Saturday, August 6, 2011

Stepping Up

This is a guest post by Sekai Chideya. One week ago Sekai and I completed a two week permaculture design intensive along with 24 other students at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center in Northern California. Sekai is an Atlanta-based medical doctor focusing on global HIV prevention, and a fledgling permaculturalist. The course was a life changing experience. I think this letter from her very eloquently expresses the profound nature of this change.
From Sekai:
Dear Perma-friends,
It’s been 1 week since we parted ways, though, strangely, it seems like longer. The sudden absence of oak trees and fresh salad, of Kendall and Brock and Zora, and of the 25 of you, threw me into a bit of a tailspin. That, and the 30 hours of flying it took to get to Malawi.  But now I am on my way back “home,” to Atlanta, and to the world of perma-possibilities literally right outside my door. It’s exciting. I’m excited.

I was looking for an excuse to say hello, but found a legitimate reason in Malawi. I stayed in the city of Lilongwe, a city that, per local staff, was covered with trees a couple of generations ago, but now is now covered with dusty, depleted soil that grows little without fertilizers. The profit of monocropping tobacco, tea and sugar has led to widespread deforestation and a cycle of worsening soil quality (hence the government’s decision to subsidize fertilizers). And residents, desperate for a source of fuel, have multiplied the tree loss.  This desperation has increased in the past year as petrol (gas) has become a rare commodity. Petrol stations sit empty, and when the rare fuel truck arrives people sit in line for days waiting to fill their cars and cans. Literally, cars stretching for blocks and intersections full of frustrated people. Like the U.S. in the late 1970s.

The first time I saw the snake of cars waiting for petrol I turned to my colleague and said “Peak oil has come and gone. This is what every country’s eventually going to look like, starting with the poor ones.”   I don’t think she knew what ‘peak oil’ meant because she looked at me blankly. But perhaps that was because she was in a daze from driving by a mass of people so clearly at the mercy of petroleum. The situation has brought the normally peaceful and unfailingly polite Malawians to a boil. Last month, the government shot and killed 18 rioters; more riots are planned for next week.

While in Malawi I connected with a permie who has been living in the country for several years, Stacia Nordin. Using permaculture principles, she and her husband transformed their dusty urban plot of land into an oasis. She works for the Ministry of Education, but also promotes and teaches permaculture locally with a group called NeverEndingFood ( She and I tried to find the time for me to visit her home, but our respective Ministries made our schedules hell and it didn't happen. But as I rode by the denuded fields and empty gas stations (and the occasional mobbed one), I realized how relevant, timely and important her permaculture work here was. And how absolutely timely and important our learning, using and promoting permaculture principles is, will be. These are desperate times, growing rapidly more desperate. May we have the skills and strength of spirit to thrive despite it all.
Am leaving Malawi now, about to board a plane for Johannesburg. The airport counter computers, metal detectors and x-ray machines aren’t working because the generators are out of petrol…because the economy is failing...because the agricultural sector is weak.  My flight will probably use enough fuel to run the airport’s generators for a week. Clearly I need a new job.

Anyway, these are my itinerant ramblings. Miss you all.
With love,

Banner image of cob bench built by myself, Sekai and the 24 other permies.

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