Everyday actions are learned as we grow up, by observation, copying, failure, trying again and getting better little by little. Depending on our home place and culture of origin we learn very different skills: it may be using certain tools in the garden or on the farm, techniques for handwashing clothes, cleaning house even how to do shopping for food.
When, as an adult, you switch home place for a while and immerse yourself in a different culture its time to adapt and re-learn some things. This can be both challenging and very much fun.
A example is haggling over prices. In North America and Europe we are used to walking into a store or market and buying things at a fixed price. Here in Tanzania (and many other places of course)there are situations with fixed prices , such as supermarkets and larger stores, but in many places you have to negotiate for a good price. As visitors we first are given what we call “mzungu” prices: very much inflated and nothing a local would ever consider paying. So we haggle back and forth and sometimes leave without the item, otherwise having arrived at an agreeable price for both parties.
More recently I’ve been practicing carrying things on my head. Here we see young girls transporting buckets or sizeable bundles on their heads gracefully and without touching them with their hands.
I asked Saum to help me learn and she showed me to roll up a kanga and place it on my head which cushions and supports the bucket. The weight immediately settles the head and spine into a straight (strong) line. A little steadying by one arm holding the edge of the bucket helps me keep it there and prevents sudden movements. I have to learn to walk slowly and evenly, both strong and flexing all the time keeping a balance between the movement of my feet and legs and the slight movements of the water in the bucket.
years of practice
During a work party with my friends of the Twiga group we were carrying buckets of clay, and great excitement stirred, when I picked up a bucket too. It works much better than our way of carrying off centre and one-sided. Do try it sometime! I was most impressed by the older women in the group working tirelessly and powerfully.
Zaruna laying stone
While some of the group were digging and moving the clay, others were building the stone foundation for the small cob cabin that we are building here at Amarula Camp.
And like every good work party we had food together at the end. Happy about what we achieved and feeling good to be working together again.
Soon we will start cobbing- if you’re in Tanzania and looking to learn cob building, please contact me. There’s always room for help.
Cob week for the Natural Building Skillbuilders and we’ve been building a Root cellar for O.U.R.Ecovillage.
Cob is still my favorite way of building: I simply feel happy as soon as my hands get into it.
This time around we have high production energy on the site. The goal was to get these walls up by the end of Friday and it was done by lunchtime.
The cob was made up by a bobcat and the group is packing it onto the walls in tall lifts- following a technique that Gord Baird from eco-sense shared with us. This technique allowed us to finish the walls of the first room in 4 days- and that included our learning curve!
Now new terms like “Baird Cob” and “power lifts” are floating and once again we see how there’s always more to learn and try out.
We’re playing with some sculptural detail as well: gargoyles surround vent pipes, buttresses and more.
rammed earth tires
Located on a North Slope, we started with a rammed tire foundation and retaining wall against the slope. This building will be earth sheltered on the South Side, is shaded from the east and west and we’ll give it good overhangs on the exposed sides.
Once the walls are finished we plan to lay a reciprocal roof structure and build up a living roof for more protection from sun exposure.
Doors are big enough to bring a wheelbarrow in: we imagine sacks of potatoes, crates of Apples and plenty of other delicious produce from the garden to be kept here in the winter.
Summertime for a builder is high season at work. For many of us, however, summertime means time to travel, have a holiday, spend time at the beach with kids and so on. It is festival season, too, and around here one could make attending festivals a full-time occupation at this time of year.
I’m experiencing the cross-over of all these here at the village, and especially over the past couple of weeks.
We’ve had some fun times with our “Taste of Cob” running at the same time as a kids camp. Children as young as four learned to mix up clay, sand and straw into the material for sculpture, wall or bench.
Led by natural building interns, participants young and old happily danced in the mud, flipped tarps, spread clay slip onto dry cob and pushed it all together with their newly discovered thumb power.
At the same time Robert Laporte from Econest guided the Skillbuilders, continuing Natural Building Interns and visiting econest interns in a tour de force effort on erecting the second floor of Taj 2. We applaud everyone in that workshop for their determination and hard work.
And then a few days later its all done- the Skillbuilder program that is- 9 weeks of learning and living together, struggling with the challenges of group dynamics, feeling the highs and lows of community life, of creating a new self perhaps or a new vision for one-self. And the question arises: what now? How do we take the learning and integrate the experience.
And for me the question is up: How will we create next year’s program- what do we keep and what do we change? Every group is different and amazing. Our learning is ongoing as well as O.U.R.Ecovillage takes on this role of demonstration and education site more fully every year.
But as much as something is finished- we’re only in mid summer and so much more is coming up. So this weekend at the Duncan Folk Festival marks a welcome break for me with music and community connections.
And tomorrow is Monday and we’ll start with a check-in at 8 am in the Chillage.
“Have you heard about us before? ” this was the opening line for many conversations over the course of the Organic Islands Festival on the weekend. Cassandra (in the picture) and many of our interns spent their weekend time networking and introducing O.U.R. Ecovillage to curious visitors of our booth. We shared our ideas around natural building and food production, explained about zoning issues and ecovillage development, and made new connections in the community.
Our display showed ideas like “Lasagna gardening”, Seed balls, natural plaster samples and ingredients and offered a natural building “peep show” in a dome made to look like a cob oven.
The panel offered diverse approaches to reducing our carbon footprint from a building perspective. Alternative systems, woodland preservation, sustainable harvesting of lumber, natural building and the idea of the 100 Mile house were presented in short presentations by each of us and then questions from the crowd fielded. A juicy topic like this is hard to fit into a forum like this, so I invite you all to look for “Building as if People mattered” a one day conference in the Spring of 2011! All in all we had a good time and feel in good company among the many businesses and producers of “organic everything” . Join us this week for a “Taste of Cob” on Thursday or Friday : cobbing fun for the whole family.