Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Analog Community

I was 5000 km away from my mother’s cookbook and I wanted to bake banana bread. It was a rainy Saturday, snowy in Ontario, and my mother was out of town; unreachable by phone or internet. I’d already borrowed eggs from Patricia, the Polish girl who lives next door in the middleclass Honduran neighbourhood in which I had found myself living. The man who owns the tiny convenience store across the street was throwing out some over-ripe bananas and sold them to me, although reluctantly, for a song, telling me they were no good “feo” ugly. At home, in a traditional Honduran handmade clay bowl, my squishy bruised treasures sat half-mashed and unmeasured, sugar, soda, eggs, flower and oil lingered impatiently in various quantities on the countertop and I unenthusiastically signed onto Facebook and begged the tiny photos of my friends and family, my virtual community, for help. “Emily” said my status line “is looking for the most delicious banana bread recipe.”

It was just before noon, someone was surly online and keen to summon some secret family recipe from the depths of their mind and ‘post it to my wall.’ I continued mashing the bananas, I tidied the kitchen and went next door to make sure I could use Patricia’s oven. Yes, of course I could. I already knew this, I’d asked twice already that morning, once over coffee with, Jenny, my Canadian roommate, Patricia and Heidi, the Norwegian girl who lives downstairs, a veritable International Women’s Day breakfast. I had asked again when I went to borrow the eggs. Just before the fruit flies and ants had gotten the better of the bananas I found both my message inbox and my wall replete with messages, some only notes of encouragement and curiosity but others boasting the finest banana bread ever to be baked, the sweetest, the moistest, some with optional chocolate and others with nuts, one written in free verse and another in an eloquent series of haikus, messages building on other messages, supporting and refuting bakery success. I was overwhelmed. However trivial my question, my community had answered my call for help.

The next week, in the small costal puebla where I am completing my Falls Brook Centre internship, a young mother died and that night no one slept. All the member of the 46 household village met in the church and stayed there singing and crying and consoling until the sun came up. Everyone in the village is linked, most by blood or marriage, the rest by religion, occupation, interest and proximity. After the young woman, who had been sick for many years, had been buried, her fellow women continued raising her children, they continued cooking on each others’ stoves, continued turning each others’ compost piles, continued bearing each other’s burden, continued telling each others’ stories, living and dying side-by-side.

Then yesterday, wandering through the Honduran jungle, a friend with a beak alerted me to a typical subtropical forest phenomenon; plants growing beside, up, through, and inside other plants. A weaker one asking a stronger one for help, a taller one shading the seedlings of another species in the damp soil below its sprawling branches, the bark of one providing nutrients and substrate for any number of others; sacrificing its own moisture and physical space for the benefit of something that could very well deplete its own individual potency. Raising each others’ babies; feeding them with resources so scarce it would only make sense to hoard them to ensure the survival of one’s own kin, creating networks of root and canopy and vegetative communication; conflict and balance and connection and vulnerability played out in green and brown, a tangled jungle forum for the common good, relationships so universal, so analogous to the neighbourhoods and societies we have spent a hundred human years thwarting that drawing parallels seems obvious and plain. Yet somewhere out in cyberspace and in a hundred thousand tiny muddy villages on coastlines in every habitable continent a similar dependency and exchange exists between mothers and nephews and proximal friends and greedy rivals and in all of these examples, the muddled commonalities that make community and forest and banana bread a reality.