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Spreading a Bad Seed - The Greed of Agri-Business



What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been

I can still remember the moment like it was yesterday. A Monsanto company representative called me to express displeasure at the story I had written about them smuggling genetically modified seeds into Zimbabwe. My hands were shaking as I hung up the phone and pondered my future life course, terrified that I would be sued, and mourning the fact that my journalism career would never thrive.

Then I was informed that an Abeja Hummel was out in the hallway waiting for me. I was convinced it was Monsanto stalking me. I marched to the hall and demanded that the three visitors leave if they were from Monsanto. They laughed and said, "No, we've been traveling all over Latin America. We know all about Monsanto. We want to talk to you about your article." I had lunch with these intriguing people and asked what they did. "We travel the world and write stories for a web site to educate kids." I was stunned. "No way! I want your job!" I told them. Thus began my incredible introduction to the Odyssey.


As I eagerly followed the World Trek's exploits in Iran and China, I always felt a twinge of envy when I read about all the cool stuff they had seen. When I got the email announcing that a US trek was forming, I knew that there was nothing else in the world I wanted to do but explore the country I call home and tell some of the overlooked stories of our history (and put my American Studies degree to good use). Now the trek is over, and I look back to that fateful day that occurred almost exactly two years ago. When I met the world trekkers in Africa, it was during one of the lowest days of my life and I can only express complete gratitude, wonderment and thanks for the journey I've been on since that day.


If you asked me what the US trek has meant to me and what I've experienced the past nine months, I think I would only give you a blank stare at the moment. I'll probably be processing my Odyssey experience for the rest of my life. When you're living the day-to-day life of a trekker, you don't have time to ponder the deeper meaning of what you're doing. You just want to find someplace to sleep and hopefully get your dispatch in on time! (I would now like to extend an official apology to Genesis, our beloved and much-abused web site manager, for the late deadlines and all the pain and suffering I caused him. You can administer your wet-noodle lashing to me anytime.) But as I write this, all alone while my trekmates snore in their beds, I say to myself, "What a long, strange, amazing trip it's been."


To the Ocean

I've been challenged in so many new ways. After initial nightmares and some patient counseling from poor Teddy, I learned how to drive a stick-shift. I learned how to camp for the first time (sort of, I let my trekmates do most of the work). used an outhouse (eek!), and developed an appreciation for being outdoors (though I must admit I still prefer room service and a hotel with cable). I bowled my first strike. I hiked through scenic trails and got blisters. I went rattlesnake hunting on the Oregon Trail with a guy named Gordon. I canoed the Missouri River. I ate my first bowl of gumbo. I learned, thanks to the long hours cooped up in the car, to appreciate music from Dar Williams, Ben Harper, Rah Digga, Dead Prez, Dixie Chicks, Indigenous, Tupac Shakur, Indigo Girls, Digable Planets, the Roots, OutKast, Woody Guthrie, Joni Mitchell, John Denver, Liz Phair and Ani DiFranco. I met students across the country who showed me that our youth are cooler and more "with it" than some people think.


Most of all, I got to spend the last nine months with nine of the most awesome, inspirational teammates you could ever imagine. In a world suffering from so much pain and injustice, my trekmates prove that it's possible to change the world one person at a time. What I learned from each of them is a priceless treasure that I can take to my grave. And a word about our founder Jeff Golden. Anyone who has ever had contact with him knows he's like a spiritual temple. You talk to him and feel cleansed and renewed. I wish everyone in the world could have the opportunity to meet and know him as we on the trek have been privileged to do. If we judged people in this world by how many hearts they touch instead of the amount of money they make, Jeff would replace Bill Gates as the richest man in the world, I believe.

Then there are the dispatches I wrote. I'll just recount some of the more memorable ones: Tears streamed down my face as I listened to Reverend Kyle talk about witnessing the death of Martin Luther King, who died trying to help garbage workers. I reached the Pacific Ocean and saw the same view that Lewis and Clark did almost two centuries ago. It took us a only a week to get there, while it took them two years. As Vietnam Vet Scott Camil described the atrocities he committed in Vietnam and his fierce opposition to mankind's use of war to solve conflict, I shared his passionate anger and anguish. I listened to a mother whose son faces an execution for a murder she believes he didn't commit. I spoke with a Yippie who levitated the Pentagon. I met too many Quakers with a conscience, not to mention all the countless activists, kick-butt teachers and kind people who let us into their homes.

Sometimes at the US trek, we are accused of being too negative, focusing on so much of the tragedy and flaws in a country that many consider the greatest nation on earth. To mangle a quote by Frederick Douglass, "He is a true patriot who does not excuse the sins of his country." It's because of the many people who fought and sometimes died in pursuit of fulfilling our credo "all men are created equal" that I have been able to have the opportunities I have had in my life, from attending the best college in the world, to going off as a single woman to Africa, to now traveling the U.S. at the age of 25. A generation ago, I'd have been married with two kids at this age instead of wandering the country on fifteen bucks a day. So with this privilege comes responsibility. I feel that it's now my turn to stop writing about history and begin making some of my own.

As my trekmates know, I have developed an unhealthy obsession with Bruce Springsteen. I've listened to his songs over and over on our long drives during the Trek. Springsteen has showed me that the ultimate heroes in our society are the ordinary Joes who live each day doing their jobs the best they can and raising their children in the best ways they know. As awed as I am by the people I have met who are devoted towards saving redwood trees, ending racial discrimination, and fighting for living wages for workers, I think I'm perhaps even more moved by the "average" Americans I encounter who struggle everyday to make ends meet and provide for their families. I'm thinking of the shuttle driver who drove me from the San Francisco airport to Berkeley who had quit his high-paying prestigious dot.com job to stay home with his three daughters. I remember the AAA tow truck guy who talked about how his wife just gave birth to their second child and how difficult it was to be away from his infant son because his job required such long hours away from home. I've listened to Nick and Teddy talk about the people they've met who just can't seem to get a break in life while I watch multibillionaire criminals get pardoned by the President.


I know that it's time for me to start fighting on behalf of the majority of Americans who are cynical and distrustful of a government they see as abandoning and neglecting their voices. That's the best way I know to show my love for this country. My hope is that you all find your passions and learn how to best contribute towards making our country and world a better place. And if the Odyssey helps you do that, then that's the greatest reward I can imagine. To quote Bruce Springsteen, in a song that sums up how I feel about the Odyssey crew and this place called America, "I believe in the love that you gave me, I believe in the hope that can save me, I believe in the faith, and I pray that some day it may raise me above these badlands."


Please email me at: irene@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Rebecca - Learning about life by living it - with gusto!
Daphne - The Odyssey Trek: A cult of the BEST kind!
Jennifer - To America the beautiful and the friendly
Neda - So what exactly is a "trekker" anyway?
Nick - Taking the road less traveled
Stephanie - Make the Trek part of who you are
Stephen - Have a little faith and it will get you through