As I write this final blog post, the sun is setting over the Boston skyline, a sight I have not seen for over a year. I arrived home this month and though there is much to say about that transition, let's first rewind to my fourth and final quarter.
On a hot and sticky day in April, I arrived at Navdanya Biodiversity Farm in Dehradun, India. I finished up my month long stay here on May 15th. My time there was absolutely a highlight of my whole year. I learned so much about everything from soil science to Indian folk dances to making dal bhat. I was so happy to have the structure of waking up every day and knowing exactly what I needed to do. I rolled out of bed before sunrise and walked to the wheat field to begin the daily harvest. With my hands in the dirt for at least five hours a day I felt connected to place and I felt connected to myself. I also felt very connected to the cycles of creation and destruction. I feel that working the land does that to a person. Everyday you are confronted with lady death and simultaneously the new life that springs up in her wake. You rip out a plant by its roots to make way for something better.
|shoveling cow $h!t|
The connection I valued the most however, was to the community there. It was a mix of people from the Doon valley area and foreigners from Europe, Asia, South America, and North America. I’m still trying to put my finger on how this happened but somehow, almost immediately, there was this feeling of great love amongst everyone there. It was not in a forced or fake way, which I’ve experienced in other communities. It was so genuine, and fueled by everyone feeling comfortable to be so totally themselves. It felt like summer camp for adults, and it was exactly what I needed after being on my own for a while. I learned this year that I am not really a lone wolf at all, which is how I once thought of myself. I am so much happier in a pack. I am still in touch with a lot of the people I met there and likely going to see a handful of them sometime soon.
|The crew (part of it anyway)|
I was planning to stay at Navdanya for another month but as the ides of May approached I felt my wanderlust setting back in and I made plans to return to Nepal. I spent a transitional week in Delhi beforehand, which was at once wonderful and terrible. I had an air conditioned lovely apartment to myself in a quiet part of the city. For free! Through a random connection of my uncle’s, an ex-pat filmmaker lent me her apartment while she was in the United States working on a script. It was a great refuge. And thank the heavens for air conditioning!! The average temperature that week was 115 degrees fahrenheit. I spent the majority of the week writing and reading and visiting gardens in the early morning before the heat set in.
|Behind the scenes at the Sikh temple in Delhi that feeds 10,000 people a day for free|
I flew from Delhi to Kathmandu, where I got on a microbus to Pokhara.
|Durbar Square, Kathmandu|
|Chilling at base camp|
I spent a few days here before embarking on the Annapurna basecamp trek. The trek was AWESOME.
I managed to weave my project into the trek as well by taking notes about the high altitude subsistence farms. I didn’t realize before I arrived but Annapurna translates to “full of food,” and remarkably, it was! It blew my mind to see the innovate ways people were growing their own food in such an extreme climate.
|Just doing our part to keep the Himalayas clean|
After the trek, I returned to Kathmandu for a few days before flying across the globe to Martinique. I spontaneously bought a ticket here while in Delhi for two reasons. One, I had wanted to add a Caribbean island to my research from the very beginning because there are a lot of fascinating food system conflicts happening in that area. Two, Greg was there doing research on the island for the summer.
|Hanging under the mango tree from which I ate, on average, 8 mangoes a day|
I spent eight days there and learned about the sugar cane plantations and, on the other end of the spectrum, creole gardens- a method of subsistence farming that originated in slave times as a way for the slaves to feed themselves. I learned about the dynamic between the the island and the mainland of France, which it is technically a part of. There has been an independence movement for a long time but there are many obstacles in the way of achieving this. Food is one of them. In spite of the fertile ground they import the majority of their food from France and therefore are dependent on them to feed themselves. Independence could mean an end to these relatively low cost imports. This was a fascinating case study of sorts on how food is used as a tool of power. Greg was there translating the works of their most famous political and poet, Aimé Césaire, from French to English. This was great because I was able to learn a lot about decolonization and negritude, a word and concept that Césaire helped coin.
|Jardin de Balata, Martinique|
I flew from Martinique to Ireland, where I was immediately flabbergasted by the fact that suddenly, after 10 months of this not being the case, I could understand everyone there and they could understand me! Language-wise that is. I spent the first two weeks on Carraig Dulra farm taking a Permaculture Design Course.
|Practicing our design skills|
|check out that beautiful salad!!|
It was so cool and I am so happy I did it. I learned about medical plants, food as medicine, how to build a fish pond, woodworking, wild foraging, perennial planting systems, and more. I had mind blowing moments everyday and was surrounded by some of Ireland’s most passionate food activists. It left me feeling very positive and hopeful, which was much needed given that a lot of my research in both East Africa and India was fairly depressing in regards to the direction things were going. I spent a lot of time thinking about the current conditions of all the former British colonies (namely Ireland, India, and Uganda) I visited and was shocked by both the differences and the similarities.
|Listening to the trees|
After the permaculture course I spent 8 days hitchhiking across the island. I got a lot of rides from elderly men who were very concerned about my wellbeing. I stayed in some very interesting places along the way including the tool shed of a community garden and in a farmer’s hay field next to a cemetery. In Galway I stayed with friends from the permaculture course and had the opportunity to help them redesign their garden with the knowledge we had garnered from our course. After a couple days here, I hitchhiked back to the East coast with a stopover at Cloughjordan Ecovillage, where I worked on their farm for two days. From here I journeyed back to Dublin where I stayed with another friend from the permaculture course. I left Ireland with the feeling that there was so much more to learn that I could take back and apply to the United States. So hopefully I’ll be back soon!
|Mountain flute jam in Galway|
Photo Credit: Carine Genadry
My final stop was a short and sweet trip to Norway. I met up with a friend in Oslo for a couple days and had a great time biking around the city (which contains 60 percent wilderness within the technical city limits!!) and taking in the pristine streets and highly efficient infrastructure. Afterwards, I took a train to Trolltunga in the West and spent a few days there hiking and mentally repairing for my transition home.
Two days later, bam! I was back in the USA.
|Back with the laaaadies|
I am feeling very settled and content now. The first two weeks back were quite difficult- transitions are not my strong point, though I am much better at them now after going through countless transitions in this past year. The Watson conference is what really made me feel comfortable being back. It felt like closure and it was also very validating of all the things I was feeling. In the weeks since I have had the pleasure of connecting with several of the fellows I met there.
Being back in this familiar context with people who have known me all my life has helped me realize the ways in which I have changed. I feel relaxed in situations that once made me anxious, I interact with people I once took for granted with a newly profound appreciation, and I share my ideas with more clarity.
I would like to extend a HUGE thank you for everyone who supported me in ways big and small throughout the course of the year. I definitely could not have done it without you all.
Peace out for now,