Category: Travels


Prelude

Its been almost ten years since I have been to Japan with my mother. I was in high school last we were there together. Not even a legal adult. Since then we have gone separately, my mom almost every summer for at least a few weeks in June and me once with my freshman college year roommate, who had studied Japanese, and then again after graduating from college. But there is something different and special about going with your mom, sharing the experience together, being able to lean on her when certain words and phrases get lost in translation, seeing her in the culture she grew up in, feeling the thread that runs from me to her and through our ancestors back to this ancient and beautiful culture. My soul had been craving all of this for some time now, but life had seemed too busy to make it happen for at least another year.

Three generation of Oseki Women: Me, my Mom, and My Grandma (Miwa, Iku, and Takako)

Three generations of Oseki Women: Me, my mom, and my grandma (Miwa, Iku, and Takako)

But then my grandfather, Jiji, started to show signs of Alzheimers and Dementia. And reports coming through my grandmother and aunt started to sound distressed. He was sleeping through much of the days and losing interest in his food. And some days he was unsteady on his feet. They were finding some support through a day service that they would send Jiji to twice a week, where they would bathe him and do some simple activities with him, but things did not sound too good. Eventually my grandma said to my mom, “I think you should come” and so she moved up her annual trip, leaving before her school let out to go support her family.

Traveling an Ocean

As I listened from afar to what was happening I started to realize Jiji’s time of transition might be near. And even if his physical body held out for a while yet, he may soon no longer recognize me or be someone who I really recognized. I realized I wanted to go too. And I wanted to go soon. The time I had been hoping for, to spend with my mom in Japan with Jiji, Baba, and Hiroko (my grandpa, grandma, and aunt) might have to be now or never.

And so I made it happen. And I am so glad I did. My mom was hesitant at first, saying, understandably, that she wasn’t sure she could be a mom to me and a daughter possibly losing her father at the same time. She wanted me to wait until she arrived in Japan to see how things were once she was actually there, before I bought my plane ticket. I waited. But I knew I wanted to go. And once she got there and I got the ok, and went ahead with my plans.

As I made the more than 12 hour flight to Japan I felt memories rush back as I watched parents, many of whom were one Japanese and one American, like my own, speaking to their mixed race children. My soul recognized the Japanese phrases my mom used with me, and little girls and boys that looked like they could have been my siblings stirred something deep inside. My own reservoirs of Japanese language started to flood back.

This would be the beginning of a trip filled with many ordinary but precious moments; Moments that I will cherish forever.

Konnichiwa! 

Arriving at my grandparents I slipped my shoes off, as we do in all Japanese houses, and gave my grandma, aunt and Jiji a hug. Dinner was ready, of course, a wonderful Japanese style meal, with each person having at least four small plates; A bowl for rice, a bowl for Miso-shiru (miso soup), a plate for salad or vegetables, and another one for maybe some meat or fish and then maybe a fifth small plate for soy sauce or other sauces. Tonight we had some yaki-tori, which is skewers of small pieces of different kinds of meat and some vegetables. It was all delicious.

After dinner I pulled out the few small gifts I had brought them- My theme for gifts was all local and made in Ithaca. A little Ithaca made keychain for my aunt, and an Ithaca made acorn designs notebook for my grandma, and some local honeyed covered nuts for my grandpa as well as some pancake mix that I would turn into pancakes for my grandpa a few days later.

I was jet lagged and tired but glad to be there.

Kanpai! (Cheers!)

My third morning, mostly recovered from jet lag, I made some American style pancakes for Jiji, and my mom made us all some green smoothies. And we toasted. I was glad to be there.

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Some days we laughed. One day we started laughing so hard at dinner we could barely eat. It all started with a “tobi kyuuri,” or a flying cucumber and only got worse as Jiji earnestly asked if he had to pay for the meal or if it really was free. By the end who knows what we were really laughing at. I say it was the flying cucumber and my mom and grandma say it was Jiji and Hiroko says she was laughing at us. But we all laughed and it was good.

Cards

Bracko is a card game I have played since I was too small to hold all my cards in my little hands. They learned it in Brazil and brought it back with them to Japan. My mom made me a clever little card holder out of cardboard to help me hold the cards. And then when I got old enough to think I didn’t need that anymore I would lay some of my cards on the ground under the table when they got to be too many for me to hold. We always played at a low table and I would sit on the ground.

Now I hold the cards for Jiji as we play as one person. Some nights he would get frustrated that he doesn’t understand what is going on, saying that this was the last  time he would ever play. But the next day he would say, “Trampu yaro ka?” (Shall we play cards?). And most days he seemed happy to be at the table, occasionally having a particularly lucid moment where he would point to a card and show me where it went.

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With both our sets of hands we were quite an effective team!

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And cards always makes us laugh

Flowers

Japanese flower arrangements are famous. But I don’t think I have ever seen my grandfather do one, and I don’t know if he ever would have before. But when that was the activity at his day program he came home with a beautiful flower arrangement and we all admired it.

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Kirei na! (pretty, isn’t it?)

Smile for the camera! (mu heart lights up at that smile of his)

Smile for the camera! (my heart lights up at that smile of his)

Ancestors and Memories

Some days, when Jiji was at his day program, we would go into his room and clean and organize. Today we dusted off his buddhist shrine to his ancestors.

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I found a carefully folded piece of paper with the dates on which his ancestors passed was recorded, it looked like going back maybe three generations. My mom said on the anniversaries of those days he would light incense and candles and put fresh flowers on the shrine to honor them. I remember some days when I was young helping him with this. There were also little wooden placards for each of the ancestors buried in his family burial plot, with a few still blank. I know that one day one of these blank wooden placards will have his name on it when he goes to rest in his family plot.

My grandfather was a great Go player and I also found in his room many of his trophies won from Go tournaments. Until recently he would go to the local library where he would volunteer and teach the next generation of Go players.

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He also kept a daily diary for many many years and my mom found two boxes full of these precious writings! I can’t read or write Japanese now but seeing all those diaries gave me motivation to one day be able to. Although my mom says they mostly are probably just documenting what he ate for each meal, I can feel the love and care in them, all carefully kept and written in his careful writing. He was also quite good at calligraphy, and I have memories of doing that with him too as a child.

The women of the household

Being there was special, not just to spend time with my grandfather but also to spend time with my mom, aunt, and grandma. I could feel the strength of their bond and the steadiness of their presence. And I remembered deep in my soul that Japan is deep in me.

Hiroko is almost like a sister to me. We laugh and play together. I drag her to the local public pool to swim with me and makes fun of how I say things funny in Japanese.

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Baba always showers me with lots of delicious and nutritious food. And of course, the occasional no so nutritious, but still delicious treats

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Laughing as the three of us dig into a Matcha ice cream together

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This time with family was truly precious in ways that feel hard to capture in words. But maybe some of what I cannot say is captures in these photos filled with love

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I left with a heart expanded and full of gratitude. Who knows what the circumstances of my next visit will be, but I know I will cherish these memories forever. As my mom and Hiroko wished me well they left me with one last smile from the bus window:

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Apparently it is a joke from a childhood cartoon of theirs. To see these two grown woman doing this on the sidewalk of Japan as a bus full of airport bound people watched… You had to be there.

Back Stateside

As I settle back into life here in Ithaca I continue to process and cherish my trip. The first few days english felt strange in my mouth, as certain phrases in particular would come to me first in japanese. Already I feel some of the language leaving me, or going into hibernation until I need it next, but I feel myself holding on it, as this time in particular, I feet like I appreciated every sound of this beautiful language just a little more. The song-like open vowel sounds, the way it brings back memories of my childhood for me, and the nurturing energy of my mom and all the women who helped to make her who she is today.  I feel a renewed commitment within myself to not lose touch with my Japanese heritage. I desire to keep going back to that country, even when I may no longer have living family there. I feel like I am more aware than ever of the power of those ancestors that stand behind me and beside me and in front of me, as my life is a reflection of them.

I took a full day tour with Green Olive Tours into the west bank, to Bethlehem and Ramallah. It was an very informative experience- I would highly recommend it. I’ve done my best to caption these photos in order to help share my experience with others. I checked dates and stories using wikipedia (so please read keeping the “non academic” nature of the source in mind). Also, please understand this is just my experience based mostly on the information and perspective given to me by one amazing palestinian tour guide. Of course the situation is complex and layered so please take this as only one perspective. I hope though that it might inspire respectful discussions and spark people’s curiosity to do their own research and find other perspectives and come to their own informed conclusions.

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Just across the Bethlehem  checkpoint on the Palestinian side. All these taxis are waiting to show tourists around and take workers back home when they arrive back from a days work in Israel.

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Many Palestinians go into Israel to work and so at this checkpoint the lines start forming at 2 or 3am as they know it could take as long as 3 hours to get across the checkpoint.

Palestinians with clean records are allowed one 3 day visiting visa a year into Israel. On this 3 day visa they can look for work and if they succeed in finding work then then can apply for a 6 month work visa. If they do not find work they will have to wait another year to go back into Israel.

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The parking lot where palestinians have left their car for the day to walk across the checkpoint and work in Israel. This checkpoint is only for pedestrians.

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“The Nakba” is The Catastrophe, which is what many palestinians call May 15th, 1948, the day of Israeli Independence and the palestinian exodus.

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The barrier wall (aka the security wall, the apartheid wall, the fence…)

the first sections of the wall were constructed as early as 1994 but the move to make a continuous wall really began in about 2001.

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the palestinian side of the wall is covered in graffiti.

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These stories are part of what is called the “wall museum.” each one tells a short true story as told by palestinian women.

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They are worth reading…

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and they go on for what must have been miles.

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Here is a house on the palestinian side that is not allowed to open its windows on the second floor because of its proximity to the wall.

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Leila Khaled is a palestinian woman who is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Who took part in two hijackings. In her first hijacking in 1969 no civilians were hurt and her stated aim was to fly over Haifa, so she could see her birthplace which she could not visit. Her second attempted hijacking was part of a coordinated effort by the PLFP to hijack multiple planes. This hijacking was stopped. Although she was carrying two hand grenades she says she was under strict instruction to not hurt any civilians. After this second hijacking she was briefly imprisoned but then released as part of a prisoner exchange. It is believed that she is still alive.

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More graffiti…

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More stories…

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The Banksy shop.

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More stories…

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Some in our group taking an opportunity to leave their mark on the wall.

 

 

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A UN car driving through Palestine. Many of the Palestinians feel the UN has been largely ineffective and has given minimal aid to them

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Entrance to one of the refugee camps that has been in existence since 1948. The residents in these camps are people and their descendants who left their homes in places within what is now Israel during the war following Israeli Independence and have since been refused the right the right to return.

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Since the camp has been in existence for over 60 years it does not fit the idea many of us have of a refugee camp; there are no tents. People have built permanent structures. But they have been forced to build up and up for lack of room as their numbers grow with their children and the next generation.

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graffiti within the refugee camp: the dove is holding the “key” which symbolizes the key of return- many palestinians have held on to the key of their homes which they abandoned as a symbol that one day they will still return.

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A school within the refugee camp

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and in the courtyard right outside the school we see this graffiti.

 

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and this graffiti. 

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Now to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity…

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Here is the entrance to the church of the Nativity.

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A telling map that shows Palestine (in green) as it has shrunk over the years. In the last map the green is zone A; the area actually under palestinian military and civil control. All the rest (zones B and C) is actually under Israeli military and civil control. Jewish settlers are building particularly in zone C and through their building are slowly isolating palestinian communities making travel even within the West bank increasingly difficult.

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Inside the church of Nativity.

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people coming up from the cave where it is said Jesus was born.

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Although it is hard to see in the photo there are bullet marks on the stones in this courtyard which is within the Church of Nativity.

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Lunch just outside the Church of the Nativity

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Walking around the old city of Bethlehem. Our guide said these streets used to be full of shops and tourists but now tourists come in on buses and are dropped off right at the church of the nativity and then they generally leave. As a result most of the shops have gone out of business and some would say that the old city of Bethlehem has become a ghost town.

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More streets in the old city of Bethlehem with shops closed on both sides.

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The Palestinian currency that was used until 1948. Our guide pointed out that things were written in Hebrew, Arabic, ad English, symbolic of the fact that Palestine was an integrated state.  In contrast, the current currency, the Shekel. shows a pictures of Israel where there is no Palestine.

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Driving from Bethlehem to Ramallah, the de facto capitol of the west bank. This drive used to be a short 15 minute drive but due to the detours made by the wall and the settlements it now takes almost an hour and a half to drive from one to the other through the west bank.

 

 

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On top of all the Palestinian homes are often as many as 15 metal and black plastic water tanks. This is because Israel control the water in the west bank and in summer months they often only turn on the water one a month. So the palestinians fill these tanks when they have water and then use it carefully hoping that the water will be turned on again before they run out.

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Another Banksy.

 

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A Jewish Settlement in the distance.

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The wall that snakes through east Jerusalem. Over the wall on the left is Jerusalem, close enough to see but in accessible to most Palestinians.

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A jewish Settlement surrounded by a fence.

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A field of olive trees that was cut down in Zone C supposedly in preparation for the building of a jewish settlement.

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Bedouin encampments. Note that although these look somewhat like shanty towns to us westerners most bedouins living like this are doing so by choice. They are a people who prefer to live mostly outdoors.

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Our guide told us a story of once when some palestinians partnered with bedouins to build them more permanent structures. The bedouins were very excited but when the palestinians returned a year or two later they found that they were using their structures to house the animals. The Bedouins said they could not live inside in such structures.

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The sign as you enter into Ramallah, which is in zone A, so fully under Palestinian control.

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Arafat’s tomb. Arafat was well liked and is considered a hero by most palestinians.

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The bustling city of Ramallah.

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A Starbucks knock off.

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I had the best shwarma in Ramallah and it was only 12 shekels! In Israel it would have been at least 20 shekels.

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wonderful markets and people who are eager for you to try there goods.

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notice the two minarets which belong to mosques. They had speakers on them to broadcast the call to prayer.

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And now we head towards the Ramallah checkpoint to exit the West Bank and go back to Jerusalem. Immediately the traffic begins…

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Some kids are throwing rocks at the IDF (israeli defense force) and the IDF is throwing tear canisters back. The gas/smoke you see is the tear gas. People coming across the checkpoint were holding their shirts over their nose and mouth and rubbing their eyes.

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The palestinians coming back across covering their faces to protect themselves from the tear gas.

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IDF standing guard

 

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And here we walk through the checkpoint, where we go through turn stiles and metal detectors and put our bags through an xray machine. Once inside this area is it forbidden to take photos… Good bye west bank!

At risk of saying things that might get me into hot water I am going to share a little more of my own perspective as I have been digesting all this: My experience in Israel is that most Israeli’s do not know much about what the conditions are like in Palestine. I can’t help but feel the government of Israel is doing a pretty good job covering up the reality and using fear and propaganda (like the sign warning people not to go into Ramallah) to keep Israelis and the rest of the world from seeing what is going on. Every Israeli I talked to had only gone into the occupied territories during their army service, if at all, and of course they were in uniform then and likely experienced the brunt of the anger and resentment of Palestinians in the form of rocks being thrown, etc. But what would you do after years of soldiers throwing tear gas and arresting and sometimes killing your sons and brothers? As I told one of my Israeli friends about my experience in the west bank she said she felt humbled as she realized injustices were going on “in her backyard” and she was barely aware of it and not doing anything to stop it. She said it made her feel compassion for how Germany and the world allowed the holocaust happen… Is history repeating itself with the victims now becoming the perpetrators? Of course there are differences but there are also many similarities. It is certainly something to think about.

At the same time I can understand the mentality of much of Israel: Their day to day reality is much different then ours in the States. To give you a sense here are some things that happened in just the short month I was there: 50 missiles were launched from Gaza strip into Israel. They were all successfully neutralized but it still happened. A ship with over 500 missiles and weapons coming mostly from Iran was intercepted while trying to make its way to the Gaza strip. There was an attempted kidnapping of a soldier, which is apparently almost a monthly occurrence. And some soldiers went to investigate a child playing with a suspicious looking package along the security fence and it blew up. The mother of the family I was staying with witnessed a bus blow up during the second intifada (second wave of suicide bombings, which occurred in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s) right after she had dropped her son off at his military base. Every week she drove him to and from his base for fear of his bus being blown up. The soldiers currently in the army remember being in middle school and high school and their parents not allowing them on buses and telling them they had to be home by sundown and couldn’t hang out in public areas for fear of suicide bombings. So all this trauma is still very recent history and I believe helps keep the fear in place that has allowed for the current situation to continue.

But there are stories of hope and people doing good work. And I want to also share that because of me telling my Israeli friend about my experience she said she might take a tour of the west bank, like I did, and invite her kids to go with her. (yes Israeli’s can go. My tour guide has had a few Israeli’s on his tours and says he is always happy to have them, and they have never had a problem. It seems the law forbidding Israeli’s to enter into Zone A is not enforced, but the signs are used to try and deter it. The only thing is that they must enter and exit through checkpoints in zones B or C rather then zone A). And she said if her kids were still school age she would enroll them in one of the few integrated arab-israeli schools in places like Neve Shalom. Small steps towards peace. She also told me about a group she knew of where arab and israeli’s who have lost loved ones to the conflict come together to support each other in their grief, share their stories of loss and work together to find ways to build peace. Another thing she told me about was a group of older adults who have made a conscious commitment to serve as role models of how to be an ethical soldier when they go each year to do their 1 month reserve army service. Many of these people specifically ask to be stationed at checkpoints, where palestinians are often mistreated and much of the abuse of power occurs.

It is a complex but important situation and perhaps the best the world can do is stay informed and do our best to serve as watchdogs to try and prevent human rights violations. If you want to learn more a few documentaries I was told about are Five Broken Cameras, which is on instant play on netflix right now and Arna’s children. Five broken cameras was a great movie I thought, and I haven’t seen Arna’s children yet but it sounds like another fascinating movie.

Hope this post was informative!

Two-Row-LogoWebsiteNEW

A canoe and a sail boat sail parallel. Parallel lines never touch. They exist harmoniously. This was the basis for the two row treaty, the first treaty between the indigenous peoples of North America and the Europeans. When the Europeans (at this time it was the Dutch) came from the east, with their different language, culture, and ways, the native people saw that their ways were different and often conflicting from their own ways but recognized that they were still people and so sought a way to live harmoniously with them. Talks between the Europeans and the natives led to an agreement. The Europeans recorded it on paper. The native people used their own way to record the treaty; wampum beads, made from quahog shells. These beads were used by the native people for identification, to record events, and to carry messages. So the treaty was made into a wampum belt. On this belt were two parallel rows of purple beads to symbolize the native’s canoe and the european’s sailboat running parallel forever. In between these two purple rows, each two beads thick, was a row of white beads, three beads thick, for peace, friendship, and forever. The white beads represent truth. And so, in a white sea of truth, both sides agreed to travel down the road of life in peace and harmony with each other and all other beings on the planet. They pledged to not interfere with each other’s affairs and to take not more then they needed, leaving enough for the other and for the next seven generations. This treaty was to be forever. Or as the natives say, “as long as the grass grows green, as long as the water flows downhill, and as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.” And indeed, the grass still grows green, the water stills flows down, and the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west. And the wampum belt still exists, as testimony to this treaty, while the piece of paper has long been lost or destroyed. But the europeans have violated this treaty many times, passing laws to try and change the native people, what they are, and how they conduct their spiritual, political, and everyday lives.

As 2013 marks the 400 year anniversary of the two row treaty the indigenous people and their allies are calling for this treaty to be honored as we move forward. We are asking to work towards an existence that leaves enough for others and for the next seven generations. An existence that does not interfere with the existence of other beings but lives harmoniously side by side. Is this not something we can all work towards? Is it not something that will lead to a better future for all our grandchildren?

This is what I came to realize over the last three days, as I walked and paddled with native people and allies from stuart park in Ithaca, NY to S.H.A.R.E. farm in Springport, NY, about 30 miles north of Ithaca. This is not just about the struggle of indigenous people. This is all of our struggle. This is about our earth and our children. Corporations are destroying the earth that we  all live on through fracking, mining, and consuming and they are doing it in our name. As the saying goes, perhaps you could stand by when they took the land from the Indians because that was not you. And perhaps you could stand by as they dumped toxic waste in the black ghettos because that was not you. But soon they will come for you and there will be no one left. Everyone suffers when clean drinking water is polluted. Everyone suffers when our food contains poisons. So really, we should all be joining this fight and demand that the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the land that grows our food be sacred. This is not their struggle. It is our struggle. Already we are becoming victims to what we have helped create. Our taxes support practices we do not support. Our corporations have been elevated to the level of nations and exploit our resources with no consideration to the well being of future generations. And they do it in our name.

And so it felt so right to walk on the land and paddle across cayuga waters for three days and three nights learning about, spreading awareness around, and living the way of the two row wampum treaty. And the plants and animals seemed to agree. Three blue herons flew over us as we paddled the first day. And two foxes ran along the edge of the railroad tracks. Sitting on a rock on the water, Craig, a young Diné (Navajo) man played his wooden flute into the sunset our first night at Myers point. Little ducklings came, mama duck in tow, to swim around his rock. Walking through farm land the second day horses came, drawn to our drum and song, and then began to gallup in an earth-wise circle. Three baby colts and a half dozen or so full grown horses galloped and galloped in a circle, dancing for us. None of us had ever seen anything like it. The cows on the farms stood at attention and watched us, every single one of them following us with their big brown eyes, saluting our cause it seemed. The animals were saying yes. This is right. Walk together. Paddle together.  For peace and harmony.

There, in the context of peaceful, slow travel, magic happens. A Magic that leads to spontaneous music and dance in front of strangers in the evening. A Magic that leads to hard but necessary conversations as people open their homes and sacred spaces to us travelers of peace. A magic that leads to the opening of hearts and minds.

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And so the two row wampum renewal campaign is about beginning that healing through conversations and awareness so that we can find ways to walk side by side as brothers and sisters. And for myself, I will say this walk has helped me learn how to better do that. I feel I have begun to form the friendships, knowledge, and vocabulary to seek my place in this struggle. And the fears that acted as fences between people with difference begin to dissolve. Another magic that happens when you travel slowly with people.

July 27th through August 10th over 400 people will be paddling and walking from albany to the United Nations headquarters in New York City by way of the Hudson river. They will be caring the same message we carried on this three day walk: a message of peace, asking that we all work together to take care of this earth. At the same time, a group will gather in Washington, DC on July 13th and leave July 15th to walk across the nation, arriving in Alcatraz, CA on December 22nd to complete the 4th longest walk. The first one was in 1978 to call attention to legislation that was trying to be pushed through congress that would greatly restrict the lives of native americans. These pieces of legislation were dropped. In 2008 the 2nd longest walk took place to call attention to indigenous sacred sites. And in 2011 was the 3rd walk to reverse diabetes. This 4th walk is to take the medicine back home. The last three walks have been from the west coast to D.C., carrying messages out, to the rest of the world. This walk will begin in DC and travel back across the original route taken in 1978, taking the medicine home back to native peoples.

If you can, join one of these two momentous events. Even if only for a day. Go out and support the travelers as they pass through your area. Offer them food, water, shelter. All will be appreciated.

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Me and my fellow Paddlers and Walkers. What an all around good time.

I have come to the last known insight of the Celestine Prophecy:  the 9th insight. The text for this insight is not quite complete and it alludes to a 10th insight. It speaks of a higher purpose for humankind, a spiritual purpose: to continue reaching higher and higher vibrational levels until we are able to cross between this world and the next, until we become light beings. It seems those who wrote this prophecy did just that, leaving the text uncompleted. We reach these higher levels of vibrational energy by learning to give energy to all those around us rather than take. The more energy we give the more we find energy flows into us from the universe.

Will we be able to enter and leave freely from this world and the next? This is what I wonder. If all those who learn of the insights and learn to continually give energy rather than take cross to another world and do not return then who will guide those left? Perhaps this is what the 10th insight is about. It seems there is still much work to be done in this world.

This year has given me a glimpse of another way to live. It’s a way of living where the earth is your mother and your teacher and you are guided by a deep trust in the mystery. It is a way to live in the Now, knowing that life is a dance with death and that death is always followed by new life. This is the cycle of creation. With this wisdom one can regain innocence, a wise innocence, an innocence that comes with having looked death in the eye and found that life always follows. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, author of Woman who Run with the Wolves, says that in Spanish, inocente is understood to mean a person who tries not to harm another but who also is able to heal herself of all wounds. To be innocent is different than to be naive. The naive unknowingly is attracted to the good, the innocent has seen all and is still attracted to the good. La Inocenta is the name often given to a curandera healer, one who heals others and themselves of all injury or harm. Innocence requires wisdom. Children who have that wise innocence perhaps still remember the death that preceded their birth.

And so the Sufi prayer goes, “Shatter my heart so a new room can be created for a Limitless Love.”

How do I bring this wise innocence with me back to the other side? How do I not forget and stay connected to the magic and the mystery? How do I share it with those who wish to know? And how do I tread lightly on this earth, leaving only footsteps, but footsteps that last on the heart, soul, and mind of humanity?

And so this story comes to an end and a new one begins.

I have only been on this island less than two weeks but I am already starting to appreciate the people here. They are a rugged, quirky bunch, for sure, but they are kind hearted and community oriented while maintaining their individuality. I’ve been told that in the summer, when there are many passers through, people don’t pay much attention to you if they don’t know you—they figure you will be gone too soon for it to be worth it for them. It takes too much energy to build relationships with people who only come to take pleasure in this little island for a week, perhaps never to return. But when you are here in the off season, like now, people take a bit more notice. Perhaps you are not just a passer through.

Yesterday I got to go to the last grub and groove of the season. On the first Saturday of the month, from October through April, there is dinner and live entertainment at the community hall. Its just five dollars to get in and anyone can sign up to play music or perform some talent of theirs. There were quite a few people signed up for this last grub and groove, from a marimba ensemble to belly dancing to Bach concertos. The audience was intent on each performer, supporting and encouraging their fellow community members.

Today I went to Anicca’s birthday bike parade. She is Dave, the cobber’s daughter and she turned seven. There was a lively little crew of parents and kids, with a few tandem bikes and makeshift trailers for the little ones. I recognized many of their faces from the grub and groove and quickly was making friends. A little girl of only three, named Selúmia, struck me with her confidence and maturity. I noticed how Sam, her father, treated her with the utmost respect, like she was a fully capable and rationale human being.

The 8th insight talks about how the way we interact will change, beginning with our children. It is about a new way of relating to other people, to children and adults. It’s about naming control dramas and breaking through them and focusing on other people in a way that sends them energy. In this way we will build on each other’s energy rather than sucking energy out of each other. Children, in particular, must never be denied energy. We must give truthful answers to all their questions, in a language they can understand, and they should never be corrected or told no. This is how control dramas are created. Rather, you can help them reason their way to a smarter decision. Or some things they will have to learn for themselves.

As I take interest in the people around me I find they take interest in me. Soon Selúmia has taken my hand and is leading me down a path. Her father says I’ll be back to this island one day. Perhaps I will, but I don’t think it will be to stay. I think it will be to reconnect with the mystery, and to remind me of the work that needs to be done in the rest of the world—on the other side of the ferry.

 Tonight I watched Mark butcher a sheep. It was one of the wild sheep on the island that he shot this afternoon with his crossbow. There are quite a few herds of these wild sheep on the island. The story goes that they were introduced sometime in the 1800’s and never left. Now they roam freely like the deer, but some of the islanders do what they can to manage them. If the herd gets too big there will be a food shortage come winter and many of them will die off, leaving those that survive skinny and unhealthy.

This is what happens in the wild; there is a natural carrying capacity of any environment for a given species niche and if the population grows beyond this carrying capacity there is a population crash. What prevents these crashes are some natural check on the population, such as a predator that allows populations to stabilize around the carrying capacity in most natural environments. But when an element is manipulated, such as habitat being destroyed by humans, or a natural predator, such as the wolf, being hunted close to extinction, or any number of other changes then populations experience booms and crashes, sometimes never recovering or sometimes finding a new equilibrium point if given enough time. If the crash is too severe then extinction can follow.

The sheep population in this island seems to growing a bit too fast causing there to be signs of an oncoming population crash as some sheep have started to drop dead of starvation. Due to this people have been encouraged to hunt particularly the adult females to slow their population growth. The females and the lambs roam as separate herds from the males this time of year. It seems the males don’t like to stick around once the kids are born.

It took one arrow from Mark’s crossbow that went clean through a female sheep’s lungs and grazed the heart, to kill it almost instantly. The process of butchering a sheep goes something like this (if you don’t like graphic detail I suggest you skip ahead). First he hangs the sheep by it’s hind legs, putting a dowel between the bone and the ligament on each leg. Then he boils two pots of water, which he will use to periodically clean his knife and hands. Then he chops off the head and the front hooves. Now it is time to remove the hide. He puts two little slits in what would be the sheep’s armpits and begins to pull away the wooly hide. It’s amazing how it separates from the fascia with just a little encouragement from the knife. After getting the front end of the sheep started he then moves to the hind legs and works his way down. If you know what you are doing, which Mark clearly does, the whole skin will come off as one single piece and you are left with the rest of the animal still hanging upside down, held together by the fascia.

Now it is time to remove the guts. To do this he starts at the groin, cutting carefully so as not to puncture any of the organs. Once again his skill shows as he is able to open the core cavity and let all the organs spill out, still intact in their own fascia like sacks. Since he doesn’t puncture the stomach or intestines the mess is actually quite minimal. The only part that gets a little bloody and gross is where the arrow pierced the lungs and heart and seems to have nicked the trachea that contained chewed up grass. Here we see a bit of loose guts.

With the hide and the guts removed I am struck by how much smaller the carcass now looks. Mark finds the ribs to not have much meat on them and not be worth the work so saves only the front and hind legs and the meat surrounding the spine and neck for eating. He also likes to save the liver and heart if he can. This time it looks like he will only get the liver. The rest of the animal he will bury in his garden as potent compost.

Mark considers this whole process part of his Buddhist practice.  I can tell by the look on his face as he butchers the sheep that he doesn’t enjoy the process too much. But he would rather bare the karma of killing and butchering the animal himself then put that on anyone else. And so he hunts for much of his own meat and raises and kills his own chickens. I think this decision is an admirable one. I too, don’t love the idea of having watched the sheep I will be eating over the next couple days die and be butchered, but I feel firmly that if I can’t stomach that then I really shouldn’t be eating meat at all.

 

My family is a beautiful blend of east and west. My mother is Japanese and grew up there. But of my two parents I would have to call her the more practical, logical, and goal oriented one, qualities I associate with a more westernized civilization. Yet she maintains a zen like serenity to her and often surprises me with her intuitive insights. My father, born to a family of New York Jews, took an interest in eastern religions and philosophy at a young age and has actively explored many spiritual and mystical paths throughout his life. Both are incredibly creative with their own distinctive styles.

Until recently I would say I found myself to be more similar to my mother in my way of approaching things—I tended to be a bit skeptical of spiritual, mystical, and ethereal ideas, desiring proof of things before I would except them. I was drawn more to the disciplines of science and mathematics for most of my schooling as well. That is why building attracted me: it is concrete, functional, and tangible. Although this year has been about exploring natural and alternative building I have somehow, subtly, inadvertently also been taken on an unexpected spiritual journey. A journey that is hard to put into words and not in any way tangible. Recently I find myself seeing meaning where before I may have seen none, and I follow my intuition even when it seems to lack or even contradict logical rationalization. It’s a different way of thinking, but I find myself intrigued and at peace with it, at least for the time being. I haven’t quite yet figured out where all of it is leading me but I trust that it is taking me somewhere of some importance. I find myself surrendering to the mystery.

Soon I return home, to family and old friends. The moon is almost full. It is a time when intuitive powers are strong. What will the last week of this chapter in my journey bring?

The age demographics on this island are shifting. In the 1960’s there were fifty or sixty kids in the school here. Now there are barely twenty. It is becoming harder for young people to move here as prices of land have risen and cost of living is generally higher on this island due to the cost of bringing everything from the mainland.

Perhaps my generation will have to create our own version of Lasqueti somewhere. Perhaps it is our purpose to take the ideals and energy of the 1960’s, which seem to be resurfacing with movements like Occupy, and build on them. I hear people talk about the 1960’s as an age of idealism that ultimately failed to deliver much change, creating a least a few jaded, bitter idealists, of which Michael Reynolds might be one of. But I don’t think the 60’s were a failure. Change comes slow, especially at first. As I look at the current energy and interest in sustainability and social justice I see many seeds that were planted in the 60’s and 70’s. Those times were important for making the ground fertile. Mistakes were made and lessons learned and now those seeds are germinating and nearing their time to blossom. I hear more and more people, both young and old, talking of a coming shift. There is a restlessness within the masses. Something is about to change.

The seventh insight says that we must assume every event has significance and contains a message that somehow pertains to our purpose. It challenges us to see the silver lining in every event, no matter how negative, and allows us to see the answers as they arrive. This will only happen though once we have become conscious of our control drama that the sixth insight talks of and find the higher purpose or question that we were born into our family to answer. Each successive generation is meant to evolve a little further than the previous one, bringing all of humanity to a higher vibrational level.  What will distinguish this generation is that we are ready to bring this process of evolution, which has been happening all along, to full consciousness and thereby vastly accelerate the process.

Today 82 chicks arrived, each about the size of my thumb. Mark will raise these chicks into meat chickens, eventually slaughtering all of them before next winter. Each chick costs only a few dollars but by July they will be fat, organically raised, free range chickens, each worth probably thirty or so dollars. But Mark doesn’t raise them to sell. They will all be consumed by people on this property such as himself, other dancers, and interns like myself. In the fall he will start to slaughter three at a time, eating one and canning or freezing the other two so he will have meat to last him till next July, when the next batch of chicks will be grown.

For the first four weeks or so the chicks must be kept in a carefully temperature regulated area, kept not too cold and not too hot. For Mark, this means a little room above his cabin that is heated by the same fire that heats his cabin. What he looks for is that the chicks are not all huddled together trying to get warm but also not all at the edges of the room trying to cool down. Ideally some are huddled and some are spread out, indicating that it is neither too cold nor too hot. To keep the temperature where he wants it he will stoke the fire every two hours, 24 hours a day for the next week at least. Then as the chicks get bigger they will start generating more of their own heat and not quite as much wood will be needed.

After we got the chicks settled in we decide to visit Mark’s neighbors up the road who live in an earthship. Michael Reynolds himself and a crew of about 20 professional builders and 30 or so interns built this earthship last summer in five weeks.

Earthships are ingenious in there design features—A totally self contained unit, they can heat and cool themselves, catch, store, and treat their own water, collect solar energy, and even grow their own food. It is essentially a self sufficient organism, once built. They are made largely of tires and bottles and cans, materials that would otherwise be going to the dump, or at best recycled. These are all great features, but like anything, it can sound good on paper and even look and feel impressive but be carried out in a way that undermines most if not all the sustainability goals.

Take this Earthship on Lasqueti. The owners are a wealthy family seeking to do good. Not knowing much better they hired Michael Reynolds crew to build them a prepackaged, pre designed earthship. This is what the Mike Reynold’s crew does, and they have gotten so good at it that they can do it in five weeks. But the tires and bottles all come from New Mexico, as did the lumber and concrete. There was no time for thoughtful site selection before the excavator was brought in, and the crew left mounds of trash when they packed up and left. The daily work schedule seemed to be based around the crew’s drinking schedule and many of the interns left a bit jaded about the whole process, feeling as if they had been somewhat mislead and used as free labor. Perhaps that will be the end of their foray into alternative building techniques, which would be a shame.

So, yes, an earthship is a wonderful concept but does the end justify the means? I want to be careful here and say that I think Michael Reynolds and earthships have done a lot for many people and the alternative building movement. They have helped rebuild areas ruined by natural disasters and Michael Reynolds worked hard to make some impressive headway when it comes to building codes and permits for alternative buildings.

And, there is still much room for improvement. I hope those interested in alternative building will continue to look critically at themselves and realize that there is probably not any one single solution for all climates and all locations. This movement gains strength from innovative and critical minds, such as the one looking to build the first earthship that does not use concrete. This modified earthship, being built in Argentina, will attempt to replace all concrete typically used in these structures with cob. That is the kind of innovation we need.

A Lasqueti Story: Part 7

 Today I picked up a book that lay on the table. It is called Women Who Run With Wolves and is written by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. It contains myths and stories of the Wild Women Archetype. Suddenly I remember something a man on San Juan Island said to me. “Miwa… Miwa… doesn’t that mean wild woman is Swahili?” I laugh and tell him maybe, but that I only know it to mean harmony and beauty in Japanese. I had never thought of myself as a wild woman, but maybe I am.

Mark tells me about the free store and the library on the island. The library is where this book comes from. Both are totally open access: you can go in and drop off whatever you want and you can take whatever you want. There are no late fees or fees at all for that matter. The amazing thing is that, rather then slowly being depleted, both the library and the free store have a constant excess. One of Mark’s volunteer jobs on the island is to take books that aren’t getting much use back to the mainland in order to make room for more books. He takes about three boxes each month. “The world is full of abundance,” he says. “It is just a matter of finding it and redistributing it.”

You could almost say that this island is an experiment in anarchy. There are no police on the island, there is no building inspector, and there is no hospital. There is one ambulance and because of Canada’s healthcare system anyone who is seriously injured is airlifted out by helicopter at no fee to them.

Some on the island are finding life gets a bit harder as they get older, but the community has come together to find a solution. Soon there will be a centrally located place where people can go if they can no longer take care of themselves and the community will take care of them.

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