In Transit to Transformation: Good things come to you
The universe, does ultimately, give us what we want- but never in the way we expect it, and always at the very last minute. Three years ago, when Gypsy Wagon Farm disbanded and the SIFE (Students with Interrupted Formal Education) program was handed to another administrator, I didn’t know who I was anymore. The etch-a-sketch of my life had been shaken, and for the first time in my life I felt like a failure. Weeping into the red Pennsylvania dust of the land I was about to leave, my friend Craig hung on the phone line and asked me, “What are three things you want to do before you die?”
My answer was:
(A) I want to put my feet in the Pacific Ocean
(B) I want to go to Ukraine
( C) I want to serve in the US Peace Corps
“So, go do them.”
I visited Craig soon afterwards and waded in the cold waters of San Francisco. Last year, I had the opportunity to visit my family’s homeland in Lviv, and have since been running online permaculture workshops for IDPs and refugees in Kiev. And three weeks ago, I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime: To coordinate a permaculture literacy pilot project in Ethiopia with a socially-conscious start-up called GreenPath food. For the next 6-9 months, I will be working with 19 small-scale Avocado farmers in Butajira, Ethiopa to (A) Determine what sustainable farming strategies farmers are already using (B) Co-develop permaculture strategies with each farm and action plan for implementation and ( C) Help farmers collect data to see how permaculture strategies improve quality of yields.
This opportunity is at once exciting and terrifying. On the one hand, I feel like I’m in over my head. At the same time, I feel like this is the job I was born to do. For many years, I have worked as an ESL teacher and literacy coach who focuses on the exchange of ecological wisdom in an international context. Specifically, I specialize in teaching immigrants, refugees and English language learners how to read, write, and grow food at the same time. In permaculture we call it stacking functions; or as I like to call it, “freeing two birds with one key.” My vision of teaching English literacy through permaculture has not always been understood – There were people at the NYCDOE who preferred a more “inside the box” approach, and even Peace Corps recruiters were asking me to “pick a track.” But now, a group of creative, intelligent, and passionate idealists from MIT see potential in this approach.
This is like Café Night 2.0! Instead of working with immigrant teens to design and install gardens, I will be collaborating with Ethiopian farmers to read, write and grow avocados. For 7 years as a New York City High School teacher, I have read a wonderful book with my students called Of Beetles and Angels by Mawi Asgedom. It is an autobiography written by an Ethiopian refugee who winds of graduating from Harvard. Filled with beautiful photographs and heart-felt stories, it is an uplifting book that I would recommend to anyone. Through this work of literature, Ethiopia has very much become a part of my pedagogical imaginary. I always dreamed of hosting an Ethiopian potluck for my students. I never realized how much I wanted to go to Ethiopia until this perfect position with GreenPath presented itself. Whenever I start to doubt myself, new synchronicities arise to guide me towards this path.
Already, I have a super-team of people who want to help me roll in this experience with a PhD in Sustainable Agriculture, with a focus on anlyzing the power of permaculture for peace-building and literacy development in post-conflict areas. Paul Coelho writes about following your own “Personal legend.” I feel like I am about to embark on the challenging and rewarding journey of blossoming into my true self.
As my plane took off from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (Shout out to my LCI students!) I found myself sitting next to Phoebe, and 24-year old Ethiopian-American girl who just finished Grad school in Dallas and is about to visit Ethiopia for the first time. I told her the story of how, at this time last year, I was also flying to Ukraine, the homeland I had never seen, for the first time. That all of the stories my parents and grandparents had told me were true. That it was better than I ever could have imagined, and that it would be just as amazing for her. Last year, I celebrated Ukrainian Christmas (January 6th-7th) in Ukraine. As it happens, Ethiopians also celebrate Christmas on January 6th and 7th! Tomorrow, I will be celebrating Ethiopian/Ukrainian Christmas in Addis Ababa. I never could have imagined this opportunity, and yet, it is perfect.
Some interesting facts about Ethiopia: First, it is an ancient society. They had Christianity 40 years after the death of Christ, and the Ark of the Covenant is believed to be housed in one of its many churches. In fact, in Ethiopia, it is the year 2009 right now. They believe that Christ was born 7 years later than the rest of the world does. They are the only nation in Africa to have never been colonized. Their calendar has 13 months- 12 with 30 days each, and one month with 4-5 days depending on whether it is a leap year. Their new year’s day is on September 11th, and the clock starts at 12:00 at 6:00 AM (with sunrise)- we’ll see if I can figure all of this out when I land. Their beautiful language, Amharic, is unlike any other. It has 252 letters in its alphabet, or “Fidel.”
Phoebe has been kind enough to teach me so important phrases in Amharic. One important word that you say to congratulate a person is “En kwan des alish”- literally, “Good things come to you!” So many experiences over the past year has led me to believe very firmly in a higher power
My plane is about to land in Addis. But before I sign off, I wish to say thank you to a number of people back in Blacksburg who made my departure possible. Thank you to Elliot Crompton for helping me pack my bags and edit my life. Thank you Caitlin Gallagher for sub-leasing my car and Sydney Darden for subletting my room- this helps a lot financially! Thank you Naeem Mia for being a legal, economic consultant and also being a great friend who knows me well enough to support me in taking calculated risks. Thank you Natalia for generously hosting me in Washington DC. Thank you Mike Heitzman for loving, forgiving, and supporting me, imperfect as I am, and for being there for the adventure before the adventure. Thank you Tim Naylor for overnight mailing me an important package, and thank you to Maureen to taking the lead at Crow Forest while I’m gone. Also, thank you Steven Banks for the digital camera, and thank you Will and Kacy for the soundtrack and great pair of earrings. Also, thank you to Christine, Cathy, and Jesse Lawrence, who blast back from the past despite everything they have on their plate. Also, of course, thank you to Mama (Irene Zawerucha) and my brother (Nicholas Zawerucha) for raising me to be open-minded and embracing of different cultures and perspectives. Thank you to Blacksburg Friends Meeting and All Souls Bethlehem church in Brooklyn for keeping me in the light as I muddle through. Thank you Jerzy Nowak, Ozzie Abaye, Paul Struik and Susan Clarke for encouraging me to pursue an international PhD in Sustainable Agriculture in connection with this project. Thank you, everyone- Amesegenalahu!