Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Ginger-Evans Farm in Peoria: Landing as guests, leaving as family

When I first heard that I would be spending two days at a farm about 4 hours outside of Chicago, I have to admit, I was confused. Coming to the US on an Eisenhower Fellowship means that you have to leave your work schedule to do fun stuff? Could this be possible? But I did have a hunch that being on a farm would mean being cut off from the world, spending time learning about people who may or may not be able to make any impact on my life of thinking.

Boy was I wrong.

Supinya and Saroth (Thailand) and I arrived in Peoria after a surprisingly quick 40-minute flight. Suzanne Ginger came running our way to greet us, we managed to crack a few jokes and within the first minute, I knew I was really going to get along with her. Isn’t that strange?

So after loading the Thai Fellows’ bags into the great big truck that they had brought along (I chose to travel with just a knapsack because I was going fly back to Chicago where the rest of my luggage was still sitting unlike these guys, who were flying on to Boston), Michael, Suzanne and the three of us took off towards their farm.

Though all the discussions we had were memorable, one discussion stands out I my mind. Suzanne and I were talking about schools and the role they played in the lives of children. We both agreed on the need for a formal learning process and also the fact that parents had increased their dependency on schools to take care of children whilst decreasing their role in the lives of children. Here’s something interesting that Suzanne said – “most children are not given any responsibilities for contributing towards the family or the community, therefore their appreciation of the same doesn’t grow over a long period of time. Its like they grown in isolation from the community that most are expected to come back to. And then we’re surprised that the children feel that they cannot ‘fit in’.”

I completely agree. As with all other things, responsibilities need to be nurtured over a long period of time. How can you expect a school to mould the character of your child, and only begin to really get to know him when he graduates from being a child into an adult? And how can you expect children to have a relationship with their land if they don’t grow up with a strong link to it? I keep thinking of a simple point like this, and the massive brain drain that Pakistan experienced, suddenly makes sense.

I need to point out here that I am a product of the school system in Pakistan, and have been in one institution or the other pretty much all my life. Suzanne and Mike made the conscious decision to homeschool their two children. And it didn’t take me long to be convinced that Xavier (14) and Quinn (11) would turn out to be strong, confident and better young men than most of the products of today’s educational system. Driven, confident, courteous and most important, well behaved and have tremendous experiences to draw from.

The family leads a simple life, much to the kind I am accustomed to. There is no certainly no glamour in living out in the middle of nowhere, but it does give you a chance to listen into your surroundings and give you the peace and quiet to figure out what is most important in life. The fast life of the urban city tends to blur our opinions and beliefs.

Yes, the home still hauls water from the town to run in their home; and true that there can be an inconsistent flow of electricity; there aren’t any bright lights or fast cars zooming by and unless they get out into the city, the only people they will probably interact with will be either their own family or neighbors who are at a distance. But the serenity does allow you to think and get perspective, something that can’t always be done at the speed of light.

2 days on the farm, and I feel sincerely revitalized. According to Suzanne, we were guests as we entered her home through the front door, and soon became part of the friend&family group to sit in the kitchen and graduate through to the backdoor. I have to say I was amazed at how quickly and smoothly the transition took place.

I wish the family the very best and hope that I will be able to meet with them again.


Holly said...


Your insight to this family is mind-bogglingly warm. I truly felt the connection you appeared to have felt with Suzanne and her family.

Jessica said...

I couldn't agree more with you about this family. I have been dating Xavier, now 17, for 2 years now and he is one of the strongest people I know. His upbringing has turned him into a fantastic young man.