„The truly extraordinary man is the truly ordinary man. The more the individual realises in his life of what is common to all mankind, the further he moves away from the ordinary.”
When a friend recently told me that she had discovered my blog and would now know what my life was looking like, it dawned on me that I had to provide an update URGENTLY! :) So many things have changed since last spring, when I came here for the first time after my return from India!
A little over one year ago I would not have thought that I would now be in Sweden and actually be pursuing the studies which I had been considering for so long… And now that the idea has become a reality, I’m realising at the same time that I could not have experienced it the way I am doing now at any earlier point in my life. My experiences over the past months and years have taught me one thing above all – to see what is special in whatever is surrounding me.
At the same time, I’m also incredibly grateful that I can realistically assess my life within the context of the world – after living in the West for a while, one easily gets subject to the illusion that there is nothing else than this life – which often appears more like a “game world” to me after my travels. (In Sweden – the country of technology, modernity and practical inventions – this impression is probably intensified ;).) I will probably never get used to the feeling of buying my food in a supermarket again, and it will probably always feel just as strange to me that most things only begin at a certain size – either you have a lot more than you need, or you don’t have anything. I now have far better living conditions than I would need, but someone else has no roof over his head at all.
Another thing that the past year has taught me is the truth of a simple teaching for both personal happiness and a better world: “Avoid the three C’s – Criticize, Compare and Complain”. The remark of my cousin Andreas has left a lasting impression on me, that it is not idealism which is important, but integrity. Indeed I think that if everyone were to act with integrity, a large part of idealism would be covered by that. The next question this raises is, of course, what is meant by “integrity”. Since I think that “definitions” for such things cannot come from books, but only from one’s own experience, I can only tell my own understanding – and here we are back at the beginning of this paragraph. I think that it is far less serious to do something “wrong” than to judge oneself or others for anything. Everyone acts according to their best knowledge, and nobody is going to change by having someone else’s truth imposed on them.
In my view, sympathy seems to be an important aspect of this – I remember how my friend Katharina told me how well she understood people who are addicted to smoking, even though she has never been smoking herself. It’s not about the smoking after all, but about the feeling of addiction – and who is not familiar with this? Compassion is also related to the perception of individuals instead of “categories” or labelled groups of people. One last, related aspect for me is an awareness of the diversity of this world. Only if one has seen how many different ways of life there are, how many different stories, cultures, personalities… only then one can only laugh about the view that anyone knows the “truth”. But as I said, no book in the world can replace personal experience – and it might just be enough to experience help in a plight from someone one has previously judged “ideologically”.
However, I have also received new food for thought here. My fellow student Charilaos from Greece, for example, quoted his fellow countryman Thucydides: “You have to choose. You’ll be free or you’ll be quiet.” The optimal solution is then probably to express one’s opinion without getting personal. My classmate Christopher from New Zealand described it similarly: In terms of one’s “philosophy of life” the middle path (the “inner balance”) is optimal, while it is often better to take a firm stand in terms of politics and science.
It’s always amusing when I am sitting together with friends from outside my studies or even just from a different master program, and we are talking about all sorts of things, and all of a sudden the question is raised, “What is that actually, ‘Agroecology’ “? :)
The question is quite understandable given the fact that this concept is a very young one indeed, and thus exists as master program only in very few countries so far. Well, I will not leave anyone in the dark about it, especially since I consider the topic so incredibly important and interesting.
If I were to describe Agroecology in one short sentence, I would say it’s about everything that people have to do with agriculture. A bit more precisely it is explained in this video, which we were shown in the introduction. :) Furthermore, it is about global agriculture, it focuses on small farmers, and it tries finding solutions by applying principles of ecology to agriculture.
The course is one of the rare occasions where natural and social sciences meet and thus some of the students have a social science background and we have had social science lectures such as about anthropology. Because of the Swedish educational system, where students mostly put together their own programme of self-selected courses, there are currently only four students who are having the actual “Agroecology Master” as a target (from New Zealand, Colombia, the U.S. and I), but there were a total of 15 students in the first module and now we are eight in the second one (including two exchange students from Australia and Germany). This makes the course very “luxurious” and at the same time I think that even though we will be very few in the next course, our interest in the topic equals that of 15 people. :)
Christopher told me how strange it was for him to wake up without hearing the chirping of different birds when he came to Europe for the first time. The worst thing about the loss of biodiversity is that someone who was born with it will never notice it. And it is the same with many other things which are happening in our global environment and food system. Whether climate change, the influence of large corporations on the worldwide production, processing and distribution of food or our own approach to our food – we do not question what we’re used to. Something similar is described in one of our course books:
„ Consumers have no idea where the food they eat comes from, how their choices affect agroecosystems, the environment, and farmers and farm workers. “Eating is an agricultural act”, but consumers eat as if they are only satisfying their hunger.”
Stephen R. Gliessman
We were introduced to the program with lectures on “systems thinking”. It is more than anything about seeing farming from a completely new perspective, taking into account all the different dimensions, and not least not hoping for being offered default “right” methods nor finding “perfect solutions” ourselves – it is only through experience and mistakes that we can learn, and in co-operation with the affected people. Thus, another important aspect of the program is an “action-oriented approach”. This doesn’t only mean farm visits, but especially the acquisition of very specific tools on how to get information, how to interpret it and how to deal with groups of people. Instead of having exams we write individual “assignments” on topics of our own choice or reports on the farms we visited by applying the tools we have learnt.
At this point I would like to add a quote from one of the articles we were given for reading:
“At this historical moment when the evidence of widespread systemic failure is pervasive, ranging from financial to ecosystem collapse, there is good reason to reflect on our circumstances. The typical way to engage in such a reflection is to look outside ourselves at situations ‘out there’. When we look we see and name peak oil, population growth, human induced climate change, poverty, social alienation and habitat destruction. We are very adept at analysing and naming problems or issues but we are not good at reflecting on what it is that we, as individuals, cultural groups, or as a species, do when we do what we do.”
From “Understandings and practices for a complex, coevolutionary systems approach” (Ison)
In addition, we are left with a lot of room for our own initiatives – for example, we want to set up a “Food Cooperative” on the campus on the initiative of Christopher who has seen this in England, in which we buy organic dry foods (such as rice, cereals or legumes) from the wholesale and sell them without profit to the students. Apart from that, we have begun to plan the next “Agroecology Day” to be held on 4th of April 2013!
And now you may enjoy some pictures from the last few months in order to “update” the image of “where I live” a little bit. :) After my internship at Shumei in Germany I had returned to Copenhagen, where I lived with friends for a while (thanks for the hospitality!). Then I accepted a job at the university in Sweden and thus got the chance to witness part of the beautiful Swedish summer. Things which I am particularly fond of in Sweden (apart from the language and the nature :)) are the large, bright houses with huge windows (although privacy is said to be appreciated here, it doesn’t seem to bother anyone if by-passing people can look right into the living room, which I find refreshingly open), the directness and honesty without being rude, the enormous modernity coupled with maximum “practicality”, and the simple, tender, colourful design which adorns everything from the curtain to the milk carton. Sometimes, however, the modernity can also have its drawbacks – for example you cannot buy a train ticket without a visa card in many places nor use the bus without a “discount card”, and the enormous technical progress is also linked to a certain conservatism and little openness to alternative approaches – for example, natural remedies are not widespread, and organic farming is also having its difficulties (at least in science). So far, I’ve found two main differences between Sweden and India: The population density (Sweden has got as many inhabitants as Bangalore :)), and the way of dealing with “corruption” – no-one would ever turn a blind eye to anything here, which can sometimes even be “exaggerated”. On the side of commonalities there are things such as a great fondness for cardamom, an above-average consumption of legumes and an affinity to the “feminine” countries in the world. :)
Last summer I had lived with a CouchSurfing host in Malmö for two weeks (thanks again!) until I had got my own room on campus. Since then I have been living in a vast, enchanted park with a fairy-tale castle :), which is even visited by families from nearby cities in summer. There are trees and plants from all over the world, beautiful forest walks and gardens to explore. A specialty is the “Lignossortiment” – over 2500 different types of woody plants can be found in it. Other than what I know from Germany there are no big “dormitories”, but the students (unless they live in Malmö or Lund) are spread over numerous small buildings and residential communities throughout the campus – I still haven’t seen most of from the inside. Often students live in a threesome; I myself had eight housemates initially, most of them Swedish. There is one bigger house (similar to my accommodation in the nearby town Lomma in spring), where only international students are accommodated.
In the meantime, I’ve had a lot of problems which I would not have been able to solve without the help of others. Be it the accommodation I was offered by a girl with whom I had shared a train ticket after I was stranded in Hamburg in the middle of the night, the help the boyfriend of one of my fellow students who is working in Malmö as a dentist when my root-treated tooth called my attention again, or my Swedish teacher who drove me home by car when I had forgotten my bike key at home… There are innumerable other examples and I could write a whole page of acknowledgements! :) There are still a lot of good people in this world! Thus, a HUGE BIG THANK YOU to all who have helped me!
Happy New Year! :)
First, a geographical indication:
The university is located in Alnarp,
Both are located between Malmö and Lund.