience and empathy. My co-leaders are great and we find ourselves laughing a lot…especially when things are feeling hard, when we’re sick, when the food continues to lack nutrition, when cockaroaches scurry out of bags, etc.  and they are always up for an 80s dance party

And now, I´m ready to leave the chocolate forest, the beautiful birds, the lizards on my wall at night, the sound of the wind rustling the feathery leaves of tall bamboo trees. It is time for a change of climate. I´m better in the mountains. Off to Peru in less than two days!!

I hope this finds everyone doing well, enjoying the late fall weather, carving pumpkins, drinking hot cider (ahh, that sounds quite lovely right about now) I would absolutely love, LOVE to hear from all of you…I am deeply missing my peeps from home.  Oh and I’m going to be adding a new page to the blog to document TBB learning as I see it along the way. hope you enjoy…

Besos

a.

xo

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goodbye to summer and to vermont once again

Cate Farm Fiesta ~ Plainfield, VT

There is nothing quite like summer in Vermont and this has been an exceptionally delicious one. I’ve witnessed good friends marry, hiked mountains (Scott I hear you laughing out there in Colorado at what I consider a mountain), harvested endless amounts of carrots, watermelons, squash, tomatoes, etc. to the beautiful backdrop of Lords Hill at Wellspring Farm, kayaked lakes and camped to the sounds of loons, made batches of zuchinni bread, picked berries and made jam, gone dancing and laughed endlessly, hit a number of RBIs in softball and missed a ton of grounders at 2ndbase, drank lots of good beer and eaten an enormous amount of

Wellspring CSA ~ Marshfield, VT

fresh food, played tennis, sat quietly and listened to the peepers in late spring and the crickets and the birds and to my heart, trying to learn to just be. Just be here now. I’ve cried a lot at struggles I’ve had with people who are extremely dear to my heart because of misperceptions, miscommunications, desires and ideas that do not see eye to eye, I’ve begun to overcome my fear of public speaking with a story told at Jen Dole’s Extempo. (click the link to hear my story. listen to both stories if you have time: I got honorable mention and my good friend Julia got top honors) I played golf for the first time, a beautiful course in Provincetown along the ocean and caught my first striped bass (31 inches and delicious). I’ve made new friends and lost hold of a few along the way, I’ve opened to the word “yes.” Ahhh, summer in Vermont.

And now the light begins to soften and fade earlier in the day and I find myself enjoying the way it subtly slants as it brushes the tops of trees at dusk. The air is cooler which means cold fingers while harvesting lettuce in the early morning but it’s also when we get to watch the mists gradually rise from the fields and up from the hills to reveal glorious fall like days. It is somewhat bittersweet that I leave now, my favorite season just upon us. Transition is all around me. Teacher friends are back at work, former students entering their first weeks of college and I now turn toward a new journey around the world.  I anticipate, because yes, I’ve done this before and yet I acknowledge how much I have to learn. New students. New experiences. I’ve had comments tossed at me, such as “You are going to the same places? You are reading the same books?” with a tone that implies, why would you do this again if so much is the same. And I want to say back, “You are going to the same office again tomorrow? You are sleeping with the same woman?” How can there not be new things to learn every day? This is one of the greatest things about my job. During training Robin comments, ‘If you are not learning every day you are not doing your job. Your number one responsibility is to learn every day.’ How many can claim to work with people who hold to this value so strongly? As educators, how can we not?  We are though, learning every day. I just wonder if we are actually paying attention…to our interactions with others, to our thought patterns, to the world around us, to what we read, to what we hear and see.

I wanted to take a moment and thank everyone who has welcomed me into their homes and let me sleep on couches and in guest rooms, who have offered me food and drink and have supported me emotionally during this transition (both near and far)…you know who you are. THANK YOU!! Leaving is so much easier knowing that this amount of love safeguards me around the world, that this community awaits when I return.

I hope you will all try to find a way to stay in touch with me over the next 7 months and keep me updated on your whereabouts and happenings. You know how much I LOVE a good story, or a good mock-reality video, or a thoughtful letter, or a silly card, or some chocolate, or photos of you…(hint hint)

I depart on Sunday September 9 to Ecuador with 18 students and 2 co-leaders. Until then I have my cell phone and I will have internet access most of the time. Looking forward to hearing from you along the way…xoxo

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