Sometimes we get so caught up in local (I mean US here,) issues of politics and budget cuts that we forget that there is a huge worl out there where people ahve problems much more dire and grave than ours. Recently I have heard stories from both my brother, Peter Jensen and my sister in law, Elise Jensen, that have brought a bit of perspective to the table. My brother works in sustainable agriculture in Africa and now South East Asia. His home base for the moment is Dar Es Saalam Tanzania. His wife Elise is currently stationed in northern Afganistan with USAID. They have two beautiful daughters , my fabulous neices Mali and Kate who are students. Mali is a freshman at Colgate university and Kate is in the 8th grade at the Embassy School in Tanzania. Peter is just returning home from his first trip to Cambodia and Vietnam to develop sustainable food production programs for people who are HIV + and who are desperately in need of new staregies to feed themselves and their children. I have introduced you to Peter and his family here before, but I feel that this might be a really good time to catch you up on what my wonderful brother is up to.
He does not know that I am doing this post nor that I ahve copied his letter here or posted this wonderful picture of him eating Star Fruit with his Cambodian host the "Cambodian way-" sprinkled with hot pepper and salt to cut the sour!!!. He will know soon, but I don not think that he will mind a bit! Peter is on Face Book and if you would care to follow along on his travels ,you can friend him at Peter Jensen, Dar Es Saalam.
Now for a heavy dose of much needed global perspective!!!!
I'm ouit of Phnom Penh enjoying a way too expensive latte again here in Bangkok. PP was SOOOO much calmer and cheaper - we ate liek kings for $3 each most meals, and they were delicious...but it is good to be on my way home to Tanzania, Kate and Nala. It will take me the better part of 26 hours to get there what with 2, 6 hour flights and 2, 5 hour layovers like this one in Bangkok (the other in Dubai) but that is what I have to put up with to do the kind of work I do so its okay.
Getting to stomp around in remote villages, visiting at length with struggling women eager and gentle men and charming, shy children living in real poverty..yet surrounded by a richness many coudl only dream of. But the richness of natural beauty is lost on you when yuo have only enough rice to feed your children one meal a day. And yet...we drove through miles and miles of rice paddy - as far as you could see till they melted into the haze of the foothills that eventually become Laos or Thailand. But all that richness and food is beyond their reach. They may work in the paddies but tehy can not eat the food they grow - nearly all of which goes to feed the billion in China and India - the real owners of the land all around us. It all comes down to a question of availability - which it is - versus accessible - which it is not. The luxurious third qwuestion of food security - proper utilization or balanced nutrition - is all too often lost on people who simply want to fill their bellies and stop the grumbling.
The work we did was very exciting. I got to travel and think and write with two great minds in the world of community development and agricultural sustainability. Most of my trips I am the sole voice in these matters so this was a real treat let me tell you. We laughed till we cried each night over beer, eel, and stir fried pineapple with duck and any number of incredible asian greens. But the day swere sobering to say the least. WE saw some excellent examples of local knowledge and fortitude to buoy us in the face of the poverty otherwise. The 'beneficiaries' of this extension methodology we were developing armostly HIV+ women and children...the men for the most part having since passed away.
We were writing, researching and field testing a series of "garden dialogues" to help individuals, within regularly meeting village self help groups, begin to decipher the complex world of the many horticultural possibilities which surround them and which could they could exploit to feed themselves. Much of this they are already doing in small ways so this dialogue really is just a tool they can use to empower themselves that they have many of the answers already within the knowledge base of the community. This is a series of leadign question 'role plays' in a way. if you will, leading questions, that will guide people to descern how best to maximize the resources around them cheaply and iwthout a lot of extra labor or money. And - without having to wait for the once annual visit from the know it all extension agents from the ministry (or worse, the know it all, overpriced foreign ag consultants) to swoop in, dump out the information like super heroes and leave without a glimmer of thought for revisits and follow up in many cases. With these dialogues, hopefully, we have begun the process of working ourselves out of a job.
What with 50+ years of agricultural development (This year is the 50th anniversary of USAID and Peace Corps) and what is there to show for it? Sure the Green Revolution saved India from starvation in the 60's but it has lead to a complete dependency on dangerous, expensive and increasingly ineffective chemical pesticides and fertilizer. Its all so expensive that, guess what, the farmer who used to own her own rice paddy has had to sell it to Chinese companies, go to work for pennies on his former land, and have little food at the end of the day to fill her children's bellies. Did you know that It is actually cheaper to buy Thai/Cambodian rice in Tanzania than it is to buy Tanzanian rice in Tanzania.?? ..they grow THAT much over here. So world hunger really has little to do with actual production..its all about distribultion and money to buy it. Sad really.
Ah - but I go on and on...too much latte I guess.
These 'sustainable livelihood garden dialogues', if accepted and moved into the field with our new cambodian friends (the ones who shared the laughter and deep insight on our field trips last week) leading the way, could be quite something I think. And if all goes well, will lead to more similar work in SE Asia as well as TZ, Rwanda and Zambia in the year to come.
Well - its midnight - got 2 hours to go till I can board the plane and hunker down for a little shut eye. Think I'll opt for some of that lemon grass tea that the lovely french lady next to me opted for. That would be a better choice!
I'll drop you a line when I return to lovely dar..and lovely Kate...and nala the wonder dog.
Peace ... and Good Eats!
Needless to say I am very proud of my baby brother. My life and lives of my family have been so incredibly enriched by his and his wonderful familie's, experiences. I am very grateful!!