101 Days, 101 Strangers, 101 Stories: Day 45

So there’s this girl who I’ve seen around campus over the last couple of years. She has a great sense of style and a calm charisma that I’ve noticed without ever even having had a conversation with her. She’s friends with some of my friends but I’d never actually taken a moment to introduce myself.

So today I did. She lives in my building so I knocked on her door and said “hey”. She welcomed me in even though she was cooking dinner — daal curry, to be precise. Her name is Mahin and she is my stranger of the day.

I was enchanted by the way she’d decorated her apartment. She had Picasso paintings up in a kind of haphazard yet still put-together kind of way… not up on the walls, but on the cupboards. “I figured I’m always facing the cupboards when I’m cooking, so it made sense”. When I decorate, I exclusively consider the walls as creative territory. I appreciated her out-of-box mind.

Mahin grew up in Toronto but spent five years living in Malawi — her dad’s home country. It’s where she considers home. She spent a few of her formative years there and felt so captivated by its beauty.

She’s studying global resource systems in the land and food systems department at UBC. She’s specializing in sustainable food and agricultural practices. People would ask her if she knew where her food came from and it irked her when she realized that, a lot of the time, she didn’t. She explained that knowing where your food comes from, and where the roots of your nourishment originate, is integral to living a healthy, environmentally/socially sustainable lifestyle.

Appropriately, she’s been interning with a program called SOYL (Sustainable Opportunities for Youth Leadership) that helps build and sustain high school community gardens. There, they harvest and learn about their food.

“We had a market today”, she told me, excited. The students were selling the vegetables they’d grown in their school farms at the university.

“Want to try something?” she asked.

“Always”.

Mahin disappeared around the corner for a moment and came back with a leaf of arugula and a baby cucumber. We split the cucumber and I must say, it was delicious. She also had a sunflower on hand from the market today:

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I think the work that she does is incredibly important. In a space where food has become so readily available, a space where we can literally feed ourselves without ever knowing where our food is grown and harvested, it is more important than ever to ground ourselves and learn more about our food.

I asked her what her advice would be for a group of people yearning to live a good life. She paused for a few moments, making sure to be as thoughtful and true as she could be. “I know it’s a cliché”, she said, “but balance”. The way she explained it was beautifully unique and far from cliché. She told me about how sometimes, she can feel something is a little bit off. When she feels this way, she takes a step back to reflect on what’s missing. And every time, she said, the feeling stems from having something missing from a balanced lifestyle. “Sometimes I realize I’m not exercising enough, or that I’m not making enough time for creative juice stuff”, her remedy for which is a paint brush or an instrument. And then, after checking in with herself to see what’s missing, her mind quiets and her balance is restored. When her lifestyle is off balance, she explained, it can feel frustrating and complex. But the solution is always really simple, and taking the time to reflect always leads her to the answer.

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