More pictures from my uprooting. I am overflowing with gratitude and love for those who helped and are helping me do that.
Thursday, March 31, 2016
Final decision: University of Michigan. I'm moving to Ann Arbor in August.
See more pictures here.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
My mind is not still. It could be the coffee. I think it is the coffee. But it’s also the fact that I’m fully immersed in a social justice education, that I live with 11 intelligent, justice-minded individuals, and speak with four incredible role models for a justice-motivated future in the form of staff members every day. It’s hard not to drink the Kool-Aid, if you will. Organic, local and union-run Kool-Aid, of course.
But I’m also a somewhat lost and confused post-college, over-educated, under-employed 20-something (how many articles have you read on THAT topic in the past year?) who is avoiding like the plague but knows she must soon look at “the next step.” So I have conversations about privilege and being off the grid versus on the grid and zones of justice and changing the system. And then I go get ice cream, and I feel better.
But my un-still mind continues to remind me that I am young and impressionable. Every time a new idea, a new project, a new aspect of some sort of inequality is brought up, I think, “There we go! I could do that! That’s a great entry point for me.” Then I think, “No, no, I should work on this aspect of the issue. That is much more suited for me.” And I jump to 100 different career paths and life paths and skill sets and issues and then I think I’m not qualified for that work and I can’t work for free any more but the economy is a mess so how will I ever find a job anyway and then I think that getting a job is perpetuating something I don’t believe in but I’m a spoiled white kid that I can even think that but everything I do is leading to the apocalypse and if I’m not vegan I should just turn in my chacos for business casual and let the apocalypse come because then at least I get to enjoy my ice cream in peace.
And sometimes it all feels so exciting that I just can’t wait to get started. And then I realize that I’ve already started and it’s already exciting. And then I realize that not every moment has to be exciting to be good, and not every moment has to be good, and sometimes I just need to stop. Slow down. Be calm. Do some yoga. Feel the chi and whatnot.
And then I vow once again to never ever drink coffee, and oh yeah, I should probably give up ice cream, too.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
I am in love. Her name is Nelly and she owns the frutería, or fruit and veg shop as my Irish roommate says, a couple of blocks from my house. Seeing Nelly is the best part of my day. Her frutería is bursting with the most beautiful, and often to me, exotic fresh foods. Mangoes, spinach, cherries, yucca, beans, fresh herbs like chamomile and laurel, avocado, ginger, and a variety of potatoes and greens. It is gorgeous and mouth watering and I am absolutely in love.
Every time I go to visit Nelly, after her four-year-old grandson counts to eight in English for me, I pick out something new to try. An odd hard green squash-type situation, or little purple lumps that seem to be halfway between potatoes and beans, or fuzzy misshapen things that are supposedly related to peppers. I pick something up and bring it to the cash register. “What’s this and what do I do with it?” Nelly smiles, shakes her head at the silly gringa, and launches into a detailed explanation that usually includes copious amounts of meat. I haven’t had the heart to tell her I’m vegetarian, so I just nod and smile and mentally remove the offending ingredients.
What is most beautiful about Nelly and her colorful frutería is that almost everything comes from Colombia. Nelly’s frutería is not a bougie farmer’s market or a specialty store. “Local” is just a given at your local neighborhood shop. Why buy tomatoes from Mexico when Colombia produces a beautiful crop? A logic that has been lost in many places—not least of all, California.
Not that Colombia is any shining example of food security. Organic, small-scale, agroecological, sustainably grown—these words are lost on Nelly and most produce producers and venders. The food sovereignty movement is disturbingly weak here. But it still brings a twinkle to my eye and puts a song in my heart every time I buy ten pounds of delicious Colombian produce for about $7.00. Especially when Nelly throws in some free peaches or grapes, just to show she cares.
Options for the food conscious are few and far between in Bogota. Colombia has one of the worst examples of corporate land concentrations in South America and a once net food exporter is now a net food importer. This means that instead of growing its own food, Colombia must sell cash crops like coffee and cacao, or natural resources like oil, in order to make enough money to buy food to feed their residents. This is exactly a country that is NOT food secure—that cannot feed itself.
Hope, however, burns eternal. I chatted with a man named Alejandro last week who is looking to start an organic and sustainably grown food store. He was interested to know how such things work in my country. It was a fascinating conversation, but I don’t know how helpful I was. Truthfully, the situations in our countries are so different, it is hard to compare—even the very words we used were up for discussion. I was using the word campesino to mean small farmer, such as those I met WWOOFing. But probably a more accurate translation, as my roommate pointed out, is peasant. The connotation of the word peasant in the United States, however, is completely different than the connotation of the word campesino. Or is it? I tried to explain to Alejandro about Lorraine in Arizona from my WWOOFing trip. She is poor, and self-identifies as such. And if you look at her finances, they will corroborate the story—her phone and electricity is constant in threat of being shut off, she needs outside work to support the farm, but availability is scarce, things of that nature. But if a campesino from Colombia looked at Lorraine’s life, with running water, electricity, two bathrooms, 40 some-odd acres, her own cars, and a well-developed infrastructure for distributing her goods, he or she would most certainly beg to differ. That doesn’t mean that food security is more or less important or dire in either country, or that Lorraine “isn’t really poor.” It just means that these populations face different obstacles in the same struggle.
Alejandro isn’t the only one with his mind in the garden and a penchant for food justice. An urban agriculture program is starting to gain momentum. A friend of a friend, Juan Carlos, works in government food security projects. Juan Carlos’ friend, Juan Carlos (I know, right?) works in green roofs. My roommate Thomas is working for a food sovereignty campaign with an environmental NGO. We are going to a Via Campesina Youth Conference this weekend. (http://viacampesina.org/en/) There is awareness. There is action. There just needs to be more.
Even those with the best intentions and the greenest hearts are complicit. As Thomas and I spoke to Alejandro, we sat in one of the many Oma’s sprinkled around Bogota—if not the Starbucks of Colombia (that would be Juan Valdez, still nationally owned but which Starbucks has its eye on), at least the local rendition of Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. We each got our coffees from god knows where and our pastries made from god knows what, and talked about what a gosh darn problem this food system is. I was reading a book on international food sovereignty, or lack thereof, called Food Rebellions! by Raj Patel and Eric Holt-Gimenez, as I would munch on crackers made from the exact same corn and flour that I was reading was causing such rampant inequality and hunger in the world. Bogota’s street corners are populated by the displaced poor—former small-scale farmers chased from the country and their farms by World Bank development policies that promised large-scale, corporate, industrial, petroleum-based agriculture, with a side of genetic modification, was the only way to feed the poor. Now these once self-sufficient if simple-living farmers are begging for change to buy bread and soda made from wheat, soy, and corn from those exact same large-scale farms. Food is full of irony.
The irony continues with my next project—a three month urban agriculture and food justice program in Berkeley called Urban Adamah (http://urbanadamah.org/). Berkeley—the heart of the food movement in the States, where urban farms abound and organic is as trendy Rayband. (That may be an outdated reference by now…I’m so hip.) Why is THIS the place that I go to work on issues of food justice? I will be working on an urban farm to grow food for local residents in need—while my fellows and I will be buying our food from farmer’s markets and grocery stores. I will no doubt splurge on a cup of Colombian coffee or two, as well. And it will most likely be better than ¾ of the coffee I drink here. As with many coffee growing countries, the best is left for export and locals only get the leftovers. Ironic indeed.
So that’s where I am—in love with my food vender, far more passionate about plants than about children, and coming back to Berkeley at the beginning of September. At least for now.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
In my work at Kidsave, I am essentially the liaison between the Los Angeles and Bogotá offices. At its most basic, this means that I am a translator—I translate family studies, child profiles, email communication, phone calls, psychological evaluations, whatever needs to be done. But I am finding that I must translate far more than words, which, make no mistake, is hard enough.
The word “adecuada” for example is a constant source of internal conflict. One might want to say “adequate”, which is one dictionary translation. But to me, in English the word “adequate” means “enough” or “sufficient.” I often find that the Spanish word in contexts where the meaning is more along the lines of “proper” or “good enough.” For example, a child that is neither malnourished nor obese has an “adecuada” weight. If I translate it as “adequate,” will I get across the right meaning? How much am I allowed to alter the words in my translation so that the meaning is properly understood? I’m sure a professional translator would have something to say on the subject, but I have made my skill level and lack of professional or any other type of experience no secret to my employers since day one.
Whether a child’s weight is adequate or proper may not be a deal breaker, but other things are. The story of the day is the approval of a potential host family in the States; let’s call them the Jolie family to protect their privacy. La Senora Angelina Jolie is a business executive, has been married for three years, and volunteers at a shelter for sex workers as well as the Make a Wish Foundation. She mentored a boy from the States as part of Kidsave’s Weekend Miracles program for three years and has been approved to adopt in Los Angeles County. So far so good. However, she’s had a few bumps in the road. Twenty-five years ago, when she was in her late teens, she tried cutting herself. She was subsequently hospitalized for a month. Furthermore, seven years ago, Angelina’s sister and two nieces were attacked by the sister’s boyfriend, and one of her niece’s was killed. The social worker who conducted the study reported that Angelina is very stable and completely ready to host, but should receive bereavement therapy should she move forward to adopt. Both her private agency social worker and Los Angeles County social worker have approved her as ready to participate.
But ICBF, child protective services here in Colombia, is worried. They won’t approve the Jolie family to participate unless Angelina can get a note from a psychologist or psychiatrist confirming her stable mental state and ability to participate. As we need to know the final list of participating families a week ago and such a letter will take at least a week, in addition to costing a good deal of money, we have a problem. Let the barrage of emails and phone calls begin.
It soon becomes clear that there was a communication problem, and not just because of my stuttery Spanish. Cutting, it turns out, is not well understood in Colombia. Apparently this subject of many a Hallmark channel afterschool special and the affliction of every Degrassi character possible is practically non-existent among Colombian adolescents, even those living in institutions (read: orphanages). Even something as intrinsic as the expression of pain is culturally constructed, it seems. Despite my very best explanations, “cutting of wrists” was understood as attempted suicide. Serious business indeed.
So they came to blows. My authority, practically non-existent, quickly proved insufficient for my boss in the States, Lauren, who demanded to speak to the Executive Director of the Colombia program, Martha. For Martha, my main function is to absorb all of the shrapnel from Lauren’s demands that are intended for her, and keep Lauren from contacting her directly at all costs. I usually serve my purpose well. This time, however, I didn’t prove strong enough to stem the flood of Lauren’s persistence. Lauren called her own boss over, Aleyda and Maria Fernanda, the only other people in the Colombia office, joined in, and we all had a fun little international conference call via Skype.
Lauren always tells me, “Hayley, make sure they understand. I don’t think they understand. Make them understand.” I have been told separately by Martha, Aleyda, and Maria Fernanda on multiple occasions that “Lauren doesn’t understand anything.” Understanding is a delicate concept. As far as I understand, this kind of work is not about mistranslations—using the wrong word, the difference between adequate and sufficient. It is about misinterpretations. Martha got her master’s at Harvard—her English is just fine. But her years in the States do not make her American, and will not allow her to understand like a local how we operate, hard as she tries, just as a few months in Colombia does not make me an expert in navigating Colombian culture.
Which brings me to our next cultural snafu. The decision that the Jolie family would need this psyche letter in order to participate came from Maria Carolina, a young social worker at ICBF, who went through a carefully organized and scripted process, including a meeting with other psychologists, to come to this conclusion. In Colombia, protocol is very important. Authority is respected and organizations are very hierarchical. People are annoyingly polite—directness is neither practiced nor appreciated. Every phone call, no matter how urgent, must begin with a slew of pleasantries. Every email must begin with most humble of apologies for bothering the receiver to do their job. Translated emails from Aleyda are long, drawn-out affairs, full of formal jargon that I must fastidiously look up. Emails between Lauren and I are clipped and to the point, and often include snide remarks or snarky jokes—some of which I end up attempting to translate for Aleyda’s benefit. Lauren will have none of this formality. She will send direct email after direct email, she will try to jump to the top of the food chain to get what she wants, and she is constantly trying to cut corners and avoid protocol to get things done. Lauren may or may not be the norm in the States, but her go-getter attitude and refusal to accept no as an answer is something to be commended, when it’s not making you crazy. Here, she is constantly on the verge of offending Kidsave’s allies to the point of severing ties and stopping their work all together.
So in our conference call, she and her boss Randi implored us to get ICBF to change its mind about the Jolie family. But as Martha explained to me, it is not about throwing your weight around to get what you want. You must follow the proper channels and negotiate. The idea that we could obtain the approval by the force of our persistence and Martha’s authority is completely culturally inappropriate—an odd concept in a country so fraught with corruption that it is a national joke. Martha explained to me privately how offensive Lauren’s claims can be; Lauren, without a college degree, Martha was careful to point out, does NOT know better than the Colombian government. This is not a banana republic, she assured me. ICBF’s decisions must be respected. Lauren, on the other hand, was aghast that a young social worker who has never met this family thinks she knows better than the team of social workers working directly with the family in California who think the family is suitable to adopt. Lauren is worried about the family’s financial contributions being at stake, Martha says under her breath. Martha doesn’t work hard enough in Kidsave’s interests, Lauren implies. The best translator in the world is still only translating words—how do you translate egos, power plays, and cultural norms? It is hard enough to read the silent language of human communication when we are all speaking the same verbal language. When we are thousands of miles apart speaking two languages via unreliable Skype connection, it’s a miracle the project survives.
Translation is an incredibly important job that I take very seriously. Every individual involved trusts you to express correctly what is being communicated. A tiny mistake can mean the difference between a child traveling to the states, getting adopted, and having a whole new world opened up to him or her, and the child aging out of the system at 18 and returning to the poverty and danger of the streets they were picked up from. That may sound dramatic, but we are playing with lives. I have no doubt that every person I work with has the best interest of the kids at heart—but we are all humans plagued with human folly, whether it be of ego, stubbornness, or good old fashioned misunderstanding.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Case in point: the first day of MEAE, a farming trip I may remind you, was the very last day of harvest, and the last day of our trip was the first day of spring. Erin and I were on a farming trip. In winter. The ANTI-growing season. Plans. Please.
So chaos has once again reared her beautiful but oh so mysterious head and brought me to Bogot¬á. An offhand comment lead to information about an internship lead to me sending my resume lead to me making flight plans less than a month before takeoff. When I was first offered the position, I started with the pro and cons lists and the lamenting and the what-about-this-ing, and then I just kind of stopped. Done thinking. I’m going to Colombia.
So here I am, creating a little life for myself in an apartment in Teusaquillo (a barrio in Bogotá which I still can’t pronounce without choking on my tongue). It’s only been a week—hardly enough time to make an assessment—but so far so good. I’ve been keeping busy: I’ve already checked out the nightlife, been to a dinner party, and visited a friend that I know from Ecuador (we did yoga in the mountains…super chevere!). I’ve walked the dogs with my actress roommate Ella and mastered public transportation (well, mastered might be a bit strong… “not died on” may be more accurate). Work is fascinating—mostly because I am doing lots of translating, for which I am supremely underequipped. I make an ass out of myself daily, actually, but I don’t mind. The gringa is here for everyone’s entertainment, especially the incredibly sweet people in my office.
Oh, and a word about what actually brought me here. I have a three month internship with Kidsave, which helps older kids get adopted through a host program. They both bring kids from Colombia (and other countries) to the states for a five-week summer program, and create weekend host family connections in the home country. The weekend host family model has been adopted in Los Angeles, as well. I am the liaison between the Los Angeles office and the Bogota office, which basically means I translate (horribly) emails and documents so that everybody is on the same page. With great power, comes great responsibility. Clearly Uncle Ben was speaking about translation.
So that’s that friends and countrypeople. One of my housedogs (whose name I don’t know because I already asked Ella like six million times and I can’t remember so I’m just going to wait for her to call him something other than “Bebe” y “Bonito”) is sleeping next to me on the bed and my shoes still haven’t dried after getting soaked two days ago in the constant rain that they have here. I am stoked.
Friday, June 5, 2009
Friday, May 8, 2009
I am living at Comuna Rhiannon, a small community in northern Ecuador, in the rural bits of the sierra, an hour and a half north of Quito. It´s a big house and the surrounding in-development land owned by a couple from England, Helen and Nicole, with the goal of being a sustainable community. (At barely a year old, they've got a great start, but still have a ways to go.) Volunteers come in and out, sharing the work from designing the gray water system to cooking meals to cleaning the bathroom. I came her for an education in organic farming, but am finding an experiment in communal living--the possibilities and problems of peaceful, sustainable coexistence for a random group of strangers. That's consenting adults, not a dorm building or frat house.
One of the best parts is that we aren´t strangers for long--we come from all over, everyone with a different story and different skills, but with like mind and like goals. An architect from Argentina, a finance man from England who lost his job in the economic downturn, a couple who wants to build their own sustainable farm in Puerto Rico, a physics grad student/actor from Germany. Everyone with their own beautiful way of seeing the world, of living and feeling and doing and being. Everyone has something to bring to the community and something to teach me. Everyday I have a new amazing conversation, a new insight into someone, a new way of making fun of the fact that I don't speak proper English (as if anyone can understand British people).
Nicky and Helen do a very good job at keeping the community democratic and open, and it is very free and group oriented. However, it is always clear that they are in charge. I often joke about the value of communism, and I'm never joking when I talk about the problems and general unsustainability of capitalism, but pure communism on a large scale cannot work. Even with only 20 people, there are clear leaders and rules and group organization. That is in no way a criticism. It is a beautiful way to live--eating together, sleeping together, working together, joking together. And it works. There are meetings once a week to work out the inevitable problems and discover who has the skills to fix what. Work is delegated, responsibilities shared, and the community keeps ticking.
Between composting toilets and using human pee to nurish trees, between mixing languages and customs and habits and jokes, between the tough and so equisitly fulfilling work of growing your own food, living at this community has been incredible and eye opening. This is as close as I have ever come to living an ideal life--one of learning, of fun, of actively improving the world around me, and leaving the least negative impact possible. But I have also learned that this life isn't enough for me--at least not now. I can try to live the best life I can--producing my own food, buying only socially conscious products, treating the world, myself, and others as positively as possible. But I can do more. I can try to lessen the inequality around us. I can try to bring the opportunities I have been so fortunate to have in my life to others. I need to work outside myself, as well on myself. I don´t know quite what that will look like, but I am confident I will figure is out. That is part of my ideal.
My time here has been a spiritual education as well--I've experimented with sweat lodges and shamanic ceremonies, yoga, meditation, and reiki. I've talked to pagans and witches and aethiests and everything in between. (Well, everything 6 miles left of center, that is.) This fits perfectly into my education of alternative living. It doesn't have to be high school, college, grad school, 9 to 5, white picket fence in a good neighborhood, 2.5 children and 3.5 bathrooms. It can, but it doesn't have to be. There are so many options, so many possibilities for my life. I just need to be constantly self-reflecting to know what it is I want. And right now, I want to build a garden, live with a fantastic group of people, and take advantage of every moment. Only four weeks until I get home to take off on the last leg of my adventure. What do I have waiting for me? The answer can only be spectacular. I can only describe life as curiosity, learning, joy, and adventure. It may not always be like this, but as long as I'm happy, I'll take what comes and go looking for it, too.
Photos of frolicking barefoot through corn fields: