Thursday, May 29, 2008

Things are usually harder and better than you imagine.

When I headed off to my Indigenous Bushfood Community School Garden project earlier this year, I thought I'd be posting regularly about permaculture successes, community renewal, breaking new ground in engaging young people in the politics and joys of growing their own food. I was full of big ideas and big energy, which kept me going through a first term of impending school closure, unbearable workplace politics, wild kids and boys who would greet me with challenges like, "I'm going to make your job impossible," and "You won't last a year here," and "Are we the worst kids you've ever taught?"

Our forays into the garden involved most of the class shouting, "I'm not walking down there...It's too hot...It's too cold...How come those other kids can just walk off?" Building projects involved groups of boys focused one minute, and the next hurling hammers into gum trees. Everything we planted died over the school holidays.

This term has been better. I cracked through the cement-like soil and planted some fruit trees with the little kids. Some of the seniors have been getting into throwing soil around and we're slowly creating beds. A bunch of them love jumping in the bus and heading to the hardware store for things we might need. This week, I found some street trees loaded with olives that we can harvest on our bike ride tomorrow. So we're chugging along.

Mostly what is getting better is that I'm getting to know my students and I really like them. The tough ones are really softies at heart, and a couple of them stand out for their beautiful openness, willingness and creativity. We've been on two trips to Melbourne and after a four hour train ride we ran around Melbourne after dark, exploring the Yarra, the Art Play playground, and finding things I would never have seen, was I not being led by a bunch of excited teenagers.

We've talked about suicide and families and how much it sucks to be a teenager and not have control of your life. We've visited Lake Boga and photographed dead carp on the dry lakebed and sunk in the mud of a salt lake while chasing each other around. They are a fun and funny bunch.

When the boys give me the finger now, I do this. They think I'm weird but it seems to be working. Flipping the bird doesn't seem quite as cool anymore!

I'm understanding very clearly why schools get me in to build the gardens for them. It's hard to be a teacher and create things with kids that take time and hard work and planning and that exist outside the known, understood classroom. But I'm persisting. I think some of them are starting to see growing and harvesting food as something I value and are willing to give it a try, simply because I'm into it. And that feels good.

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