Sunday, July 28, 2013

Week 51

This is it, we’re beginning our last week at ARI. We’ve already said a few goodbyes, the worst is yet to come. But here’s what has happened so far:

Last Wednesday was our July monthly volunteer gathering, a time when the volunteers all get together to share a meal, welcome new-comers, and say goodbye to those who are leaving—a few short term volunteers and the Knights. So we gorged ourselves on gyoza and shared some “final thoughts.” One of my first memories of ARI was attending the August volunteer gathering after we first arrived. It was the welcome party for Doug and me and the goodbye party for Nicole, the YASC missionary serving at ARI before us. And I very distinctly remember thinking “wow, this will be our goodbye party a year from now!” When I think about me back then and me now, I’m just in awe. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned and changed and remained the same.

So there I was, trying to think about what I might say to my fellow volunteers: Only one of whom was at ARI when we arrived, and only about five of whom had come last fall and survived the winter with us. Now we are about 20-25, age ranging from 19-60ish, coming from the U.S., Japan, Germany, Malaysia, or Korea. What can you say to such a group? When it came my turn to say something, all I could do was cry. But crying can mean lots of things so I had to pull myself together to get out some form of a verbal message, which I will relay and enhance for you here.

This has been the hardest year of my life. My darkest times have been here at ARI. I’ve never felt so lonely, so cold, so isolated, so misunderstood, and so vulnerable. Winter in this place really was like the Mirkwood Forest. It wasn’t so incredibly terrible living through it but once you were beyond looking back, it was dark and parasitic and you never want to return there. Maybe it was because the community was so small compared to other times, and the days so short (no daylight savings!), and the harvest so weak. The life of ARI was not lively. But now, it is mid-summer and the life of ARI is most certainly on its way to peaking! Participants are in their groove, they are confident in their work, most of them now feel comfortable with the weather (they like it hot!), and they are eager for more learning. As I mentioned, we have a hearty supply of volunteers! In addition, there are anywhere from 2-30 visitors/guests/work campers joining each day. And our harvest, wow. Right now we are harvesting tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans (many kinds!), kangkong, perilla (green and red), spring chrysanthemum, okra, sweet corn, coriander, radish, turnip, bell peppers, cabbage, bitter gourd, eggplant, and many more which I can’t remember. WE ARE ALIVE!

I am so happy to be at ARI at this time. There is so much life and it is a happy, happy place. I am sad to say goodbye but happy to leave ARI in such a happy and lively state. I might feel guilty leaving ARI during the wintertime, like I was abandoning ship.
And lastly, as we volunteers know, but maybe you do not, ARI would not function without us. And this isn’t us tooting our horns but telling it like it is. ARI’s first priority is the leadership training program for the participants. The organic farm serves as a giant outdoor classroom and experimental grounds for their learning. This all may sound very flowery but for the farm to actually continue functioning and producing food for all members, it takes a lot more work than one or two hours a day given through curriculum.

And that is where volunteers come in. While staff work in their roles and participants learn theory to enhance their field application, farm volunteers are weeding, harvesting/threshing/sorting grain crops, and many other behind the scenes work that even I don’t know about. We also have office volunteers who sit in front of computers all day (no heating or AC) while others can enjoy at least being outdoors. They tirelessly respond to emails concerning admissions and ecumenical relations, they sort and organize databases, they edit newsletters and graduate reports, and usually end up having to work through foodlife work. And then there are kitchen volunteers. Of course our morning work is preparing lunch every day. In the afternoon, our work can range from baking bread/processing foods, to cleaning, to sorting and putting away harvest, to observing fields or sharpening knives. We all have many works and some days there isn’t even anything to show for it. But we work together and eventually we see progress. And we see food on the table and we see applications for new participants and we know we doing good.

Doug’s Last Morning Gathering

On Thursday, Doug had his last morning gathering. I will let him do the talking: Doug's Last Morning Gathering (video is uploading now, please check back if unable to access link right away!)

Kitchen Party

Saturday afternoon was our kitchen party to welcome our new member, Ammy from Malaysia, and say goodbye to me and Naoki, Japanese man. We enjoyed Naoki’s homemade pizza, some takoyaki (octopus), and blackberry cobbler! We were supposed to all dance at a local festival later that evening but it was rained out We did dress up in our yukatas anyway and take pictures!

The Last Week

Oh! I almost forgot to share that we are now in our new housing! It is far too clean and big, but we love it! We will spend the rest of our time here, on top of the hill, waking up with our orange curtains and beautiful view. Coming up is the farewell farm party Monday night and my last morning gathering on Thursday. I have many more reflections I would like to share, some of which I will include in my sharing on Thursday. But I think this post is getting a bit long. I’ll leave you with a few pictures from our first tomato harvest!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

As Hot As Possible

ARI is just about finished putting up new buildings. When we arrived last year, The kitchen, dining hall, library, and classroom were just being finished. Now the men's dorm is nearly finished. Also the pigs have a new dormitory too! The last building project, the chapel. we started this week! On Tuesday we all traveled to the site of a hundred year old Japanese farmhouse where we began to dismantle it. We are going to use the material from that old farmhouse to build the chapel after a similar fashion like the Japanese farmhouse. We all went and spent the morning removing walls!

Later that day we picked up our friends from college, Patrick and Nanami! We graduated with these two from UCA. Patrick and Nanami met at college and now they are engaged! Patrick is now studying environmental literature in a graduate program in Nevada and Nanami has been working in Tokyo. He came to visit her and her family for a month. So they caught a train from Tokyo one afternoon to visit us and see ARI!

Knight Field Update: We harvested our modest planting of potatoes. We figure they needed a little more nutrients or sunlight to grow larger. We'll eat the tiny ones anyway. After that we just put out some sunflower seeds and let some red perilla volunteer.

Jenny is packing as I am writing this. We still have fourteen days left here at ARI, but the new Men's Dormitory is finished. So we are going to move out of the Missionary house where we have been living ever since they tore the old men's dorm down, and move into the new couples housing up at Men's Dorm for a few days before we fly off. Jenny and I are happy about this because we'll have all of our stuff together when it comes time to leave for good.

The Asian Rural Institute has been our home for a whole year. We have made it our home. By now, when we get off the train at Nishi-nasuno station, we get that, "Ah, we've made it home," feeling. It is so strange to think that in a few days we'll get on the train at that station and never come back.

Though, this week we feel like we have been far away from Japan and ARI. Our friend, Soren, invited us to stay a few days at his cabin in Nagano. It is right on the lake in a place called Nogiri. Soren's grandfather was a missionary here in Japan and he bought the cabin. There is an association of Christian missionaries here that handle the cabins around the lake. In the summer time, Soren works there as a lifeguard!

So he drove Jenny, Kelly, and I up there on Wednesday. We spent a few days just relaxing with him and his friends. The motto for the weekend was, "as hot as possible." Everything was!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Two Knights in Japan

We're back to two Knights in Japan rather than three. Our sister Knight has returned to the U.S., expected to land in about an hour! Saying "goodbye" this time was much different from the last time I said "goodbye" to a sister. Last January I escorted my Katie back to the airport after her visit. It had been 5 months since I had seen her when we left in August, but we were saying "goodbye" this time for 7 months, the longest we've ever been apart. Needless to say, it was really difficult. But this time, we were saying "goodbye" for only 4 weeks. About the usual frequency of visits back in college, no big deal!

So Doug escorted Kim back to the airport yesterday, just taking our turn in the giant game of egg (Kim) toss that we started five weeks ago. We can't believe the time as passed so quickly. We will have left ARI and visited Korea and made it home by the time five weeks passes again.

But before I talk about the future, let me tell you about Kim's last week on the farm! It was a four day week after our trip to Nikko and it rained a lot. But we did manage to ride our bikes to Karaoke one night! Doug and Kim rocked "I try" by Macy Gray! 

Doug and Soren took a trip down to the river one afternoon.

We threshed our wheat!

We also had a "beat the heat" farm party where we all crowded into Ban-san's living room wearing the color blue to share a meal together. It was rather hot in there...but fun.

Looking ahead:

21 days at ARI, 9 days in Korea, home August 13 (one month from now). It's really just the most incredible thing to think that we've been here almost a year. There is a lot we want to share and reflect on here, but we also want to stay present, so stay tuned for some wrap-up thoughts and also to hear our plans for our return home. 

For now:

We have 3 weeks of farming, fellowship, food, and fa-doodling to attend to!

Thanks for everything,

Doug and Jenny

Monday, July 8, 2013

Butchering and Traveling

New chicks arrived on the farm and stole Jenny's heart away.

We had some fun one afternoon harvesting a fruit behind the kitchen. Biwa in Japanese. Some are calling it a loquat. Whatever you call them, they're delicious.

The participants went away for three days for a study tour. They visited local farms and learned how some farmers are making use of pig manure to provide gas for their stove and nutrients for their vegetables. So it was very quiet on the ARI campus. Kim was able to join us in the kitchen for a few days during breakfast and supper cooking. 

With so many Americans here at ARI, we decided to keep the 4th of July traditions. Fried things, fireworks, and fire-roasted smores! In talking with everyone we soon found out that there are many different traditions for the 4th and some Americans do not celebrate much at all. Jenny fried fish and potatoes for lunch and served it alongside a fresh coleslaw!

Kim was also able to assist in chicken butchering. I'll let her tell you about that and then we'll finish up with some pictures from our trip to Nikko. 

Kim's take on chicken butchering: 

Monday, as I was walking to morning stretches with Doug and Jenny I found out it was butchering day. Doug asked if I would like to join and I immediately said, "No." 

I thought about it for the first half of the morning and when it came time for our farm work meeting I decided to join the butchering. I feel like I came to ARI not only to visit Doug and Jenny, but to see what life is like at ARI and how it works. Butchering chickens is a part of the cycle that makes ARI work, and I felt like I needed to experience it. I was very nervous for the work, but it was not bad at all. Just hard work. I am really glad that I was able to be a part of it.

Just yesterday as Jenny, Kim, and I were walking around, the sun came out! Our bodies were  slightly shocked so we had to cool off by a creek. The skies have been blanketed in grey clouds all week. We've had rain showers daily. Now we are beginning to move into the real heat of the summer, when sweating is a round the clock activity. 

Last September, Jenny and I traveled to a mountain town called Nikko. We thought it was a very beautiful place so we decided to take a couple of days off and explore the area some more with Kim. Mainly we just walked and wandered through the moss covered pathways, forested mountains, and blue rolling creeks.