Sacred Seeds

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I’ve always loved gardening. Not in any specific way but more just digging in the ground, putting living things into the soil, talking to and watering plants and watching them grow. It’s amazing to me to put a little seed into the ground, nurture it, and then watch it become a huge plant in a short period of time. Since 2014 I’ve had what might be called an obsession with growing sunflowers in as many countries and states as possible.

The sunflowers that you see pictured here originated from plants grown at the Self-Realization Fellowship ashram in Encinitas, California, where my son Daniel was living as his first years as a monk. In June 2014 prior to going back to live in Nepal, I visited Daniel and he gave me seeds from some huge Russian Mammoth sunflower heads. I brought these to Nepal where I started working as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Phul Kumari Mahato Memorial Hospital (PKMMH) in Karjanha. I lived in the doctor’s quarters on the hospital grounds for one year from June 2014–May 2015. I grew many things as the land outside my front door was very fertile. One of the things I grew were sunflowers.

Karjanha is a rural village in which the main vocation is farming. The village center wasn’t much, a few shops, but one could get a haircut and shave for about 30 cents. (However, on the day that I arrived I went to a barber who, seeing this foreigner, wanted to charge me $4. We finally settled on $2.50. I’m sure that he had a great story to tell his family.) In the spring the Karjanha fields become an emerald green transformed into rice paddies. The fields were plowed by oxen and at times one could see people riding water buffalo throughout the village.

There was one “western style” market in Michiya, about 10 km from Karjanha. But people primarily shopped at “haat bazaars” or farmers’ markets twice per week. (A much larger market took place in Michiya and at times I would go there for a wider variety of products.) These took place in the village center with farmers putting down a blanket or plastic to display their fruits and vegetables on top of the bare dirt.

You could buy almost everything at the market: bangles, shampoo, plastic buckets, spices, and especially incredible fresh fruits and vegetables. Like farmers’ markets in the US the produce was limited to what was in season. I was able to buy the freshest mushrooms year-round as one of the villagers grew them. When I would go to his home, he would pick them in front of me. Given my passion for farmers’ markets it was always such a treat for me to walk down the paths accompanied by the many children who I befriended in Karjanha. Many times, they would negotiate for me as my Nepali, Hindi, and Methali skills were lacking.

Let me digress for a moment so that you understand how I came to be at PKMMH which started my love of sunflowers. From March 2009–February 2012 I was a Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) volunteer with the Government of India-Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment-National Trust in New Delhi. This was a great beginning to my overseas career.

I was going to continue to live in India after my VSO assignment ended and had applied for a working visa, as I had managed some consulting assignments. Returning to the US for some rest and applying for my visa, I was confident that I would once again live in India for many more years. However, my visa was denied. (At the time Indian professionals applying for US visas were being turned down. This is the only explanation I have as to why my visa was denied.) But I still wanted to continue living abroad.

Towards the end of 2011 I had spent a little bit of time with VSO Nepal in Kathmandu, primarily for Indian visa reasons. (I had to leave India for one day in order to renew my visa.) I thoroughly enjoyed my time, conducting a workshop for VSO Nepal staff and volunteers and doing some sight-seeing, with little idea that I would live in this country for four years.

Back in the States in March 2012, after my Indian visa had been denied, I wrote to VSO Nepal requesting them to find me an assignment, and they did with Community Self Reliance Centre (CSRC) in Kathmandu starting in June 2012. (CSRC worked throughout Nepal on the issue of land rights. I also did some marketing work for VSO Nepal.) This assignment ended in March 2014 but I wanted to continue living abroad.

I had mentioned to an Indian friend of mine, Pragya, that my VSO Nepal assignment would soon be ending but that I wanted to stay in the country. Pragya said that her best friend was the nephew of an Indian woman who was married to a very affluent Nepali (Upendra Mahato). This man had built a hospital in his home village of Karjanha, Siraha, and was also reported to be working on some community development issues.  (Besides PKMMH, which is named after his mother, Mr. Mahato also built a huge hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal Mediciti, and has plans to build more.) 

In late 2013 I went to what seemed to me a palace behind huge walls in Kathmandu. This had been one of the homes of a former king and was the Mahato’s Kathmandu home. After talking a little with Mr. Mahato’s wife, Dr. Samata, and at another meeting Mr. Mahato himself, it was decided that I should visit the village. I flew to Karjanha with Jugal, who was Mr. Mahato’s main assistant, and was immediately attracted to the village and the experience that this promised to be.

I wrote a proposal for developing an integrated development program in Karjanha. But, instead of being asked to implement this program, I was offered a job at the hospital. Granted I had never worked in a health care setting, but of course I said yes. I’m still not entirely sure why I was hired but it might have had to do with the fact that I was a white person from the US. Possibly Mr. Mahato thought that this would be an attraction for the village people to come to the hospital for services.


Between the doctor’s quarters and the hospital was a large open area that was mostly dirt. There were a few things growing on the property, including some guava trees. The Medical Director, Dr. Shah, who turned out to be very supportive and open to many of my ideas, was growing some vegetables and spices for his family. (Every so often Dr. Shah contacts me and says that PKMMH is still celebrating staff birthdays, something that I had suggested). I decided to dig up a bit of the dirt and demarcate a vegetable garden for myself.

I planted a few of Dan’s sunflower seeds along with lady finger (okra) seeds in some compost I had made and started growing. Things would appear out of the ground, but the sunflowers…they were just amazing! They grew to huge heights with full heads. Since I lived in the village for one year, I grew a few crops of sunflowers. Harvesting the seeds, I decided to save them and see how far and wide they could be planted.

I grew sunflowers in Kathmandu when I started working with CSCR again, as part of a World Jewish Relief job from mid-2015–August 2016. (Since CSRC was located in a residential area, I gave some seeds to the next-door neighbor. They had a basketball hoop and occasionally I would hang out with the children.) The seeds were also given to my friends in the Rasuwa District of Nepal who continue to grow them at bhumi ghar (land rights home). 

I brought the seeds back with me to the US when I returned in August 2016 to work in Tucson, Arizona. I planted some of these seeds in my landlord’s backyard and they grew, although much skinnier than in Nepal. I gave seeds to my friend Barry who was visiting from Hawaii and they’ve also been attempted in Japan. When I moved to Durham, North Carolina in March 2018, I planted seeds at my workplace, Bridge II Sports. I also gave some seeds to a friend in Massachusetts. Now living in Palm Desert, California I’ve also grown them here. (Some of the plants were cut by the gardener not realizing what they were, but after getting angry I planted more seeds.)

The original seeds have now been intermixed from the many places in which they’ve sprouted. I’ve also picked up seeds from other sunflowers that I’ve encountered on walks and wanderings

When I coached the Tucson Lobos Wheelchair Basketball Team for a short period of time in 2017, I gave them five seeds each, because that is the number of players that make up a team on the court at any one time during a basketball game. This is what I wrote to the players:

I’ve given you these seeds to nurture and grow. In 7–10 days, you will start to see the seedlings. By March or April, you should start to see flowers. They should be well taken care of with plenty of water and sun. I’ve also given you these seeds to show how taking care of something with  lots of nurturing can help a small seed with a black and white shell to turn into a magnificent flower of various shades of yellow which will produce even more seeds.

This is also about you and your goals, to help you spread your wings. In order for you to flourish you have to nurture yourself. That could mean education, good food, exercise, being with friends, and being ok with where your life is at, in this moment.

We are all on this journey together and it’s up to all of us to take care of ourselves and also one another. This will make the ’17-’18 Lobos season very successful!

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ursula K. LeGuin

I’ve never ceased to nurture my sunflowers, no matter where I’ve lived and what kind of soil I’ve had to plant the seeds in, no matter the climate or how busy I am. At times I’ve taken care of myself this way too, but at other times I’ve forgotten and not properly nurtured myself, worrying about today and the future.

But every time I see the green stalks rising, the leaves growing, and eventually the yellow petals and heads of the sunflowers rising high above, I’m reminded of how beautiful the world can be and what I need to do to take care of myself so that I may also grow into the potential that is awaiting me.


Position: Lover of Life-Change Agent

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