Posted by Bela Shah on Jul 2, 2013
I remember that particular Monday morning well. Having signed up for a new website dedicated to random kindness, I suddenly received an email which stated that my idea had won. My idea had... won?
Wait, were they talking about my idea for 'Green Smiles'?
Green Smiles had always seemed more like a wishful daydream, some sort of fantasy which was inspired by the lack of green in my neighborhood. I wanted to make the neighborhood more 'green' in the broadest sense of the word. For example, I wanted to plant pretty flowers and even herbs in the small patches near the trees. Perhaps even transform the larger and often messy plots of 'green' near the parking lots. Put up insect-hotels so that children (and adults too of course ;)) would be able to enjoy the sight of a pretty butterfly more often. Or look in wonder at a buzzing bee as it went about and visited the flowers. Perhaps we could even have a vegetable garden of some sorts. Share the crops during shared meals.
Having grown up in a rather green neighborhood, with our family having fruit trees and sharing its produce, I remembered only too well how much happiness could be inspired by all things 'green'.
But surely, those were my childhood memories. My aspirations for this neighborhood were nothing but daydreams from a shy student-girl who had just moved into a rather diverse lower-class neighborhood, right?
Well, they would not remain mere dreams for long if it was up to the writer of the email. The email stated that I would receive100 dollars to make my 'Green Smiles' project come true.
I reread that. Once. Twice. I remember being both enthusiastic and suspicious. Anxious even. Were these people serious? 100 dollars? For a random girl across the globe? Really?
But yes, these people seemed quite serious. And enthusiastic. And inspiring. The lovely woman whom had contacted me, explained more about the organization behind all of this. Again, the acts of random kindness. Paying it forward. All concepts which really appealed to me - and yet, it all still felt somewhat surreal.
The girl also put me into contact with yet another inspiring person - an artist who had already transformed his own neighborhood with the help of a communal garden.
Slowly but surely, my suspicion slipped and my enthusiasm grew even further. I contacted the principality about the possibilities, as well as several other organizations. I wanted to make sure that this would succeed and given my limited experience with organizing things like this (and admittedly, my shyness ;)) - I was hoping for some sound advice.
Advice aplenty! A lot of which entailed 'simply do it' - something which I would understand only later on in the process.
Some people told me they were willing to donate time, others donated some of their plant-seeds or even small seeds. In addition to the gifted greenery, I bought seeds of mixture bee-friendly flowers.
I planted all of them in small pots and the like on my rather humble balcony. Inspired by other promotional activities, we decided to gift a few of these flowers and other plants anonymously to people in the neighborhood - along with a tag to keep their eyes open and wait for a specific date on which more 'green surprises' might await them.
Because I wanted to make certain that I would not violate any laws, I kept on trying to contact the principality. However, this appeared to be more difficult than I had anticipated. When I finally managed to make an appointment, it was cancelled last moment. As was the second appointment.
However, time was running out. I had put a date on the little gift cards and even my younger sister would be there on the aforementioned date. In the end, I simply decided not to wait any longer. I sincerely doubted that the principality would mind us 'cleaning' up the local green and even adding to it.
So, here it was. Saturday. The day of days. My sister and I had already 'transformed' one of the empty patches near the trees with the help of some flowers. That day, I hoped to transform more patches with the help of some of my neighbors and make plans for further transformations.
While the turn-out was not quite as big as I had hoped, the two people who visited us near the 'transformed' patch were very enthusiastic about our idea. Two more patches were transformed - one now holds pumpkin-plants and yet another has several mint-varieties greening up the place. Still, the enthusiasm of other people seemed limited to helping that one day - or simply offering praise.
I was not sure what to make of it.
That was, until the next day. And the day after that. Because throughout the next week, I was approached by at least five people, asking me about the patches. Some of them admitted to having watched from their balconies - but not having dared to intervene or actually approach us back then - while others had seen me watering the patches.
They told me different things - some people told me how the colorful flowers made them smile while another woman shyly asked me if she could cut some of the mint (of course she could!). Another elderly lady - whom I had seen smiling from behind her window at us before - ultimately gestured for me to come over.
She asked me why I had done this - and once I explained her how I had always felt that 'green' had the potential to improve the lives of well, anyone really, she at first seemed taken aback and said simply nothing. In the end, she asked if I could perhaps transform one particular patch - one near her window. She told me she loved flowers as well - but due to her rheumatoid arthritis she was not able to maintain too many flowers herself.
She will be having her own custom-made patch this weekend. As well as some indoor-flowers, which a neighbor offered to maintain when she heard about the woman.
And then there is one of the neighborhood kids, a young girl, who has told me that she has named two of the bees already. Oh, and her mum and she are going to buy flowers for their balcony soon because she wants the bees to visit her at home as well.
While our neighborhood does not have the vegetable garden, which I wanted it to have - it already has more green. More smiling people. People talking to each other. And to the bees and the flowers.
Never mind my clumsy start. My nervousness about all of it. All of it disappears like snow on a sunny day when I hear the young girl sigh at my second failure to correctly identify 'Beatrix' - one of the bees. I had better pay attention, she tells me. And bring more flowers - because Beatrix wishes to bring some friends next time.
So thank you all. On behalf of the neighborhood, the flowers and of course, Beatrix.