Walkabouts and wonders

"A life not examined is a life not lived" – Socrates

Mission update 2 – Smoke and mirrors?

School-children on the way home in Kalimpong

School-children on the way home in Kalimpong

I am at that stage where questions of purpose, value and sanity have risen – i.e. “What is the purpose of this?” “Just who is it benefiting?” and my personal favourite just at the moment, “Why me?”

Events that have prompted these questions include; the night-time chorus of two fighting cats and five stray dogs that tends to kick off hourly between 9.00 pm and 2.00am most nights; the alternating and intermittent supply of electricity typical of the area; a five day bout of flu, which has effortlessly segued into a chest infection. But most of all – the increasing evidence that this agricultural project that I described in Mission Update 1 is facing more challenges than a Ku Klux Klan man falling in love with Will-I-Am.

So, I ask myself, ”Is this all just a game of smoke and mirrors? In which case, who is fooling who?”

But it’s reassuring to know that I am not the only one wondering that – here is my long-time friend Frances’ comment from facebook –  “That’s quite a project, James. Is this your area of expertise? Is the climate and soil conducive to turning this into a viable commercial proposition…?” And a few others of my friends have also made comments like “interesting….” and “challenging…..” and “how long did you say you would be out there…… ?”

And just to rub it in, here are some pics from three of the other schools, showing the quality of the land, etc.

First up, we

First up, we……..?

Well, my idea would be.....?

Well, my idea would be…

Do you think someone livig there might help....

How about we ask in there?

A local expressing their opinion.

A local expressing their opinion.

Oh, and did I forget to tell you that the government officer from the local agricultural development department just told me that, whereas the report I read about this region being pretty fertile was true, this “region” that I had read about included the whole of the state of West Bengal, ignoring the truly calcium-boron-magnesium-nitrogen depleted soils of the uplands, which is, of course where I am….

And, of course, Frances has made another equally valid point – I personally have absolutely no knowledge or experience of farming, growing vegetables or testing soils. So,never mind the fun I am having, – isn’t my decision to volunteer for this job somewhere between irresponsible and insane?  As unlikely as it may seem, I think the answer is going to turn out to be “yes”.

Two of the schools have kept up a good attempt at a subsistence garden for about three years, which means they  know to do the basic stuff. Three more have found land of better quality to start with. A Japanese agricultural team has offered to include the school teams in a 5 day intensive education course. That government guy I just told you about has just confirmed he is free to take the teams on a one day focused workshop for our specific crops and greenhouses. And then there is the discovery that an expert on soil fertility and diseases, who advises the Japanese team I just mentioned, is the brother-in-law of the best friend of the head-master of one of the schools – And he is sitting right next to me in the store run by my host’s sister….

Now, I’d like to claim the credit for being a wonderful researcher to put all this together, but mostly that just comes from a well-developed ability to ask stupid, obvious questions and keep asking until I get to better ones. Plus, I have found that if combine confidence and persistence it’s amazing what you can achieve. But all of this would be as nothing but for working with people whose essential nature is open and helpful (and patient, too, as you may imagine) and believe that there is a new future waiting to be won.

Which brings me back to the first two of my opening questions….

Children at Alpha school

Children at Alpha school

Through the rails

Through the rails

Teachers at Alpha

Teachers at Alpha

2 responses to “Mission update 2 – Smoke and mirrors?

  1. Helena 25/03/2013 at 11:51 am

    In a way I echo the above comment …. despite the fact that the evidence stacks towards and impossibility the brain will also find so many justifications to move along now, theres a good lad! Third vector? Use your organisational skills to find people to do it under your direction … A strong Columbian man has just made me a wonderful terraced garden at the end of my little piece of heaven; removing tree roots, huge blocks of concrete, stones, earth which had built up there over many years of previous ownership. Now there are 5 terracesv (approx 3-4 metre square), using the logs from the trees that had fallen during the inclement weather last year.

    Then again I think salvage ….the viability of where the energy is being utilised. You know what I mean i hope. But you are ‘on the ground there’ and I wish you the best outcome for all, but most particularly yourself.

  2. John Harries 23/03/2013 at 1:45 pm

    Hi James,

    I think maybe self doubt will be the first step on the road to success. Keep on plugging away at it.

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