Ital (eye'-tal): of or from the earth; vital; life giving; natural.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Journey to the Source

Back when we had a television, LOST was my all time favorite show. It was the only show that I had to be home to watch each week. I loved the characters. I got wrapped up in the crazy plot twists. I enjoyed trying to piece together the various philosophical views being hinted at. I longed to be in that landscape...

I now find myself on an island very similar to the LOST island. And although our plane did not literally fall out of the sky, we, by all means, crashed onto these shores. We are still struggling to make sense of what happened to us. Like the LOST characters, we have an opportunity to reinvent ourselves...to take the lessons learned in our other life and make the most of our new island life. For us there is no going back...we would be in Locke's camp...stay on the island and learn from its mysteries...

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to a very special place on our island. The Source Farm has the potential to be like that place on LOST where the light of the world is kept. Located in the eastern parish of St. Thomas, The Source Farm is a family vision to bring light, art, culture and sustainable living to a very impoverished community. I found The Source's website while searching for sustainable communities on the web before we left. I decided to send an email to the address listed...just to say hi and that I supported their cause. To my surprise, I got a response! It was the beginning of a dialogue and exchange of beautiful ideas! One of the projects the Source has implemented is a women's sewing cooperative. The unemployment rate is extremely high especially among women in the Johns Town community. The literacy rate is also very low. There are few opportunities for people to travel out of the community to search for work. The sewing co-operative is a way for the women to learn a skill and earn for themselves. It is hoped both by the Source and myself, that my skills can be used to inspire and invigorate the co-op.

Mo wants to get involved with the sustainable building initiative. The Source is promoting the Earthbag building technology as an low impact, affordable way to build housing. So far the Source has two earthbag houses. I got to stay in one on my overnight trip and it couldn't have been more cozy and comfortable! I loved it! Both houses are completely off the grid, relying on solar and wind power for electricity and rain water catchment for water. Like the co-op, this initiative is extremely important to have the community understand and support. On my visit, the Johns Town community had been without water since March! Residents must walk down a treacherous path to a communal pump to get their water...for drinking, cooking, bathing...all their water needs. Reports of people being robbed on their way to the well in the early morning hours are prolific. Elderly people must hire a taxi to carry the water containers back and forth...a cost they just cannot afford. Electricity is also very costly island wide. There is a huge push towards developing renewable energy sources to help lower the costs. In fact, former U.S. president, Bill Clinton, was just here giving a lecture on renewable energy hoping to convince the government to get behind the movement.

The other projects the Source is working on include an organic farm and CSA, healing arts center, a learning center focusing on progressive global learning models and eco-tourism. When Nicola told me about the plans for the learning center, I got so excited! I envisioned Shine and Song attending. In fact, when Nicola spoke about any of the numerous projects evolving at the Source, I got excited! Like I said, it is a very special place. The land itself seems to vibrate with positive energy. Surrounded by the Blue Mountains on one side and the sea on the other, this former coconut farms boasts gorgeous views as well as cozy nooks, like the stream with lovely waterfalls, where one can literally get lost...only to be found again. I was inspired by all that I saw and talked about with Nicola. The vision she shared with me was just beautiful. I'm thrilled to have found this place and truly believe that it is the Source for all the is good and beautiful...

I feel like I have found my place...my path...there was a reason I was brought to this island...

Please check out their website to learn more: http://thesourcefarm.com/
And if you are looking for a way to see the true Jamaica and do something positive and good at the same time, check out their work exchange program. You won't regret it!

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Joy of Raw Food

We were given a gift this week. Mom-in-Law bought us a week of dinners from Joy. Joy is a lovely woman who cooks or rather un-cooks from the outdoor kitchen behind her house. Her specialty is "live" food...raw fruits and vegetables prepared to delicious heights! We've enjoyed pickled sweet raw plantain, spicy sprouted cashews, sweet potato "noodles", curried veggie wraps, almond balls, cucumber and eggplant salad, tabouleh and the list goes on and on and on. I've never eaten so well! I'm so excited to bring home our carefully packaged meals to see what new treats will greet me!

Food and healthy eating is one of my passions. I've been a vegetarian committed to eating whole foods for almost 17 years. I try to eat locally grown foods and dream of the garden I will one day tend. In Brooklyn we belonged to a CSA and supported Farmer Ted from upstate New York. It just makes sense that the things that are supposed to nourish and support our bodies should be of the best quality possible. I was spoiled in Brooklyn because these foods, compared to other parts of the U.S., were easy to come by. We had 2 year round farmer's markets within walking distance from our apartment, the neighborhood CSA and health food establishments aplenty. Before we moved, one of my friends asked me if it would be difficult to maintain a vegetarian diet here in Jamaica. My reply was no because the Rastafarian culture promotes an "ital" or vegetarian lifestyle. I knew veggie foods were available but I didn't realize just how prolific ital food is down here!

To my delight, there are vegetarian options at every restaurant and I'm not talking about the one pasta dish with vegetables that you would find in the states. There is usually a whole section of the menu dedicated to vegetarians!! There are options!! Even the popular fast food restaurant offers veggie stew peas (one of my favorites by the way...although way better when not prepared by a fast food chain...but hey, in a bind, it's great to know it's there...). And the number of restaurants dedicated completely to veggie eating rivals those in NYC! Hope Botanic Gardens, the national botanic garden, has a fancy pants veggie restaurant within its beautiful borders! I wonder how that would fly in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens!

So, what is the reason for all of this ital food? The reason is simple...God. Jamaica is one of the most religious places I've ever been. There is a church around every corner. The whole educational system is tied to the church. Hospitals and other public institutions are also affiliated. Praise music and gospel is mixed in with the latest Dancehall rhythm on the radio. And I'm not just talking about organized religion...from Rastas to Eckankar members to Spiritualists and others unnamed...they are all here and they are all practicing in a holistic way. They take seriously the call, God in all things. There is a true respect for food that God made for us to nourish our bodies. It's a concept that I find lacking in the majority of believers in the U.S.

It's funny...my views on religion have changed drastically over the years (and I didn't intend for this post to go in this direction...but hey, I'm following the flow...). I consider myself a Spiritualist...open to the many forms the higher energy will take. God, Jah, Allah, whatever the name, is energy...an energy that moves through all things...an energy that is never destroyed but instead changed over and over and over again. With each new incarnation of energy, a new consciousness is born until finally Nirvana, true Enlightenment, is reached. It's a beautiful thing. Once we connect to that energy (in whichever way we choose...church services, yoga, meditation, song, prayer...), we expand and grow closer to the Divine. So it makes sense to me to connect at the most basic level...the food we eat. Think about how intimate a connection that is! By consuming foods grown in a sustainable way...straight from the earth...you are placing Divine Energy inside your body! It's amazing!

And I will leave it at that. Thank you Joy! Thank you Mom-in-law! Jah bless!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Name Game

I grew up in a small rural town in central Pennsylvania where almost every citizen and cow (or so it seemed) had a nickname. My dad's gang of friends included Big Red, Chief and Whitey. Most of his stories start with, "Well his name was Mike but everyone called him..." I never heard of a place that had more people with aliases...until I met Mo.

Jamaica takes the nickname to a new level. Most people have more than one and some have so many that their legal given name seems lost to all eternity. Specky, Crab, Wizbert, Busha, Dick-o, Short Don, Boss Man, King, Bamboo are just some that I've come to meet. It is the usual custom to be bestowed with the name from your crew of friends. Rarely does the bearer choose their own. And normally the name is a reflection of some character trait.

When it comes to given names, they can be just as creative. In fact, the radio station I listen to every morning has a name segment where they speak to a caller about how their unique name came to be. People have called in with names such as Luxembourg Salmon, Ronnique, Fennek, Picard, Dan-I and Tallamari.

In the spirit of our new home (and to protect the privacy of the children) I have used nicknames for all of us in this blog. However, I write this because of all the raised eyebrows I have gotten over Song's real name. It's really not that unusual and given some of the names I just listed above...pretty simple...two syllables...four letters...and it sounds like a song when you say it. Regardless of the raised eyebrows, I think it is a beautiful name for a beautiful baby and I hope she doesn't trade it in for another...