Happy Mental Health Day. Pun intended.

I was working with my therapist on finding ways to manage failure.
She set the new goal and the system automatically set it to 0% accomplished.
I saw that and this default setting made me feel disappointed… so I clicked edit and I set it to 20%..
Phew. Now that feels like less of a failure.

***

#worldmentalhealthday 10.10.2020

Many people tell me that I am a positive person.
I’m usually smiling, sure.
I have a lot of joy and light in me.. double sure.
I sometimes look like I “have it together”…whatever that means.
Folks, let’s keep it real. please.
I also have a lot of shadow and challenges to work through. We all do.
I also struggle. a lot. I often feel my crazy mind and untamed emotions, just like most of us do.
I also have close family members who have suffered from depression and other, even more debilitating, mental illnesses.

This past year I have been in an intense grieving process after the death of my dad. I thought it would get easier after the first year. In many ways it’s getting more difficult and it’s calling upon reserves of patience and gentleness with myself that I’m not sure I have…

Mental health appears silent and unseen. Yet our attitude and state of mind determine our capacity to be alone, to be in relationship, to work effectively, to sleep well, to enjoy intimacy. How can anything get done if peace is not present?

Mental health is like the air we breathe.

Seemingly invisible, untouchable and yet when the air gets thin or unclean.. we are left gasping for breath, on our knees..

The things I feel that actually work to help balance my mental states?

1. spending time with people that I trust and talking it through. I grab the phone if those peeps aren’t close by.

2. morning practices – there are so many – but the point is to start off the day feeling like I’m caring for myself and my wellness – it can include yoga, meditation, breathing exercises (loving the Wim Hof exercises on YouTube!), morning pages journaling, dancing, singing… and more).

3. gratitude – and shifting perception to what I do have versus what I don’t have.

4. staying away from social media (yes, I know it’s ironic that I’m posting this to social media, but trust me, I set my app limits to no more than 10 minutes a day and I focus on spending my alive time in the here and now as much as possible!)

5. staying away from social media especially when I’m alone (versus with other people) – for some reason that seems to be key for me.

6. watching comedy. humour. laughter. –> long live our wonderful comedians. they change vibrations and gives us lighter air to breathe!

7. being mindful of what I consume in terms of music, entertainment, images and books. our minds and especially our subconscious remembers all of it. ALL. It kind of makes sense right, that I have nightmares after I watch gory or violent movies at night.. come on. I can do better than that. I can nourish my mind with more wholesome vibes.

You take time every single day to shower, brush your teeth. You do your best to eat wholesome food. You make sure you get quality sleep.
Good for you –> that is called physical hygiene.

But what about your mental and emotional hygiene?

  • Who can you forgive today? (what can you forgive yourself for?)
  • What can you let go of?
  • What can you meditate on to get to the root of the issue (usually fear and grief are there lying underneath it all)Where do you need to give yourself and others recognition?
  • Where can you put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see the situation from their perspective?

THAT is just the beginning of –> emotional and mental hygiene.

It’s the daily practices that do it. It’s the check-ins with yourself and others. It’s the love, courageous fear-facing, giving ourselves time to fall apart and to put ourselves together again.
It doesn’t need to take a long time. Brushing your teeth only takes a few minutes twice a day.
I for one rather brush my teeth daily than rely solely on my once a year dentist’s visit. I know that once yearly wont cut it.
Just like a once yearly yoga retreat to “find myself” is not really what it’s all about (not to poo-poo on retreats, but stick with me on the dentistry metaphor…)

It’s about the every day feeling, being, appreciating, understanding and gently moving with the mystery..

Happy World Mental Health Day.
Pun intended.

To all of us heart warriors – I am with you.
We see you. We are as magnificent as we are fragile.

In fact, the truth is:
the more darkness and suffering you can endure (dare I say, embrace…) the greater your capacity to receive joy and pleasure.
Your capacity to love and feel the light deeply is equally proportionate to your ability to stay present with the shadow.

Wishing all of us balance, understanding to self and others and plenty of groundedness.

(featured photo – morning hike – flashback to Haiti 2014)

Typhoid is typical and everyone is an electrician

As I write this I’m laying on my bed and flailing my legs above me as I let the fan bring some air to my body and liberated nether regions. I take in this very full, and very social day in Haiti. My feet are heavy with the heat and humidity.  It’s summer in the Caribbean and we are somewhere between 35 degrees Celsius and open fire.

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Oh but to live in a chicken coop again

Stories of home and hearth : central Alberta, Canada – June-Sept 2013

When the Fishers and I decided to work together last summer, I was to be living out at their farm near the town of Didsbury most days in the week, and touching base with the big city life in Calgary the other days of the week.

I decided it would be fun to bike commute one way by bicycle, about 100km across the open prairies in a day’s time, and would catch a ride with the Fishers back into the city on our weekly trips to the Farmer’s market.  In between, I would be working and living at the farm. The work would be divided between online marketing activities, farm work and food prep.  Ah, but living… that’s where we needed some luck: my lodgings.

On a large property filled with scattered farm equipment, old sheds and trucks and even a trailer or two the Fishers knew that finding me a spot to call my own would be more a matter of creativity than actual concern.  We initially toyed with the idea of using one of the trailers.  Then, when the flood hit in June, I had a little room to myself in the main house.  But finally, with a phone call that made me smile, laugh and shake my head (at the hilarity of my life) I heard the news from Nolan – “I just went to see the neighbours and they have this old, unused chicken coop that we could turn into a little cabin for you”.  I knew that Nolan was very handy in anything construction related, but I couldn’t help but repeat it back to him, “a chicken coop?”.  “Don’t worry”, he assured me “it hasn’t been inhabited by a chicken since before the war.  There’s no smell.  Actually, it’s in really good condition for such a historic structure”.

To top it off, the neighbours were aghast at the thought that I would be living in their old coop and even offered me a room in their own house instead.  I thanked them and declined their offer.

Nolan quickly sent me a few pictures of the weather beaten hut with the downwards sloping roof characteristic of poultry residences.  I was promised general maintenance on it, a fresh coat of paint (inside and out) and a few equally historic, and perfectly quaint, pieces of furniture for inside the cabin.  I mean chicken coop.  Sheesh. Honestly, we tried to rechristen it ‘the cabin’, but once a coop, always a coop.

And mine was a real class act.

the before shot (still at the neighbours property)

the before shot (still at the neighbours property)

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Entrepreneurial and exciting (with a mild case of confusion) – my Polish diagnosis

“Today, I told a beautiful woman waiting to cross the street that she wore a lovely dress, she flashed me a brilliant smile and uttered the two most blessed words in this world “dziękuję bardzo

“People are still quite rude and grumpy looking in Poland”, my mother notices.

“Poland is poor in many ways, there are great disparities, the middle class is struggling and it’s hard for young people to find a job”, women converse in the bus.

“Entrepreneurs with a half-decent idea can go to venture capitalists in Warsaw and take their businesses to market with easy access to EU funding, no problem” I hear from a friend.

“We are taking this company global – what are your thoughts on marketing strategies for the Mexican market?”, I am asked at a job interview

“Poland is best known for vodka, the Polish pope and World War II”, I read in the Internet.

…and, once you break through the formalities and get to know them, the Poles, for their laughter and intelligent sense of humour.

We want to be more like the French, or the Germans, or maybe the British. Definitely not the Americans. But also very much so.

But we’re actually extremely proud to be Polish.

WTF?

or should I say CDC – co do cholery

Amidst these seeming contradictions, I have returned to live and work in my home country – the Eastern, now attempting Central European fame nation that my family left over 22 years ago.  This idea would likely have never entered my spirit if not for the recent six months spent in the 3rd world realities of Haiti – a country that I adore, but which is a hundred times more corrupt, complicated and hopeless than “Europe’s economic miracle” of Poland.  If Haitians can approach their daily reality with a dance, laughter on their lips and with unceasing optimism, then we sure as hell can do the same in Poland.  Do you hear me Poland – you have NO IDEA how much you have going for you!  Having gone from Canada’s comforts to Haiti’s inconveniences to find that my own Polska is doing very well, is dynamically growing and provides exciting opportunities to the creative and the hardworking… I find myself saying – what a great opportunity to get to know my own roots better.

(the peacock photo is my very own from the Łazienki Park taken just 2 weeks ago)

In my case, it’s really quite simple.  Warszawa is the capital and the hub, and it’s where I come from.  The city is in motion, the culture and start-up scene is vibrant and there are constantly more immigrants and visible minorities present.  Thank goodness!  Businesses and ideas are turning into realities and Poland is ready to shine and perhaps she’s even ready to proudly show her colours.  Dare I say that I find this nation coming into her own at around the very same time that yours truly spreads her wings.

While here you can expect me to be even more die-hard optimistic than before.  If Universe listens, and I know that she does, then I need to create my own positive vibes here.  Complaining and negativity are still too much of a Polish national sport to even consider entering that arena.  I will continue to feed my eyes on the flowing stream outside my flat overgrown with tall grasses and wildflowers – it lies on the border of an urban forest in a mishmash of unkept beauty typical of here.  I will continue to smile to others, to talk to strangers and to inspire positivity in my fellow Polaks. In short, I will give of myself what I most value receiving in return.  Put out into this world what you wish to get back.  Create positive spirals.  Get locked in a circle of collaboration, open-mindedness and innovation.

Oh, and I’m intending to take up African dance too.  It adds a spice of rebellion and flavour to this whole undertaking to wear suits by day while shakin’ my goods by night 😉

Looking forward to future posts? So am I.

Let this new adventure BEGIN.

my 'office' in Warsaw.

my ‘office’ in Warsaw.

p.s. I’m also seeking out the stories and adventures of my fellow 20 and 30-something returned-from-the-Diaspora Poles who are currently working and living in Poland – these intriguing tales can be found at: www.milewidziany.wordpress.com

When a 1 week vacation can feel like 3: a bike, boat and sight-seeing tour of the Danube

(May 25th, 2014 at noon) On the train from Passau, Germany to Munich, I return from my first river cruise and bike-tour combo satisfied, well fed and simply happy. When Darren Alff from bicycletouringpro.com invited me to accompany him on this tour several months ago I would have never imagined that my 1 week holiday could feel so long and complete (in a really good way!) Having travelled through 4 countries, visited 3 European capital cities (Bratislava, Budapest and Vienna) and with both butt cheeks perfectly sore from biking (no thanks to the dodgy bike saddles 😉 …I’m looking forward to checking out the photos and reliving some of these new memories with you.

For me the trip was off to a very good start right in Munich where I was able to meet up with Laura my cousin whom I had not seen in over 4 years. With her friends and boyfriend we relaxed, ate delicious food and meandered about the beautiful city and beer gardens.

 

I then met up with Darren in Munich and headed through Bavaria to Passau where we were to meet our fellow passengers on the tour (Fun fact: Darren and I were the youngest people on board by about 40 years ;). The weather was overcast with bits of rain; the faces around us gloomy from the poor weather the week before. In fact, the water in the Danube had risen so much that we were to travel to Linz (Austria) by bus to meet the boat there. Everyone’s fingers were crossed for sun and warmth the following day.

Everything went according to plan – the attention to detail on board (from the little chocolates and candies on our bed pillows every night to the detailed excursion explanations) and the beautiful, warm and sunny weather that greeted us every day. We travelled from Austrian village to village and visited Slovakia and Hungary as well.  In general the idea is to leave the boat by bike after breakfast and cycle to the boat’s next docking station further along the river. During our ‘free’ days in Vienna and Budapest there were opportunities to participate in additional sight-seeing and cultural events.  This off time was actually busiest of all as we attempted to take in these monumental places in just a few short hours of running about.  Otherwise, the biking took place inthe mornings and early afternoon, on predominantly flat terrain and bike paths.
Breakfasts were buffet style with all manner of fruit, veggies, meats, breads and cheeses; lunches were either sandwich versions of breakfast or restaurant style gourmet 3-course meals. Dinners were elaborate with some unpronouncable and delicious dishes.

Personal highlights of the trip:

  • cycling around the Hungarian countryside and the Austrian Wachau wine-growing region
  • Meeting up with a dear Austrian friend, Veronika (with whom I WWOOFed in Bolivia in 2012) and her husband and friends in Vienna (and almost missing the boat’s departure that night – ha!)
  • our fellow travellers on the boat and great conversations and laughs – couples from Germany, the Netherlands, UK, USA and Canada.
  • the predominantly Slovakian housekeeping and catering crew – as a Pole I felt right at home 😉
  • silliness such as the Pirate evening on board the ship (see pics!)

If you’re looking for a more detailed review of the journey Darren has been busy writing (and posting photos) on bicycletouringpro all about it: http://bicycletouringpro.com/blog/gallery/danube-waltz-rad-reisen/ 
My own (and Darren’s) photos from the trip on Flickr: 

withcameraRESIZ

 
More about the tour company ‘Rad and Reisen’:  http://www.radreisen.at/en/home.html 

Overall: highly recommend!!

How to celebrate Agriculture Day with a paintbrush (and etching tool)

It was a coincidence (or was it?) that I headed out to Fire Escape (the pottery painting place in Calgary) last Thursday, May 1st.

May 1st also happens to be Labour and Agriculture Day in Haiti.  I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to pay my tributes to Kouzen Zaca, the patron Iwa of farmers.  His symbol is painted on the underside of the black and white tree-themed dish I painted.  Enjoy some of the following creative process via photos.

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(1) dividing the piece into 8 pieces; drawing with pencil first (which comes off in the kiln so no erasing required !).  Most of my design is complete before applying black paint.  Inspiration came from this stock image.

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(2) Using strips of masking tape means I’ll get straight lines when painting my black sections over.  Once the paint is dry you pull of the tape to reveal perfect lines underneath. A quick photo of my own pencil sketches before painting over with black means I’ll have a reference for  what I later need to etch out in the paint.

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(3) Etching tool lies next to the complete piece. Before burning in the kiln and getting it’s glaze, the black paint appears grey.

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(4) The completed piece! Loving the blend from skewed painted lines to etching in the black paint and back again. 8 sections, 2 colours, 2 trees intertwining and the continuous whole represented. Where does it start and end? Even I couldn’t tell you 🙂

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(5) and the underside bears Papa Zaca’s symbol

Involving cellphones and time: an intro to Digicel in Haiti

The American woman sitting next to me in the CaribeTours bus – we are headed to Cap-Haitien from Santiago in the Dominican Republic – smiles at me knowingly and nods “Yup, it’s true, if you thought that Haiti is primitive now, it’s nothing to how it was 5 or 10 years ago”.  My eyes widen in surprise; I’m having a hard time putting an image to what this stranger is telling me.  She continues, “10 years ago a lot of these roads weren’t paved, the kids didn’t wear shoes, ever… and cellphones and Digicel have only been around for about 5 or 7 years you know”.

Actually, I didn’t know.  So it’s thanks to Digicel’s intense investment in Haiti that I’m enjoying cellphone coverage in the remote mountains of the North-East department?  I was intrigued, and decided to investigate further.

Digicel, owned by Irishman billionaire Denis O’Brien, is a telecommunications giant in the Caribbean, Central America and Oceania regions.  The mobile phone network provider operates 31 markets, is incorporated in Bermuda and based in Jamaica; they first stepped into action on Haitian soil back in 2006.  They intensively developed the infrastructure network needed to provide Haitians with cellphone service.  The result: a currently estimated 4.8 million customers in Haiti (about half the population), making it Digicel’s largest customer base in the region.  Meanwhile, the Digicel Foundation is investing millions in education and athletics throughout the Carribean; they contributed roughly $5 million USD in aid during the devastating 2010 Port-au-Prince earthquake.  When Digicel first came on the scene only about 5% of Haitians had access to cellphones – now we’re over 60%.  The improved communications affect life and the local economy on every logistical and practical level imaginable.  Additional competitors such as NatCom are present, as Haiti is now one the Caribbean’s fastest developing telecommunications markets.

My personal experience with Digicel?

Well, ever since I decided it would be a good idea to dupe my locked iPhone to function in Haiti I’ve been on a cellphone whirlwind of improvisation and creative thinking.  The crew at Digicel have been with me every step of the way, helping me get the best possible deals and calling in reinforcements when needed.  The result : my turbo-boosted iPhone now works on Digicel’s network, but none of the star functions (you know *120 or *150 and so on) work (don’t ask me to explain; I’m no expert – but it’s something to do with the turbo not using the regular GSM network).  So I’ve switched from pre-paid to a post-paid plan, as I wouldn’t have been able to check my phone credit anyways.  Originally, it was supposed to get me just a few GB of data a month and a meagre amount of local and international minutes.  Turns out for the equivalent of around $45 USD I have around 17GB of data, hundreds of minutes and SMS and I magically don’t get charged when I call Europe.  Seriously?  My dear customer service guy, Sylvèstre, assures me that it’s perfectly normal that I can make no heads or tails of the details of the plan that I am on.  The form explaining all of it, the one I am waving in his face, is outdated, he calmly tells me.  Are you sure I won’t pay five times more next month? I keep asking him, doubtful of how long my good fortune can last.  Everything is perfectly fine, he assures me.  I can’t help but begin to smile as I turn to the security guy by the entrance, relaxed and leaning on his machine gun in the air-conditioned room – I tell him in my improvised Creole that, as per usual in Haiti, I don’t understand what’s going on.  We laugh at this together, and I shrug my shoulders.  At least, it would seem that the incomprehension is to my advantage.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a phone plan this good.  Sylvèstre smiles from ear to ear and tells me that he likes it when I come to see him (to pay my mysterious phone bills).  Really?  You always leave here smiling and laughing, he says, and that’s a good thing!

Just as I may not be fully versed in the inner workings of telecommunications in my host country, so too I don’t get the singular phone plan I am on.  Am I worried about this? Nope, not too much, as it seems that both are serving me and Haiti quite well.

Additional Reading:

“Irish cellphone entrepreneur banks on a smarter Haiti” http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/16/us-haiti-digicel-obrien-idUSBRE90F0AQ20130116

“How an Irish telecoms tycoon became Haiti’s only hope of salvation” http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/09/haiti-anniversary-denis-obrien-vulliamy

“IFC in the Caribbean – A Caribbean Success Story” – Digicel, Haiti http://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/region__ext_content/regions/latin+america+and+the+caribbean/strategy/ifc+in+the+caribbean+-+a+caribbean+success+story+-+digicel,+haiti

cover photo: typical Haitian street with Digicel tower in background – credit

30 goats jogging through a Karate film

Last night, we were several hundred in the small square of Sainte-Suzanne watching a Chinese karate movie under the palm trees and stars.  Dispersed among the hills and greenery, it feels like only several hundred families live here, in this village in North Eastern Haiti, instead of the documented 25,000 individuals.  We gather together in this main square, home to the large Catholic church, dingy police station (where sleepy officers “work” and play cards for several hours every morning on weekdays) and other key institutions such as convenience stores and a shabby medical clinic.  A 40” TV is set up and the sound system connected… right before the entertainment begins, a local political figure presents a 30-minute documentary on the economic history of Haiti.  From my currently fuzzy understanding of Creole, I catch terms like “growing middle class” and “redistribution of wealth”.  Our obviously well-dressed and educated speaker ends with a short speech underlining the importance of non-reliance on foreign NGOs and the desire to grow local tourism dollars in the region.  I nod consent with the others.  He wants to charge 50USD a night in a hypothetical hotel that would be build in our village… I absently wonder if any of the villagers present has ever even held that amount of money at one time… the equivalent of 2,000 Haitian Gourdes.  Here, that’s big bucks.

Applause and shuffling follow as we re-adjust our standing positions.  More applause, and the karate moves begin flashing on the screen, as do the Mandarin subtitles.  As the only white person present, several people ask me if I understand what they are saying.  I assure them that Chinese is a difficult language and no, I don’t speak it.  They agree, happy to continue gazing at me and my pale skin with admiration – to them I know and have seen everything anyway.  Whether or not I speak Mandarin is irrelevant.

It’s 6:10am on the following morning.  After a peaceful night’s sleep under my mosquito net (which offers more psychological than physical protection… considering finding a fuzzy, black tarantula at the bedroom door last night), I lay quietly in the darkness that is growing to light.  It’s nearly sunrise, and if I want to go for a jog, now is the most opportune moment.  Not only because it’s cooler – only 18 or 20 degrees celsius as compared to the +30 degrees during the day – but also because the semi-darkness can somewhat hide me from the ever-present eyes of the Ste-Suzanne people.  Their endless fascination and looks, paired with small kids screaming ‘blanco, blanco!’ everywhere we – the white girls from Canada – go, can be trying on the nerves.  I’d especially like to keep to myself while sweating buckets and jogging along the uneven, dirt roads.  To top it off, I remind myself that I’ve never been much of a jogger anyways.  I’m a cyclist, by passion and nature, but biking remains for now a far-fetched dream in these dusty, Haitian mountains.  So jog I will, mostly because it’s accessible and easy and quick to organize, and because I can. And I have the time.

I leave too late, lay in my bed under the net for too long.  It’s 6:30 by the time I’m lacing up my bright, green and very old Nike runners… and it’s already light out.  Too bad, I think to myself and head out the lane picking up my feet carefully to avoid the loose rocks and branches.  I’m resigned to being a spectacle yet again, and glad I opted for knee-length pants instead of my tight short-shorts.

Nevertheless, I slow to walk as I pass through the main square, quickly glancing to my right to notice that someone has cleaned up the TV and speakers from last night.  Walking also lets me greet and smile to the locals I pass, with the customary “Bonjou, Kijan ou ye?”.  Finally, splashing through a small river, I am out in the open, and ready to run.

It’s Saturday, I suddenly remember.  Saturday is market day in Trou-du-Nord, and the Ste-Suzanne women are leaving early with buckets and chairs stacked in perfect balance on top of their heads, with heavily laden mules and donkeys in tow.  So much toil in hopes of making just a few Gourdes. As I jog in the opposite direction many women throw me a “Bonjou” with a laugh and a friendly smile.  Kids put out their hands to get a high-five from the sweaty, white woman, laughing and pointing at me all the while.  I can’t help but smile to myself… at how ludicrous this jog must seem to them.  Why expend so much time, sweat and effort unnecessarily?

The dirt road continues to meander, at times through dense jungle-like forest, at times through open spaces showing bare, green topped mountains in the distance.  The red Earth is glistening in the early morning sun.  Something white hangs from a tree, and I realize I’m approaching a dead chicken, hanging by its neck from a branch above my head and to the right of the lane.  It’s perfectly detailed and pointed feet hang down stiffly.  I continue a bit further uphill, my own feet now turning to lead, before turning around and heading downhill.  This, at least, is easier.  I’m alone for a few minutes and allow myself a half kilometer of uninterrupted trotting to day-dream about becoming a half-decent runner.  Perhaps if I keep up this morning jogging it just might be possible. Perhaps.

Arriving again in the main square, I pass conversations that interrupt themselves as the speakers take in my sweaty face and gasping breath.  Perhaps they think I’m adjusting very poorly to the Caribbean climate, I think to myself with a smirk.  A few more directed, confident steps and I am back home, in the IRATAM, the NGO where I currently live and work.  Our bathroom has been cleaned, but for some reason the shower curtain is missing.  I carefully place the dry toilet paper outside, and step into the shower grateful that we have running water, even if it is cold.  Tentatively placing one shoulder under the stream, my practiced eyes continuously and calmly search for the presence of unwelcome creepie crawlies.  But today’s shower is uneventful, absent of roaches, frogs and moths.

arrival of goats1Classic Haiti, I realize.  Nothing is ever predictable and things rarely go according to plan.  Similar to how I’ll be intent on continuing my research of the fair trade coffee industry this morning only to be interrupted by a truck-full of 30 goats.  They are loud, in a panic and are pooping everywhere.  I’ve been told that the IRATAM hosts them here so that they can get their immunizations.   And now that these smelly albeit adorable creatures have stunk up the entire premises, I’ve chosen to write this blog post instead of feigning reading in the growing heat.  A thin trickle of sweat slides down my leg, and it’s time to start thinking about lunch.

Additional photos:

Flickr albums: (beach life, coffee, Haiti internship, sunrises): http://www.flickr.com/photos/jestemat/sets/

Farmspiration:

Read about my experiences working in Haitian coffee export and join the farming dialogue on www.farmspiration.com 

My personal Haitian context – real and primary

My primary source of frustration this past week has not really been an ongoing lack of sleep, or digestive troubles or seeing the misery and garbage of the Haitian 3rd world reality.  Rather, I am annoyed to find it so difficult to talk about and share any of this unique experience with anyone.  The Haitians could potentially relate to one half of my pain, and the Western mind to the other half… leaving that all important personal space in-between unaddressed.  Be it for my best friend or a stranger on the street, it’s obvious to me that I can never, and I mean Never, do this experience justice via the words that I write here.

Yet write I must, and will.

You see, my primary discomfort during my time thus far in Haiti has not really been the lack of reliable Internet access, nor the frustration of learning Creole slower than I would like.  The real problem isn’t culture shock.  Undoubtedly, every part of me is aware that I find myself in an entirely new environment; the culture is vastly different and the shock present.  Instead, my greatest discomfort thus far is the in-love confusion that my heart feels in this land.  The natural beauty, raucous laughter of the people and blazing sunshine are so easy to accept… but what of all the misery, anger and lack?  I thought to love was to openly accept all, the good and the bad.  How can I accept what I know to be in desperate need of change?  My new love has left me profoundly happy, eager for more and perplexed.

I have to tell you – my real longings this past week have not really been for leafy greens, or crunchy fruit and berries or for a nice, long and hot shower.  Of course, I vividly remember all of these Western niceties as having been very enjoyable… in that other life.  No, my real longing has been for just half an hour of sanity in my mind, to escape this place I do not understand for just a moment, to take a deep breath or several, and then to immerse myself into the mystery once again with renewed joy.

I have to admit…my real discoveries this past week are far from limited to transparent frogs, and sugar cane grow and coffee harvested and beautiful lizards scurrying along broken walls.  Their presence, and the sticky humidity and sweat on my skin, all remind me of the new playing field I find myself in.  Instead, my greatest discovery has been that of finding a new rhythm and flow in life, where walking slowly makes sense and intuition has its rightful place in my decision making.  Time truly does slow down here, and everything takes longer because of it.

Finally, my real joy in my time thus far in Haiti has not only been in visiting the beautiful beaches and countryside, meeting new and wonderfully different people and seeing my own progress and incorporation into this fabric deepen just a tiny bit more with every day.  Granted, these are all wonderful things too!  No, my real joy is the realization that since none of this can ever be fully explained to another living soul, I am profoundly happy to take these stories, loves and delicacies with me to the grave, to live the direct experience, and to keep it all alive within my heart for always… the one place where any of this makes any sense anyways.

Unleash the power of asking yourself “Why am I so freakin’ fabulous?!”

The idea of asking positive questions to our own minds was brought to my attention by my sister several months ago. Since the time that this simple and beautiful concept entered my own thought stream I have used and reused it often, happy to observe the insights that spring up when I allow my mind to dwell on the positive instead of the negative, on the solutions instead of the problem.

Asking positive questions of yourself is exactly that: putting a positive spin on life’s numerous questions. For example, when frustrated with your superior for once again assigning you a mundane and undesired task you may naturally spin the mind into a series of problem-seeking questions like “why does he continuously underestimate my abilities” or “why is she always assigning the interesting stuff to someone else”. Positive questions, aka solution-based questions, change your frame of mind completely by asking instead “why am I so qualified to complete this work?” and “why am I such a good communicator that my boss knows exactly what kind of work I’m passionate about?”. By putting yourself in the completely-capable chair and asking yourself why you are so great at what you do, and not why you are lacking, your mind spins into a curious analysis that works at uncovering everything you do well and could be doing better 🙂

So, next time you’re at a cross-roads or frustrated with something turn to your own mind and the endless analysis teaming inside and ask yourself:

“Why am I adaptable and so capable of dealing with these new situations?”
“Why am I so comfortable growing professionally and making a lot more money than before?”
“Why am I so patient and loving towards my family?”

… making your questions increasingly specific as you hone this new skill, for example:

“Why am I fully qualified to leave my current desk job and start my own business?”
“Why am I comfortable with having an extra $50,000 in my bank account?”
“Why am I such a caring parent to my little ones?”

Form your questions and now observe the mind attempt to unravel this new, delicious challenge. The question “Why am I happy doing nothing on a Sunday” will surely spark fear and a deep, fidgety level of discomfort in a do-it-now and action oriented individual (dare I say workaholic?) who has a hard time accepting nothingness in their day, even if they immensely need and enjoy it. If the right question is asked a quisical, confused expression will form on your features as you realise you never before allowed yourself to think such a scandalous thought before. You – qualified? ready? comfortable? Yikes!!

Despite these fear reactions, allow your mind to delve deeper beyond the layers of discomfort as it begins to unearth logical and true arguments in your favour. It’s really cool you like doing nothing on Sundays, it may say to you, it’s a great opportunity to recharge your energy levels and it lets you indulge in something your parents never let you do when you were a kid: twiddle your thumbs and lie in bed all day long.

So go ahead and ask your questions, unearthing while you’re at it the rebel inside each of us and the strength and skills that you know you have… but so often overlook!

My question to myself this week is: “Why and how am I uniquely qualified to help food producers reach their full potential?”

What are your questions? And how do they make you feel? Share your comments and insights below 🙂

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Integrated or seperated – how we can simplify through multi-functionality

One of my favourite Permaculture principles is that of multi-functionality. Basically, the idea is that every element designed into our Permie systems must fulfill multiple functions and interact and coexist with all other elements. The objective is harmony and cooperation throughout and also system resilience and increased efficiency. For example, a water collection system can do much more than collect and irrigage if it also provides shade for shade-loving plants and is painted and designed to provide artistic outlet and enjoyment for its owners.
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An Indian summer in Calgary

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A last-minute decision to spend a few weeks in the town where I grew up: Calgary, Canada.

An opportunity to reconnect with old friends, family and places. Escape the other-worldly frenzy in the hundreds of parks and bike paths. It’s a little chilly, yes, but it’s so very beautiful!

Enjoy the photos 🙂

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Documentary film – the youth in Bosnia-Hercegovina

“20 ans après le début de la guerre,

les jeunes bosniens tentent de s’approprier

l’identité d’un pays

né en même temps qu’eux

la Bosnie-Hercégovine”

documentary film / webdocumentary

languages: Bosnian; French; some English

link:http://www.courrierinternational.com/webdoc/une-jeunesse-bosnienne

There will never be an App for nature!

A beautiful article showing that our rush to ecology and Perma is simply a revision of how things used to be.

I definately can relate with the author’s grandmother as mine too has incredible stories from the past, the most incredible of which was her day to day life: chickens, vegetable gardens, reusing water…

I think that you will enjoy this read: http://prairie.sierraclub.ca/en/blog/malaika-aleba/theres-no-app-nature-interview-my-oma

Happy past-inspired future to us all 🙂

Bolivian army helps us weed our garden

So, this morning I went out to get some bread and milk only to return to the house 5 minutes later…and see that about 60 or 70 soldiers, from what I am assuming is the national army, are busy flaying their machetes around weeding the small strip of park across the street.  I didn’t think much of it and returned home to finish breakfast.

Our victuals over, the morning gaped before us…and the seemingly insurmountable task of weeding out a lot of knee-high grass from a very, and I mean very, overgrown garden.  I peeped out the front gate and looked enviously at the machetes flying in the air reducing the tall grass just 50m away into fluff.  Seeing that one of the comandantes was standing around supervising the work, I decided to go over and ask to borrow two machetes so that Veronika and I could do some damage in our garden too.

Ignoring the stares, I marched over to one of the friendlier looking comandantes and made my request.  He nodded, shouted a few names (Rodriguez! Fernandez! Sanchez!), and several soldiers stood up from their work and came over.  I couldn’t believe my eyes…he wasn’t willing to lend me the tools but he was willing to come with 4 of his men to do the work for us!  Gladly showing him into the garden, I explained what to weed and what to leave and watched the miracle unfold – as our green space transformed from jungle to something resembling a garden in less than 30 minutes.  I explained the work to the comandante, and he barked the orders to his soldiers.  We even had a pleasant chat about basil, called albaca here, and it’s uses and medicinal properties.

They then had to leave and continue their work elsewhere, refusing any offers of water or coffee, although one of the soldiers did get to clean up a cut on his finger and I was able to offer him some antiseptic to put on it as well.

On our own we had only to spread out the piles of freshly cut weeds on the pavement to dry and to later use as mulch, we created a new compost pile for the old half-dried weeds…and sat back with a warm cup of cocoa to admire a job well done!

Still now, just a few hours after playing host to a faction of the Bolivian army…I can barely  believe the events of this morning.  Hilarious?  Incredible? … or simply another adventure to add to the South American chronicles!