…for I guard one seed…

22 Nov

Have you ever been walking down the street in New York City, or anywhere really, and run into people you know, completely unexpectantly? Of course you have. I mean, who hasn’t? I remember one time I was in Portland, Oregon visiting my awesome friend Meredith (I miss you so much, girl! KICK!) and we were walking down the street and there, sitting at a little cafe, were my friends Kristi and Brendan (I also miss you two, obvs), having dinner. Two of the four of us did not live in Portland. Two of the four of us were, in fact, residents of different East Coast cities which made this chance encounter even more special and random. And then I began thinking, as I always do when this occurs, what are the odds?  What are the odds that I would be visiting a new city for the first and only time, a city where I thought I knew one person, to find myself face to face with two people I traveled the world with? And then came the inevitable follow-up, the far more interesting mind adventure of how many times have I been so close to seeing someone, to only get caught up at a light and miss them by mere seconds? When this happens I like to imagine myself in a television show with a pre-recorded audience. There I am walking down the street and an Important Person in my Life is also walking down the street. Or maybe The Person is walking down a perpendicular street. Anyway, the music builds but then I decide to turn and look into a window and The Person walks by, both of us completely unaware of the presence of the other. And then you hear it, that familiar sound from shows like Full House,


A communal exhale of disappointment. Maybe we will encounter one another in a later episode.

In case you were wondering where this all was going, have no fear. This was a sloppy introduction to what happened the other day. (And do not fret, the sloppiness will continue.) I was spending a few days up in the Poconos at my Aunt Mindy and Aunt Joanne’s house. It is my happy place. As a little background, after my junior year abroad (where I met Kristi and Brendan, in fact) I returned to the US and suffered a crazy bout of culture shock and got really depressed and could not relate to people at all. It sucked so hard. It seemed to me the best thing to do was to run away (I am a beacon of health!) and so I ran to Mindy and Joanne’s and spent the summer with them, going on long walks, taking a Spanish class and generally readjusting to what it meant for me to go back to living in the United States. Their home is this warm place surrounded by beauty where I feel safe being, well, me because there are no two better people in the world for me to be me around than Mindy and Joanne. So since then, whenever they’ve been free and I have been able to string a few days together I head on out there.

So this past Monday, with an open Tuesday and Wednesday stretching before me, I hopped in my car, Jose, and made the beautiful trek past the Gas-O-Rama, the Chatterbox Drive-in, Olde Lafayette Village and all the other landmarks I have been passing for years and years. I arrived at their house at the end of a quiet, unpaved road and we just hung out and enjoyed each other’s company. And we built a bonfire for the purpose of forest management (AKA our entertainment). In order to build and light the bonfire, however, we had to move our cars because nothing takes the shine off a bonfire quite like accidentally blowing a car up. And this, my friends, is where it all comes together. I turned the key in the ignition and the radio started up. It was the local NPR station that I had been listening to on my journey west the day before. I began listening to the woman speaking on the radio and I realized, right then and there, that it was an activist whose work I have been reading, enjoying, and sometimes criticizing for the better part of 15 years. It was Vandana Shiva. She was, of course, talking about access to seeds, an issue that I have been interested in since my first trip to India in late 2003, (where I met Kristi and Brendan, it all comes full circle!!) and one that she is incredibly vocal about. At the end of her talk, which it turned out was a speech given during graduation at Colorado College, she recited the following poem, written by an anonymous Palestinian poet:

The Seed Keeper

Burn our land
burn our dreams
pour acid onto our songs
cover with saw dust
the blood of our massacred people
muffle with your technology
the screams of all that is free,
wild and indigenous.

our grass and soil
raze to the ground
every farm and every village
our ancestors had built
every tree, every home
every book, every law
and all the equity and harmony.

Flatten with your bombs
every valley; erase with your edicts
our past
our literature, our metaphor
Denude the forests
and the earth
till no insect,
no bird
no word
can find a place to hide.
Do that and more.
I do not fear your tyranny
I do not despair ever
for I guard one seed
a little live seed
That I shall safeguard
and plant again.

I listened to the poem and then I just sat there and I got the strangest feeling. The only way I know how to describe it is that it was almost as if I came rushing back to myself and I wanted to grab onto that moment and hold it as tightly as I could. It was as if my mind was somehow reawakened. I have been interested in access to seeds for an incredibly long time. It is, in many ways, a cross roads of a lot of topics that intrigue me: women’s rights, agriculture, access to food and water, the privatization of things that have historically been understood as the commons, culture, equality, the environment, intellectual property. I started thinking back to all the reading I have done over the years, the conversations I have had, the dark roads my mind has gone down as I have imagined all the implications of the ownership of genetic materials. I remember reading, over and over again, the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and being so mad I could cry. I did cry a few times, actually. As it all rushed back in and I started imagining all the ways I could get involved, write, share, change things, I thought to myself, man, maybe I should do something. Honestly, and sadly, that was the first time I felt that in a while.

And then, of course, I was back on my television show. Only this time NPR was playing in the background, and there was the climactic build-up and then I decided, at that very moment, to get into the car and to hear that hauntingly beautiful poem read by Vandana Shiva and the audience cheered (only they did it quietly because the producers didn’t want them to ruin the moment). If I hadn’t gotten in Jose right at that second, if I hadn’t been visiting my aunts, if we hadn’t decided to try not to blow up our cars while burning old Amazon boxes and dried up sticks and leaves I never would have heard the poem. This never would have happened. The universe was speaking. So  I don’t know what I will do, ultimately, but I will start by educating myself again and I will stop trying to convince myself, as I do almost every day, that who I am and what I am doing is enough. Because for me, it isn’t. And so I am going to guard this seed and plant again. And hopefully this time it’ll finally take.

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