On Placemaking, True Diversity and Intercontinental Cross-Pollination: a Conversation with Ridhi D’Cruz
by Gosia Rokicka.
A conversation about placemaking, creating community in the city and social justice within permaculture with Ridhi D'Cruz.
You call yourself an “intercontinental cross-pollinator”— could you unpack it a bit?
I’m originally from India and have been living in the United States for almost eight years now. In 2010, I moved to a continent that I’d never been to before. At the same time I feel like American culture and Western European culture are pervasive and set aspirations in the “global South”. And as a result, there is a familiarity but also a dynamic I wanted to investigate . Knowing that I had taken on aspirations that weren’t really my own, coming to the US was also partially a journey of decolonization. I also wanted to give perspectives from other places some kind of a parity.
For example during sustainability conferences or university gatherings at Portland State University — where I studied in America — some folks would say: “So you’ve come to Portland to learn about sustainability” — insinuating in a way that people in India have nothing to contribute to the sustainability movement. And that really pissed me off. I’ve definitely come here to learn but also to share because a lot of what happens in other parts of the world is of an absolute and imperative importance to be honored and integrated.
And did you manage to get your message across to your peers?
I think so. These are small and slow solutions, right? When I first came to the US, I had a lot more anger and fire in me. I may have scared off some people. I came across as this angry Indian woman. But my discipline — and I trained as an anthropologist — is in a way built on a foundation of different ways of knowing and understanding. Especially social and cultural anthropology. But this knowledge is not on a level playing field.
There are geopolitical forces at play that make different types of knowledge weighted unequally. I would say that the established order in the sustainability movement feels very white-centric, middle class, academic.
I know this may not be true around the world, perhaps, but I still don’t feel that enough support, resources and listening are given to some of the stories and case studies that are coming from other parts of the world. And I don’t mean to over-romanticise because there is a fine balance here. But goals, aspirations, and credit typically go to a certain group of people and I’ve been actively working to dismantle this white supremacy within the movement.
I would think that the permaculture movement shouldn’t be a place where white supremacy prevails — on one hand this is quite surprising, on the other — I spoke to Rowen White who is an Indigenous American woman and she expressed her feelings very strongly as well.
I feel like here there is much clearer ethnic boundary between Indigenous and non-indigenous. Being Indigenous in India is a very different thing to being Indigenous in America. People often ask me: are you Indigenous to India? Well, as far as I know, all my ancestors are from there but I don’t see myself as Indigenous in the same way as they do here. I feel that in the United States there is a deep rift between native or Indigenous permaculture and the Western-centric, Euro-centric permaculture. In my experience, most times, Native communities don’t even want to use the term “permaculture”. They have their own words for it including Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). Sometimes I see it being bridged but I think there is a lot of unpacking that we have to do on this continent in terms of whiteness and patriarchy. The longer I stay here, the more apparent it becomes.
You said you wouldn’t expect it from the permaculture movement. But how can it be any different? Despite our efforts to dismantle these systems of oppression, we must not forget that we are embedded within them.
It’s more important to me to see how we respond to it. If we really dig into the teachings of permaculture and put the overarching goals first instead of our egos, we’ve got everything we need, even if it’s Eurocentric. But instead of concentrating on social justice we find ourselves divided, defensive, unwilling to grow. For me the biggest point of transformation is the need to set up robust mechanisms for giving each other feedback. We don’t have a culture of accountability and we don’t have a real commitment to growth.
That’s a good point. And it’s a difficult thing to build, there is a lot of resistance towards it.
Yeah. To use a permaculture metaphor: we know that we need to capture rainwater but we’re arguing how to do that. And in the meantime… Dude, the water is just dripping! All we do is talk about divisions: people of color versus white people, feminists versus patriarchy. I’m thinking a lot about metaphors. One of them is a cell membrane which is semipermeable. It keeps the cell intact but it also has means of exchange.
I feel like there’s sometimes too many functions are being stacked and that over-integration is a real thing: we are diluting and homogenizing and therefore replicating the dominant paradigm in a way. And I’m more interested in understanding how to keep things distinct to retain the diversity but at the same time make the relationships between them beneficial — to keep them intact inside but able to exchange value.
It’s a very nice metaphor. But let’s talk practical — your work revolves around regenerating public places in Portland. Was it something you were doing as well in India, or did you get involved in it when you moved to America?
It’s something I was actually dabbling in when I was living in India. A friend of mine started something called “The Wall Project” in Mumbai. Mumbai is a crazy, scary city. I don’t know how I survived there for two years. She started painting public walls in collaboration with other people. When asked why she was doing it she said: “We barely have any greenery and everything is so densely packed. But we have a lot of walls so rather than looking at walls as a separation maybe we should look at them as points of connection.” It all started very informally and I loved that. I took part in one painting action and it felt so wonderful. I got to meet neighbours. There were many people walking by as we still have a lot of walking culture in India. I felt really inspired. And as a young twenty-something really apathetic, middle class, privileged person I didn’t know how to respond. Together with a couple of friends — one of them was an artist, the other was studying journalism with me — we decided to paint some walls in our own city, Bangalore.
I talk a bunch about Bangalore during the module I teach within the Permaculture Women’s Guild Permaculture Design Course because I feel it’s so essential — this is where I came from and this is why I do what I do. So in Bangalore all our hang out places, non-commercial public spaces were eroding so quickly and were driving us into such isolation — at least I felt that. I didn’t want to go to the mall, to just keep buying things to be able to inhabit space. So we started painting walls in Bangalore and that was really meaningful to me.
Sounds like a great project — a combination of art and saving the public space. It is also a part of what you are doing now in Portland with City Repair. Is the local community responsive? Who is getting involved in it?
At this point there are over 65 intersection paintings in Portland. The organization has been around for 20 years and has been growing steadily. We’ve got probably over 20 different communities who are painting and it’s a mixture of repainting the old ones to renew them every couple of years and creating new ones. I feel like the predominant workforce are the usual suspects in the permaculture movement — folks who have a strong critique of capitalism and modern development. I say it carefully because I don’t want to overly homogenize but it feels like they’re mostly white middle class folks who’ve chosen to live in voluntary simplicity.
The more I meet people within the permaculture movement, the more I have a feeling that it’s exactly as you are describing — people choosing to live that way because they are privileged enough to do so. And the communities everyone seems to want to include… don’t get included as much in the end.
The divisions between people run deep. When I was in India I had to make many choices. I grew up middle class so I had a lot of class privilege and I had to fight to go down a route that was not the usual “I’m gonna do an MBA.” There’s a lot of social pressure to keep maintaining the status quo. I have had so many biases because of this, so many prejudices. And one of my favorite ones was involving education. Education was a big deal to me for a variety of reasons. And I’m not saying that education is not important but I don’t think you need to have a degree in anything or to be a high school graduate to be profoundly wise.
I met a shepherd once who just blew my mind. We were talking about metaphysical things, the cosmos, the purpose of life and I was astounded: “Wow, you think about these things?” And he said: “Yep, I’ve got a lot of time, I’m a shepherd.” The fact that he was illiterate didn’t mean that he didn’t think about awesome things. We’ve got a lot of divisions and opinions that we replicate. One of them is that uneducated folks hold problematic beliefs. And I’m not saying it’s never true — really problematic beliefs do exist as a result of a lack of access to education. For example, I worked in a red light area with a non-profit organization and I was told that one of the myths they were trying to debunk was that the cure for HIV was to have sex with a virgin. But at the same time there are different sides.
Sometimes, we’ve got this romantic notion that in rural India, for example, everything is idyllic and we just need to return to that lifestyle. And that’s not all true in the same way that cities are not all bad. To me permaculture is not only about harvesting rainwater and building physical eco-infrastructures — it’s a design philosophy and approach, right? So we have to define a challenge, its context and the goal and design the process to meet this goal. And it applies to social structures as well.
And how do you integrate this approach within the module you’re teaching — the placemaking?
That’s a good question. I think I try to share some things, to come from a personal narrative perspective instead of blanket statements like: “People of color this…”, “Indian women that…” I do not want to be tokenized or be a representative of any of those identities. I wear all of them. I try to own my experience and I also admit that some of these institutionalized ways of oppression do constrain various other people. So I chose a personal narrative approach because I feel like the biggest potency for transformation is in personal growth opportunities. People hear about the effects of capitalism and globalization in other places but many don’t get a chance to meet someone who grew up there.
So I’m talking about Bangalore and how my whole world changed and I dedicated my life to being a part of an empowerment-based approach. I really believe in place-based power. Placemaking is never just about the material stuff, about painting the streets or the cob oven on the corner. All those things are great, they foster the sense of coming together and being in community with one another. But for me it’s also a deeply personal journey: what’s my role within this? What’s my place?
I feel like if we had an ability to root in places deeper and cultivate a meaningful conversation not just with the land but with each other — without being scared to show some vulnerability — I think many problems on the surface would kind of melt away.
Your place started in India, now it’s the United States. How does your middle class, educated, Indian family feel about the life choices you’ve made?
I love my parents. I realized that although as a teenager I thought I was fighting against them, actually I was enacting exactly what they taught me. I’m such a product of them. And I told them that. I said: “You know dad, I’m making these choices because of the values you’ve instilled in me.” And he just smiled and said: “You’re so smart, you know how to get to me!” But I was telling the truth. And I think this is when I started to understand that things don’t exist in duality but in between, in the grey area.
While my parents still don’t fully understand what I’m doing and why, we have conversations. They are surprised that I’m struggling, that I find it expensive to go to India and rarely have time. They say: “You’re working very hard but you’re not rolling in the dough, you’re not comfortable. You’re not even financially stable, forget comfortable! Why are you doing this?” I performed well at school so it’s definitely by choice and they really try to understand it. Over time, they get more snippets.
I’ve been doing this for 10 years so they know it’s not a phase I’m going to grow out of. And it’s really important for me to bring them along because they are true inspirers of this whole path that I’m walking. Recently my dad bought me land in India that I will return to and turn into a permaculture-inspired place. To me is a symbol that although he doesn’t fully understand what I’m doing, we’ve got this understanding and trust. He says: “I don’t know how you’re going to do this, there are wild animals and stuff.” And I say: “You’re right, I’m terrified, I don’t know how to do this but I know I will die trying.”
He doesn’t need to be a permaculturist and I don’t need to be a business person but we can develop a relationship of mutual respect: although it’s not my path, I see it’s yours and I respect it and in ways that are aligned with my own values I will support you. And I think that such respect fosters so much possibility for collaboration, mutual benefits and a truly diverse community where we are all walking our own paths.
#placemaking #permaculturewomen #socialpermaculture
To find out more about the project Ridhi is involved in Portland, USA, check out The City Repair Project website. Ridhi is also one of the 40+ tutors in the Permaculture Women’s Guild Online Permaculture Design Certificate course.
by Priya Logan
Over the past five years I have been simultaneously studying to be a Birth Doula and working my way through a diploma in permaculture. I attended my first birth just one month ago, which was a truly magical and consolidating experience. To my advantage, integrating my concurrent pathways has proved itself to be seamless in many ways. The common ground between the two is rich and fertile. Abundant in ideals and practice, they can complement each other. Permaculture is an umbrella term that encompasses many design solutions and systems that seek to realign the balance between nature, others, and ourselves. Permaculture looks to integrate human solutions with what nature already provides. Doulas add a layer of humanity and reverence to the most natural, innately human, and momentous happenings of our lives.
“Doula” is a Greek word, which means female caregiver. It is an ancient role that, traditionally, encompassed preparing people for, and accompanying them and their families through, the two greatest rites of existence: birth and death. A doula is a layperson that does not need any particular credentials. Formal training is not an absolute requirement, but for those wishing to embark on this meaningful path, there are some excellent courses that will prepare, inform, and encourage. A broad knowledge of current practices and an awareness of wider cultural and historical practices can be a valuable awareness to have, but a doula always works from the bottom up — with people, on their terms — not in the world of theory. A doula does not offer medical care or expertise, but they can assist a person in navigating through the medical world by supporting their intrinsic right to do so.
Before the last couple hundred years it would have been common for us all to be well acquainted with the ritualistic, spiritual and physical aspects of our closest ones birthing and dying. These events would also have, for the most part, taken place in intimate, domestic settings. Since the move towards a professionalized medical culture, beginning roughly 250 years ago, care has been largely outsourced to hospitals and specialized centers’. Rather strangely, birth and death have become, in industrialized societies, considered as separate from normal experience. They are treated, widely, as abnormal events that require intervention — often in hospitals with only medically trained staff considered fit for attendance.
The renowned obstetrician Michel Odent has long championed the role of birth doulas in the delivery room. He proposes in: Birth and Breastfeeding,one of his many books, that simply having the calm, steady presence of a trusted woman in the vicinity while a woman labours will have myriad benefits–including increasing the woman’s natural flow of oxytocin,a powerful bonding hormone often referred to as the love or shy hormone. High levels of oxytocin are an essential component of natural birth and it increases in great quantities during labour. Physiologically, we have much in common with our mammalian relatives, who like to birth in hidden, dark places. When we feel protected, safe and undisturbed, our bodies and minds are better prepared to birth. Synthetic versions of birth hormones are sometimes administered when natural supplies are low, which in some cases may be necessary or even life saving — but they can also have undesirable side effects. An increased need for interventions of this type could be seen as an indication that the birthing environment is not as conducive to a woman’s wellbeing as it could be.Instead of placing medical intervention at the top of the list of solutions, her emotional state should be prioritised. This is just one example of the imbalance, liable to be overlooked in a highly medicalised system, that doulas can help redress. Doulas can attend all types of births and birthing environments such as at home and hospital births; planned caesarian or non-surgical vaginal births.
Birth doulas “mother the mother”. Many women would attest that having the support of a doula has been invaluable. If a person has a trusted friend or relative to fulfill this role, then it is so much the better. As not all of us do, doulas take a valuable place in the wellbeing of society.
A birth doula will typically meet a woman (and her family, if applicable) a few times before birth to talk through expectations, build relationships, and sort out practicalities. They will attend the birth, supporting the woman and family in the way they want and will often follow on with one or two visits afterwards. There are also postnatal doulas that help with the transition of the mother after the birth, as well as with practical matters such as cooking and cleaning. In addition there are prenatal doulas that support a woman in finding her own approach to the birth beforehand, but do not attend the event itself. There are many roles doula can fulfil depending on how they work and their preferred specialty.
There are also death doulas. On the opposite side of the spectrum, at the end of our lives, it is not very difficult to imagine that a steady, strong, and caring presence would be endlessly soothing in the universally inevitable journey across the threshold of the unknown. To be in an indifferent environment with no attention or regard given to your very unique and precious humanity at the very end of all you were seems the ultimate insult and loss — a sad crescendo in a throw away culture — and yet a reality for too many. There has been, as with birth doulas, a rekindling of the age-old tradition of death doulas in recent years and many are rediscovering the value of tangible human support at this very vulnerable time. A focus on building a relationship and being sensitive, receptive and present will also be at the forefront of what a death doula can offer.
Doulas respect that the human body is an exceedingly intelligent system, one that we will never come close to understanding in its entirety; one that is nestled in and interacting with many other complex systems — both naturally-occurring and institutional. A doula can help a person ascertain and understand their choices, advocate for them, and also help them reflect on past experiences. Just as Japanese farmer/philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka espoused the ideology of: “do-nothing farming”which encourages less toil and a cooperative attitude towards the land. Doulas know too that being is vital; a strong presence in the whirlwind of life is what we search for in times of need.
There is a well-known axiom in permaculture: Everything Gardens. This means all of our actions and opinions ripple outward to have an effect on the environment. It is important, therefore, that a doula becomes an emblem of self-care. They need a network of support along with the tools to self-reflect, download, and recharge.They need the space to fill their wells so that they may give again. They must ensure the lenses through which they view the world are as clear, compassionate, and open as they can possibly be.
Doulas, of all kinds, are enjoying a renaissance. It’s not difficult to understand why. We add a layer of nurturing and unconditional support to humanity’s most cherished and sensitive moments. We do not coach. We do not advise or project our own prejudices. We do not try to solve or change. We seek to empower a person to navigate through and understand their options, to feel empowered and heard. Our role is to observe and respond to the individual, their environment, their family, and their cherished hopes. Our job is to listen — deeply, with more than just our ears — with our whole beings — always without judgments and to just stay “with”.
by Julia Pereira Dias.
How good is good enough? And good enough for what? Good enough by whose standards?
One of my passions is looking at what sticks in our minds like glue and takes away the space we need to step ahead and live our lives in line with our passions. So, I set out to talk to people, who have overcome some of the sticky parts and others who are still struggling with overcoming them. Here, I’ll start sharing my findings. Let’s start with the most well known. Impostor syndrome.
Originally labeled by Dres. Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, the
Impostor syndrome has been described as “[t]he psychological experience of believing that one’s accomplishments came about not through genuine ability, but as a result of having been lucky, having worked harder than others, or having manipulated other people’s impressions.”(1)
It’s always nice to question hypotheses, so I was happy when one of my respondents provided this insight:
“Hear me out. Achievement takes hard work, but it also takes a decent amount of luck. We know ourselves enough to know our whole story and where we got lucky….but we can’t see that in other people. So, we start to think we’re less capable or less deserving of being at a certain place than those around us, because we don’t really internalize that EVERYONE got lucky.”
What a great observation! Surely, I could expand my research to talk to those people who have actually failed in their businesses to see how much of this holds true. At the end of the day, though, it is important to understand that success is not the absence of failure. It is through failure that we succeed. The question is, do we define ourselves by our failures or do we accept them as part of the way?
I watch my baby girl everyday as she attempts to get up and walk. She will never think of herself as ‘fraud’, because only she knows how many times she fell before she finally walked. We all fell a thousand times. That is why we walk now.
In summary, my respondents define impostor syndrome along the same line as fear of being ‘found out.’ The fear of not being good enough. And although the concept was originally studied as a phenomenon prevalent among high-achieving women and continues to be used in relation with entrepreneurship and high achievement, it is actually not limited to this context. It is only much more pronounced here.
The origin of not good enough
In his wonderful book “A New Earth”, Eckhart Tolle writes about the ego’s “deep seated sense of dissatisfaction, of incompleteness, of ‘not enough’.” With some very few notable exceptions we are all identified with our ego, hence the underlying fear of not being (good) enough permeats our whole lives.
For example, if we dare take a closer look at our relationships, we may discover that the feeling of not being good enough is the underlying cause of most of our anxieties, expectations and — if the latter are unmet — our conflicts and resentments. How many of us cling to our ‘loved’ ones in the hope they will give us the feeling of being enough or make us complete. How many of our disappointments are derived from the other person’s failure to assure us of our worthiness. They come late. They bought the wrong present for our birthday. They don’t give us the promotion. They don’t become our clients. They say something that offends us. Maybe they even tell us right out that we are not good enough.
Does this mean we are not good enough? Good enough for what? Good enough by whose standards? What or who is good enough anyways?
When we leave the mainstream, that feeling of insecurity and insufficiency becomes much more pronounced. Why? Because we leave the great masses. We dare step out and we feel ourselves in the spotlight. We think we are alone, ‘free floating’ as another respondent called it. That is why the impostor syndrome has become a term of its own. The feeling behind it is not unique to entrepreneurs and high-flyers, though. It is, indeed, almost universal.
So, what do we do about it?
Just keep going
Patricia Madson wrote a book called “Improv Wisdom”. There are thirteen great maximes, the most relevant here being this one:
“Just show up. Move your body toward your dreams. Go to where they’re happening–the gym, the office, the yoga class. Be there physically.”
So, what does this have to do with our impostor syndrome? Just keep going. Accept that it is there. Don’t fight it or ponder it too much. Everybody feels it. Just. Keep. Going.
Being brave sucks
One of my respondents put it beautifully:
We all talk about being brave, but when you’re in the middle of it, it feels horrible!
And yet, we need to proceed even if we are scared. Keep going even though we just want to cuddle up in front of the TV and forget about the challenge.
What helps again is what helps in almost everything: become aware. Put it in perspective. What happens if we get a no from a potential client, funder, supporter? Remember: we are not our failures. Our failures are the way to success. Steve Chandler, coach and co-author of the book “The Prosperous Coach” says “Yes lives in the land of no… No means you are in action.”
The more we do what scares us and face our fears, the smaller it becomes. Another respondent said this: “After six months it didn’t feel weird anymore to say the name of my own company. After some four or five years I had overcome the impostor syndrome.”
Just keep going.
For those of us who are starting out, the major concerns are not having enough capital or savings, not enough skills or training, not enough experience in the market. Here come the good news: None of my respondents, who are all people who have built up their businesses by now, mentioned any of these when I asked them what they would have needed most in their beginnings. The common theme of what they would have given themselves looking back to their early beginnings was peace of mind.
Many said they would have joined a mastermind group much earlier. Sharing your experiences, your highs and lows, your fears and hopes, your failures and successes with like-minded people takes you very far. Holding each other accountable ensures that you don’t chicken out or get lost in busy procrastination (i.e. doing all those things that allow you to feel busy, but don’t actually take you closer to getting clients or customers).
Some of my respondents have mentors. People who understand your trade and have made the experiences from which you can learn. You don’t have to make any official statement or agreement to have or be a mentor. Don’t ask anyone to ‘be my mentor’. Find people you admire and ask them specific questions. Most successful people are very happy to share their experiences if they know exactly what you want to learn.
Some said, they would have gotten a coach much sooner. What does a coach do? A coach walks the walk with you, believes in you, strengthens your self-confidence. They help you believe in yourself, in your dreams, in your passion. They support you when you have to overcome your limiting beliefs, your fears and obstacles.
Overall, the message is clear: you are not alone. So keep going. Impostor syndrome is there for almost all of us. Accept it as you would a constantly chatting parrot in your backyard (no, don’t shoot it!) and it won’t hold you back from pursuing your dreams.
Share your thoughts — leave a comment or talk to me.
(1) Joe Langford, Pauline Rose Clance. “The Impostor Phenomenon: Recent Research Findings Regarding Dynamics, Personality and Family Patterns and their Implications for Treatment.” Psychotherapy. Volume 30/Fall 1993/Number 3.
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