Thursday, November 25, 2010

May I Introduce you to One of My Heros..............

On this Thanksgiving Day I have so very many things to be Grateful for, right up at the top is my wonderful family. My family is spread all over the globe today and I include many of my wonderful blogging friends amoung my Family. I have Family family spread from Seattle to Jahalabad, from Dar Es Salaam to New York city, from Virginia to Massachusetts and we are all so connected!!
The Family member that I want to introduce to you as my HERO is my baby brother, Peter Jensen. Peter is currently living in Dar Es Saalam Tanzania, his wife Elise, is in Jahalabad Afganistan, his eldest daughter is at Colgate University and his youngest , the amazing Kate, is taking care of her dad, in Dar. Peter sent out this Thanksgiving Letter to our immediate family today and I want to share it all with you. No one can talk of his work in Africa as Peter can. If you are so inclined to follow his travels, see his fabulous photos and learn about the world and the very simple changes that we can all make to help save our planet ,you can find him on Face Book - Peter Jensen , Dar Es Saalam. Tell him his sister sent you, if you want to friend him!
(Elizabeth inserts photo here)

So here is our letter from my fabulous brother. Hang in there through the family locator bit , till he gets to the meat of the letter- or I should say compost of the letter.!! You will quickly see why I hold him up as a Hero!
Here goes:

"Happy Thanksgiving from the far side,

I hope this finds you all well, happy and warm on this lovely Thanksgiving Day. Here in Dar it is a whopping 98 under a brilliant sky. Elise is enjoying turkey with the troops in Jalalabad, Mali is with her old school mates in New York City, Kate is soon to be home from school and looking forward to seeing the latest Harry Potter with me on the weekend, and me? well.....

I started the day (after a nice breakfast with Kate before putting her on the bus to school) with my customary sunrise (ish) walk with Nala along the majestic sea cliffs overlooking the Indian Ocean and the city of Dar es Salaam. The name, Dar es Salaam, means Haven of Peace, and from my vantage point this morning with the large puffy clouds and crystal blue water in the harbor, it certainly looked to be living up to its name. About an hour and several lost pounds of sweat later we came home to enjoy a long glass of water before popping a huge turkey in the oven to be enjoyed with friends later this evening.

And then - what else do you think I'd do with my day off? - Nala and I, well mostly me, she just lounged in the shade, made yet another compost pile. This one from a large pile of grass i rescued from the side of the road and the leaves of a large neem tree that had been felled to make room for a new gate at a property down the road. All that lovely green was blended with the stockpile of brown leaves I have waiting for just such an occassion. The pile I made 2 days ago has already hit 150 degrees (thanks to all those bacteria) so I suspect to see the same in this one. With a bit of time still on my hands I loaded 5 large buckets of 3 month old compost into the back of the car and headed to the Peace Corps office. The guards looked at me with surprise (I was kinda sweaty and gross) but nodded knowingly when I said I had some compost to add to the growing maize and cowpea plants in our demo garden. The garden had been planted with the early rains about 10 days ago and the seedlings were standing tall and happy at 6" so it was time for a bit of "side dressing". now - I could have done this on a "work day" I know, but, well, gardening the way I do it is kinda sweaty work so its a bit rough on the keyboard afterwards...

My sidedressing chore completed i snapped a few photos to record the moment (look for them on FB later) and returned home for that much needed shower and to check on birdzilla in the oven. Its about to come out but I will wait for Kate to come home from school so I can teach her my "special" gravy technique...its all in the rue ya know...She and I are joining several friends at a nearby home for a big feed. Kate made her fabulous lemon squares and peanut butter swirl fudge brownies (what else would a diabetic bring to the table??) last night and we will be proud of our offerings to the table.

(Elizabeth inserts photo here)
Peter talking compost, one of his very favorite subjects.
You may think my composting story a bit odd for a Thanksgiving letter but it has a my roundabout kinda way. We are always thankful for the food on our tables (we are, right?) but we must also be thankful for the farmers who grew it and the truckers who delivered it to the stores. these days of climate change (I mean really - look at Seattle!) lets think of the carbon footprint of the food on your table. What is the impact of all this food on the planet we all so deeply care for? Did you know that for every acre of farmland under production in this world, tons of topsoil is lost...every day. Without replenishment, this thin layer of topsoil upon which we all depend may soon be relegated to a museum display much like the last native tree in Niger is but a photograph on the wall of the museum in Niamey. And when I talk of replenishment..i mean compost and other ecological farming practices taking hold across the planet as we speak. The Green Movement for Africa is underway. And I do NOT mean Green Revolution...For every compost pile we build, that much less smoke comes in our windows and goes up into the atmosphere..and that much more of the Greenland icecap will remain to keep our weather patterns within the realm of "normal". If you think I exaggerate (well of course I do...) well, so what. This is all about thinking global and acting local.

There are many people in this world who struggle to survive on less than a dollar a day...think about that. less than $365. What many people earn in a what subsistence farming families try to live on in a year! They do it - but just barely. and when some major shock happens in their lives, such as a drought, fire, flood, illness, loss of a job...the ability to bounce back, to be resilient, just isnt there and they become one more family with weak knees and heavy hearts in the long line outside the World Food Programme relief tent.

My work through the Peace Corps and other groups aims at rebuilding a sense of hope and resilience with these very people. It is thrilling work. It is empowering work. It is tiring work. But it is deeply moving and rewarding on so many levels to see HIV+ widows, who had been struggling with so much, find some joy and hope in the gardens they have learned to grow with the Peace Corps Volunteer they have as a neighbor. Through the simple act of converting "waste" grass and leaves into loamy soil a glimmer of hope and eagerness for life begins to return. It seems maudlin and simplistic perhaps. But the answer to global poverty and hopelessness lies less with the high tech solutions of the Green Revolution and more with the low tech actions of ecological farming practiced on the less than 1/4 acre gardens across the mountain slopes. To hear a woman say to a PCV about to go back home, "I will miss you. My life may not be long, but it will be deep", is all the payment one ever needs to receive...well - maybe not when I look at those college bills, but you get my meaning.

SO... tonight, please raise a toast to the glorious food on your table - and to the farmers around the world who got it there...and to all those out there without a feast to enjoy, let us say a prayer and spend a moment to think of ways to rebuild and maintain our amazing compost pile at a time!

Peace to all and to all a good night.

Warmly (indeed),


With the simple composting syystem that Peter has developed and is now teaching all over Africa, barren spaces immediately next to homes go from this:

To this!

Peter has developed a three day training session where each garden is built and the process explained. This is all done using home made tools and local indigenous seed and plants.
In June , when Elise's tour in Afganistan is done , the family will pack up and move to Bangladesh for a 4 year posting for Elise, as the head of Womens Health and Education, and where Peter will continue to train and teach the glories of compost and the bounty of food security that it can bring to the hungry peoples of the world.



Createology said...

This is truly what being thankful is all about. Humans helping humans. May you have a warm plentiful and blessed Thanksgiving.

Gerrie said...

He is my hero today, too. What an amazing life.

Jacky said...

What a wonderful post Elizabeth...your brother is a true hero. Getting in right at grass roots level to help and teach.

What a heartwarming story for Thanksgiving Day.

Wishing you and your family peace and happiness on your special day.

Jacky xox

p.s. you've made me think, I dont compost enough!!! I've got to be smarter too.

dosfishes said...

What a fabulous post Elizabeth and what a fabulous brother you have. Such a simple thing sheet mulch compost and what a lush garden those people can have and the dignity to provide for themselves and their families. Thanks so much for sharing this and making us all pay attention to what simple things we can do to make life better for others. Happy Thanksgiving to you and extend the same to your brother with thanks for the work he is doing. xox Corrine

tiedyejudy said...

He is definitely someone to be very proud of! What a giant footprint he is leaving, but a very wonderful one! Knowledge is indeed power, and that is what he is leaving with the people he helps!

Marilyn Rock said...

What a beautiful post, Elizabeth, and your brother is amazing! I can see why you are so proud of him. A very heartwarming story for this Thanksgiving holiday - thank you! xxoo

Plays with Needles said...

I read every bit of it. I want to start a compost pile in 2011. Is there a resource you could point me to that would give me the basics so I could get started? I have no idea how to tend it...though I do know how to dump stuff into it...

Thanks to you and to Peter. You're both inspiring.


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