Over the course of the study abroad program we have experienced many emotional moments as a group. Reflecting back at excursions in the classroom easily triggers memories from our past and often times provokes tears. However nothing was able to stimulate my lacrimal glands up until June 28th, when I stepped out of our comfortable coach bus onto the dirt road and was embraced by the over-powering smell of cow manure. The sun smiled onto the earth and the wind gently cooled the ground as I quickly turned away from the group to shed my share of tears.
Over the last 20 years I was privileged to experience life from many perspectives, living in the city, the suburbs and the country. One way or another, I have always related farm life as part of my identity, even as a student in one of the most metropolitan cities in America. Although I have never particularly preferred cleaning manure in the barn or flipping hay in prickly fields (my family made hay the old-fashion, no-machine way), looking back I realize that these were some of my favorite times growing up.
At the farm, farmer Anna explained to us how parts of the farm work, right in front of the vast piles of poo. Here we learned about how the farm is economically stable, what animals are breed together to result in the best dairy cows, and where the bovine graze. The atmosphere and the topics of the conversations were familiar. Some of the best conversations with my dad were surrounded in poo as we filled our 6×6 compost box with manure.
I was reminded of my family once again when we visited the apiculture farm. As we made our way toward the beehives through the long golden grass behind the clouds of pine smoke used to calm the bees, I sensed serenity. In my mind I was taken back to times when my family would check in on our bees. Late Sunday mornings after coffee and cake Mama and I would fill the smoker with willow wood and dress in our astronaut-like suits to see if the honey was ready to be harvested. For a few seconds, a few thousand miles away, I was home.
From the visit to the dairy farm to the familiar sounds of buzzing bees I realized the prevalence of our past influencing the present. Back when I was cleaning poo or jarring honey I did not think that I would be calling it an important part of me growing up. I never thought that these mundane ‘chores’ would make me feel welcomed in a country that is still foreign to me.
This reminds me of how important it is to create good memories for others. This should begin at the most micro-level possible, with children. Although I felt present in the moment while I was there, my childhood memories undoubtedly set the stage for a powerful experience. This was my story but other people may experience this ‘magic’ with other things. The importance is that every person has this positive ‘something’ to reflect back onto.
I am inspired to help children, especially in my area, to live their best lives, to advocate for the rights every child deserves most: food, sense of belonging and love. So much youth lacks the bare necessities of growing into physically, emotionally and mentally strong adults. When these basic resources are provided, kids can focus on being kids rather than stressing about what things beyond their influence. It is also important that we all shine a light on major issues dealing with children. Whether that is in Chicago or relating to the treatment of refugees, children need their voices heard. Let’s strive to create environments for children to be able to collect as many positive memories, whether that be collecting honey or cleaning poo, so that they have more opportunity to blossom into successful human beings.
It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.