Nexus

~Below is a reflection shared by Ismael Tidjani on his experience working at NEXUS.~

As I sit back and get ready to read on the world of agriculture for my history class, I am grateful for the string of events that lead to me to this point in which I am living out my greatest interests.

Upon return from a semester spent in Nicaragua, I had a lot of readjusting to do. I had just come from an environment that was open, sunny, and always full of unexpected guests throughout the day. I did not have a cell phone so spontaneous calls to friends and family were not possible. Everything that I wanted to do had to be planned in advance, or just become an unexpected visit.

In a place like the United States where many people, me included, run on a set schedule that is not very elastic to change; unexpected visitors would either never find anyone home or be interrupting something and therefore not commanding all the attention of the people they came to visit. This was not the case in Nicaragua. A guest, whether expected or unexpected always commanded the attention of the household they were visiting. I was concerned that Cincinnati was not like Nicaragua and that the lifestyle I had loved so much would be overrun by busyness and a faster paced life. This concern was well garnered.

Upon return, the nice-paced Nicaragua swagger that I had acquired was surrounded and passed up by people on cell phones, multi- tasking with different gadgets all while wearing the bright colored polo’s that I had missed so much (sarcasm). I was not lost quite yet, but I know that there would soon be a pressure to pick things up. After a week went by, I finally began to face the realities of being back in Cincinnati. I had papers to finish, people to see, and a job to find for the summer that would keep me occupied.

I had heard of the NEXUS garden position from a special friend of mine who I talked to periodically while in Nicaragua. She had informed me that there were two positions available and immediately I was interested as I had not made any plans for the summer. My only issue was that during my hectic time in Nicaragua, I could not find the time and space to apply for the position as I wanted to enjoy my time in Nicaragua and computer access for extended periods of time was not easy to find. It was not until the week of my return that I was able to apply for the internship. One coordinator had already been hired so there was only one spot left. I was pretty nervous about getting it, because at that point I had nothing else lined in the case that this did not work for me. The response did not take too long to come in; I would be one of two coordinators at the NEXUS community garden. This was great news for me. I was excited for the job because I had volunteered there a couple of times the previous summer. The garden was a great place to hang out and get your hands dirty if you felt so inclined. Based off of my previous experiences with the garden, I knew that this would be a great fit for me.

Having come back from Nicaragua, I was not too fond of the idea of using a car, especially since I would be the one paying for the gas. This was a part time position, meaning that I would have to be smart monetarily to sustain myself over the summer. In order to do this I decided to live at home for the summer and sublet my room on campus in order to avoid the $350 monthly fee that I would have otherwise had to pay. I also made the decision to ride my bike in order to save money and enjoy the outdoors at the same time. The benefits that came from this decision were amazing and made my summer at the garden very impactful. The first bike ride was not so easy, but after a couple of trips I began to get used to the near 8 mile commute.

What made the summer great was that everything fell into place; all the choices that I made seemed to mesh and make for smooth days. Because I rode my bike to get to the garden, I knew that once I got there, I would stay until my work was done. There was no going home and coming back later because the commute was tiring; there are lots of hills in Cincinnati. Every day that I had to be at the garden, I would be up by 7:00am and would allow myself 45 to 50 minutes to bike over to the garden. The commutes were the best when I left by 6:30am or 7:00am because the hot sun would not yet be up. I learned to begin my commute before the sun rose from Ms. Phillips, an elderly woman I would work with outside the NEXUS garden at the nearby Holloway Hope garden. She wasn’t one to work in the heat and this was normal considering her age and how powerful the sun could be on some days. I often found myself taking refuge under trees and/or running through sprinklers to escape blistering heat waves. To make a long story short; I would go to the garden once in a day, and once I left there was no returning until the next day.

I now realize the enormous spans of time that I spent at the garden. There were days that I would work 5-7 hours just because I did not want to go home, and there was always something to be worked on. Outside of watering the vegetation, we also harvested, mulched, composted, planned events, helped gardeners, and beautified the garden through painting and weed picking; a whole lot of weed picking. As gardeners we also had to inspect all of the plants and look for signs of dryness, fungi, or bugs and this could take lots of time when done carefully. I learned something daily while working at the garden as I constantly had to be looking up causes for dry leaves on the tomato plants, or tracking down the white butterflies that looked so pretty but where actually laying cabbage worm eggs on the plants they landed on. It’s not easy catching a butterfly, let alone a groundhog. Yes there is a resident groundhog at the NEXUS garden with his home conveniently located a few yards from all of the 32 plots. His name is Phineus; we named him. We could not catch him, so we figured that as a community we might as well embrace him, because as one of the gardeners pointed out: “There’s already enough hate in the world, why hurt the little guy?” This gardener was absolutely right. But still Phineus makes himself no illusions and wisely comes out of his hole only when gardeners and others are not around. Over the course of the summer, I managed to see him thrice and one of those times was very up close.

Better than the entertainment occasioned by Phineus’ conniving ways, was the opportunity to spend time the gardeners of the NEXUS garden. Many of them come from different neighborhoods such as Norwood, Evanston, and even Madeira Township. Many are members of the St. Andrews church in Evanston, the church to which we donate our community plot harvests. The gardeners are young and old, experienced and inexperienced, and all make for a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm to learn that constantly keeps the garden buzzing. The sharing of ideas and recipes is always present as people are eager and willing to share something that they have learned. There is always something to talk about at the garden and if not, always something to get involved in. And on those days when I was the only one there, I enjoyed time to reflect and be amongst the great creations of God and nature. There was never a dull moment.

The garden gave me an opportunity to implement into my Cincinnati life, the life skills and values I had learned in Nicaragua. The garden provided a space for me to work in a calm setting in which I had the freedom to think about what I was doing and act on those thoughts. It gave me a place that I could bike to instead of having to drive and rush through all of the beauty betwixt my home and the NEXUS garden. Along with the calm atmosphere of the garden came a group of individuals who shared the same love for conversation and an easy going pace that suggested a complete naïveté for the contrived unforgiving nature of time which I had missed so much since returning from Nicaragua. The times that I spent there were unblemished and free, and I hope to continue living my life in this fashion as it brings me much happiness. The garden was the perfect place for me and I am thankful that I was placed there. There is no other way that I would rather have spent my summer.

Iso Tidjani is a Senior at Xavier University. Iso is know for you humble personality and sincere presence. His commitment to the Dorothy Day Center for Faith & Justice has been extremely valuable and as he graduates we will miss his warming smile and service to others.