I am Ye Wu from China, an EVS volunteer hosted by CESIE in Palermo (Italy) within the project Planting Cities (Erasmus +, KA2 – Capacity Building in the field of youth).

Before I came here, I was attending university in China and I always wanted to challenge myself and focus on the volunteer work that focused on environmental issues and working with disabled people. Over time, I saw more of the world and a dream came to my mind: I wanted to know how to bring people closer to nature. It seems that nowadays people have less communication with each other and they have become indifferent towards others and their natural surroundings. This phenomena of indifference and disassociation is very common in China and I wondered if I could learn something about how to change the situation by first gaining the interest of young people.

Now, the dream has come true and I am doing my EVS in Palermo for 5 months (March – July 2016). I am learning how to care for an urban organic garden in the city and share my knowledge on gardening with local people by facilitating workshops in the community.

Chapter One: Codifas’ Urban Garden

I never thought these days would pass so fast. I get up every morning and listen to the sounds of morning doves. Talking to local residents, eating a simple breakfast, preparing meals for work are all parts of my daily routine. It’s really nice that every morning I get up early to catch the bus to go to CODIFAS – a urban garden here in Palermo with a beautiful view along the way. Every day I walk to the garden with the sound of dogs barking, birds singing and the voice of the wind when it touches the fruit trees. All beautiful days comes with the nice natural smell in the garden. I get to be a farmer and trim the weeds, make the soft soil, plant the vegetables and care for them. Every day in the garden seems like a fairy tale. I learn from communicating with the plants in the garden every day and I find myself more peaceful when getting close nature.

Weeding, cultivating, plowing, growing vegetables, and occasionally tasting typical Sicilian fruits and greens. Gardening in the south mountain and watching blossoms in front of the sea, this is my life in the CODIFAS’ urban garden. The typical arid mediterranean landscape has been transformed into a lush garden. From Monday to Friday, local residents come and take care of vegetables. We all say “ciao ciao” to each other every day. Our language barrier is no longer a problem in the natural landscape. We are together taking care of the vegetables and fruits and we become particularly close.

“Every plant is a book and if you really want to read it, is not a simple thing.”

From Carlo, a gardener tutor from CODIFAS

For example, as for taking care for tomatoes in the organic garden where there is  only artificial care, in order to ensure the quality of “reading” a plant, you have to observe from the roots to the branches. First, find the main branches (the longer branches) promptly cut them off from the roots. As for branches which grow two stocks, cut off the top of the branch. Then go back and look at its fragile roots, gather the soil around the roots in order to guarantee its roots are deep in the earth.

Another example, is the care and harvest of potatoes. Potatoes are buried in the earth for about a whole Winter and grow into green seedlings. They are also surrounded by a thick layer covering the weeds. You need to use a small shovel and gently clean out the weeds. Loosen the soil and then gather the soil around the potato seedlings. The soft fertile soil can nurture more potatoes. Then at the end of Spring, harvest all the potatoes. The green seedlings from the whole winter and spring, are become almost invisible. Only individual yellowish light green seedlings are visible. Then, with great attention and patience, for every plant that has grown over 40 cm, you need to use a small spatula to gently dig and expose the fresh potato, gently turning them in the soil.

Close with nature every day in the garden, the little seeds germinate in a petri dish and then are transplanted to be processed in the good land. The deep roots grow with new leaves and new flowers. The small fruits, creep forward in the fields every day. When weeding, we communicate with them, give them water and smell the fresh air. I feel so humble. Then with the fragrance of the soil, or the fertile dirt, I go back home. Cleaning all the day’s fatigue, burning a pot of hot water, a pot of tea, and then slowly doing exercises, with a good nap… free to do anything I enjoy. This probably is the best life.

Chapter Two: La Fraternita

For two days each week I do activities in the Cooperative La Fraternità a mental patient nursing home named La Fraternita , where I also learn more about myself from the old people who live a more simple and lovely life than me.

Here every person has more or less with some difficulties with communication disorders. For example, there’s a relatively young guy and he likes very much to chew straw all day, every day. There are people who spit sporadically and people who greet by touching others faces to express greetings. Many of the people are autistic and we need to do something to keep quiet. Some of them make loud noise every day and sometimes they have temper tantrums in hope of some comfort. Some of them never speak, which may also be related to the fact that their bodies are almost paralyzed. Some can only do very simple activities. But every day the people seem very happy, no matter how simple of things they may do. They are cooperative with the volunteers and I feel at home bit by bit. These people, in the eyes of many in society, may be seen as strange. While their ways of communication are not through ordinary language and you need to accompany them step by step, the begin to accept the way you talk to them. What’s more, they are really shy and sweet, when you give them appreciation and say “Bravo” or ”Brava” and kiss them.

Everyday, the man with the straw would kiss the cheeks of other elderly people in an attempt to comfort them. The guy with autism, although his hands will not stop shaking, is always in place to help other elderly people, such as caring for an old quadriplegic man who is always sitting in a wheelchair. The old man is of few words, and he rarely to express his wishes, but he is the singer at the church. Whenever a Sicilian songs start, he begins to sing cheerfully. Of course, another old man who is very familiar with the geography of the world likes to paint and record life of the elderly, but at the same time, he does not like to communicate with others every day.

What’s more, I am most impressed by an old man named Ugo. He is the oldest man here and now is 76 years old. The first time we met, he took me to his room and gave one of his own hand-made cars to me. He is always calling me “Bella Bambola” and he’s always painting. He paints everything with his little pencil, then carefully uses a small brush for coloring. He also plays the mouth organ and writes letters to his distant friend. Usually he writes for the whole morning and usually includes a car for his friend in the letter. I admire his humble way of living and I hope that i f I become old I could live a life as lovely as Ugo’s.

Chapter Three: Workshops

Planting cities members, from left to right: Ye (China), Mishra (India), Giuseppe (Italy), Khem(Nepal), Zhu (China).

In addition, I also enjoy the life here in Palermo with all the different kinds of people from different countries. It’s really nice to see people join together to do something together in nature. Although we are from different countries, we can get close to each other by doing some simple gardening. Why not enjoy this kind of relationships among people and nature? Working with people in nature: it’s a natural way to communicate that crosses all language and cultural barriers.

Become friends with people who aren’t your age. Hang out with people whose first language isn’t the same as yours. Get to know someone who doesn’t come from your social class. This is how you see the world. This is how you grow.

I am a farmer here in Palermo. I am on the way seeing more of the world and learning more about myself during my EVS experiences.

Thanks to all of you !

Ye Wu