Friday, January 12, 2018

Organic Magic

Well, folks I’m at my second farm experience in Nepal. You can call this “total immersion”.

Eco-organic Farm in the Kapan district of Kathmandu is the complex enterprise of Sangham Sherpa and his family. (The “Sherpas” are a Buddhist tribe/caste in Northern Nepal that we associate with trekking porters.) 

I’m not quite sure how to describe this far-reaching undertaking. It’s an organic farm, the produce of which we package each morning for sale in upscale markets. We sort mong bean sprouts. Measure out kim chi.

It’s an organic restaurant for those ambitious enough to ride up the pot-holed lanes. 

Combined with the Himalayan trekking company he and his wife lead. Here they are dressed in their Sherpa finery with a Belgian tour group after the Anna Purna Base Camp trek with their two daughters.

And they have plans for supplying organic food to trekkers, maybe an organic garden at Kopan Monastery, etc …. 

He is an ambitious man! Always on the phone, planning, influencing, helping...

But that’s what it takes to rise from what we could call poverty in a small village, to organizing better conditions for trekking porters, to having connections in the Agriculture Department and lobbying for more organics in Nepal.

His Mother is a case in point. She didn’t seem to be a happy woman, always yelling shrill instructions. But at night when she enjoyed the local brew, we could get her to reminisce.

 I asked the 12 year old to ask her grandmother what it was like growing up. The jist of it was:
No schooling, reading or writing. Her father would walk 7 days each way barefoot to fetch bags of salt. At age 9 woke up at 4 AM to haul fodder for the animals. Age 12 married. Husband left the country for work and she raised her son Sangham by herself, being a porter, growing food, etc... Husband came home and died. She worked hard and survived. She taught her son ambition.” Wow!!!

I had hoped to get more instruction in organic growing here but what I got again was an education in living. 

My rendition will seem a little hodge-podge but that’s is how it evolved, or assaulted me, each day.

Here is the Earthquake House where I slept.

There are many such structures in Nepal. Because there were many aftershocks after the initial destruction in 2015 and because the family home often needed reconstruction, families lived for months in these tarp or zinc roofed, bamboo framed and dirt or tarp floors. (And for those poor enough not to have the resources to rebuild the house, they still live in their Earthquake Houses. My driver from the hotel, Deepak, says that’s all his Mother will ever have.)

At first I recoiled to the label of Earthquake House. Do these people want to be reminded of that death and destruction? One daughter remembered sounds like many buffalo stomping, water shaking and then houses collapsing. But after hearing stories of this neighborhood, I feel privileged to sleep here. I am told that neighbors without houses slept on the grass here and in these organic gardens. They played volley ball here in community solidarity. Who cares if there are rat droppings on the floor! 

This is a place of safety, a place of refuge, where a family slept together and celebrated survival.

You could call this organic living! 

Picking green beans and bok choi for dinner. Walking past odiferous cowsheds and scurrying chickens on the way to the outdoor toilet. Trying not to slide off the 1 foot wide path in the middle of the night. Washing clothes and food in the same unfiltered not-fit-for-drinking outside spigot.

And organic magic! The first night I was awakened by grunting squealing behind us. The next morning? Placenta still trailing,  the mother and wobbly gaited babies. Each morning they greeted me, each day fresh new life.

And here two are of the workers in the green tarped dining room  as we listen to the ultrasound heart beat of my tiny fetus granddaughter! Sent by wifi!

And although I had missed the Dashain goat-sacrifice festival, I did partake of three days of the Tihar Festival.  

Five days of celebrating different life forms. The first, crow (takes prayers to heaven?) 
The second, dog — see these street dogs enjoying the attention of adornment and extra food. (Honored for protecting the home.) 

And the third, cow (prosperity.) . Wow! What a big to do! Necklaces, foot anointing, tail and forehead painting, incense ... (And I wasn’t around for the next two days…)

I wish this family well. I hope organics succeeds in Nepal. I’m so glad girls can go to school. Here the are the children on their school-bus.

And I’m grateful to have slept in an Earthquake house next to baby goats. Organic magic.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

What did I Learn at Hasera?

One goal of this trip around the world is to learn 
organic gardening techniques in different countries.

Another is to keep my mind curious and aware by writing a blog. Of course the grandest aim of all is probably an unconscious process related to personal transformation, and certainly won’t be understood until the trip is over!

But I am an annoyingly curious gardener and incessantly bugged all who could speak English about the growing practices here. What I did learn is that this is not an efficient process. If I could just sit someone down for one hour I could get the questions answered! But that’s not how it works. 

I did learn by observation of how vegetables are grown on terraces, and in fact how terraces are hacked out of hills. How trees and bushes are planted on their edges to minimize landslides during rainy season. 

How soil is “grown” with sheet mulching and composting — and how often the mound is covered with soil and directly planted into. 

How Kali’s cow urine is drained from the stall into tanks.

Then when bitter, astringent, aromatic and spicy leaves are added, and the whole thing well fermented, voila! Instant pest repellent on the vegetables! 

How some vegetables are sown in the ground in the tarp-roofed “nursery” and transplanted. How some seeds are directly sown in beds. How companion planting of different species confuses the pests and covers the ground against most weeds. 

How mulching isn’t done much because of lack of resources. How composting with cow manure is done because of immediate resources.

I learned how rice is winnowed by hand.

And easy places to dry clothes.

So, I guess I learned a lot! But at the end Govinda and his wife did apologize that they didn’t have time to answer my questions … I wish I had told them that this is also what I did learn:

I did learn to appreciate the horns below. 

I had to walk the highway to buy more toilet paper (not part of a home-stay in Asia). Hair-raising! Several blind curves on the road. Sheer drop-off on one side with some concrete barriers. Motorcycles, buses, and cars, honking before they passed on the wrong side around the curve. The horns were saving their butts! If they didn’t honk they would die and maybe take us off the cliff with them!

I did learn what a happy Nepali family is like. 

Caring for each other and extended family and friends. When one family visited we did a round-table — each person getting a chance to talk uninterrupted about their life. The young people were passionate about their service and teaching projects. And then with genuine interest they asked me about my journey.

They did care for me too. When some bug lodged in my gut and I took up lodging next to the pit toilet, the farm manager/chief cook Bishnu brought me electrolyte solution and a hot water bottle. 

This family is committed to service and education.

They provide the land and provide lunch for the women for this project. Started by a Taiwanese woman, these women make cotton washable sanitary napkins that are sold world wide and help support their families. 

They also are involved in Menstruation Education Programs. Evidently in the past, some women were locked into sheds during their periods, and several died each year in Nepal.

Here is one day of a children’s summer program where they are given English books to read.

Mitta and other village women have a women’s group — they pool small amounts of money to lend for other women to start small businesses. They will even visit a couple in trouble, for example with alcohol or abuse or communication, and help prevent divorce. For free!

Like many Nepali families they are devoted to educating their two sons at the University, one in agriculture. They are committed to educating the Nepali farmer about organic practices (many of which are their historic normal practices) and not listening to the agriculture school’s teachings about pesticides and fertilizers. 

And definitely not ending up like the southern Indian farmers who are committing suicide in alarming numbers because their soil is depleted and they can’t afford fertilizers! Actually a visiting woman told me of the Indian Government’s commitment to organic because of this disaster. And it is so ironic, because in 1968 I was there, in India, as the Green Revolution with tractors and fertilizers was being proclaimed as the end of hunger!

And I loved this sign at the entrance to Hasera! 

About getting guestions answered? Or about cultivating the questions relevant to our own situation? Relevant to this trip around the world?

At the foundation of all this family does is Hindu spirituality. A small shrine is anointed in the kitchen. 

And at the end of a lovely week, I was thanked for my “postive attitude and enthusiasm.” And I was annointed.

With oil and pigment. With a draped scarf. With a sweet goodbye. Realizing what I did learn. More than gardening facts — values and inspiration.

Thank you Hasera!