Monday, April 4, 2011

estados unidos de mexico

Fernando, director of La Escuelita community center in Santo Domingo, with Mojdeh the Mexico City IHP coordinator and Kara, looking over the mural depicting the wreakage of colonization and women as pillars of community.

Overlooking Santo Domingo from the silkscreen studio at dusk

A blurry shot of Santo Domingo by night

Bolivian music and dance festival in the street outside La Escuelita, 2 blocks from my homestay

Sembradores Urbanos workshop and examplary garden space (and murals!)

Container gardening for everyone at Sembradores Urbanos

Arrival in Oaxaca: homestay roof garden and neighborhood

Midmorning in the roof garden after 2 weeks in the homestay-- tomatoes are now orange!

Homestay in Sto. Domingo, Distrito Federal a.k.a. Mexico City:
Un vaso de pedacitos de mango: orange, architectural cut-outs, like the cement city walls of this colonia, haphazardly arising after the Invasion of Santo Domingo. Structurally sound but surprising-- that orange paint is political propaganda, doled out for subversive beautification.
Things I´ve been doing:
-Museum of Anthropology-- did you know the ruins were painted in vibrant rainbow colors?
-walking through Chapultepec park [one of DF´s many green spaces, it´s much less gritty than its reputation], trying different street food snacks like puffed amaranth krispie treats and chili-rolled tamarind balls
-living life in the Juárez family home, sharing a bed with Kara behind makeshift sheet curtains in a slightly exposed second story room, waking up to the man advertising cooking gas via megaphone every morning (and noon, and night)
-getting sort of sick from the dry, polluted air, and sucking on lozanges with some sort of novacaine stuff that makes your whole tongue go numb
-class lectures on Mexican political history, foreign aid policies, and maize culture [mural down the block reads ¨sin maize no hay país¨ without corn there is no country]
-Visited Frida Kahlo´s casa azul full of brilliant colors and giant paper maiche marionettes in bold patterns; a tragic beauty of a shared home of such pain, creation, power
-road the metro a lot-- 3 pesos flat rate!
-learned about ¨the politics of shit¨ aka sewer systems, from the guru of dry composting toilets Cesar Añorve; visited a rainwater harvesting catchment system NGO called Isla Urbana
-silkscreened t-shirts and anything I could get my hands on with designs created by the group and facilitated by Flavio who runs a community studio
-ate PAN Y MÁS PAN [sweet breads and pastries from the panadería] like investigators every night picking, nibbling, sharing
-visited Sembradores Urbanos an urban gardening teaching center and workshop space. super inspirational, beautiful, well organized, doing so much yet very streamlined and accomplished, integrated in the community. Plus awesome informational pamphlets on lombricomposta [worm compost] and container gardening, and I´m a sucker for good graphic design

so far is fun, to say-- split in two syllables like wah-HAH-ka. Universidad de la Tierra [where classes are based] is a rich red color on the outside and topped off with a sweet rooftop garden. Walked to my homestay with my overwhelmingly heavy suitcase, but it was all worth it upon arrival at Laurentina´s home and invited up to the boarder´s bedroom adjacent to the roof-- where dim lights of residences spread in a single story layer before the mountain silhouette. And in the foreground, a potted garden of fruits, vegetables, orchids in bloom, and space for yoga
Classes every morning, afternoon adventures that include explorations of the Zócalo historic plaza and wide cobbled streets of colorful shops and houses that surround it; weaving my way through the 20 de Noviembre street market, following Jessie in pursuit of perfect tamales de frijol; sampling chocolate at each of the shops on the chocolate street; helping some IHP alumni plan a roof garden & composting toilet to renovate their newly inhabited housing

Mountainous weaving village. Oppressive midday heat. Women´s cooperative. Quedándome con Petrona y Juan y David Hernandez, en las camas (con Majandra) al lado de telar [Staying at the Hernandez home in the beds, with Majandra, next to the loom]. The fabrication of the tapetes [tapestries] is methodic, meditational, rhythmic-- the creaking loom responds to Juan´s foot peddling like it´s saying "a ver, a ver." All hand-spun, hand-dyed yarn with natural plants and cochinilla harvested at particular times of the year from the surroundings; true craft.

>>>>> more to come <<<<<<

Thursday, February 24, 2011

wellington looks like this:

[I will go take some actual photos of the city]
View of the valley of Karori suburb from my homestay
Can you see the windmills turning in the southerly breeze?

Michel Foucault, anarchist cat asleep in the window of the yellow living room

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Hapa --> Hapu

Hapa is kiswahili for "here," and I was finally starting to feel that understanding seeping into my brain and being
when a 40 hour whirlwind landed me in Wellington, to meet a new hapu-- Maori for family. Touchdown had me feeling totally adrift.
Took an A380 Air Emirates flight from Dubai to Sydney and it was like the Titanic of planes. (We were safe; no icebergs at altitude). A fully double-decker marvel of metal and engineering, the biggest passenger plane to date. Pioneering, you could say. Oh, and the Dubai airport is like Foxwoods casino with more windows, confused foreigners, and an indoor forest. It's also a lot like one of those gerbil cages with tubes connecting different activity centers and concourses. A four hour layover came with a complimentary Emirates buffet-- feeding frenzy!
So, Wellington. Swellington, Jessie and I had taken to calling it. We acknowledged the positionality of our New Zealand daydreams-on-a-pedastal:
we will drink TAP WATER!
do YOGA!
wear (jean cut-off) SHORTS! possibly while riding BIKES!
The streets were mighty windy but that wasn't as affecting as the navigational disorientation of things like CROSS WALKS. Those ones that chirp at you ? Had forgotten the urban landscape fixtures that add extra components to be accounted for. I used to be so good at crossing the street.
And eating in restaurants. I knocked over a glass of water after we had ordered matching salads (...just like in Never Let Me Go, as seen c/o Air Emirates personal entertainment swankiness, when the Donors can't function in the "real world" and instead become a conglomerate of copied cultural cues). But it's discombobulating when all of a sudden the background dialogue and streetlife is in a language you understand. When swahili surrounds me, those bits of conversation don't quite register.
Strangest of all: sarcasm. And street style.
Disoriented, I awoke at 3 AM depressed, took a walk, read until sunrise, then slept again. That afternoon it was like that surface was sanded away and I was delighted. And I thought I'd determined the culprit for this alternating emotional continuum:
jet lag.
time wore on in New Zealand and I realized my reaction is about my own reflection within this place. It's uncanny:
A likeness to home at first, and recurring, glances, but its differences-- the in-actuality unfamiliarity, create distances and longing.
A doppleganger? The discomfort of recognizing oneself in the other.
And there I was, after 4 months, confronting an idea or impression of my own reflection: same old lifestyle and surroundings, resurfacing   ?
So 'ow is Aotearoa? Say it: ow-tear-oh-ah
Sunny. That hole in the o-zone? It's overhead. A bit glaring and overbearing at times but it's balanced by the misty gray mornings of sweaters and second-brew cups of tea.
And the IHP New Zealand team is inspirational in a subtle but permeating way. We're learning Maori songs to engage in the traditional greeting exchange where each person introduces themselves by their human and land-based ancestry ("that is my mountain, these are my rivers"). They say that Maori culture moves through time like walking backward, eyes on the past as it's all laid out before you. We're having a crash-course introduction to "indigenous ways of knowing."
And other ways of RETHINKING:
Spent an afternoon touring a permaculture farm, had an amazing and super-saturated presentation on Transdisciplinarity (thinking, education, systems modeling), learned about water quality issues in NZ, a lecture from an IPCC contributor on the role of technology in mitigating climate change, an extensive overview of Maori koauau (wooden and bone flutes) from the most energetic ethnomusicologist.

[The lighter side]
Other things I've been doing:
going on lots of long walks-- kiwi slang for "out in the boonies" is "in the walks," where we were staying at lodge
draining the blisters that result from said walks
reading: Guns Germs & Steel, and also The Golden Compass (6th grade nostalgia?)
Trying to get my act together to make art
frantically preparing applications/resumes when the rare and elusive internet is available (to the neglect of this blog..)
cooking a lot! This trip is like a traveling co-op hapu
Counting sheep on the busrides... just kidding, jet lag puts me to sleep before I could even start
refreshing my wardrobe with ridiculous secondhand store clothes.. faux-silk onesie, I'm looking at you...

Thursday, December 30, 2010

a page from my journal & a song about squid

Spent 2 days looking at and learning about Sisal (relative of Agave)-- apparently the most sustainable plant in existance! And now I can't stop seeing it-- spikey rows sprawling throughout the valleys and to the base of the Usambara Mountains. Like caterpillars marching along who've just backed down because the grade becomes too steep. Not too much of a slope for some people, though, like the farmers I saw out the bus window, side-stepping to till and weed some sideways plots.
Lots of thoughts on sisal and the enterprising upstart industry, and they swirled through my head at full speed like the wind ripping through my hair, windows down through the savannah.
The scenery is splendidly gorgeous and utterly unexpected.
Cactus trees look like they grow upside down or are copying the looks of umbrellas blown inside out by a blustery gust (Providence rains and puddles feel pretty far away).
Scrubby greenery is awash against the richly red earth. And the hills seem to erupt arbitrarily like fingers poked through kneaded clay.
And the sun is BRIGHT, my hair is getting light. The sun bleaches the sisal too-- white gold, he calls it. The strong, straw-like fluff meets the brushing machine in a room of people wearing breathing masks, covered mouths make their eyes more expressive and they're looking at us like, mwanafunzi? [student] and I think, yeah, why am I so lucky? I'm studying you? Who dealt these cards? And then it's like seeing my own commodity chain consumption, my consummate guilt, but seeing my history too. A few generations ago we did this too-- this is development? At least your factory is autonomous, not imperialistic ? Maybe this methane will bring electricity to your house, and maybe this $2 minimum day wage will afford you a tin roof so you can legally have that energy.
You can see Tanzania's wealth in its earth, the sisal standing tall, spiking sharply into the sky; the dirt a mysterious, luxuriously potent and saturated red, and now clouds suspended, casting shadows that mark their territory with protection and depth.
In Moshi, I paint with cinnamon and eat breakfast watching the clouds move across the peak of Mt. K.
I wish I could pause everything and hole up in a room somewhere, let my brain run like an old film reel, let my hands make art, and all the rest will rest until I pull back together.

Interlude (the lighter side):
I picked up the group traveling ukelele and spent idle bus time strumming distractedly and looking out the window. I made up a song, which is more of an ode because there are no concrete chords (I'm actually never sure when the uke is in tune...) or consistent melody, but managed to stick in everyone's head for a few hours:

Stormie bought some BICYCLE SQUID
bibi cooked it in tomato sauce, you know,
she sautee'd it,
and Stormie ate it
not a fish but they live in the sea
they're not food for me.

That's all there is really, a true story from Zanzibar and a vendor who comes to the house by bike, his newspaper-lined basket full of glistening, gelatinous white squid, which Bibi (host mom) bought and cooked for our final dinner, explaining that they stand apart from the categories of meat, hen, egg, and fish that I won't eat. No hard feelings when I filled up on vegetables and chappati though, it just meant more squid for breakfast.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

neepo, neepo, piggaram piggaram

here here, somewhere somewhere
Kiswahili for "oh you know, I've been just been here and there and around somewhere"
A journal entry from the first few days in Zanzibar, an island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Tanzania (East Africa):
Pineapple for breakfast, the best I've ever eaten! First day of classes-- lectures on Zanzibar political history, dhow [beautiful, traditional wooden boats] culture/trade/racial mixing. Ugali for lunch, a maize mush that tastes like idli from India, tomato-y curried vegetables. Took a taxi across town and arrived at our homestay (with Stormie) in the rain, drizzling; grinning, unsure. Walked through alleyways just starting to get muddy, twisting behind houses, then ours: brown and pale orange concrete. An inner courtyard with bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, dining and living room all splitting off. Stormie and I each have a luxuriously large, soft bed in a shiny pepto-bismal-pink room with white whale-ribbing ceiling. Our host mom is BB Alwiyah [BB is a respectful prefix, like Mrs.] which means "higher power." She is 72 and amazing, speaks good english but is hard of hearing. Has 9 children. Loves long walks around Stone Town and on the beach early in the morning. The house is directly next to the mosque (Mskiti) and there are 5 prayers a day, the first call blares at 4:30 AM! Then we go walking at 6 AM. Today we stopped at the beach and swam (with a dolphin ? Maybe.) and she read the Koran onshore. Several soccer teams were practicing. Le Corbusier-style aparment complexes along the road.
In the house, there are all the fixtures but no running water (for 10 years now), and filling buckets with the pump at the mosque is free, but everyone else has to pay. In the morning, boys bike by balancing jugs filled to top. BB Alwiyah says water is "very difficult." In fact, "everything" has been difficult since the revolution-- when many people were killed for no reason. Before the revolution [1963], the British government met everyone's needs: healthcare, services; now, even erasers for schoolkids must be purchased. She has so much to say it's a honor to listen. We walk through the streets and she points at the political posters and tells me about the elections and a shift in the governing party. Now she's hoping things will change ("they promise")-- Shah Allah! She says "alluh" and it sounds like a heavy stone sinking, dropped without a splash, a flat and swallowed tone.
In the streets, greetings ripple and bounce and it catches me off guard:
Jambo (Jambo)
Mambo (Poa)
Habari (Mzuri)
Salaam Aleykum (Aleykum Salaam)
It's easier to adjust to the heat of the sun than the warmth of the streets.
Handshakes are important. I tend to hesitate, fumble [I'm getting better, figuring out the rhythm! poleh poleh, slowly]
I like to try wearing my kanga [traditional East African-print fabric like a big sarong] as a hijab, headscarf, especially at night. It's like an alter ego. Still attracts attention as a foreigner, but people seem more respectful [almost all of the women cover themselves for modesty, social norms, sun protection], think it's a beautiful and traditional look, if slightly confusing. I am Lebanese? Libyan? Arab?

AND, most importantly, ABOUT THE FOOD...
Zanzibar produces cloves and coconuts as commodities, but so many spices are grown here which makes the food fresh and amazing.
Pilau- "spice rice," with lots of cumin, coriander, ginger, black pepper, salt. Sautee onions then add a bunch of garlic and the spices, then add washed rice and fill the pot with water and simmer (for half an hour?)
nazi- coconut. There are 56 uses for the coconut tree-- leaves, husks, fruit. Cook any vegetables or beans, or green bananas, especially "spinach" which really means any leafy greens, in coconut milk, spices and chili, and a bit of tomato paste.
chappati- NOT the same as Indian chappati, flatbread. White flour with a bit of oil, add salted water until it forms a dough, knead lightly (to aerate) for half an hour (the longer, the softer the bread) then break into balls. Roll each dough ball flat with a rolling pin until 8 or so inches across, then put a bit of oil on the palm of your hand and rub it on the surface, then make a small rip in the center and expand the hole to the edges, rolling the dough into a circular ring. Break the circle, roll it in your hands like a rope. Lay the rope down and form a coil, tucking the end underneath. Then use the rolling pin to flatten, and cook in an oiled iron pan on a charcoal stove.
This is what I learned from Fasaha, my homestay sister for one night in the beach village of Jambiani.
Embe is mango and they're in season and have never tasted so good. Small yellow-orange ones are sold in pyramid-stacked heaps from street vendors or in the fruit market, unripe mangoes are sliced and spiced with chili salt.
Heading out by ferry on the 24th to spend Christmas in Dar Es Salaam ("heaven of peace"). Lots of love,
Bih-dye, See you later

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

An attempt

.. to explain some of things I've seen and done in India! Much love, Jess
Durga Puja- a shrine to the Goddess Durga (aka Kali Ma), the destroyer of evil. Staying in Chittaranjan Park, a 99% Bengali neighborhood, during Durga Puja was TOTAL CHAOS as dusk fell and streets were closed to allow pedestrians access to the festivals. There were several, but this photo is from the most elaborate of the shrines nearby, and after 4 days of offerings and celebration, Durga was taken to a river and submerged (and could be seen en route in a convoy of truck beds) or exploded with fireworks in effigy.

Delhi-Chennai Trunk Express- The group of 20 left Delhi for our next stop: Nagpur, Maharastra. After 15 hours in A/C sleeper class (triple-decker bunk beds, my feet dangled into the aisle), watching the lush countryside fly by, we had 2 minutes to throw our bags onto the platform in Betul. Appropriately, we've taken to calling the group a "traveling zoo" because every action attracts attention as if we're on display.

In Maharastra, we stayed on Vasant and Karuna Futane's farm. The daily schedule was usually yoga (at 6 a.m.), breakfast, farmwork, lunch, class lecture or discussion, dinner at 8 p.m. One morning I picked peanuts (a legume, NOT actually a nut) off the vine for farmwork, another day I learned how to roll and cook chappatis (aka roti, Indian flatbread).

The dining hall space. All of the houses on the farm are made of a mud concrete with bamboo and timber supports, bamboo roofs with tile on top, because that can be locally sourced and is actually the most comfortable (in the summer, temps get up to 120 F).
Cattle! The farm keeps cattle for dairy production, but follows Gandian philosophy of non-violence and therefore cares for the animals like family, using them to work the fields but allowing them to graze each day and giving half the milk to nursing calves. The waste from the cows is completely reused: urine is liquid fertilizer, manure is the raw material for a slurry that feeds the methane digester, producing bio fuel for cooking, and the leftover from that process is added to the vermicompost.

Class lectures were usually held in the bamboo grove! On the left is Savysaachi, the IHP India coordinator and anthropology class professor, and on the right is Vasant, the farmer and one of our gracious hosts. Vasant has an incredible knowledge of his land, more than a third of which is "natural" forest agriculture, meaning it looks like wild overgrowth of trees and plants but is consciously selected companion crops for fruit, fodder, fuel, and other uses.

Karuna Futane, translating for farmers who gave us a tour of their village and its dairy cooperative during our stay in Sevagram (at one of Gandhi's ashrams).

Continuing the conversation with the dairy cooperative, who operate with a consensus-based structure (self-governed) and deliver milk directly to surrounding local villages, eliminating the middle man. The village has about 1,000 cows and they are very proud of their system, though at this level of production the cows are not able to graze and instead spend the day in open-air sheds being fed hand-milled grass/grain fodder.

The next day, sitting in a lecture literally in the middle of the road, on a visit to the village of Dhorli (spelling?) where the livelihood situation is almost the opposite. Farmers in Dhorli grow Bt Cotton, a genetically-modified plant resistant to Boll worms, now the only seed available for purchase. Only 10% of the land has access to irrigation so production is unstable and price is dependent on the market, which in turn depends on cotton production in USA, China, and Pakistan. As promise of increased yields falls through and price fluctuates, the farmers have been trapped by their loans and unable to make living off the land viable. In response, as an act of protest, farmers have said that the entire village is up for sale-- a message to the government that if Bt cotton is a "miracle seed," and farming is the basis of the economy, then you come and do it. No takers yet.

Monkeys outside my window at the accomodations next to the ashram in Sevagram! I was trying to nap and heard rustling in the bushes that are maybe 10 feet from the window, only to see a whole troop of baboons (?) with babies on their bellies and everything, eating leaves and berries, then jumping on our roof. The ashram is part memorial to Gandhi, part living history museum, with multifaith prayers twice a day (never made it the 4:30 a.m. session though..) and an emphasis on truth and non-violence.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A few photos

A samosa on the roof of the IHP classroom in Lodi Colony, New Delhi
Peruvian food & a random street in DC
Writing papers in the basement of The Pilgrimage, our hostel in DC

It's really difficult to upload photos from here! I'm really glad I brought my old 35 mm camera because I took a roll of B&W film in DC and am hoping to get my first roll of Delhi color film developed tomorrow. With any luck I can post photos of those photos before we leave for a farm! All is well, I've moved into a homestay in Chittaranjan Park, Delhi, and will write more details soon