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A house for Serena Dewakuku

cob and bottles

Today I saw this call for support and want to help spread the word.

In 2009 I had the great pleasure to go to Hopiland in Arizona and work with Lillian Hill and Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture to start the construction of a house for Lilian’s Mother Serena. I was touched by the community spirit and the strength of the cultural roots that we experienced there.

Lilian Hill from Hopi Tutskwa permaculture

Please consider supporting her and her community.

Serena Dewakuku cobbing

 

 

 

 

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Returning to Tamil Nadu

woman in field

You can’t really imagine India until you go there – that’s been told many times and it’s true.

As we’re preparing another natural building program for early 2014 in Kurumbupalayam village with Buddha Smiles, I respond to inquiries and will share some past impressions and info here.

The leaders of Buddha Smiles are inspiring change-makers and peace activists from the university in Delhi and Chennai.

I have been to the Workshop site 3 times so far. Each time the program was diverse, with teachers from different cultures and participants from all over the world.

The location is outside a small village called Kurumbupalayam, not far from Kanyambadi town. Villagers produce bricks and live very simply. The village is surrounded by farmland, where rice, millet and vegetables grow. People move around by bicycle, some by motorcycle and few by car. But buses are frequent and loud!

old man walking

Not at the school site though. It’s an oasis of quiet, really, except the sounds of the children. There is an operating elementary school appropriately called Garden of peace. Part of the land is covered with fields and of course buildings supporting a holistic education.

children at play copy

Our natural building program this time is going to build guest cabins, using a mix of natural building techniques.

I will be teaching and expect that others may join. In my workshops I hope to bring out everybody’s strength while allowing for their weaknesses too. So no anxiety around performance!

The day begins with yoga at dawn around 6 if you wish. Then tea/coffee and later, after some activity, a typical local breakfast. Food is vegetarian, south Indian- that means spicy! But there are usually some fresh milk-curds to cool it down.

Facilities are simple: during my last visit people slept in tent-like structures with platforms that were raised off the ground (that keeps bugs and moisture out.). You can use your own tent as well. Most importantly: bring a mosquito net.

It will be dry season, and nice temperatures in the mid-twenties, getting warmer toward February.

concert

 

This years program contains a field trip to hill tribes – I look forward to seeing traditional ways of life in the hills of Tamil Nadu. While this is an organized trip other possibilities exist:

Tiruvannamalai is in easy reach and worth a visit. It is known for its huge temples and several ashrams . Temples are a main attraction in  Tamil Nadu, and its well worth travelling around to visit some of the big sites.

And then there’s Auroville- you may have heard about its central temple or its ecological building courses. Auroville is an ecovillage made up of several pods of housing. Population mixed Tamil, German, and French mainly.

But back to the program. I’m not sure yet exactly which techniques we will use, but there will be a variety. The beauty of building with earth is that one can combine the methods easily and I will be teaching about what makes sense in the situation. I have experience in many climates now and we will be discussing this.

I intend to involve participants in creating the final workshop schedule, so that areas of special interest can be included by request and offerings from the group may find time.

You can expect natural home design, connection to Permaculture, how to build small, what to avoid, climate conscious design, earth building techniques, and local construction.

There will be hands-on work and lecture style presentations daily, as well as discussions and exchange. And free time for exploring, making friends and reflection.

I hope this helps you choose this program for your winter vacation- a true getaway with purpose!

Registration is open now: please email

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Carry water

 

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.

starting young

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.

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Sabbatical 1: El Camino de Santiago de Compostela

The best blog is the one I’m actually going to write- so here are some notes after walking from Burgos to Santiago between September 25 and October 15, 2011

1. Community:

I think in my mind I expected a “pilgrimage” to be a fairly lonely experience with little contact to anybody. That was corrected on day 1: we had casually met Sue from Toronto as we walked out of Burgos. A few miles down the road entering a small village where we hoped to have a break and some food we were greeted by her waiving to us from a cafe inviting us to join her and another friend. This is an attitude we would see frequently – peregrinos (pilgrims) inviting others to their table at restaurants and bars. There was always the option for solitude but also the possibility of connection.

 

2. Peregrino culture:

Very quickly after joining the walking ‘community’ the group behaviour becomes obvious:

a. People take their boots off anywhere- in restaurants, on park benches, in the lobby of an albergue. Often this is accompanied by some treatment of blisters etc.
b. Upon arrival at the albergue you set up your bed space with your sleeping bag etc and
c. proceed to take a shower. Refreshed you then
d. go to the washing station and wash your walking clothes (since you only have one set of clean clothes)
e. Take a rest after hanging the washed clothes
f. Do some journalling
g. Scout out the best place for pilgrim’s menu in the village and take in the sights, perhaps go for a beer
h. Optional visit to the local church and or pilgrim’s mass
i. Join other peregrino’s for dinner ca.7 pm (long before any locals look for food, but the albergue closes at 9 or 10)
j. Full and tired go to bed at 9
k. Wake up early- if you’re the very early type you best learn how to do your packing very quietly
l. Leave the albergue before daybreak to get a good start on the walk and better chances at a bed at the next location
m. Wish everyone ‘Buen Camino’ as you pass them – also allow people to pass and exchange a greeting
n. Peregrinos loose all good habits when it comes to traffic: they wander all over the road, pay little attention to vehicles…

     

    3. It’s Peace making in its own way:

    The common goal of  ‘doing the camino’ gives a connection point that removes differences of status or other background. We are all pilgrims at this time. We talk to each other in many languages (with more or less skill) laugh and cry, struggle with our bodies, our backpacks and our minds. And we practice tolerance when we get frustrated about the behaviour of others (snoring, zipping bags, flashlights at 4 am etc) . Men and women share sleeping rooms and bathrooms, and we have to give space by turning our glance at times.

     

    4. Pushing my limits

    I never thought of myself as a hiker, and before this a 6 km walk seemed like a daunting exercise. Now when we look at 15 km I think “that’s just 3 hrs” and I feel quite able to do 25. Walking has become a serious mode of transport and is in fact a very pleasant way to explore places ( I knew that for visiting towns but hadn’t considered it for longer distances).

     

    5. Simplicity

    All there is to do is walk: Follow the yellow arrows and the sign of the shell and you will get there.

    Getting dressed is pretty simple too: One spare set of clothing and perhaps something in the morning to offer some warmth.

     

    6. Other Highlights:

    • The rich textured stone walls along the path and in the villages
    • The sound of Church bells and birds
    • Regional foods: ham in many varieties, Cheeses and Wine
    • The City of Leon
    • Stork’s nests everywhere
    • The changing colours of Earth
    • Harvest time and trailside gifts of food: figs, apples, pears and grapes

     

     

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    Leaving O.U.R. Ecovillage

    

    When I first came to O.U.R. I was just establishing myself as a natural builder. I was living in Courtenay and worked a lot with Cobworks on Mayne Island during the summer. OUR was in its first years of establishing vision and zoning and every time I was there I saw a group of people in meetings all morning and then in work parties all afternoon.

    Little did I know that I would be one of the people in the meetings a few years later.

    My interest was to promote and teach cob and Natural building. I had not spent much time thinking about community and didn’t see myself as a community member.

    As my relationship with O.U.R. became more familiar , Brandy and I talked about hosting a longer building program every year. We started with a program we called Plan B : Practical Leadership and Natural Building.

    Preparation for this was the design of the Healing Sanctuary: a process of community inquiry into needs and wants and a design that would make sense of all the ideas.

    This building was much larger than others I had built and none of us really knew what we were getting into when we started into the season. We knew we wanted to build a stone foundation, cob and straw bale walls and a living roof. We also knew that for permit things would be better with a post and beam structure.

     

    As for the program I learned a lot about group dynamics, leadership and communication. We had a few wonderful support staff who kept breaking up tense energy when needed and brought in fun and lots of heart.

    Everybody camped on the land (this was and still is typical for most natural building projects) and shared meals. We shared our knowledge in “each one teach one’s”, started our days with yoga, and struggled together as we built the massive foundation walls, log post and beam and cobbed and built bales through the summer.

    When the program finished we wrapped up the building site and made plans for the next season.

    So it came to be that O.U.R. Ecovillage now has several natural buildings, built in summer programs by a temporary learning community.

     

    When the second season came along I decided to participate more in the “community” piece realizing that I quite enjoyed the processes and times spent together. The core group was small then and the idea was that more committed folks would join to hold this dream together. This is where I began to learn the art of “holding space”. I have since come to appreciate that this is key to the success of the programs and it is something that doesn’t fit a job description. It’s energy, synergy, and it comes from intention and attention to each other as we relate to the whole.

    Most importantly it takes time.

    As we developed more facilities OUR garden also became the focus of a learning program that was somewhat parallel to the building. We called our programs “skillbuilders” from then on:  either Natural building or Sustainable Food production Skillbuilder. The number of people on site in the summer kept rising and each year we added a few more events that became regular occurrences in our annual cycle.

    All along Brandy tirelessly built relationships with funders and successfully landed grant money for most programs. We sometimes held our breath when signing large contracts: can we really pull it off?

    We laughed and cried, problem solved, went through endless cycles of norming, forming and storming always thinking that we would finally end up just performing. Ha! That’s not how it works though and what we did learn is to expect the ups and downs and ride them with more grace.

     

    As I write this I am acutely aware that I learn most when in contact with others. The deeper the connection, the more vulnerable we become, the bigger the learning and the more I feel a sense of belonging.

    O.U.R. Ecovillage, especially the people at the heart, have seen me through my cycles of growth, challenged my sense of what’s possible over and over again, and in the end I now operate from “WE” more than from “I”. As I step away I wish to express deep gratitude for all the subtle shifts in my being that living in community caused. I am more open and more whole as a person.

    My work here has been fulfilling and rich, challenging and rewarding on so many levels. I am honored by the trust invested in me over the years and I am proud of the accomplishments we share. My heart is imprinted in the earthen walls all around here and I hope that this body of work will continue to inspire the future buildings for the village.

     

    May the voices around the commons be joyful, may your steps be light and bouncy and may your circles be deep and warm.