My Burmese neighbor at the community garden for refugees-of-war crouches low and watches me water. She shows up almost every time I’m there, either because she goes there a lot or because she sees me from her apartment next door and comes. She likes to chat but we don’t speak each other’s languages, however hard we try, so we point and smile and gesticulate a lot. She mostly points to my crops and motions to her mouth to find out if it is something that can be eaten.
My plants have confused her. So many cover crops. So many things I’ve planted that have long stories hard to tell with just gestures. The way they convert nitrogen from the air into a form plants can use. The way they scavenge for nutrients and then deliver them back to the soil when decomposing with the help of microorganisms. Mostly I say dirt or soil or seeds. I point. I smile.
We share space in this big world and time in this life together. It’s nice.
The wheat is just about ready to save as seeds to plant in the fall, as are the peas. Peas on earth, as if that will make a difference (and yet somehow does). The Swiss chard is enormous and showing no signs of quitting, although that is surely soon. Squash plants are spreading, and the cucumbers and green beans are starting their climbs up the bamboo structure my friend and I built. The jalapeño plants are filling out, stretching tall. I planted them because the man from Afghanistan to whom I was going to give this garden said he likes peppers. And mint. He likes mint, and there is lots of it. But I haven’t seen him since.
I leave there on bike and visit one of the many gardens that is part of the Global Growers network of refugee gardens. The corn there is already taller than me. I swing over to Refuge Coffee, where refugees earn and learn and where I make the official shift from coffee to hibiscus iced tea now that the heat has arrived as if on a train on the tracks I cross in this most diverse-square mile in the USA.
On my way back to the bike path, I pass a teen refugee girl in a long green dress riding a bike in circles around an astroturf soccer field where the Global Spokes bike shop will open soon (and for which my BikeBloom upcycled bike tube earrings on plantable packaging serve as a fundraiser, in addition to being available on Etsy). She rides well, and I ask her if she rides her bike a lot. She speaks perfect English and smiles ear to ear. She tells me she just got the bike last week (maybe even from Global Spokes). I feel my heart swell.
I was intending to be done with this garden, with this city, by now. I was, in fact, supposed to be in Africa the past two years. I was packed and ready to go June 4, 2020. I would have been arriving home in just two months now, after serving in the Peace Corps for 27 months.
And yet, here I am.
Here I am.