Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Operation Albuquerque

 Early Morning View of the Sandia Range from the Norbertine Community Santa Maria de la Vid

Salutations from Santa Maria de la Vid in the sunny Southwest! Prickly pear cacti, defiant desert landscapes, and wonderfully warm October days have become the new reality for this year's Gap students. Transitioning from the dense woods and abundant lakes of Northern Minnesota has presented the cohort with a new sense of wonder and belonging. In the words of one student, New Mexico "feels like home." The comfort and curiosity throughout the group has grown everyday, and continues to develop as they become exposed to the rich and diverse communities of New Mexico. Let's check it out!

Mandy's Farm
This past Tuesday the students kicked off their first week in Albuquerque with a visit to Mandy's Farm. After a kind greeting from some friendly farm dogs, the site director, Jeb, put the students to work--mucking stalls, pulling weeds, and tending to the animals. Sunscreen was flowing freely, and burrs were delicately plucked from pants and gloves. The following Thursday, students reported to Lakeview, a sister site owned by Mandy's Farm. Coming from the lands of lakes, much to the students' surprise this site lacked views of any lake. While at the Lakeview, students sorted worms that would be sold at market to buyers interested in improving or regulating their composting efficiency. Still, other students took to the fields to lend a helping hand in preparing the land for next year's round of growth and harvest. Carrying out fieldwork in the desert southwest, as students will tell you, was accompanied by an abundance of Goatheads and other thistly vegetation. These harsh and thorny weeds restricted the growth of productive crops and vegetation, however, were not enough to break the spirit of our Gapsters.

Mountain of Pulled-Weeds to Rival the Sandia Range

Mandy's Farm is a nonprofit organization that prides itself in assisting those who are other-abled. Rooted in a culture that supports and teaches self-sufficiency, the organization provides an opportunity for individuals to work in integrated settings in the pursuit of a higher quality of life. Upon reflection, the St. Norbert College Gap Experience students came to the realization that their service was much more than physical labor: The work that the students accomplished allows the staff at Mandy's Farm to focus their time, efforts, and specialized skill-sets on meeting the needs of the community they serve.

Kadampa Meditation Center

Feeling Refreshed in The Kadampa Temple after a Guided Meditation

Coming off of their first day of service at Mandy's Farm, the Gap crew headed to the Kadampa Meditation Center near downtown Albuquerque. Following a guided meditation focused on the nature of universal suffering, the students were given time to reflect on their own spirituality and enter into a dialog about the underlying tenets of Buddhist thought with one of the center's community members. The conversation covered many current topics: the abundance and commoditization of violence throughout our country; the power of our actions, words, and thoughts; the necessity of mindfulness and 'right' intention as an antidote to our fast-paced modern lives, filled with distraction -- often leaving us feeling overwhelmed and anxious. The students approached the conversations with Kadampa Center's staff with curiosity, and the notion of 'wholeness' and 'compassion for others' seemed to be two of the common themes they explored with the KMC staff. To conclude the day, students learned first-hand how many hands make for light work, as they performed building maintenance in order to beautify this contemplative, welcoming place.

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

Look at All Those Green Thumbs!

What's the best way to spend National Indigenous People's Day? For the Gap students, the best way to celebrate the holiday and honor the people commemorated by it was by learning about authentic Native American culture and history, rather than the "westernized" version that dominates so much of what we were taught. Students spent the first part of their day exploring the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center's museum and art gallery. They were accompanied by 3 young employees of the IPCC--Bettina, Kevin, and Ruth--who answered questions and told stories of their pueblos, as well as their native upbringing. Our students were impressed and intrigued by the connection and knowledge these young Native American's had for their heritage, history, and identity. Hearing thir stories and the conviction of our young Native tour guides truly left an impression on the Gapsters--through the personal connection they made with Bettina, Kevin, and Ruth, they now have a better understanding of how the Native peoples' history differs from the popularly held "western" view of history and historical events. New Mexican Pueblo culture and history is now somewhat personal to the Gapsters, in that, rather than being some abstract historical account of a particular event, they heard first-hand how these kids interpreted historical events, and how it affected their elders. Furthermore, the Gap students' constant chatter about how Native American culture and history "is direct proof of," "exemplifies," or "relates perfectly to" the various themes they are learning in Dr. Egan-Ryan's class -- this particular experience at the Peublo reinforces that these Gapsters are diving deeply into their college academics. 

After the tour of the IPCC, the students left the comforts of air conditioning and took to the ever-radiating New Mexican sun in the garden. This garden was not like any garden, in essense, it was a garden that functioned as a teaching garden, educating those who visited about indigenous agricultural practices, and how those practices changed over time with the arrival of European explorers. Quite literally, rows of plants paralleled the timeline of the arrival of foreigners and tracked how their agriculture crops were impacted by North American occupancy by white Europeans. On the far side of the garden were native plants mostly consisting of the three sisters: bean, squash, and corn (representing North America as occupied by Native Americans). Another section of the garden had grapes vines, apple trees, and pear trees (representing the arrival of the Spanish to North America). Working in this educational garden gave students a greater appreciation not only for the effort it takes to grow plants in the dry soils of the desert southwest, but also for the preservation of Native American history.

Balloon Fiesta

Nathaniel, Bry, Natalie, Jake, and Danielle after the Grand Ascension

With the smell of funnel cakes filling the air, pins from across the world peppering every shop's table, laser shows lighting up the early morning sky, and hundreds of hot air balloons greeting the Gapsters, the weekend was off to an incredible (and incredibly early) start! Students were up and at 'em by 3:30 am on Saturday morning. Voyageur starts are part of the Balloon Fiesta tradition. Before the sun even came up, students enjoyed the festivities of this international event--carnival rides, t-shirt booths, typical festival food in New Mexican flare (i.e. green chili is added), and watching as hot air balloons began to take flight as early as 5am. Although the morning was fraught with high winds, the wind eventually calmed down and the Grand Ascension was a go! During Grand Ascension over 500 hot air balloons inflate and ascend into the sky.

After watching the Grand Ascension, the Gapsters were off to serve! They were in charge of setting up the fairgrounds for a live concert that would happen later that day. Before the music began, the group set up the barriers, fences, and chairs for the entire audience. This was by no means, a small task. In addition to setting up, the students were in charge of ushering the concert: checking tickets, issuing entry wristbands, and showing the V.I.P. guests to their seats during the concert. The students' long day came to a climax as they got the opportunity to watch the spectacular concert from Chris Young. 

Santa Maria de la Vid

Santa Maria de la Vid During a Desert Storm. Photo Credit: Alexis Renikow

Since their arrival over a week ago, the students have been staying with the Norbertine brothers of Santa Maria de la Vid. The Abbey's occupants have greeted the students with immeasurable kindness. The radical hospitality shown by the Norbertines is not only inspirational, but also a catalyst for positive community-building within the Gap group. Having a familiar, inviting, and peaceful space that students can come back to after long days has allowed the Gapsters to start, or continue, the difficult conversations sparked by social issues addressed in their classes and community visits. As students continue their second week in New Mexico, productive conversations will continue to be had. Community partners will continue to teach students lessons on poverty, oppression, faith, and social engagement. Students' classes will continue to challenge their intellectual processes and productivity. The group will continue to build a more well-rounded understanding of responsibility and personal ownership. Last, but certainly not least, the students will continue to have fun getting to know one another, themselves, and the places they are calling temporary homes. 

If you wish to see a few more photos from this week's adventures, please follow the link below. 

Until next time, Operation Albuquerque over and out... 

1 comment:

  1. Great write up. Thanks for the update. Thanks for the pics. So proud of your accomplishments.Enjoy your time. Praying for your safe travels.

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