January 27, 2019
It was about a year and month ago when I officially left the bounds of my country, the Philippines. I had to quickly stop over at Singapore to meet my best friend whom I haven’t seen for quite a well good year, Harley. And I so thank him for the black H&M pullover and five pairs of socks which saved me from the extreme cold and have been my constant companion for both days and nights here in Iowa.
Now, let me tell you a story of cultural exchanges, travel, friendships and life lessons. May this narrative (as requested by Joan) find you well entertained and worth to read even for a pinch of time in your life.
WELCOME to Dallas, Texas! Arc finally reached the land of milk and honey. With what little battery he had left from his secondhand phone he prayed that his coming domestic flight to Fargo, North Dakota will be fine. So it was when he finally boarded a smaller aircraft than the last full with people of tall statures, blue eyes, blond hair, and white skin.
“When you get to Fargo, someone will pick you up and drive you to your host”. And surprisingly, an asian man of medium built came out of nowhere and called his name. Arc came after he said: “Let’s go!” in the most abrupt manner. Take note, this is winter time, at 11:21 PM of February 2, 2018. Right after that sliding door opened, Arc’s white winter coat didn’t stand a chance of survival. It died along with what little heat that’s left inside his frail and innocent body.
But it sparked joy inside of him. At last! Snow! It’s snow! Here it is! It’s everywhere! Such happiness cannot be contained. Arc has now touched snow! But only for a split second though because David pulled him into the car and said, “It’s too damn cold to stay out! Get in! Get in!” Well like yeah, now that he has thought about it, who would be in the sane mind could stay out the cold for even just a few minutes with skinny jeans, two covers, fashion gloves, and unmasked face with no bonnets. Ah, suicide.
Walmart. Yes. Arc and his driver stopped over for some grocery. Oh yes! At last! The most infamous Walmart. Open 24 hours, not much people at that time. He saw products of standard and price, in comparison to that of a developing country that is. The sheer size of the establishment is grandiose on par to department stores he was used to. Price tags everywhere.
Arc’s next destination was finally his first farm. Why say first? Because he has a second one, of course. What crucial matter this experience is being shared in this context is apparently, the most important matter he has to deal with on the overall course of his international program in terms of confidence. See, the main reason he had to gain in this experience was self-reconstruction, from a past unworthy even to mention. Though the clarity, validity and shallow reason why he had to transfer cannot be proven in paper, his identity as a person was challenged in a way he didn’t bargain for, to the least even expect. The fullness of his confidence was brought to parts, and the silver lining awaiting wasn’t as clear as it was planned. But it was a year now, things happen, plans change, life has to go on. And so, his journey continues.
Now before anything else, he had another stop-over. Urgh. Commercials. And yes, it was indeed full of commercials because he watched Superbowl 2018! He was accommodated by her own program coordinator for Agriculture program herself, Maja Behrens in her on-top-the-hill so posh humble abode. Wooo! It was amazing! Though he didn’t understand a bit about the game football where men threw this oblong ball with both ends sharp but it was amazing! Wooo!
He met her relatives and friends, especially the Andersons! Tony, Judy, Tyler and their family helped erased the feeling of insecurity, anxiety and fear of what an unknowing future lies ahead his way. Think about it, he was in a new country, and nothing prepared him for what had just happened. But later on, he was to finally start his internship program in the United States with a new farm. Thank you for that time of assurance Maja, Arc will never forget the kindness of your heart.
In America, one has to definitely have a car. One cannot possibly live without owning even once in a lifetime. But Arc didn’t have one, of course, like duhhhh. So, he booked a ticket with Jefferson Bus Lines. The way he can compare the bus liner to the ones back home are actually alike. Say, the best seats are still the front ones. Hahaha!
Now the bus carried him to Owatonna from Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Here he stayed for the night at a hotel since he horrendously missed his bus to Rochester by an honest idiotic mistake, which is an hour away from PlantPeddler, his official farm located in the state of Iowa.
From Owatonna, he was picked up by a driver who just finished unloading carts of flowers to clients around town. Finally reaching the Young Plants Greenhouse Facility ready to meet Joan, the smiling ever energetic human resource person of PP.
Joan brought him into Jon’s double-floor house, three including the basement. This is the official accommodation for the male interns of PlantPeddler, Inc. He was alone in the house. But not lonely. In fact, it was exulting. He could do all the things he can, clean the house, style it in his fashion, choose his bed and his room. Sing and run naked up and down the house. And he so evidently did after doing grocery at Fareway! No, not really. No naked running. Fareway, in all its glory, is smaller, nearer and more convenient than Walmart. Easy to access and whose products are well attended to by its staff. Fareway has been his go to sari-sari store. Obviously way better than 7-eleven. People at Cresco, the rural city where PlantPeddler is located, also the town where Norman Borlaug mostly spent his life (Nobel Prize winner for green revolution that soon sprouted sustainable agriculture), support and patronize mostly agri-commodity products of the stores in its town instead of going to the establishments of another one.
This culture taught Arc a very big lesson in life. In order to find one’s success is to support and uplift one’s self first before others. Help the ones inside your circle and they will help you. Let this circle grow bigger, stronger and successful as time goes by. Wonderful, isn’t it?
Well this life realization has awakened him inside. Sparked him to hope again that there is indeed wonder and beauty in here. Finally, his heart has settled in. Comfort and respect pushed him to open his confidence up again. Most especially after meeting the good people of PlantPeddler. Ah, the good and wonderful people of PlantPeddler. And when he says this, it is with no tone of sarcasm and regret. The people here are way beyond awesome! Hearts way better than gold and diamonds combined. He has never been accommodated excellently his entire life. People so welcoming no matter how.
The internship has empowered his mind to understand the intricate standards of young plants production. From sticking of cuttings, to watering and setting off to floors. The fast-paced environment when assigned in planting lines. Handling rail boom irrigation systems in watering plants. And surely definitely a whole lot and tons of so much more learnings. This isn’t resumè writing, let Arc market himself in a different platform, say LinkedIn? Lol.
Finally meeting a diverse variety of genetically improved species of flowering plants bred from intensive research & product development, this colored his knowledge into understanding deeper concepts of horticulture. There is money in aesthetic beauty, such products have been a part of the American culture. One thing that is taken for granted off from where he comes from. But the foundation of knowledge is there. He has learned so much in his own accord. Surely, beyond what his friends at PlantPeddler could actually expect. Smiley.
Now it does stay true that there are times, when one has nothing else to do when one gets bored. But Arc is a vagabond. In his year of stay in the US, he has travelled to 7 States. So yes Joan, here it is! Finally, the list you are waiting for! *celebrates* *clap clap*. Arc’s small visits and travels to places that captured his heart.
The very first State he was able to fully stay at for days was Minnesota. He and his newfound friends went to an Asian Buffet with Dean and Jeph Ruggerberg! It was seriously expensive! But was so worth it! Rochester is one of some bigger cities in the state of Minnesota. Minnesota’s capital is Minneapolis and he passed through here too with five other interns on their way to the annual CAEP Festival at Rural Ashby last July. Where they met most, if not all, the current interns of CAEP for 2018. Talk about highway and freeways! Arc learned that the virtual voice assistant of google map is your best friend. But be sure to know how to read signs and follow traffic rules first before anything else, she ain’t telling you that, in fact she might get bamboozled that some roads are recently closed. She doesn’t always get the memo. I think no one always does. Who writes memo these days? Oh well.
That festival was a mix of culture and fun experiences he will never forget as he has met friends from Brazil, Colombia, Africa, Ukraine, Vietnam and so many other countries whom friends he now treasures and so will for years to come. Heyyy friieendds!
On their way back, they decided to visit the Mall of America! MOA equals WOW. MOA houses stores of premium brands, a center of recreation, food courts and fine-dining restaurants, and diverse groups of businesses from all over the world and neighboring states. Here he bought his very first for-me gift which is a cap and an Aero jacket. At last he finally is a Yankee fan! Yankee Yipeee! *k Scott, oh Scott, he misses you. He hopes your surgery went well, Gilligan. *salutes*
Last June, in a humble town called Granger, Diane and Jessie Pratt live! They are farm-owners with so much blessings to share! A garden of organically grown vegetables, farm animals, barn and summer camp area. Diane’s fresh produce saved him for weeks! Well technically Diane planted those veggies and he just helped with the harvesting. What a healthy friendship they both have indeed, lol. Here, he experienced his very first bonfire and S’mores! Ooh the diabetes. Plus, horseback riding with Jessie one time! That was such a wonderful moment.
On the same month, Arc, Aya, Mary Grace and Claire visited a Dairy Milking Farm! It’s the Oak Knob Guernseys milking parlor and farm by Naomi Church. They visited a man-made waterfall in her territory, learned how guernsey cows are milked, cleaned, changed beds and even fed its calves too! Thanks Naomi, we all miss you at PP!
In the late week of July was the Norwegian Festival of Decorah, the nearest town 30 minutes from Cresco with a Walmart! Where Sara Hunter was too! Of course why wouldn’t she, she lives there. The interns have been there a gazillion times. The festival fed that astonishment in him, the wonder of how Spring parades usually go, how people clamor for showcases, presentations and performances of local friends and families. Booths were paraded along. Celebration was in the air! Happiness and joy overflowed his senses! It was marvelous! There were lots of sweets, candies and freebies thrown to onlookers and festival goers of both roadsides. Diabetes for the second time!
Yet the most anticipated plan he had with the other interns (Filipinos) from another program was their visit to the Lost Island Water Park in Waterloo, Iowa. The interns tried most, if not all, the water rides that almost shook their spirits away! Talk about throwing up food from the end part of digestion. Such exciting and mortifying leisure to remember! Nothing else to spend hot summer days!
On the first day of September, there was a Filipino Community gathering at Luana, Iowa. Here, he met a lot of Filipinos living in the northeast part of the state. They savored Filipino delicacies, especially the most coveted of every pork loving Filipino, a whole pig roasted on charcoal called Lechon! Oh yum yum plus the high blood pressure, hypertension, cholesterol, hahaha. They haven’t had such food for quite a while. Yet most importantly, they riveted lifelong stories, have-been-thrus and lessons from co-Filipinos residing not only in Iowa but from different regions of the States. Life here is so different from the Philippines, we ought to be thankful for things given.
Next stop was Mabel. This experience is rated R. Like, if you consider an all-time favorite country rock band performing in a huge tent over the weekend is, then yes! But it is for you yet all so jam of non-stop dancing & fun for him. You rock Troubleshooter!
Arc also visited a Casino at Marquette in the state of Wisconsin. Ate Hyrine gave him 10$ gamble money, they won 60$ more on the last slot machine right before they were about to leave! There was that prophetical moment that came to him at that time. That one middle slot machine was glowing in the dark. It was like the heavens opened its door through a slot machine. Because apparently the other machines on both sides were broken. But what a lucky shot! If you needed evidences, he threw it away though. Naaahhh
On Halloween, one of his co-workers invited them all interns to a Halloween Party! The spookiest yet most extravagantly prepared party ever! Decorations were in and out, and from the most intricate details to the bigger themes! Kudos Cathie Domenget for a very great job done and thanks for the party! As Becky says, you might have to do that to all new coming interns every year now, gosh, the horror. Arc is kidding.
The last State herein is Illinois. When Clarissa, Ate Julie’s daughter asked him for travel helps, which also coincidentally was on his off day, he dramatically said yes and went to experience Chicago! Oh how he misses the aura of a metro city. Buildings here and there, stores with shoppers, people walking perambulating everywhere. The essence of car sweeping engines, sulfur street lamps, shop windows, noise and crowd, smoke, uh, the beauty and terror at the same time.
Now lastly, the most recent place Arc will want to share of about was his visit to the Target Center in Minneapolis (he says the last because he is dead sleepy now!) To watch a basketball game in the US, which in the Philippines is mostly known as, the NBA Dream. That was Timberwolves VS Lakers! And Minnesota Timberwolves won by 27 points! Awoooo! Well, honestly, he just watched the first and last quarters, he went out in between to see the majestic prowess of Minneapolis, like, a quarter of a quarter of the whole metropolitan see. He didn’t wanna lose himself in his own reckless ability. He could be walking non-stop and next thing you know he’d be kicking empty tin cans on the street right next to your front lawn.
So most of which were those major places he was able to travel, experience culture and definitely gained new friends. This narrative can be stretched to a 100-page plus book in between but he’ll polish that for another time. Arc has experienced, learned, and lived for many much more moments in the 365 days he has had here in the United States of America. He laughed, cried, partied, drink, even fell in love and broke his own heart in his own stupid accord. Which can be a whole different story to write for. Huh, someday.
But surely, the lessons have made him stronger, knowledgeable and prepared for what life will always get to offer him. Now that he has just left, he sends his greatest appreciation to the people who made all things possible, especially to his program CAEP, and Mark too! And all the kindhearted people of PlantPeddler who he failed to mention but know who they are. His utmost gratitude and respect to his host, the Gooder family, Mike, Jon and Rachel for the kindest hearts he has ever seen in this world. Such friendships will last forever. Thank you.
This international agriculture exchange program will stay within his heart and will be cherished for eternity. When he was left alone for 4 months in the last quarter of 2018, he wondered about life and the most important thing that has happened to him in this journey was this:
“Finally, I found out and fully decided what career I will pursue in my life. An advocacy to Zero Hunger through sustainable agriculture. Now that I am on my last step on finally starting a whole new journey, I send you all the love a Filipino queer farmer can give. To invest more on this dream will be my next steps as I leave the US. Someday if God may bless me with success, I will look back and happily, see you all again.”
Most happy to be here,