I know it's been awhile since I've written, but if you've been looking at my blog, you know that I've been from South Africa to Zimbabwe to Zambia, back to Zimbabwe and South Africa. and now back to Kenya. Full circles of a journey, and deep spirals of cross-pollination and exploration.
This weekend marks the halfway point of my African adventures, and it also marks a shift in focus. For the past three months I have butterflied my way through dozens of fascinating organizations and community efforts, gaining a perspective on critical issues and grassroots movements. Now I am ready to focus on just a few efforts to deepen the possibilities of learning and sharing.
I, of course, am having a fabulous time being a traveling activist and making friends in so many unique ways. Have you looked at my blog? Really, just take a second and get a feel for this journey, and please send me feedback. are there things I should add? You are all with me in mind and spirit, and would love to hear from you!
Here ya go: http://journeydejenny.blogspot.com
Now, onto some main points:
* Highlight: Shack Dweller's International
* Zimbabwe - what's up and why care?
* Cross pollination - cool connections among three communities, City Repair, and TLC Farm
* my emotional state and next steps
* Highlight: Shack Dweller's International *
Quite an impressive concept in action, empowering the poorest of the poor in local communities and making international ripples at the same time. SDI has a really interesting model, where communities in urban townships/slums/ghettos and rural areas are collectively saving money, assessing their situations, teaching each other critical skills and negotiating with local government for land, housing and basic rights.
I have now visited five SDI-affiliated communities in three countries and have been continuously impressed with the localized education and empowerment that is then channeled into nationwide power. you'll just have to read my blog for the details of how and what they do! And of course, I am taking notes and considering how some of these principles can be applied to Portland. www.sdinet.org
* Zimbabwe... what's up and why care? *
In the States, most people hear quiet rumblings of dictatorships or civil unrest in other countries, but unless we put effort into paying attention, it's hard to know what's really happening, and even harder to feel like we can do anything about it. And I understand: there are SO MANY issues in this world. Why should we focus on one, like, for example, Zimbabwe?
As an organizer, I was intrigued with Zimbabwe, and wanted to see for myself what life is like in a dictatorship. I won't give you a complete history of Robert Mugabe's rule, but I'll note that he was once a freedom fighter hero in Zim's independence, but has since turned the country completely upside down: Zimbabwe has the world's highest inflation (they expect it to be 6000% by the end of the year), 80% unemployment, fuel and food shortages, shotty infrastructure, and plenty of rules against public meetings, gatherings, or anything political.
So I went.
And I found a very special place. Now, I don't know if it was Bob Marley's song or the full moon or the fact that the country is cut off in many ways from the rest of the world, but something resonated deeply inside me as soon as I crossed the border. Some kind of mystique. and the people are the friendliest, most mellow and wise that I have collectively come across.
I soon made friends with musicians and activists, and learned a whole lot of things that you just don't hear in the news. I split my time between a permaculture community and a house in Highfields Township, exactly where the tear gas and beatings filled the streets two Sundays beforehand. I will have to tell you the details when I get home. Below, you can read more about two of the organizations that I connected with.
As to the question of how and why to care about a crisis in another country, I don't know what to say. All I know is that now I have good friends in some of these places, and that changes everything.
And, that's exactly why I went on this trip: to make friends, to make the rest of the world more real to me, to get involved, somehow. I hope to go back at the end of May... we'll see what happens
* Cross-pollination! *
What a joy it is to find parallels between our work in Portland and efforts in Africa, with three groups in particular. Here are some snippets, but see my blog for photos and details!
-Motsoaledi Community, Soweto, Jo'burg, South Africa-
Motsoaledi is a squatter camp informal settlement in Soweto Township. The houses are small tin shacks, some with small gardens of maize and tomatoes, pit toilets, and a few water spigots here and there. Scattered around are shebeens (bars) and little shops.
Yet, as you enter one yard, things are different. First, you notice the spray-painted sign "Books are weapons." Inside one shack you find a community library and meeting place. The next shack is the community kitchen. Down the path you find a giant organic garden, overflowing with mouth-watering carrots, tomatoes, onions, herbs, greens and salads, cabbage and more.
Yes, this is an oasis of resistance to poverty and capitalistic domination, an example of community empowerment, within the messy legacy of apartheid and economic oppression. I spent a week there (over a few visits), feeling quite at home in this community, having a great time sharing strategies.
-Kufunda Village, outside Harare, Zimbabwe-
Kufunda (www.kufunda.org) is a learning community and permaculture education center 25 km from downtown Harare. I immediately connected it in my mind to TLC Farm and had fun swapping stories with the "Kufundees."
Their model is unique: they work specifically with five communities, four rural and one urban. The goal is to empower these communities to be able to stand up on their own in the face of Africa's challenges (and Zimbabwe's in particular).
Their workshops include starting a micro-enterprise to "the art of hosting"(facilitation) to AIDS awareness, and they also teach and demonstrate a variety of permacultural techniques, including gardening, pest control, composting toilets, natural stoves etc. Herbs are also a big part of their program-they have a diverse herb garden and do a lot of processing to make natural medicines.
I hope to continue this connection as a potential sister to TLC Farm! We have a lot to learn from each other.
-[F.N.], Harare, Zimbabwe-
Just in case, I am not naming this group. I still don't have a sense for the sensitivity of Zimbabwean efforts. But I want to tell you about them. They are a network of collectives around Harare. Each of the five collectives uses popular education and creative social action to engage people in building the alternative to their current national mess.
For me, this group felt a bit like City Repair, weaving permaculture into the urban fabric and reclaiming public space with both temporary and permanent projects. For example, they host Street Soccer Battles and then do political theatre at half-time. (Remember that in Zimbabwe, public gatherings and political meetings are illegal.)
When I met with the members of the Permaculture, Knowledge, Labor, Arts and Media Collectives, I showed them the City Repair video and slides of TLC Farm, and left them with a Placemaking Guidebook. We had a fun time interpreting "Intersection Repair" for Harare.
* An emotional check in *
I jump back and forth between being re-ignited in my activism and wanting to just give up because of the deep insurmountable flaws of humanity. Little by little, I am trying to accept that if you can't save the whole world, you have to be happy making one or more lives better. But I'm still not satisfied. I still can't walk by a hungry child and feel like I'm doing enough to change the systems that create such insane circumstances in our world today.
But this is why I came here. I came to experience the realities, take them in, and somehow come out with some new ideas... and I have actually had a really great time. I love being a traveling activist/organizer, diving into each place with an eye towards social justice, sustainability and "sparks"--inspiring people. And the world embraces the traveler. I feel at home everywhere I go.
So with that I will leave you with a blessing for peace at home, everyone's homes, whether they are tin shacks or mud huts or nice houses or a piece of cardboard. May we all know peace.
p.s. Oh yeah, here's what's next: I'm joining a Peace Caravan across Kenya for the next three weeks (www.peace-caravan.org). Then I hope to visit the magic of Zanzibar and permaculture farms in Malawi as I head back (overland) to Zimbabwe.
p.p.s. Quick hits on countries:
--Zambia: the most traditional African place that I have been to. women wearing traditional dress, crazy markets, etc. This is really the middle of Africa! Also a peaceful country surrounded by war zones. and therefore very interesting dynamics of international NGOs and economic influences (China!).
--Zimbabwe: you can see from my description above that it's a special place under a ruthless dictator.
--South Africa: collective trauma from apartheid, resulting in very high violent crime and extreme economic disparity, but the most developed sense of social movements and grassroots action. Also the most Westernized, becoming the mecca for immigrants from all over sub-Saharan Africa. Xenophobia is building especially to Zimbabweans, in a similar way as Americans toward Mexican immigrants.
--Swaziland: quiet and poor country, ruled by a too-strong King who denies AIDS and has 14 wives.
--Kenya: well, I can only speak for Nairobi at the moment. busy, busy crowded city with generally friendly people and lots and lots of international NGOs. Super corrupt government and police make things difficult.
~~Portland Cross-Pollination Project!~~
January 22, 1978