Thursday, April 6, 2017

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

resilience: or, embracing the struggle

I have been thinking recently about the passing of Patrick's friend and former co-worker, Jim Horan. Jim was one of those people I am always attracted to. He took long walks in the wilderness only to plop down on a break to read Virgil. He played guitar and wrote letters. He sang and laughed and spouted wisdom every day. His daughter recounted an anecdote: One day in class an athlete was gooofing off. He stopped class, "scholar athlete or dumb jock? Choose now. It will effect the rest of your life." This is the kind of person Jim was. Making everyone better, but by their own choosing. Scores of students recounted stories in the wake of his passing, with a theme emerging: he always implored students to 'embrace the struggle.'

These words have been ringing in my ears for weeks. Here we are, in a foreign country, knowing nothing of the culture and customs, attempting to start a new life. It sucks sometimes. We can't communicate at times, even though we know the language. Everything here is different. People here live with the doors open and bugs fly in. Everything is jimmy-rigged. It's a DIY kind of country. But, in Jim's words, I am embracing the struggle.

Why? Why do this? Why not just go back to a place I know that's comfortable and clean and nice? Well, because I value resilience. And if you saw my post recently about this topic, you'd know that these little annoyances are likely necessary steps in embracing resilience.

Well, what is resilience really? The ability to bounce back? To deal? To just roll over and allow bad things to happen? I try to model my conception of resilience off the idea of ecological resilience: " the capacity of an ecosystem to respond to a perturbation or disturbance by resisting damage and recovering quickly."

The disturbance is this new country. But not just that, it's bugs and weather and new things. It's the struggle. And resilience is resisting damage in the face of struggle and recovering from it. It is embracing the struggle. Not being a victim of circumstance but a survivor of it. Empowered by it even. I know this intuitively from learning Spanish. Each time I feel uncomfortable, I get better. I grow in ability, simply by putting myself out there and failing a little, I become stronger, more capable, more resilient in language use.

So, I do it. I wake up and I deal. I survive. I grow. I embrace the struggle and I become resilient. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Immigrating to Uruguay update March 2017






People have been asking. What is going on with our progress? How is our land? Our home building? How are the kids adjusting? What's up with my study abroad idea? What else is new? I am going to attempt to give some basic updates here so I can share widely for those burning to know! :)

The land/house:
 Land: Since we got here we have planted on the land: a winter squash patch, a raspberry bush, lavender bush, rosemary bush, and a grape on the property. We have marked out where we want to place our home based on the movement of the summer sun. We have installed a swing. We have harvested all the pears from our pear tree and made: jam, canned whole pears, alcoholic pear cider, and made some friends with it (gave them away), besides eating the fresh pears as well. We attempted twice to make sun dried pear leather, but failed due to rainy days! We have harvested and are continuing to harvest walnuts. We eat these like candy, and feel very luxurious as we know how expensive shelled walnuts are. We have also made a little patio in a small grove of trees near our palm tree, for catching some shade during working hours. (of course all of this was done with the help of our visitors).

At our rental we planted some tomatoes and basil and other herbs and it's been nice to go out the door and grab some fresh greens. We just planted some fall crops: lettuce, spinach, brussels sprouts, cabbage, parsnips, turnips, kale, chard, that kind of thing, in containers. We are going to re-plant soon and maybe build some cold frames while we are at it.

We've also been going to these local auctions called remates and have been slowly acquiring necessary tools and furniture. We just bought a lovely hardwood desk for $12! We got a cider/wine press, tools, a small desk for Isa, a lovely hardwood china cabinet for under $20. So, working on getting things we need for cheap has been another task. Pat's uncle Bill has also been incredibly generous and not only bought us a mountain of tools while here, he also sent a suitcase full of tools with Colin! We have also been lucky to meet some Americans right at an opportune time when they were moving and have acquired from them: toys, a lovely large rug, a hardwood toy chest, a girls bike, and lavender stained glass ceiling shade and picture frames. Score!

House: We have decided to build a house out of this material called isopanel which is basically styrofoam between two sheets of thin-ish steel. We did this because we have heard bad things about the shipping container houses here, and because it is cheap and fast and automatically insulated. As of today, we are waiting on the builder to start. He is moving forward slowly because we are all waiting on the electrical company (state run) to bring our electricity from the state highway down our shared driveway road to the corner of our property. He needs electricial for building, especially for this electric welding equipment he has. The house will be 72 square meters with two bedrooms, one bathroom, a large open-concept kitchen and living area, and a walk-in pantry. It will be on a pier foundation. The piers will be concrete and the frame will be welded steel.

As of last week, the electrical company said it will be done within the month (riiiiight). So, we are looking into buying a generator and have been in contact with our builder to see what he thinks would be best. We are very anxious to get started on the house, as each month that passes is another ~$600 in rent and bills we are spending in our beach house. I'd rather put that money toward a generator that we can own and stop throwing our savings at a rental (even though it is lovely being at the beach).

Study abroad/work:
I (Ashley) am losing (or not being re-hired) for my online teaching gig at Washington State starting May, so at that point we will likely just be living on savings. That is fine, we planned for it, but it starts a ticking clock for us to get other streams of income going. I had a person I met at WSU that was very, very interested in partnering with us, and she prepared a big US State Department grant to develop a study abroad program, but at the last minute couldn't submit it due to technical issues and couldn't find any tech support through these government website that sent her in loops. Since then, she's gotten busy with the semester and things have stalled a bit.

After that stalled I worked on making the website look really nice and bought a domain name Rizomafieldschool.com (go check it out!). Then I started shopping it around a bit.

I got in contact with a group called Gustolab International - a joint partnership between the University of Illinois and it's own entity in Rome. Their focus is on sustainability, food, and study abroad experiences - very similar to our mission! I had a conference call with them and the upshot is that they are looking to expand their program outside of Rome. They have two pilot programs in Vietnam and Japan and if those go well they are keen to make a partnership with us. They advised me to start visiting field sites and taking photos to deepen the website to give students an idea of what possibilities exist here in Uruguay.

Finally, a colleague of mine at WSU put me in touch with a friend of hers at the University of Idaho that is in charge of alternative spring and winter break programs where students go on their breaks and volunteer somewhere. She and I are moving forward with a potential Winter Break 2017-2018 plan for two weeks. There was a big flood here a few months back and plenty of families that lost everything in it. So, we could partner with a local church to get a list of families and maybe do some painting and restoration work. There is also a local organic ag organization here that works with low-income small scale farmers keeping them in business, which we could do some organic ag work with them. So, that is in development and would be cemented likely by June 2017 if it's going to happen.

Since so many of these things have very long timelines of development, we don't know when the actual paycheck will come for any of this work. But I am thinking this is the gamble of an entrepreneurial life! Stay tuned!

The (beautiful) girls:
First, let me say it has been an absolute joy to be with my girls here, with Patrick around as well. Our family is re-adjusting to a new life here where we all basically get to be together and get to spend our hours as we wish. What a dream! Of course, that doesn't mean we don't get stressed and don't have work to do, but we do get to plan our own days and prioritize caring for our children together, which is all I had ever dreamed of.

Isa as, as I type this, going to her first day of school in the town, Valdense. The short of it is: I really want her to go to the rural school (not the Valdense town school) because the rural school is set up like all the educational policy says is the best learning environment for kids (especially small ones). The rural school is a one-room schoolhouse with 15 kids between the ages of 4-11 and two teachers! The kids mostly play and work in groups (3,4,5/7,8,9/10,11). The teacher says it is basically like a family more than a school. What a dream! But the migration office requires that we enroll her in school and the rural school can't take her until she's 4 (July 2017 - not too far off). The Valdense town school has 3 classrooms of 3 year olds. It is well-run but it's crowded and it considers itself 'rigorous,' which to me means too many rules for a 3 year old. Patrick is going to stay with her and translate as needed for the first couple weeks as 'volunteer.' So we shall see how it all pans out. More than anything, I want her to have a smooth transition into speaking Spanish, something she is a bit anxious about at the moment.

Vivian is awesome. She is crawling and pulling up and we just got a rug from a lovely American missionary who didn't need it anymore, so she is protected from the hard tile!

What about friends?
Finally, the community. I think of a sign in the basement of the Fitz house, "it takes a long time to grow old friends.' Well, we have gotten a jump start on that! It seemed difficult for us to make deep connections with friends in the US. We've made a few along the way, but most were superficial and/or we never made time to see one another. The complete opposite is true here.

We instantly made friends with the local microbrewery guys who have been to our house and we've been to theirs at least a dozen times in the 2 months we've known each other. It is so easy and casual, and they just stop by or we stop in without making a date and I love it! We have also met/know that live in our area: an Irish/English retiree expat couple, a South African couple, their neighbors with two small girls, our neighbors a constructor and a lawyer with two small kids that live in the land next to ours, a German guy living on a boat/in a Chevy Astro, an American man/ Mexican woman couple that live within walking distance, one of the brew guys and his pregnant girlfriend who live within walking distance, a young Uruguayan hippy couple that have a 7 month old girl and drive a 1970's Renault, an Argentinean/Swedish couple that live about 90 mins away that have two small kids that live here year round, and an American couple that runs missionary trips that come here at least twice a year that have two girls 3 years old and 7 months!

On top of that, this weekend we met a whole group of young American families that live mostly in Montevideo, but I asked if they'd be interested in coming to our land for a Fall camping trip and they all seemed quite excited. So, just adding to the possibilities of friends. Maybe our Fall camping trip will be like the Chalet week or South Haven where we all get together the same time every year. It's a dream!

We certainly have ample opportunities for community here, and we are building it quickly and easily. In just a few years I can imagine many of these friends feeling like old friends. :)

We are also looking into travelling back to Chicago in this Summer/late Fall, but are anxious about spending money on tickets. I have a one-way ticket back to Chicago for July, but the one-way ticket back is exactly the same cost as the two way, so that doesn't do me much good. We also found out when flying here that lap infants aren't free, they cost something like 20% of a ticket, so that adds to the cost. So, going back to Chicago looks like it would cost somewhere between $4000 and $4500. We want badly to keep the connection alive with family and friends (Isa talks daily about Amelia, Molly, Craig, Mary Kate, Abby, the Daly kids and all her close relatives), but we can't justify spending $4500 of our savings on a trip when we have no set income on the horizon. So, Pat is applying to maternity leave Spanish teaching positions for Fall 2017 in Chicago and is also looking to work as a soccer ref in the Fall. He could likely work enough to cover his own ticket, but not enough for the rest of us. So, that is another moving piece.

-------------------
Overall, immigration has been frustrating in some ways (learning the ins and outs of every institution), but rewarding and surprising in others (weather, people). We did find out recently that health care in the public system is entirely free. Just free. We just had to bring our income documents, our passports, and proof of residency, and voila we have health care. Vaccinations are covered by the state and they are on the exact same vax schedule as the US (no stress there). Doctors are nice and offices are clean and I feel well cared for in that department.

After reading through this, it feels like we've accomplished a lot. Some days I feel we get nothing done except keeping the kids alive and hanging out with our guests. But this is something, right? Now, we are without guests and we need to fall into a routine that includes me ever getting my dissertation done, on top of the 1000 other projects we are starting. But it's all good and lovely overall. It is what we were dreaming of. And each day we adjust more and it looks more and more like the dream we had. Just seeing our canned pears and pear cider and walnuts on the shelf and the pots with food growing outside. It is lovely to transition to the way of life I've been dreaming of for maybe a decade. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Feminism: or the right to be cleaned up after

Having seen some footage of signs and speeches (Ashley Judd!) from the women's marches around the world two days ago on January 21, I have some thoughts about feminism. I have had a long, ongoing relationship with the concept of feminism. I have interacted with many versions of it, and think I have finally come to what I think is feminism's most important message for me: it means the right to be cleaned up after.

I know this sounds lazy, but I assure you that to me is it profound. There are many iterations of feminism from the (very small minority) man-hating to the (very first wave) protecting women's basic rights to everything in between. While I do support the very public act of supporting women's issues, especially in the eyes of formal institutions like laws or economic privileges, the kind of feminism I am passionate about enacting takes place in the most private spaces: the home, within relationships, and in culture.

To illustrate my point, I am posting here a little story I read to my sociology 101 students when we get to the chapter on gender:

Conversation between a husband (H) and a psychologist (P):
Q: what do you do for a living Mr. Rogers?
H: I work as an accountant in a bank.
P: Your wife?
H: She doesn't work. She's a housewife.
Q: Who makes breakfast for your family?
H: My wife, because she doesn't work
Q: What time does your wife wake?
H: She wakes up early because it has to be organised. She organizes the lunch for the children, ensures that they are well-dressed and combed, if they had breakfast, if they brush their teeth and take all their school supplies. She wakes with the baby and changes diapers and clothes. Breastfeeds and makes snacks as well.
Q: How do your children get to school?
H: My wife takes them to school, because she doesn't work.
P: After taking their children to school, what does she do?
H: Usually takes a while to figure something out that she can do while she is out, so she doesn't have to pack and unpack the carseat too many times, like drop off bills or to make a stop at the supermarket. Sometimes she forgets something and has to make the trip all over again, baby in tow. Once back home, she has to feed the baby lunch and breastfeed again, get the baby's diaper changed and ready for a nap, sort the kitchen and then will take care of laundry and cleaning of the house. You know, because she doesn't work.
P: In the evening, after returning home from the office, what are you doing?
H: Rest, of course. Well, I'm tired after working all day in the bank.
Q: What does your wife do at night?
H: She makes dinner, serves my children and I, washes the dishes, orders once more the house, makes sure the dog is put away as well as any left over dinner. After helping children with HW she gets them prepared to sleep in pajamas and the baby is in fresh diapers, gives warm milk, verifies they brush their teeth. Once in bed she wakes frequently to continue to breastfeed and possibly change a diaper if needed while we rest. Because she doesn't have to get up for work.

Somebody asked her...
You are a woman who works or is it just "housewife"??
She replied:
I work as a wife of the home, 24 hours a day..
I am a mother,
I am a woman,
I am a daughter,
I'm the alarm clock,
I'm the cook,
I'm the maid,
I am the master,
I'm the bartender,
I'm the babysitter,
I'm a nurse,
I am a manual worker,
I'm a security officer,
I'm the advisor,
I am the comforter,
I don't have a vacation,
I don't have a licence for disease.
I don't have a day off
I work day and night,
I'm on duty all the time,
I do not receive salary and...
Even so, I often hear the phrase:
" but what do you do all day?"

So, feminism for me starts at this basic level of human interaction. It is the right to say 'I'm tired' and to be cleaned up after. To be taken care of, rather than taking care. It is the work that needs to be done to start equal rights, in my humble opinion. How do these leaders grow up and get the idea that women are worth less? It starts in their home. When they see their mama doing all of the above while the papa sits and relaxes. We all have a right to relax, to leave dishes dirty, to have a mind free from the invisible workload of keeping everything organized in the household. 

What does enacting this kind of feminism look like? It looks like a bunch of micro-interactions about dishes, childcare, laundry. It looks like leaving things dirty until they're cleaned up. It means not being the one who packs the diaper bag every time. It is doing these things free of guilt or anxiety (something I am working on constantly -- the guilt or anxiety has been placed there over years of socialization that this is a woman's duty). It is akin to the work in the previous post about tolerating discomfort (in being closer to nature). And it's hard to do. To re-make culture is a necessary and complicated way to revolutionize our world, to prepare for a future in which sexes are equal and we all live closer to the earth. 



Thursday, January 12, 2017

repatterning civilization in Uruguay

I write this post sitting outside and a little green bug keeps jumping to different points of my body. It's annoying, but important, that I tolerate this little insect. A friend recently visited us here in Uruguay. She said, "I am going to have to get used to the heat. In the summer I move from air conditioned house to air conditioned train to air conditioned office." It is indeed an important (and unsustainable) part of our modern existence that we are alienated from nature. I don't mean this in the lofty sense. I mean it in a very practical one. We don't feel weather, we don't see bugs, our feet never get dirty, we never feel our skin respond to changes in temperature and humidity (unless in our outfitted, planned excursions to the gym). All that is different for us here in Uruguay, and it is the first step in getting close to nature, rather than trying to constantly defeat it.

I am on a listseve of what you might call environmental academics, and in a recent email chain a man named Ruben Nelson said the following:

To me what is most important... is [the] sense that the root patterns of our consciousness, cultures and form of civilization need to be re-conceived/re-patterned/reinvented.  That is, we need to re-pattern/reinvent the imagination by which we organize all of our experience, inside and out, including our formal organizations.  It is this wider, longer, deeper, more integral and more reflexive point, that we in the Modern/Industrial west are missing and resist.  We desperately want to "solve our problems" one piece at a time without having to even see, let alone think about and transform our unconsciously inherited Modern/Industrial patterns of consciousness, culture and forms of civilization.
We want sustainable forms of organization without having to pay the price of personal/cultural/civilizational transformation.  In Bonhoeffer's terms, we want cheap grace.  It was always thus.  Tragically, if we do not pay the price of a truly humane and sustainable future, we will not co-create one.
And to repeat the guts of my earlier post, the above is news that, at least to date, we in the Modern/Industrial West as well as most of the rest, are unwilling and, therefore unable, to see/hear.
In my view, developing the capacities -- personal, organizational, societal

-- to see, and undertake this wider and deeper civilizational-scale work is the most pressing issue of our day.  One cannot deal with a living complex human system one piece at a time.  But, bless us, we do try.

I see what we are doing here as the work of that personal cultural transformation that is so desperately needed if we (as a species? civilization? I am not sure exactly what form I mean) is going to survive. So, we learn how to live with imperfection, to tolerate the bugs and the sounds of birds and sweeping the leaves that are constantly dropping. To let your daughter play with the washed up sticks and stones on the beach (and to deal with a beach that hasn't been combed by the municipality). To feel the weather and be impacted by it ('run! get the clothes off the line!' is certainly something new to me).  To sweat and smell and do outdoor work. To work your day around the hot sun. To live life in the rhythms of a place. To make decisions based on the wind (can we swim at the beach today or are the waves too big?) or the clouds, or the hour of the day. It sounds dreamy, but when you are used to being immune to all of these considerations, it takes work to readjust. It is the work we are committed to doing - re-organizing our experience in a way the befits the impending future.