Friday, September 30, 2011

In Memorian: Wangaari Maathai (1940-2011)

I read this post the other day on a blog I quite often read called "Yoga in the Dragon's Den", written by an Ashtanga practicioner in the US.   I have copy/pasted it exactly as is because I thought it was a poignant account of an amazing woman.  Hope you enjoy reading about her as much as I did, and thanks to Nobel for writing such a great post to begin with. 

In Memoriam: Wangaari Maathai (1940--2011)

[Image taken from here]

“Every person who has ever achieved anything has been knocked down many times. But all of them picked themselves up and kept going, and that is what I have always tried to do.”

Wangaari Maathai

'Dr. Maathai... conceived of her Green Belt Movement out of compassion and concern for the future of her children and her homeland of Kenya. She applauds the noble, ordinary women who participate in the movement as "foresters without diplomas." Their committed solidarity and steadfast efforts in their communities are not only preventing the desertification of Africa but also raising consciousness of environmental issues in the minds of people the world over. Their service to humanity and the Earth far exceeds that of any national leader. Lawmakers should take note of this fact, recognizing the wisdom, spirit and actions of the people with the respect they deserve. Unfortunately, however, the elite who lead the world's nations--the politicians, the bureaucrats, the academics--tend to look down on such popular movements.'

Buddhist leader and poet Daisaku Ikeda on Wangaari Maathai's life and work

I just learnt earlier today that Wangaari Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist and scientist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, died Sunday from ovarian cancer. She was 71. Here's a description of her life and work, excerpted from the Green Belt Movement's website:

"In the 1970s Professor Maathai became active in a number of environmental and humanitarian organizations in Nairobi, including the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK). Through her work representing women academics in the NCWK, she spoke to rural women and learned from them about the deteriorating environmental and social conditions affecting poor, rural Kenyans—especially women. The women told her that they lacked firewood for cooking and heating, that clean water was scarce, and nutritious food was limited.

Professor Maathai suggested to them that planting trees might be an answer. The trees would provide wood for cooking, fodder for livestock, and material for fencing; they would protect watersheds and stabilize the soil, improving agriculture. This was the beginning of the Green Belt Movement (GBM), which was formally established in 1977. GBM has since mobilized hundreds of thousands of women and men to plant more than 47 million trees, restoring degraded environments and improving the quality of life for people in poverty.

As GBM’s work expanded, Professor Maathai realized that behind poverty and environmental destruction were deeper issues of disempowerment, bad governance, and a loss of the values that had enabled communities to sustain their land and livelihoods, and what was best in their cultures. The planting of trees became an entry-point for a larger social, economic, and environmental agenda.

In the 1980s and 1990s the Green Belt Movement joined with other pro-democracy advocates to press for an end to the abuses of the dictatorial regime of then Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi. Professor Maathai initiated campaigns that halted the construction of a skyscraper in Uhuru (“Freedom”) Park in downtown Nairobi, and stopped the grabbing of public land in Karura Forest, just north of the city center. She also helped lead a yearlong vigil with the mothers of political prisoners that resulted in freedom for 51 men held by the government.

As a consequence of these and other advocacy efforts, Professor Maathai and GBM staff and colleagues were repeatedly beaten, jailed, harassed, and publicly vilified by the Moi regime. Professor Maathai’s fearlessness and persistence resulted in her becoming one of the best-known and most respected women in Kenya. Internationally, she also gained recognition for her courageous stand for the rights of people and the environment."

Reading this description of Professor Maathai's life and work, I was really struck by her keen insight that poverty and environmental destruction are indicators of deep human problems such as "disempowerment, bad governance, and a loss of the values that had enabled communities to sustain their land and livelihoods, and what was best in their cultures". But rather than allow herself to be defeated by this observation, she came to the conclusion that if she could get people to work together to reverse the damage done to the environment, they could find a way to empower themselves, stand up to powerful and corrupt authorities, and build a sustainable livelihood for themselves and their families.

We have much to learn from her. Perhaps, in some way, our personal practices can also become "trees" of personal growth, allowing us to cultivate the strength and the insight to work together with others productively, empower ourselves and others, and stand up for what is right and good around us.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Is tree planting yogic?

Farming the last two weeks has been bloody. hard. work.  Something like 1400 native trees and shrubs had to go into the ground to create a windbreak, and in other areas to help rebalance the ecosystem by attracting bees and birds and possums and kangaroos.  That is a lot of trees.  We had some manly men digging the holes with "kangas," (something like a little mini tractor), thank goodness, but it still involved a lot of stooping and getting up and down to move from one tree to the next.  Good thing we were planting them too, the neighbours of the farm were spraying toxic chemicals of doom all over their fields, so hopefully the positive impact of so many new trees will help to cancel out the poisons the other guys were using.  Being on the farm doing so much manual labour makes it pretty tough some mornings to get up and do my practice before heading out to do hard work all day long, but I haven't missed a practice yet, and to be honest, other than the stupid-o-clock wake up, it seems to be what is keeping my body in check.  Last week I was a very naughty ashtangi and did my intermediate practice on Friday, but luckily, the yoga police didn't crack down on the infraction mid karandavasana or something.  I simply wanted to get into all those backbends after all the stooping forward motions of farming, and it felt good.  Today I followed the rules and did intermediate series the rest of the week but stuck with primary series as it is once again, Friday, and just shifted the focus to the upward dogs in all the vinyasas.   I also slept in until the slovenly hour of 6AM, and went into the shala when the room was empty between classes.  Are these the rebellious teenage years of my yoga practice?  Perhaps.  Keeping up with my practice through all the hard work has felt like quite an accomplishment lately, so I don't mind bending the rules a little bit from time to time, treating myself to a sleep in etc.  Something tells me I could probably justify an extra day off as well, in the thought that tree planting itself is a yogic, an active example of non-harming (ahimsa) towards the earth, or karma yoga or something like that, but so far, it hasn't been necessary. 

Also,  just started reading 'The Cider House Rules' by John Irving, one of my favorite authors. Found a copy at the second hand shop this morning and happily snatched it up for a mere $3.  Yahoo!  Irving's books are all compulsive reads and have an interconnectedness about the plots and locations, and best of all they all carry an underlying element of the bizarre.  If you have not read anything by him, I suggest you do.  'The World According to Garp,' 'A Prayer for Owen Meany,' and 'Until I Find You' are my three favorites of his. 

Happy weekend!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Nesting = cookie baking and housecleaning

Moving is all finished (has been since last weekend...) but the transition into the new place is still sort of ongoing.  I took a few hours this afternoon to nest a bit... washing windows and scrubbing walls free of smudges and cobwebs helped to make it feel more like a home.  The domesticity doesn't stop there... I also made some absolutely delicious cookies: super chewy ginger and molasses.  Yum-o!  After being so busy last weekend and a big week on the farm I was really ready for a treat today and these cookies absolutely hit the spot.  Just call me Suzy Homemaker. 
Here is the recipe for some fan-freaking-tastic cookies:
2 1/4 cups flour
2tsp baking soda
1/4tsp salt
1tsp cinnamon (I threw in extra)
1/4 tsp nutmeg (my personal addition to this recipe)
1tsp ground ginger (be brave like me, use extra, and grate it fresh!)
3/4 cup butter softened (vegan? try coconut oil!)
1cup dark brown sugar (I used about 2/3 cup instead)
1 big egg (don't like eating chicken periods?  try using a tbsp of chia soaked in 1/4 cup water)
1/4 cup molasses (I used an extra blurb to make up for less sugar)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Sift flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger together
Cream butter and sugar until fluffy, beat in egg/chia and molasses until smooth
Blend with dry ingredients
Roll into balls of desired size and place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Leave room for a bit of spreading to happen. 
Bake for 10-12 minutes until cookies are firm to touch. 
Eat as many as possible without getting a tummy ache, or share them with friends. 
*Don't be shy with substitutions in the ingredients.  It keeps things interesting, and adds an element of the unknown to your baking.  Live on the edge.   

In yoga news, I got a reply back from Mysore saying they have accepted my application and I have a spot to go and study there again this year.  YIPPEE!  Maybe there are very strong magnets that keep drawing me back, or maybe it is just the practice and the opportunity to study with my teacher?  One or the other.  I've had a fair few 'lightbulb moments' about my own practice lately, and it feels like a good time to put all my focus back onto being a student.  There is a little vacuum opening up in my brain that wants to suck up all the information it can about Ashtanga, and not just the asana, but the other limbs as well, and there is probably no better place in the world for that than Mother India.  The postures are going well too; my body seems to be revealing secret ninja powers I never knew I had... intermediate series is not so daunting as it once was, and all that is left to learn are the seven deadly headstands at the end.  There will be interesting tales of epic crashes I think, so stay posted. 

Now, time for a bubble bath. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Moving Day, and farm work is hard.

In the ten years (ten years!!!! I am getting old!) since I left the nest and moved out of my parents house I have moved many many times, think I am up to 14 different addresses now.  And this weekend is moving time again.  Sigh.  Luckily just moving around the corner this time, but it will be a big weekend with all the cleaning that has to be done when you end a tenancy.  Luckily, I have enlisted the help of the kiwi for taking care of the yard, with the promise of sending him some extra kitchen wares and baking some delicious treats for him.  The new place is beautiful and cozy, a Sumatran style house with a big jungle inspired yard that has heaps of character, and I can't wait to get settled in.  The next move will hopefully not be for a while, but there is a trip to Mysore in the works, so there might be a bit of a break from the new place while I am in India.   Just hope I'll be able to come back to it!

Farming has been hard work this week, definitely feeling a bit fatigued from a combination of the long day of pitch-forking (turning the soil in the veggie beds to mix the compost with the topsoil) and being caught out in the elements.  Some friends have lent me rain gear, but when it pours down it is tough to stay dry and warm.  Still loving being outside though, it is great on the sunny days and nature is pretty amazing as we head into springtime.  The little birds chasing each other around the farm sowing off their bright plumage and loop-deloop skills are a great source of entertainment!  My practice hasn't suffered too much from the hard work, and I think if anything it will be complimentary.  The big Popeye muscles will probably be good for the tough stretch of ninja postures in intermediate!

Suppose I should get busy packing and cleaning and get this moving day on the go...