Wednesday, April 22, 2009

9 Month Report!

Hello all!
Pasted below is my 9 month Watson report. Surprisingly, the Watson staff loved this report.
For those of you who read the manifesto below, this report is similar to that but with a bunch of additions. I was in a rush so much of it was copy and pasted. Hope you all are well! Adam

9 Month Report

It is a calm rainy morning in Cusco, Peru. The coca tea warms my throat and the Andean rain brings a feeling of freshness to the world. Once again, I am amazed that another three months has passed. Time has flown by, but it seems like ages ago when I wrote the last report in a crowded Bangkok restaurant. Since then I have been in Ethiopia, Canada, and Peru following my dream around the world. I left the states only 9 months ago a confused college graduate. My passion in life was certain, but I still struggled to figure out how I fit into this crazy world. Since then I have seen 6 new countries and travelled to many places I never dreamed of. Put plainly, my life has revolved around seeds: their propagation, importance, diversity, power, symbolism, meaning in different cultures, and use. The hope I have found through the seed-saving movement worldwide has been the core of my year and is something I could write for days about. I often feel like I’m overflowing with hope and respect for the power held in a seed.

However, the Watson Fellowship is about so much more than just my research. These 9 months of independent travel have given me a chance to step back and examine what my life is about. I have come to see that we learn the most through challenges. If I had simply stayed with my friends in the USA I would be comfortable and happily settled now. Instead, I have been immensely challenged both emotionally and physically. Giving up practically everything you know and love to travel the world alone is not an easy thing to do. There are times when I felt so alone it seemed as if no one in the world even knew I existed. Oddly, these feelings often came when in a city surrounded by millions of other people. Nights alone in Addis Ababa were tough as I couldn’t eat dinner without having crowds stare, beggars followed me at each turn, and young men tried to sell me anything you could imagine. I was a white face in a sea of black faces, unable to speak the local language.

There were other times I felt so constantly bombarded by people I desperately wanted to just run away and scream at the top of my lungs. There were also nights when I cried myself to sleep after hours of explosive diarrhea and vomiting (I never knew it was possible to do both at the same time!). I have spoken with farmers dying of malaria and felt children pulling on my pants to get just a piece of my bread. Through these challenges and many more I have been pushed to reexamine what my boundaries are. I have become comfortable in my own skin and have learned what it means to feel strongly out of place. Most powerfully, I have come to see the many similarities between peoples and cultures around the world. I now believe John Steinbeck was right when he said that we don’t have our own soul, but just a small piece of the much larger soul of humanity.

My journey has led me to gain a deep respect and appreciation for the human spirit in its many forms. I have shared laughs with chemical salesmen, beggars, elite landowners, scientists, farmers, racists, and everyone in between. I still subconsciously judge people based on the way in which I was raised, but now really enjoy looking past individuals harsh exteriors to see their human spirit shining within. We all are yearning to live a happy life, eat good food, find love, and gain some sort of respect or admiration. Our values and ways of living are defined in very different ways. However, there is a similar thread which links us all together on this crazy rock we call earth. This realization came to me one day in a busy market in Ethiopia. I was forced to sit down and laugh hysterically. All of a sudden, as I stared out at the mob of faces I saw that we were one and the same! I felt the anger of a drunken man inside me as he yelled uncontrollably. I saw myself in the rich businessmen pushing their way through the crowd and I felt the hunger of a desperate beggar deep in my stomach. Colors and defined faces faded away. They were replaced by a blurred mix of love, hate, devotion, dreams, and desires. Since then, I have felt content to stop searching for some huge esoteric meaning to life.

I am beginning to embrace to simple honesty of who I am. Throughout my whole life I have spent insane amounts of energy trying to impress others or define myself in relation to those around me. I was never cool per say, but I was the “compost man”, the “garden manager”, the club president, the environmental activist, etc. I hid my negative qualities and strived for some image of what I thought I should be – something that people would love and respect. Well, this year I have been away from all those who love and respect me. As a result, I have seen that I don’t have to work to impress people, it’s more important to be happy and healthy.

Many of the places I have visited this year have taught me that life is simpler than we have made it. Basic happiness is as much a part of living as any “success” we have been trained to strive for. I have become confident that I will never change the world. An individual can only do a small bit, but through our connections the actions ripple out and affect many others. Perhaps it is more important to live each day to the fullest, be joyous, and give respect to those around you than to work constantly to change the world. Life is fleeting at best and we must enjoy each minute we are given on this wonderful planet. After years of being fed depressing information on globalization and the state of our world, I have now benefited immensely from the globally connected nature of our planet.

The diverse people I have connected with \have shown me what it means to live a good life. We will never go back to some ideal simple existence that may have existed in the past. However, we will continue to grow and adapt (like our local seeds). The universal nature of humanity will shine on as it has for so many generations. In times of need, leaders will step forward and movements will spread. I do not believe humanity is on a course destined for destruction. This is one possibility, but there is another path I see. Communities around the world will unite and develop local solutions to solve our many problems. Once again, food will be seen as essential to culture and life. Authentic diversity will spread and remind us all what it means to be connected to a place. We will harvest the power of the sun, create urban farms, invest in children instead of war, and learn from each other through mutual respect. Yes, this is an ideal dream. Nonetheless, this possibility is just as possible as worldwide destruction is! I am not saying all will be perfect. This year has taught me to be happy with imperfection and to embrace uncertainty. Armies will fight, lovers will come and go, money will be lost, land will be destroyed, and sickness will spread. But, I believe in the end we will recognize the power of food, community, and the basic necessities of life.

The Ethiopian people have shown me that there is no reason to live without hope! I stayed in areas in which farmers had faced two wars, droughts, and famines. However, they still celebrated their coffee ceremonies, danced together, relished good food, and laughed over local liquors. Hope shines in the eyes of Ethiopian farmers who trade seeds and develop new varieties which adapt to their land. It shines in the Thai children as they show me their school gardens, the happy seed sellers in Canada, the resilience of the Dukhobor community in British Columbia, and in the mountain villages that keep our ancient diversity alive. Around the world people are uniting in their awakening that we cannot continue “business as usual.” They are not just sitting back and complaining about all that’s wrong with the world. They are uniting to work for a positive solution that enables us to live a joyous life.

Ethiopia was a month filled with crop diversity, cultural diversity, passionate farmers, skipping with children, some vomiting, and plenty of good laughs with fellow seed savers. I was challenged on many levels, but left the country even more motivated and inspired than when I arrived. Through my travels and many interviews I have seen that diversity in crops is directly linked with health and diversity of human cultures. The crops and their resilient seeds have co-evolved with the cultures and eco-systems of their respective regions. When we lose crop varieties from a region this is not just a biological loss, but a loss of cultural systems, human livelihood, and farmers freedom. We lose not just an inventory of plant materials or genes, but an incredible storehouse of knowledge of how to grow and use the plants. The knowledge comes as a result of generations of men and women experimenting, selecting crops for their diverse needs, building on the knowledge on their forefathers, and passing the skills to their children. Each farming family has diverse criteria they use to determine how to spread their risk, produce enough food on marginal conditions, and satisfy local cultural needs.

Our food today did not just appear in the wild, it exists because of the hard work of so many farmers. Ethiopia is a center of crop diversity for durum wheat, barley, sorghum, coffee, and chickpeas. For years we have taken seeds from these people to develop our modern agriculture. Now, many are fighting to keep the seeds in farmer’s hands. The Ethiopian famers blew me away with their agricultural practices and complex local seed systems. In a country where nearly 90% of the population is farmers, agriculture is the central part of life. The power of farmer’s ancient knowledge can be seen quite evidently in an Ethiopian highland field with its extremely infertile, dry rocky soil that is filled with a diversity of colorful crops. These crops satisfy families nutritional, economic, gastronomic, alcoholic, and spiritual needs. Other tourists I met in Ethiopia could only talk about the extreme poverty and flies on children’s faces. However, the memories that stick out in my mind are of colorful dances, joyous families, and diverse fields. Ethiopia showed me once again how important diversity and seed saving is not just for survival, but also for community sufficiency and the enjoyment of life.

As a whole, the past 3 months were especially educational for me because I experienced so many drastic transitions. Flying straight from Ethiopia to Canada threw my body and emotions upside down. My first night in Vancouver I woke frequently to dreams of dry Ethiopian fields. For days I relished the hot water and flushing toilets, but felt disgusted by the excessive consumption. People fought in Addis Ababa over 5 cent bread while people in Canada dropped 8 dollars on a beer or 25 dollars on a breakfast. How can we explain these extreme differences? Why are some born with so much privilege while others are born with nothing? How can so many of the rich be mean and unhappy while many Ethiopian villagers in mud huts can be so kind and joyous? These questions and my withdrawal from Ethiopian coffee left me sleepless for days. However, I was cheered up my first weekend in BC by Victoria’s Seedy Saturday (nearly 2,000 people in attendance).

Seedy Saturdays began twenty years ago in Vancouver. The idea of the event was to bring together people from various fields to work together for the common goal of conservation of open pollinated seed. There are now over 70 Seedy Saturdays or Sundays in Canada and the idea has even spread to Britain. In my month in Canada I got to attend six Seedy Saturdays. At first I was very confused over how to apply all the lessons I learned this year to North America. However, I was continually inspired by the local food and local seed movement in Western Canada. The concept of food security is taking North America by storm and awareness is spreading to the issue of seeds. At each event I interviewed seed sellers, chatted with gardeners, swapped seeds and shared stories of my travels. Aside from attending these amazing events I lived with a passionate seed saver and gardener who runs “Seeds of Victoria.” She reminded me of the importance of seed diversity for gardeners in North America and taught me how to run a small-scale seed business that benefits the local food system. Other seed sellers like Dan Jason inspired me with their stories of community seed banks and small-scale grain growing. During my last week in Canada I travelled to the Kootenays where I learned about the Russian Dukhobor community and their heritage seeds. I also spoke at two seedy events and people were very inspired.

In my first three weeks in Peru I have gotten tours of the Centro Internacional de Las Papas, visited many markets, tasted potatoes prepared in ways I never dreamed of, frolicked through Quinoa fields, and learned about the massive amount of native crop diversity here in the Andes. Once again, this locally adapted crop diversity is very important for marginal farmers because of their adaptability, pest and disease resistance, consistent yield without expensive inputs, taste, and balanced nutrition. The range of colors and varieties of potatoes in one field is truly astounding. There is beauty, health, and stability in diversity.

The farmers and activists I have met continue to show me that the power is in our hands to make change for the better. Yes, there are challenges. However, there are no excuses as to why we can’t keep our hope alive. The future is ours to grab and I see mine filled with seeds, healthy food, dance parties, friendship, love, and community. I do not need to change the world, I just need to improve the lives of some around me and have fun while doing it.

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