FROM LONG ISLAND TO AFRICA

January 9, 2011

The fall of 2010 was an interesting time to be volunteering with Food Not Bombs. It was clear that times were getting hard. An school teacher out of work for two years and living on the streets of Seattle with her two daughters called to find out how to start a Homes Not Jails group. She had been writing the past and current owners of an abandoned house to see if she could move in in exchange for offering security but it seemed the current owner was also in foreclosure. She ate at Food Not Bombs and thought squatting as a Homes Not Jails activist  might offer protection from criminal charges of trespassing. So far no Homes Not Jails activists have been sentenced so she has a point. She was one of many that called or emailed  each day seeking food or asking to participate in their local group. Volunteers also emailed and called with questions about how to start a chapter in their community. A woman a a produce market in Ruston, Louisiana wanted to know if there was any thing she should know before that evenings founding meetings. Then an email that Food Not Bombs activists Tatiana Semenishcheva had been  arrested in Minsk and charged with a September firebombing the Russian Embassy and needed international support.  Posts to indymedia making claims that “anarchists” has finally struck a blow at Russia gave the impression the “firebombing” were really organized by the authorities as part of President Alexander Lukashenko’s effort to secure another term by painting his opponents as terrorists. Then Jon Stepanian emailed from Long Island Food Not Bombs  “Starting November 20th and going through November 25th Long Island Food Not Bombs will be holding its largest endeavor to date; it will include parties, Food Shares, copious amounts of decadent foods, the sharing of clothing, books and the organized efforts of thousands of community members. The largest of all these events will be Vegan Thanksgiving. It’s a 2-day affair that starts as an all night cooking party, (on Nov.20th, everyone is invited) and culminates into the Vegan Thanksgiving Food Share the next day in Hempstead”

“The Hempstead Food Share, on November 21st, will be the largest Food Not Bombs ever! We expect to be able to share a feast with everyone that comes! We’ll then be continuing the week with nearly a dozen events spread across our Food Shares in Bedstuy, Coram, Huntington and Farmingville.”

I arrived at Jon’s house the day before the Hempstead sharing. Stacks of recovered organic juice and other drinks filled one side of the garage. Cases of recovered squash, potatoes, pumpkins and other produce were stacked across the other side of the garage. Once inside the kitchen I came to a group of volunteers squeezing patties of falafel into pans, others were frying vegan “chicken” dumplings and moving baked pies out of the oven. The living room was filled with bags of clothing.  Tray after tray of prepared vegan dishes balanced on one another covering every inch of the dinning room. Still more food towered near the ceilings of the family room. I feel asleep well before the cooking was finished. The next morning a system of cars from the evening’s volunteers was backed into the driveway and loaded with first the utensils, paper products, 40 folding tables, clothes, followed with the hot meals. As we were loading the cars Jon’s mother told me about how the U.S. Justice Department had sent a private security company to park outside her house and follow the family around when her oldest son Andrew was being prosecuted for his work trying to stop the animal abuse of  Huntingdon Life Sciences. Andy and six other animal rights activists were convicted on March 2, 2006, under the controversial Federal Animal Enterprise Protection Act. Andy was released from Federal prison on December 15, 2008. The government hadn’t stopped the Stepanian family from its effort to do what is right.

Once the cars were packed  the caravan of twenty vehicles raced through Long Island to Whole Foods where ten more cars greeted our convoy.  As the caravan pulled into the parking lot at the Hempstead Train Station another ten vehicles joined us with their loads of food and supplies. Hundreds of people were already waiting for Long Island Food Not Bombs. Nearly 100 volunteers unloaded the deliveries, setting up the tables in areas for clothing, groceries and hot meals. A literature table and banner was placed on another traffic island. Once set up the activists asked everyone to get in lines for each of the items. Other volunteers handed out bags of produce, drinks and other groceries. Others helped with the clothing and others shared the hot meals. Local reporters interviewed Food Not Bombs organizers. Food Not Bombs volunteers filmed the event. ““We’re not just giving food, we’re breaking down barriers in the community,” said Jon , a freelance writer who co-founded the local chapter of this international movement more than four years ago. “Some [recipients] don’t get along, but even that one hour they have to stand next to each other on line forces them to.”

“What sets us apart I think is the spirit,” said Brian O’Haire, a peace activist who volunteers with the organization because it couples antiwar ideals with its mission to feed the hungry. “Just the name of it I think shows how we feel.”

The group’s title is shorthand for their chief underlying message that funding food instead of war would solve world hunger. They also believe vegetarian  and vegan diets are more environmentally sustainable.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” said Earl McCullers, a 56-year-old veteran living on a fixed income. “This is really a helpful hand and I really appreciate what they’re doing here.”

The Newsday filled it’s second page with an article and full color photo about the Hempstead distribution called “A Turkey less Feast.” Angie Houseworth, 42, of Hempstead, said she waited at the railroad parking lot for hours before the food distribution began, and came away with her wheeled cart filled to the brim with fresh organic produce and even a bouquet of flowers.

Houseworth said both she and her husband are out of work, and she was grateful for the overflowing cart.

“We were all trying to get everything together for the holidays,” she said. “It makes a big difference.”

They interviewed 48 year old Hemptead resident Leo Hatcher who explained that his food stamps run out before the end of each month. “I’m just here to put some with bread, rolls, organic canned tomatoes and cookies. food in the cabinets,”

Jessica Feldman became interested in Food Not Bombs when she became  curious about what the volunteers did with the vegetables her employer Whole Foods was donating to them. “As soon as I went to one share, I was hooked. Once you see a child who needs food and you give food to them, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Long Island Food Not Bombs provided over 30,000 pounds of food to  nearly 1,000 people making it one of the largest distributions in Food Not Bombs history.

That same day the newspapers in Poland were reporting on Krakow Food Not Bombs action. The volunteers shared food and held banners including one translated to say “Food instead of voting.” Food Not Bombs volunteers explained that “they shared vegan meals every Saturday at Podgorze slightly changing the formula. We came to the conclusion that the common meal you can make an excuse to talk about different issues, not only of militarism.”

As we were packing up a local man that introduced himself as Harvey and was living on the streets of Hempstead visited with me. He really respected the young people that came each week to provide food but he thought America needed a revolution. Like many on the streets he was a veteran. He was also well traveled and told me about his work in Europe and Africa. He was also critical of his African American friends and like many Americans with little resources angry that so many spanish speaking people had moved to his community yet he felt that since they were willing to work for less they deserved the jobs. He also worked at Labor Ready and was a security guard at the Walmart the day of the Black Friday riot working with Jdimytai Damour at the time he was trampled to death at the Valley Stream Wal-Mart at the Green Acres Mall in Nassau County in 2008. He was clearly very smart and had a number of ideas about what Labor ready and Wal-Mart should have done. The death of  Jdimytai Damour seemed to be just the latest of a number of friends he had lost in the war to defend capitalism starting with his first tour in Vietnam.

The next day Long Island Food Not Bombs organized a dumpster treasure hunt. The 2010 Dumpster Scavenger Hunt/ LIFNB Olympics met at 9:00 PM on November 22nd on the North Side of the Huntington Train Station.  I was greeted very enthusiastically by a man who had been waiting outside the station with a friend. I asked him how he know of the action. He told me he found out about it at work.  Something was a bit funny about his interest and had some of the local Food Not Bombs activists a little concerned. As each car load of volunteers arrived the concern was shared quietly with the group. At one point I “had to go to the restroom” and left with several activists. The volunteers that stayed behind tried to learn more about their interests and it soon became clear they had been paid to see what we were going to be doing that evening. We had our lists of items to recover. Not the usual items one would be seeking.  We broke up into several teams with regions to cover and agreed to return at 2:30 AM. Our team found a lot of dog food but that wasn’t on the list. We did find love in the covers of a Bridal magazine. We drove to some more dumpsters. We scored the toys, bags of chips, a ladder and paint brushes. By 2 o’clock we had most items on the list and rushed across the island to the train station. Soon we all were making displays of our discovers and taking photos of ourselves and our treasures.

The dumpster treasure hunt went to sun up so I was really tired and slept most of the morning at Jon’s house. Then it was off to Taos, New Mexico to prepare for my trip to Africa. I had heard so many good things about the work Douglas was doing with Nairobi Food Not Bombs. He shared the first meal in Nairobi on June 14, 2008. The photos of his meals and journalism classes in the slums of Kenya were impressive. The East Africa Vegetarian Congress was to be held the first week of December. When I was participating in the National Animal Rights Conference in Washington D.C. I was introduced to Doctor Anteneh Roba of the International Fund for Africa. He told me about the formation of an Ethiopian Vegan Association and their interest in starting a Food Not Bombs group in Addis Ababa. While I was on my fall tour he emailed to let me know about Liladhar Bharadia and the East Africa Vegetarian Congress in Nairobi on December 4th. Dr. Anteneh was able to secure funding for my plane ticket from A Well Fed World and off I was on my way to Africa.

KENYA

My first visit to Nairobi has been more successful then I had expected. Our coordinator Douglas Rori made his room in Mountain View available to me. We started our week with a meeting at the Artcafe in Westland. Doug told me that it would be wise to register as an NGO and that he would provide me with a copy of the requirements. He calculated the fees for the registration, money needed to secure a bank account and mail box would total $700 U.S. dollars.  We saw that the café baked their own bread so we talked with the manager and set up a time to pick up their unsold baked goods. After the meeting we bought the food for Saturday’s meal at the community center Shangilia Youth 2 Youth Network in the Kibagare, Kangemi slum in Nairobi. The rice, beans, oil, two large plastic buckets, large cooking pot, and other items costing 4,000 shillings or $50 U.S. dollars. That evening we soaked and cooked the beans. The city water was cut off to our area of Nairobi soon after we started the beans so we were lucky.

Early the next morning Doug and I reheated the beans, cooked a cabbage and tomato dish and a huge pot of rice. Doug had to get additional water from a storage tank near his mother’s home. Doug called a taxi and let the community center know we were about to leave. He also called a photographer. The taxi took us to Artcafe where the employees provided us with a large bag of artisan bread. Then we headed out to the community center. The road through the “commercial” district of the slum was very rough. Once at the community center we were greeted by the staff, a camera man from Film Aid and our photographer. The staff announced the meeting. Around 100 children and teenagers  pushed into the center. The staff helped us bring the food to a back room and we posted the banners and place out the literature. Doug introduce me to the children and staff and I told them a little about Food Not Bombs then we  set out a table and brought out the rice, beans, vegetable stew and bread from the library. The staff directed everyone to get in line and we recruited volunteers to help share the food.  The youth glowed with huge smiles and sparkling eyes which were so heart warming. We shared the last of the food after about half an hour. We had enough for everyone that attended. There was very little pushing and shoving but it was clear towards the end that some of the children were worried we would run out. The last couple of kids didn’t get as much as I would have liked to share with them. We visited with the children as they played outside after eating. In the past Doug would teach classes on photography and journalism after sharing the meal so I let the kids use my camera to take pictures.

That same day local Kenya TV reported that Maasai land rights activist Moses ole Mpoe was shot to death in Nakuru. His vehicle was sprayed with bullets from an AK 47 while stuck in a traffic jam. Mpoe had been working for the return of land taken away from the Maasai community during the British colonial period. He was also a respected supervisor on the Muthera Farm in Mau Narok, which is owned by the family of former Kenyatta Cabinet minister Mbiyu Koinange. His murder sparked protests. Douglas called the AK 47 “Africa’s weapon of mass distraction.” That same day six police officers were killed in Nairobi by what the police claimed were terrorists. Over 130 people were arrested for illegally sneaking into Kenya from Ethiopia and Somalia on their way to seek work in South Africa and the Luis Moreno-Ocampo was in Nairobi to announce that the International Criminal Court would name six suspects that would face charges “with crimes against humanity for their part in violence that left more than 1,000 people dead after the disputed 2007 presidential election.” Doug showed me a documentary by the Mars Group Kenya that showed the corruption and causes of the post election violence. I visited the website On December 15, 2010 but it was shut down by December 27th.

Nairobi Food Not Bombs started in 2007 and has been providing meals to young people in several poor areas of the city before teaching classes in community journalism. Douglas Rori has been the coordinator since the start of  Food Not Bombs in Kenya and has made many connections with local community leaders in some of Nairobi’s poorest areas. His students have submitted a number of articles and photographs about the life in the slums of Nairobi to Indykids in New York inspiring the children he has been teaching and feeding to have greater self respect. One of the children’s articles reported on a story about how people collect trash bags from the city dump. Empty the garbage and wash the trash bags in the Nairobi River.

Later that afternoon we packed up our banners, literature and equipment, packed the taxi and returned to Mountain View to clean the dishes and cooking equipment. We had to be careful with to use our water as efficiently as possible.  We paid the taxi driver 4,000 shillings for the trip through Nairobi.

We relaxed on Sunday morning and then that afternoon we visited with Liladhar Bharadia, the director of The Vegetarian Society of Kenya at the Artcafe. Mr. Bharada gave us a tour of the Visa Oshawal Religious Center and introduced Doug and I to their director and kitchen staff.  Mr. Bharadia also gave us documents about the Vegetarian Congress in Nairobi to be held on December 18th and the Middle Eastern Vegetarian Conference being held on December 7th and 8th.

 

The next day we headed out to meet the Catherine Mugo Marketing Director of one of  Kenya’s largest groceries Nakumatt. We also met with Ameet Shah and other staff members to talk about regular donations of food. Catherine explained that their food was divided into cereals and produce.  The company Fresh and Juicy provided all the produce. They were very helpful and asked us to email them to share a bit about our history and needs. We received a call from the director of the Nairobi International School telling us that they had extra food so we agreed to pick it up at noon. Doug called our taxi. We went to a bank where I withdrew more money and we rushed to meet our taxi. We drove to the Nairobi International School. The school donated about 100 paper bags of food and a box of bananas. We stopped at Doug’s house, picked up banners and a camera. We rushed to the community center where we were treated to acrobatic tricks by the children as we waited for the staff to bring the key. They arrived soon so we posted our banners, set up the chairs and table for the food. We recruited a volunteer to help share the bagged lunches and the staff organized the youth to get in line. The kids were once again so kind and eager to get their meal. We had even more then required so that was put aside and Doug and I returned with the taxi to Westland to get some American money for the visa to Addis Ababa. Nairobi Food Not Bombs is able to continue to provide vegan meals every Saturday before their educational workshop rotating each week from one slum to another returning once a month to each location.  It is urgent that we raise the $700 necessary to register Nairobi Food Not Bombs as this activity could be dangerous otherwise. Doug is a great asset. He lived with his single mother in a poor area of Nairobi and with her work as a school teacher and his ingenuity he was able to attend film school and has become an accomplished journalist working for NGO’s like Oxfam and the United Nations. He is passing on the knowledge he learned to help improve the lives of others in Kenya. The fact that he has already achieved so much under such difficult conditions is truly amazing and it was us an honor to work with him. The week long visit with Nairobi Food Not Bombs and Douglas was a huge success.

 

ETHIOPIA

Doug took me to the airport. Not an easy thing with a huge tractor trailer truck crashed across the highway. Even with the traffic jam we made it on time. After a short two hour flight on one of Ethiopia airlines new jets we arrived in Addis Ababa. As I was going through customs  to get our visa I told the officer that I was attending a conference hosted by the Ethiopia Vegan Association. That surprised the man behind me in line who remarked he was pleased to know their was such a movement. I told him I volunteered with Food Not Bombs and that farther interested him. I got my visa, picked up my bag at the carrousel and sure enough my hosts were there to pick me up. They were all smiles and so welcoming. The drive to the Ras Hotel was quick. My bank card didn’t work but fortunately I had $25 U.S. and they took that for the evening. The room was on the Nelson Mandela floor and a photo of a jail cell with the words Nelson Mandela’s cell for 27 years hung outside my room 210. The room was fantastic. New washroom fixtures and two comfortable single beds. A complex shower and a TV with four channels one of which was tuned to the BBC news. After being so careful with the water in Nairobi  the hot shower seemed like a blessing.

The next day I had the wonderful Ethiopian breakfast and sat on the cafe porch for a few minutes when Dr. Anteneh arrived in a little blue taxi. We sped off to the Global Hotel for the conference. Ballroom A was huge and had tables, chairs set across the far end. The guys from the Ethiopian Vegan Association greeted us. I place my flyers on one of the registration tables and soon cases of fresh water in bottles arrived followed by a steady flow of participants. Each person filled out the registration form then carefully collected one copy of every flyer I had set out on the table. By the time all 60 or so participants had arrived every flyer was taken. This proved to be very good as it took some time before all the technical issues of the projector and computer were worked out but soon the conference was under way. The December 9th conference “Acting on Effective Solutions to Climate Change and Sustainable Development” was organized by the Ethiopian Vegan Association (EVA) in association with International Fund for Africa (IFA) and Save Mothers and Children of Oromia (SMCO).

 

The December 9th conference “Acting on Effective Solutions to Climate Change and Sustainable Development”  was organized by the Ethiopian Vegan Association (EVA) in association with International Fund for Africa (IFA) and Save Mothers and Children of Oromia (SMCO). After Doctor Anteneh opened the conference  Worku Mulleta gave a powerful presentation called “Veganism & Climate Change”  Worku explained some shocking facts. Half of the worlds harvest is fed to livestock.  The grain fed to animals could feed 2 billion people. He reported that the World Watch Institute claims that It takes 6.9 pounds of grain, 44 gallons of gasoline and 430 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of pork. It takes 4.8 pounds of grain, 25 gallons of gasoline and 390 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef while a pound of Apples take 49 gallons; Carrots 33; Potatoes 24; and Tomatoes use 23 gallons per pound.  He also pointed out that the United Nations reports that  meat production is responsible for 30 percent of climate change from deforestation of rainforest to produce grazing land to the methane produced through factory meat production and use of fuel for transportation and cultivation needed for meat production.

Dr. Anteneh  highlighted many of the same details but made the point that while the people of Africa were not responsible for causing climate change through their eating of meat if trends continued they may add to the crisis while at the same time the people of Africa face greater impact because of the droughts, floods and other effects caused by the distraction of the climate.

 

The participants included many interesting people, several that worked for the Ethiopian government’s department of Agriculture, an organic gardener and people seeking to end hunger by dehydrating potatoes. Once we broke for lunch I had time to meet and speak to many of these informative people. Once lunch ended the activists with the Ethiopian Vegan Association filled baggies with the left overs. They packed parts of each dish in nearly 100 bags.

 

 

Each bag included injera made of teff which is used instead of silverware. Teff is unique to Ethiopia and is one of the oldest and smallest cultivated grains. It is like a thin crepe. The other foods are placed in little piles on a sheet of Injera and little rolls are used to scoop up the lentils and other preparations. Injera task two or three days to make. The Teff is ground fine and mixed in water with yeast and a tiny amount of flower petals. THis is left to sit for two days until it ferments and starts to get air bubbles. The batter is cooked on a griddle called a Mitad. Once cooked it is a brown grey with tiny holes on one side and smooth on the other. We placed several rolls in every bag so that our vegan meal could be enjoyed it a typical Ethiopian manner. The hotel workers were very pleased and helped us take the food to he basement garage where we waited for a van. The volunteers negotiated a private fare and after explaining to the general public that we had secured the vehicle for ourselves we headed out to find the hungry.

 

 

It wasn’t long before we came to our first location where we out our plastic bags of vegan Ethiopian food to the hungry at Theodros Square on Churchill Avenue about three blocks from where I was staying at the Ras Hotel. We found many homeless people in the vacant land around the square. A huge replica of the giant cannon used in the war against the British sat in the center of the square. After feeding a dozen very hungry people we took the van up to the Piassa area outside St. George’s Ethiopian Orthodox Cathedral A line of over fifty people was organized along the outer wall of the church grounds. The church was built in 1896 in honor of St. George, whose relic was carried at the Battle of Adwa where Ethiopia defeated the Italians marking Africa’s first military victory against a European army.

 

 

We started to hand out the vegan meals as soon as Mesfin arrived with their special banner announcing that that Ethiopian Vegan Association, the International Fund For africa and Food Not Bombs International were supporting the action. A local homeless man helped organize the people so that the blind and children were served first.  The people were gentle even though they all reached out for the food eager to have something to eat.

 

Just as we were about to share the last of our food a couple of local men started to ask us why we were taking photos. They became quite upset and soon a crowd was busy discussing the issue.  Several children pinched the the skin on my arm to see if my white color would come off. One little boy was very kind to me and held my hand.

 

As the other volunteers talked with the men that wanted us to explain ourselves a drunk man would try to grab the little boy who would have a look of horror each time he was approached. I had to pry the boy away from the drunk man several times. At one point the drunk man reached inside my pants pocket to take something but I took his hand way and he was not able to take anything from me.

After nearly an hour of talking with the men that felt we had committed a crime by taking photos we agreed to go to the police station with them. The station was down a very rough street behind the mercato or market area. We waited our turn and soon we found ourselves talking to the local captain of the Addis Ababa Police. He was a gentle man and saw we were just interested in feeding the hungry. He told the men that brought us in to apologize and soon we were all hugging one another. The activists gave the guys who turned us in Vegan Association pens and wished them well.

We returned to the area near the church and everyone caught their van rides home. Mesfin then took me to see the mercato.  We passed the plumbing area, shoes shops, rugs and cloth and then the narrow allies of spices. We stopped off at the produce market with colorful bags of tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, eggplant and all variety of beans. He introduced me to the venders with huge bags of colorful spices. I tasted the brilliant red powder and it was such a rich taste I had to know more. We sampled another vender and realized the spice known as Berbere had many tastes. Mesfin bought me a bag of Berbere and then introduced me to toasted grains and bought me a bag.  On the way to visit the Khat venders he bought me a bunch of fresh Chickpea plants pulled from the ground just a day or so before. The fresh Chickpeas tasted sweet. We soon found the Khat  venders. Mesfin told me ha tif we had come in the morning the entire plaza would have been staked in Khat. There were still small piles around the yard and the rooms surrounding the plaza were lively with dozens of men and women with glazed eyes balancing on makeshift benches chewing away on spindly green leaves. Mesfin explained that there were many kinds of Khat each that created a different speedy feeling. The short stemmed Chirra, the powerful Umerkule, red leafed Kuda, fresh Karabule and Abba Chebsi named for an important Khat dealer. Later that evening we went to see a Jazz concert and then back to the Hotel Ras.

The next day I drew a picture of the Ras hotel and spoke with a number of local people including a young student named Mekonnen Tilahun.  He told me about his problems with college and studies in accounting. As soon as Mekonnen departed Mesfin arrived. We reviewed the steps to starting a Food Not Bombs and before long Dr. Anteneh arrived and off to enjoy a traditional Ethiopian meal at the home of one of his friends. That afternoon we met at the “Executive Lounge” on the top floor of the Addis Ababa Hilton and talked more about how The International Fund For Africa, the Ethiopian Vegan Association and Food Not Bombs could work together.

The next day I set out to draw a picture of the lion monument  a block from my hotel in Unity Square.

The Lion of Judah Monument was designed by French sculptor, Morris Calka and constructed in 1955.  The monument sits outside the National Theater to honor the Silver Jubilee of Emperor Haile Selassie.  An earlier Lion of Judah Monument stands outside the main train station. I had a lot of help in finding a place to sit along Churchill Avenue. People tried to direct me around the plaza and when I finally found a view I liked others found card board for me to sit on. At first the people that helped me set up were the only ones interested in my activity but as the drawing took shape they started to direct people over to see what I was doing. At one point a white couple passed by and my supporters were sure they would be interested but they swiftly walked by ignoring the enthusiastic suggestions. Soon a crowd was around me watching every line. As I was about to finish a child saw that I had other drawings in my sketchbook and lifted the page.  The crowd encouraged me to show them all my drawings so I turned the book to the audience and slowly turned each page. As each drawing appeared my audience would whisper compliments. “”Very good, very good” remarked one of the children. An older man told me his son was an artist and would be having a show at the end of the month. When I came to the final picture, the drawing I had just worked on the crowed clapped and cheered with excitement as though they had just watched a movie or concert.

That evening Dr. Anteneh  took me out to see traditional Ethiopian music and dancing at the Habesha Restaurant.  The venue was crowded with over a hundred people. The meal was beautiful laid out on injera made of teff. The dancers showed examples of Guragigna, Wollo, Tigrigna dance.

The next day was filled with meetings. Mesfin and I first visited Flker Leselam Development Organization. I asked the young general manager Mekbibo Zerihun how he started. Mekbibo explained how he had been working with an NGO in a village outside of Addis Ababa. Each evening he would return to his hotel and on the way would see very poor children in need of food. He asked the hotel to make food for six of the children and told the staff he would pay for their meals. The hotel owner was touched and agreed to split the cost with Mekbibo.  When he returned to the city he talked with some of his friends and they decided to see if they could help the orphans of parents that died from HIV aids and at the same time they met with people from South Korea that were wishing to help the people of Ethiopia. They agreed to start the Flker Leselam Development Organization and the Korean returned home to raise money. They organized a system where Koreans could sponsor a child in Addis Ababa for about 25 cents a day. The child would arrive before school to eat a healthy breakfast then they would walk to class. Each child was helped with locating a local family or relatives to live with. Special events would be organized to raise money for the child’s uniform and supplies. Flker Leselam organized events like an essay contest where the students were asked to write about their life. The “winners” were given prizes donated by the Koreans and presented by local celebrities.  The sponsors were provided with the child’s grades and each day the volunteers filled out a form about the number of children fed and meals shared. The form even included the names of all the volunteers, weather, exact time the meal started and notes about any problems. I was very impressed by their structure and asked Mekbibo if he could provide me with a copy of this form which he did. They have been feeding nearly 500 children a day for several years. The also took the children out to the country once a year and they were staring classes in computers which started with the basics of how to use one of their three computers as well as how to repair them. It was inspiring to visit with the people at Flker Leselam.

Mesfin  and I then went to visit Sisay Kiffe. Sisay volunteered with the Society of Animal Welfare and provided us with their newsletter. The SAW was working with Dr. Anteneh and other Ethiopian activists to draft and pass nationwide animal welfare laws. There is a hug problem with the poor treatment of stray dogs and dogs that are chained and used for security. Another problem is the treatment of horses and donkeys that are worked very hard and abandoned once they can no longer carry their loads or pull there owners plows. They are abandoned on the edge of town as protection from hyenas and lions that  attack and eat the weaken horses and donkeys instead of entering the villages to feast on the chickens and other livestock still valued by the farmers. The government has donated land for a horse sanctuary and is considering new legislation. Sisay is also working on a project called Mena Mahiber Potato Dehydrating Project and has been given land by the government to build a pilot program. Sisay explained that one important way that Ethiopia can protect its people from future famines was to dry potatoes for times when the harvests were  poor. He was working with the local Rotary Clubs in Ethiopia to raise funds for the project. I agreed to speak with members of the Rotary in the United States to see if they could help.

 

After that fruitful meeting Mesfin and I took one van after another out to the edge of Addis Ababa to see Dr. Mengistu Woube’s Biodifood organic garden in land donated by the city. Dr. Woube organized the cultivation of an acre of land near the city dump. He raised money to pay for his volunteers to travel to the garden and help with the planting, weeding and harvesting of vegetables and fruit trees. The garden had lines of long raised beds with paths on each end and one down the center. A huge plastic water tank sat in the middle and a shed sat at the east end of the field. They stored their tools and raised mushrooms in the shed. A family lived in one end and guarded the garden. The volunteers were rewarded with what harvest their families required and the rest was sold to local people living near the garden. They were seeking additional funding as their first grant had been spent. Onions, leeks, Collards, carrots and many other vegetables were thriving. The garden was impressive and they hoped Food Not Bombs would be interested in participating.

Mesfin was such a wonderful host. That last day we walked around the city and I took the last of my photos. He had then developed and made a digital file for me. We enjoyed a vegan dinner at the Hotel Ras and he traveled with me out to the airport. It was clear the Mesfin and the rest of the activist with the Ethiopian Vegan Association will be successful in their work with Food Not Bombs. They are already planning to share food again on January 6th, the Ethiopian Orthodox day of Christmas.

 

HOME TO TAOS, NEW MEXICO

As I was finishing this book I helped share our regular Saturday meal at the Taos Plaza in our tiny New Mexican town where I have been living for the past few years. It was the last warm day of the year.  Children ran after one another after eating and tourists stopped by to ask what we were doing. I could see one of my friends sitting alone on the steps of the gazebo holding her bowl of rice and stir fried vegetables as tears streamed down her cheeks. I sat next to her and gently placed my arm around her waist. She explained that her family had been struggling to save their home from foreclosure for nearly a year. They had tried The Obama Administration’s “Making Home Affordable Program” but it wasn’t any help. Their application was shared with corporate mortgage modification companies that called with false promises of help. Her marriage was strained to the breaking point. She found some relief joining Alcoholics Anonymous. Her little boy and girl would run up clearly distressed to ask if they could go to Kit Carson Park with their friends. Her American dream had become the American nightmare.

Her story unfortunately was not unique. One person after another has repeated the same tragic tale during the two years it took for me to write “Cooking For Peace.” I am sure many Food Not Bombs activist have been personally touched by those eating with us also facing personal challenges forced on them by the uncaring policies of corporate and government leaders.  Many of us have been directly impacted ourselves. We can’t continue to allow ourselves and our friends to be robbed and our planet plundered for the short term benefit of a few selfish super wealthily families. Families that have no regard the billion people that go hungry every day while they dine on the last of our world’s tuna or steaks raised on land that once supported   rain forests. People that own so many houses like presidential candidate John McCain that they are not sure how many they have while millions of their fellow Americans struggle to stay off the street.  The ruling families may be the temporary beneficiaries of what Presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower called the Military-Industrial Complex but even they will have to face the limitations of an economic system that demands ever increasing growth in a world with finite resources.

Philosopher Slavok Zizek writes “There should no longer be any doubt: global capitalism is fast approaching its terminal crisis.” While the corporate society starts to collapse and western empires begin to crumble, Food Not Bombs is in a position to be more active than ever, building the kind of society we all want to have. We have a chance to make a difference.  Food Not Bombs is generating the spirit and vision needed to create a new world that can flourish while seeking solutions to the crisis of climate change, economic failure, and a corporate dominated political system. This simple movement, which started in 1980 with a vision and no money or leaders, is at the forefront of the effort to create a society based on peace, participatory democracy, and a guaranteeing of the basic rights and needs of everyone, animal, plant or human. Harmony with the natural universe, a return to balance and respect for dignity.

Food Not Bombs is prepared to support the change we need at this time of crisis. It is so important to work to end corporate control by organizing as many Food Not Bombs groups as possible. The time could not be more urgent. Our global network has a real possibility of inspiring major changes if we organize in solidarity with other movements. It has never been more important then now for Food Not Bombs activists to organize a campaign to withdraw public support for the current economic and political system and seek a strategy to replace it with a culture of cooperation based on providing dignity and the real security of healthy food, housing, education, healthcare and the freedom to fulfill our dreams.

Your participation is essential. The problems we face are so extreme and urgent that we need everyone to join us in seeking solutions for a sustainable future and an to end corporate domination. It isn’t time for despair. As Joe Hill said “Don’t Mourn, Organize!”  This is a time for us to replace this failed system for the world we know is possible. We can build a world free from domination, coercion and violence. A world where it is assumed that food is a right, not a privilege. Food, not bombs.

 

Photos and details of Food Not Bombs cofounder’s trips to Africa

http://www.foodnotbombs.net/all_africa.html

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: