Working the garden at Etoile de Mer has been a real pleasure. Vedant, Denise, and I researched and conferred for hours to develop the planting plan, it being necessary to balance local limitations on species viability, simplicity of care, hardiness, and other considerations in choosing which plants to grow where. Since the garden is organic, we researched companion plants in depth in order to overcome natural obstacles without poison. Our final plan includes:
10 pitaya plants. They are cacti that grow dense bunches of tendrils, which during the right season, will bear gorgeous red fruit. We will build stone pillars to support the pitaya–a concrete mixing and slopping project that should be a lot of fun for the students.
A patch of potatoes and beans, surrounded by mint and rosemary–the beans fix nitrogen for the potatoes, and the mint and rosemary deter pests.
A patch of eggplant, beans, hot peppers, and thyme. Beans are again the nitrogen fixers. Hot peppers and thyme, multiple sources told us, work well paired with eggplant, though we weren’t able to find an explanation of the mechanism behind this.
A patch of onions and scallions, for which this area of Mauritius is optimal.
Peanuts, which are nitrogen fixers and excellent soil builders, between the rows of pitaya.
Assorted other plants, including aloe vera, passion fruit along the fence, and garlic tail to keep out pests.
We still have to build the fence, which is quite necessary because crop theft is common here. Etoile de Mer is in a town aptly named “Roche Noire” (black rock), so we need to hire a dude with a jack-hammer to crack holes in the rocks beneath our soil patch before we can stick in fence posts and fix them with concrete. That shouldn’t cost much, but if anyone cares to make a small, useful donation, we’d be grateful.
We chose around 10 kids who love working in the garden. We engineer our rhetoric to make them feel like a team. When we brought out a white board and drew the garden plan, for example, Vedant told them how his football coaches did the same. This creates an environment in which the respected, masculine thing to do is work hard and cooperate. A few students have truly impressive gardening knowledge and work ethic. So far, we have planted the pitaya, marked off and cleared the potato and eggplant patches, and planted the potato, mint, and thyme. Before garden days, Vedant, Denise, and I take a quick morning stroll over to the domain of a nearby cattle raiser, who lets us take his manure to use as fertilizer for new plants. The boys love sticking their hands in that.
Theater went very well on Tuesday. Vedant and I gave the kids simple scenarios involving conflicting motives (two kids are playing ball and they break a light. One wants to run away, the other wants to wait for a teacher). They improvised very funnily, and sometimes creatively. In one scenario, I told one kid he wants to go swimming in the sea, another that he thinks there are sharks, and a third that she is a hungry shark. “It’s my birthday,” the hungry shark said, “I’ll give you candy.” In the light breaking scenario written above, we eventually brought in a teacher-character, who said she would bring the culprit to the principal. The one who had wanted to stay and wait initially, said “no, stay here,” and grabbed the teacher’s arm. That’s sticking to a character.
Thursday didn’t go as well. I introduced this idea of conflict in order to start working on writing a play (at the core of which process is an understanding of conflict). Today, I had the kids sit around the table and told them to think of a conflict. In retrospect, this was a stupid decision on my part, and I paid the price for it in wasted time. The prompt was too broad, and the kids had no idea where to start, so they turned to joking around. The exercise worked a little better when I set limits by giving the kids a place and saying “think of a conflict that might happen in this place.” My intention was to choose the best conflict ideas, then spider from one conflict into another, creating what would ultimately become the scenes of a play. I managed to do this a bit at the end, and some great improvising came out, but my initial mistake (and a girl falling of her chair) caused an excessively light-hearted tone to establish itself and prevent serious work. I also made the mistake of saying outright, “these are my two favorite conflict-ideas.” I thought it would inspire a bit of healthy competition, but actually it just engendered jealousy, and I felt bad. Live and learn. Next time, I’ll be sure to set limits–creativity works best when it fills in a predefined structure (only one of Shakespeare’s plays has no source text–“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” if you were wondering).