Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Kernels and Cobs and Corny Photos At the End

“Be not deceived. If I have a veiled look,
I turn the trouble of my countenance
Merely upon myself. Vexèd I am

Of late with passions of some difference,

Conceptions only proper to myself,
Which give some soil, perhaps, to my behaviors.”
- William Shakespeare, Act I of Julius Caesar (and
one of the few books I brought)

Saturday June 19th, 2010

I sat down with Frank, stumbling over the immense pile of ears of corn and eventually reaching a sack to sit on. We each sat with a red bucket in front of us, sitting on top of a floor of the season's harvest. The warehouse was nearly full of the dried corn, and the job was simple. Grab each cob, and twist with both hands until the kernels loosened and fell off into the bucket. Simple but certainly not easy. In fact, the job was probably the hardest I had done yet on the farm. My hands soon began to tear, and by the time I begrudgingly put on the gloves I had, in the face of Frank's snickering, I had already torn the skin on a few fingers. The sweat, now stinging my open sores, made the experience even more painful and frustrating. As insects like flies, moths, and beetles crawled over my feet, I became seriously uncomfortable. Sweat poured from my legs, hands, and face, and I looked over at Frank who had already filled half his bucket. He knew I was in pain and told me to think about something else.

I have often tried deep reflection when doing farm labor and it was nice of Frank to provide the reminder. I often think in metaphors or symbols, and in this case I was using the work itself to think vaguely about identity and purpose. I have struggled at times with owning and accepting my identity and purpose, resigning to the fact that I am not only a 'sponge', here to absorb all physical and social experience, but also a 'filter.' I am here not only to 'experience' my surrounding, whatever esoteric process that may be, but also to understand, interact, facilitate, and question. Now on to the metaphor:

Here there are two conflicting identities—my hand, representing my identity. Soft and malleable, my identity and resulting purpose are here to grasp and absorb around an abrasive and structurally different identity and purpose. The people of Masaka and my work here with St. Jude make up the ear of corn. From afar it appears that the valuable resources are readily available. They are budding yellow kernels, dry and ripe for picking. Soon my hand and in theory, my identity, realize that extracting the value causes inevitable conflict, friction, and discomfort. When the kernels finally loosen and one breaks off, the space it leaves creates a snowball effect and more kernels slide off in large batches until my hand now grasps what lies underneath. I realize that the value in 'the process,' my journey here, lies not in the bucket full of valuable yellow kernels left now for some external purpose, but instead in the raw and soft cob I now hold in my hand. Each cob, removed of its superficial outer layer of kernels, is unique underneath.

What I am trying to say is that my first month here has not been the 'whole fluffy world holding hands' experience I seemed to be describing in my entries. Filled with boring days, long hours in front of an unnecessary television, putrid dust and smells of animal excrement, and a generally disorganized atmosphere, I have found that extracting meaning and lessons from my activities each day is analogous to the job of tearing kernels off of corn ears. Yet the moments that the 'kernels,' the impersonal products destined for some external purpose, are loosened — a completed budget, a workshop summary, a grant proposal, are the moments when truly unique lessons or 'the soft cob underneath' emerge — hearing Mike's story, growing close to Frank, teaching the 3 year-olds to count to five in English, playing soccer with the local boys, and receiving an unexpected letter of gratitude from a schoolteacher.

As I hauled my red bucket now filled to the brim with kernels and began to heal and wrap my wounds, I felt I had a better understanding of my identity and purpose. Each day is a new cob bringing unknown moments when kernels suddenly loosen and a soft, unique core is revealed.

There was also a bit of irony when this evening's mass, which I attend every Saturday at the farm, had a sermon (now repeated in English for me) discussing Jesus's question 'Who Am I?' I smiled, rubbed the fresh scabs on my fingers, and listened. The pastor didn't discuss the question's introspective potential for all of us reading the passage. Instead he focused on Jesus's journey, quoted a few other passages, and ended the sermon without the reflection I was craving.

Sitting now in the living room with the 3 year-olds Payas and Fina, watching Gorilla School on Animal Planet, and waiting for the Cameroon vs. Denmark game to begin, I can relax now, stop squeezing and twisting the kernels, and rest my tired hands.

Six weeks remain and my to-do list of 'kernel gathering' includes:

- Finishing budget and grant proposal
- Online fundraising campaign launch (to all of you!)

- Final Program Start Date, Stakeholder Contract Signing Ceremony

- Trip to Mbale Jewish Community and Mirembe Fair Trade Coffee Cooperative

- Meeting in Kampala with Makelele University about potential Fulbright Research

- Training St. Jude staff in workshops, preparing outlines, and 'handing over' program preparation duties

Next post will ask your help in launching the program – Weraba! Goodbye!

The whole crew in front of the gate for my home - quite the mansion! My host mother on the far right.
The entrance to the farm

Workshop underway

The adorably infamous Payas and Fina

More future apprentices at Butale

Butale Primary School (future apprentices!)

The adorably infamous Paya and Fina
The whole gang with my host mother on far right

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