Just grow some tomatoes!


June 9, 2017

“I’m just so tired of constantly thinking, questioning, analyzing, doubting. I just want to go live on the farm and grow some tomatoes and just be!” I loved my job at CGE. It was really an amazing job and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to do it for 9 years. But as this quote demonstrates, I was finally feeling quite burnt out on it when I resigned and, inspired by Ron Finley, I just wanted to “Plant some shit.”

But I keep asking myself, “What am I doing here?  What is my role on the farm as a liberal, white, American, middle-aged English-speaking woman with a Bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Masters degree in International Development and Social Change? What is my niche?  What do I bring?”

I know that my main contribution to the work on the farm is not my ability to do heavy labor.  We have workers on the farm who have a lot more experience than I do with swinging a machete and digging a hole.  They grew up in the area and are much more knowledgeable about the local flora, fauna, soil and climate.  Claudio and his family have much more experience with conducting business in Angola than I do. So where does that leave me?

As I question my role on the farm, I find myself questioning everything on the farm. “Are way paying the workers enough?” “Are we exploiting them?” “Are they exploiting our ignorance?” “Is being paid money transforming their culture?” “Does our pay harm gender relations?”* “What will the impact of our farm be on the lifestyles of the surrounding communities?”  “Is there a more ethical way we could empower local community members without just turning them into wage laborers?” “How did Claudio and I get to be in this privileged position of owning the means of production and hiring wage laborers?” “What’s the most ethical thing for us to do with this privilege?” “Although Claudio’s family ‘owns’ this land, who really has a right to ownership of this land?”… My mind is constantly running around in circles with these and similar questions.

So I woke up and realized that my dream of planting some shit without thinking, questioning, analyzing and doubting was an unrealistic dream.  “Of course, in this potentially very problematic context, its of extreme importance to be asking these questions. However, if I was growing things somewhere else these questions would be less relevant.” pause “Where in the world do you not have to ask questions about who has access to the land, the means of production, the produce. Even if you are not employing anyone, even if there are no racial differences (especially if there are no racial differences?) in what context would it be fine to simply plant tomatoes and not consider who gets to plant tomatoes and who does not?”

I pictured myself owning a house in the US and planting on that land, by myself.  Then I asked, “What’s the history of this land? Who was here first? Why do I have the right to ‘own’ this land?  Who does not have access to this land?”  Okay, not my own private land then, what about a community gardening project on public land?  These questions came to mind, “Who is involved with this project? Who is not involved? What are the reasons that some people are not involved? How are the decisions made?”

So I am making peace with my situation and recognizing and honoring that no matter where I am, what I’m doing, I will continue to question what I’m doing there, who is present, who is not, whose voice is the loudest, etc. I will never  JUST do something.  In order to dismantle the systems of oppression, these questions are essential in everything we do, no matter how seemingly small.  The systems of oppression are interwoven into every aspect of our lives, so to weed it out, we have to first see it and recognize it. And dismantling the systems of oppression is essential for us to learn to really listen, trust and live authentically.

*All of our employees are male.  I asked Claudio about that and he said he is not comfortable being the boss of women.  He said that I am welcome to hire women though.  However I’m not comfortable being the white, American, English-speaking, educated boss of black, Angolan, less educated, Portuguese and Kikongo speaking women and all the imperialist complications implied there. But then, I also don’t like the fact that we are bringing more men into the money economy, potentially disturbing gender power relations in the local community, especially as we continue to employ more men.

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