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Archive for November, 2011

Kurt Vonnegut explains it all

Volunteers at Lowernine.org came from all over the country and the world, and fittingly they came with different backgrounds and motives. Meeting people with different perspectives has always been an enlightening experience for me and this month was no different. My observations of interpersonal relationships as well as my own interactions with the volunteers forced me to confront the issue of labels. Surprisingly this issue was harder to live with than the hundreds of cockroaches crawling in the dish rack.

It is human nature to attempt to find similarities in what we know and connect the unknown to the known, but too often at Lowernine.org it ended with people being falsely categorized. As new volunteers came and went, I witnessed the following series of questions asked as a way for the questioner to gauge a person, feel him out, and then assign a label.

Where are you from?
How old are you?
What do you do for living?
What school did you go to?
What are you studying?

This list of questions can go on and on. Don’t get me wrong, you need to ask questions to get to know someone, but as I saw this happen again and again I kept returning to Kurt Vonnegut’s book, Cat’s Cradle. Vonnegut terms granfalloon as a group of people that imagine they have a connection that really does not exist. For example, you meet someone who is from the same city as you and automatically you think you have a link or special bond. Contrarily, you meet someone who is from a city you dislike and mechanically associate them with all the ill feelings you hold for the city. As a New Yorker, I got that one a lot. Apparently we are all rude. So over the month, people tried to label me, and their fellow volunteers. I was labeled a hipster, rich city girl, hippie, privileged, and white girl. These categorizations built walls of separation between people, walls that were unnecessary and limited genuine understanding.

It was bothersome, irritating and flat out rude sometimes as I felt people who barely knew me and others judged one another unfairly and wrongly. In multiple occasions, I got into a heated argument with the farm director because she naively dismissed all the volunteers as privileged rich, white kids who were volunteering to feel good about themselves, (which may very well be in true in some instances but a gross generalization is never right). One time she had taken it to far, and I could not sit by idly as she insulted so many of my peers that I had grown to respect. Of course my stance, as you could probably guess from the sentiments of this post, was that she had no idea who the other volunteers were, their backgrounds, or their intentions for volunteering. An enjoyable evening at the levee soon turned into a fiery debate.

The next day at hoedown, the daily morning meeting at 7:45, I checked the chalkboard for my work assignment. To my surprise, I found myself taken off of farm duty and assigned to scraping paint from an old shotgun house. As a wwoofer I was always on farm duty. I was peeved because I was being “punished” for expressing my opinion, and defending myself. At the same time, I was satisfied because I had obviously hit a nerve with the farm director, and hopefully enough to have her rethink her outlook. So I made the most of my day. I jammed out with an I-pod with a paint scraper as a microphone while balancing on one of those treacherous ladders. Worth it? Duh.

Like anything else, this labeling nonsense was a learning situation. I reflected on my own judgments of people, how I had reached those decisions, and how I could better try to identify with a stranger without the standard series of questions. Work with someone, live with someone, and openly listen to them and hopefully you can avoid passing judgment, and perhaps realize that often people are way too complicated to be placed in a category and assigned a label. Let’s start breaking down the walls that separate us, because after all is said and done, we are all humans. If, however, you still insist on labeling me, I’ll make it easy for you. I am the twigster.

The twigster,

Josephine

PS: Job training starts tomorrow. I was employed by Big Daddy’s today. Sounds like a strip club, but it’s a restaurant. The twigster will make it west!

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Back to City Life

When I awoke this morning I asked my sister, “Has it really only been a week since I got back from New Orleans?”

It is mind-boggling how we can transition so quickly into new surroundings and experiences, and then return just as fast to our routine lives. Of course we return changed as we take with us our experiences, our lessons, and the marks on our hearts from the people we meet along the way, but still, it makes you wonder about life’s transient nature.

Daily, I recall my usual morning routine at the volunteer house and compare it to my current morning. By 7:30 a.m. at Lowernine.org I would begrudgingly roll out of the comfort of my bed/tent, a private “den” I created for my lower bunk bed. I tucked my large paisley scarf, unzipped sleeping bag liner, and dirty towel under the top bunk to create a refuge of privacy on the lower bunk. While it successfully created a cozy sleeping “room,” it also created a trap to stay in bed: one of my best and worst ideas.

At 7:30 this morning I was still fast asleep in my New York City apartment. There weren’t 5 volunteers bustling around my room attempting to get dressed and snag one of the 2 bathrooms (for 20 people) so they could brush their teeth. There wasn’t a volunteer on breakfast duty cooking twenty scrambled eggs for all the other volunteers. There wasn’t silt in my sheets from last night’s bonfire on the levee. My room was pitch-black, and quiet. The biggest disturbance to my slumber was Milano, my 6 pound yorkie, squeaking for me to pick him up so he can snuggle up next to me.

Both mornings are beautiful in their own right, but like I said I just can’t get fathom how quickly life can change its setting, its work, its interactions. Needless to say, I desperately miss working on the farm in the Lower Ninth Ward. I worked outside all day everyday, with my hands in the soil, dirt on my pants, and sun on my face. I miss seeing Al, a resident of the area who was rebuilding a home right across the street from the farm and whose progress I would track daily. I miss coming home to a house swarming with like-minded people, committed to making a difference not only in the Ninth Ward, but also in the expectations they have for their lives and the lives of others.

So here I am back in New York plotting my next move. Immediate plans: Peace Corps interview tomorrow. Intimidating? Yes. Once that’s out of the way this twigster needs a job so she can find her soul on the west coast. This is the beginning of a quest for a sky full of stars, and a landscape uninterrupted by buildings. I told you I was a romantic.

The twigster,

Josephine

PS: Want to hire me?

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While in college, I was always thinking of crafting projects, which evolved into the establishment of the accessories line, Glitter and Glue. After a few Saints-themed hair accessories were created and worn with pride, G&G sadly tapered off. A new chapter of my life, however, has led to the establishment of yet another crafting brand! Allow me to introduce you to the new farmers market exclusive line, Oysters and Okra, O&O.

The other day at the farm, we ripped out some BIG okra plants. They had been planted a while back, so their production level and quality had diminished, and it was time to see them go. While the destruction transpired, I became fascinated with the roots of the plant. The roots are super long, malleable when wet and incredibly strong, almost rope-like. Pulling the leftover roots remaining in the bed, I started bunching them as I ripped them from the soil. Organically, the idea to make wreaths from these roots emerged among the farm crew, and just in time.

The farm has experienced a bit of theft the past two weeks, leaving us less and less to bring to the farmer’s market to make some money. The wreaths are an answer, a temporary answer at that, to the lack of produce to sell at the farmers market – an additional money-making endeavor. Over the past two days, we made about ten wreaths, all embellished with objects found directly within the local environment. Big, iridescent oyster shells stick out from the soil in our Lower Ninth Ward farm, making them an easy choice to jazz up our humble wreaths. Basil thyme grown on the farm is also woven through the okra roots, emitting its sweet scent.

Until we begin the nightly vigils at the farm to prevent thieves from slicing away our lettuce, it looks like we might need to get a bit creative. We’ll see how these wreaths sell at the market, Oysters’ and Okra’s big debut. If nothing else this volunteer house will sure feel homey with ten wreaths hanging on the walls.

The twigster,

Josephine

Hoop house we made today to grow some tomatoes

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