Can we cut potatoes together? Does the 'how' matter?
This morning I ran. I woke up at 7.40 am, and ran along the streets of Ithaca. Big north american streets felt surprisingly familiar.The air in Ithaca is fresher than in Medellin. I spent the morning walking around, taking in the blue sky, hanging out with a bunch of jolly Phd students thirsty of a kind sun. When Wezi, my sparkly Malawian roommate, took this photo, we were by the waterfalls. I was in a space of intimacy with myself.
I think I was not ready for the conference this afternoon. I was flooded with a sense of deep disconnect with what was happening around me. I felt no interest in small talking, and I could almost visualize the parallel dimensions of awareness that people were bringing to their presentation.Big rooms, big panels, big egos, big words. Words. Words, words, words. Sophisticated sentences punctuated by Howevers and Thus, different degrees of excitements about ideas – when you are lucky you’d be able to see the replay of that moment of epiphany, maybe many accumulated moments – in which ideas, stories, and theories got connected. And became words. Words that could be right, or wrong, or both – But words which very rarely reached my heart. Which rarely moved me.
One of the panelists talked about Buen Vivir. I thought her presentation was SO good- the presenter was from Bolivia, a young professor at the University of Cologne – She was no bullshit. Her main point was: we are done with the colonial idea that Westerners have to teach uncivilized Indios. Buen Vivir is a powerful cosmology, and we need to communicate at an equal level so you can check out what indigenous have to teach ya.
She stressed the value of human relationship in the development process with an example from her field work. She mentioned she was preparing potatoes with a group of women and they made a comment about the way she was cutting potato. They noticed she was cutting fast, trying to be efficient. They explained that there is a ritual to cutting potatoes, that the act had a deeper significance, beyond the cooking. It game me a flashback of a this powerful moment I had in Palestine, in a simple day I knew I was not going to forget.Later on, I was debriefing the day with a PhD student at Sussex who comes from the leftist tradition in Brazil. He said that he found the talk interesting even though ‘it did not speak to him’. I asked why.
He mentioned that the speaker had not mentioned why these potatoes were a big deal. Isn’t it maybe a sort of romantic notion of exoticizing the simple? Wasn’t this a case of labour exploitation? Where they being exploited by their husbands to cook? Anyways, his point was: ok, they are cutting potatoes together, so what?I said that without cutting potatoes you can’t eat, so probably they were preparing a meal together. In any case, the speaker did mention what was the point of the potatoes story – she mentioned that potatoes are alive and give them nutrients, and the women treat them with respect, with revelation almost – so the point was to feel the potato, to thank it. The problem is, I told him, that you did not hear it, because to you that does not necessarily make sense – it’s not fitting with the debates you are thinking about.
He said: I get your point – but if she wanted to feel the potatoes, maybe she should have asked us to cut potatoes together, rather than speaking at a conference.
My question at this panel was: if we are acknowledging that we are one, that we are part of an alive universe, and deeply energetically connected – why are we sitting in this big panel? Why do we care about what we think more than what we are? Why do we ‘discuss’ rather than ‘connect’? Basically, what I end up thinking after most conferences 😛
So what’s on my mind is how powerful tools like experiential learning and participatory action research can be. Can we cut potatoes together in a conference on Questioning Development?
We can’t change the world if we keep talking about it while doing things that replicate a way of seeing the world which embodies all of the bullshit we live in.
This exchange with my Phd colleague was powerful, and I felt I was able to communicate emphatically – but for the rest of the evening I mostly got taken away by a deep sense of sadness.
I was not too attached to it – I observed it. I was surrounded by all these big academics. I tried to imagine myself amongst them, and I could not.
Or maybe, I could perceive how much energy it would take, and how hard it is to explore what a good life might be about, while packaging it in a defensible theory.
Well, this is the end of my rant. My roommates are sleeping already.
I hope you are spinning with some talented salsa dancer. I hope that you are feeling good, that you are enjoying your time, and that u feel whole.