Saturday, October 18, 2014

And what would you have them do?

Another 75 minutes or so left of the 2014 bonfire.  That gives me a chance to do some speculative writing. 

And what would you have them do?

A recurring theme at morning coffee with my adult friends (average age 76 years old) is the dearth of gainful employment for "young" people.  Many of the young people seem to adapt to checks without work like ducks take to water.  This grinds those of the Greatest Generation more than words can tell.

It is just not right.

It begs the question: "And just what would you have them do?" sarcasm.  Sweep the streets?  Purge the Grand River of invasive, alien species of fish?  Crack Black Walnuts.  Adopt a senior citizen?  Read to pre-schoolers?  Sell the lint from their belly buttons on eBay?  Give blood?  Generate power for the grid by pedaling a bicycle?

The closer one gets to the bottom of the economic ladder, the scarcer the options become.

Two of my heroes

Elizabeth and David are two of my heroes.

We have little in common except I once dabbled in a community garden. They, on the other hand, are hard-core.

The bedrock of their clientele are refugees from war-torn African countries.  Africa is a continent trapped in the age of tribalism.  It is silly to speak of nationalities.  But David and Elizabeth's gardeners are from Nigeria, Burundi, Zaire and several other countries.  One might think that those gardeners would be very adept in growing plants...but you would be wrong.

Most of the people who garden in Elizabeth and David's community garden spent a generation as refugees in camps.  That warps a person and their culture.

I invited some of David and Elizabeth's gardeners over to glean a bumper crop of fruit one year.  Elizabeth tried to communicate what to expect.  As usual, I was too dense to absorb what smarter people than me were trying to tell me.

A key part of thriving in a refugee camp is to absorb all resources before the other factions in the camp even become aware that those resources exist.

I told the gardeners which pear trees to pick.  They picked my tomato plants first (more food, faster) before they touched a pear.

I told them to NOT pick a certain pear tree.  It was for naught.  They picked it anyway.

They did not have hats.  I offered to loan them hats.  They took the hats.  The hats did not come back.

They were getting chewed up by bugs.  I brought out some bug spray.  The bug spray did not come back.

David and Elizabeth were sympathetic but they did try to tell me ahead of time. People from refugee camps have a different understanding of "private property" than what you and I are likely to have.

I was very done with them after two episodes of picking.  Elizabeth and David keep plugging away, year after year.  They manage the business based on the quirks of their clients.  Whereas I might offer a 40 pound bag of urea and a five pound bag of green bean seeds to my gardeners to use as-needed, they offer garden space in 100 square foot increments, urea in one pound bags, and green bean seeds in lots of 40 seeds to minimize hoarding.  In other words, David and Elizabeth adapt and cope.


Officially, they do not have favorites.  But an attentive listener will notice the tone of voice, the choice of adjectives and the amount of time spent talking about various gardeners.  We are humans too.  We have some gardeners that we tolerate and some that we admire.

Based on the squishy evidence, I think that Elizabeth and David are particularly fond of on woman from Nigeria.  She cares for 17 children.  About half of these children are her own.  The other half were her sister's.  Her sister and brother-in-law were killed in a civil war.  I suspect Boko Haram or their predecessors pulled the trigger.

The woman is a tireless worker.  She brings the children to the garden and they work, work, work.  Finding enough calories every day to feed 19 humans is a daunting task.

All those fingers

All of those fingers and no way to turn them to profit.  If there is little work for native born Americans then what chance is there for those 17 kids?

A few will succeed.  It is a statistical thing.  They will have the natural inclination, be in the right place at the right time.  But what about the other fifteen?

It occurred to me that weaving might be a skill that is still available to them.  Perhaps wicker work.  Willow grows on marginally drained ground.  The harvest of willow withes can occur in the winter when there are no other garden tasks.

Picture from Double A Willows.

I think it is time for me to drop my heroes David and Elizabeth an email and ask if they want to split an order of Streamco and Onondaga willow cuttings.  I know they have a patch of Reed Canary Grass that will grow excellent willow after they cut the cottonwood trees shading it.  Selling baskets and wickerware on eBay is way more profitable than selling belly button lint.

1 comment:

  1. Good on you for trying... And basket making IS a sellable skill!