other people - Home

Date: Thu, 06 Nov 2003 14:09:43 -0800
Subject: Communes, Morocco, and More...

Dear Friends,

Since I last wrote, two months have gone by. I found that I have gained a new magical power that has stayed with me during most of this time: when I arrive in a new place, the weather there changes drastically. When Jon and I drove through the national parks of BC and Alberta, six months of drought turned to rain. When I arrived in France, the European heat wave turned into a cold spell. In Spain, the dry turned wet - and much to my chagrin, the same thing happened when I drove through the Sahara desert two weeks ago! But this week, having returned to Spain, I am able to report with pleasure that I transformed the wettest October in recent memory into a bone-dry first week of November.
What will happen when I deplane in Moscow on Saturday? According to the Yahoo weather forecast, my arrival will mark the transition from cloudy and just over freezing to partly cloudy just under freezing. If this forecast is correct, I consider this minor change a sure sign that my powers are fading. Should I stick to writing or send in another tuition payment to the unaccredited Reich Weather Modification Program to renew my credential?

I have visited the following curious communities since leaving North America: Taize (France), Longo Mai (France), Falcon Blanco (Spain), and EcoForest (Spain). I will describe a few of my impressions from these places, and then conclude with some words about Morocco and upcoming adventures first in Moscow then back in the Americas.

Taize is a monastery for Christian monks (not necessarily Catholic) from many countries. It is several hours from Paris by high-speed rail. It is well-known for its style of worship (singing, singing, and more singing) and for the masses of people who make pilgrimage there - most of them in their early twenties. The advised length of visit is one week. I stayed five days and helped prepare dinner each night. The kitchen contained about 10 huge cooking kettles, each one large enough to prepare food for about 750 people.
Apparently sometimes they have to use all these kettles. When I was there, we had to use about half a kettle. We dumped in nasty bulk products into these kettles, and then later on smiled when we delivered the resulting "product." I met some great people at Taize. However, I was craving a more earthy kind of community experience interacting with healthy food and established community members. So I left two days earlier than I had originally planned, catching a ride to a commune in the south of France.

I arrived at Longo Mai and was greeted by "Salut" from a group of French cigarette smokers standing outside the dining hall. Longo Mai has a comparable population to Taize (about 100) but whereas the actual community members
(monks) at Taize are vastly outnumbered by visitors, the opposite is true at Longo Mai. Taize was the only monastery in this trip; the others are all standard communities. Longo Mai is actually a network of communities in France, Switzerland, and even one each in Ukraine and Costa Rica. I had found myself at the mother ship. Several people there (as later at Falcon Blanco) expressed bewilderment that I thought I could learn much about their community in one week or less. Having expressed it, they tried to prove that they were correct by being obstinate. Nevertheless, I found multiple other persons who engaged with me, despite the language issues. Longo Mai grows about half of its own food, including sheep, fowl, pigs, grain, vegetables. They live mostly in stone buildings put together out of the ruins of what stood there hundreds of years previously. They have an excellent operation. If you speak French, I recommend that you one day visit Longo Mai. Their main location near not far from Marseilles has hundreds of acres of beautiful land and great food and great people.

Here in Spain, I found two much smaller communities (both have 3 members, and both have 3 - 5 acres of land). On the Island of Ibiza lies Falcon Blanco. FB is some thirty or so years old and has the infrastructure matching its optimistic history. There is a swimming pool (unused), an impressive meditation dome (occasionally used), housing for 20 (mostly unused). The three current members (the German founder, and one each Spanish and American) seem to have two main focuses: turning trash into life, and pushing the bounds of "consciousness" in person and on the internet. Each day, one of the members drives into town and collects pallets and outdated food from a handful of grocery distributors on a route. The pallets are sorted (and often fixed) back at the property, and sold for income. The food is sorted and either eaten, fed to the many cats and dogs, or tossed on the compost pile. As far as describing their investigations into consciousness, I direct you to their website: falconblanco.com. As at Longo Mai, I really enjoyed my time there.

This morning was my last morning at ecoforest, the second of the communities I have visited in Spain. Again, the main language was English (UK English here). This is a much newer community and as such has much humbler semi-permanent dwellings than the others. The mission of ecoforest is to be a demonstration and education site for raw food and permaculture. It claims to be the one raw food community in Europe. For those of you who have not come across the raw food movement, let me briefly explain the main idea. A diet based on at least 50% raw food is healthier and feels better, but has to be tried to be experienced (a tough job when many of us are accustomed to the allure of prepared foods). So that´s the main idea as I see it, and it´s an idea I agree with. (I don´t necessarily go so far as ecoforest, where they figure that if lots of raw food is good, then a religious dedication to being "TOTALLY RAW" is even better.)

So, what´s the big idea with these communities, I hope you are asking. Number one, since you are on my mailing list, you probably suspect that the wealth of the developed world is often somehow a problem to world sustainability and human happiness. But what do we do about it? What I say is, we investigate our lifestyles and understand how much freedom we have in our everyday choices
- where to live, what to eat, what to buy. At these communities I am describing, people are living at a resource expenditure level that is roughly on par with the world average, not the developed world average. They are physically as healthy and happy, and moreso, compared to most people I know who live in bigger houses and consume more than their fair share of world
resources. These communities are some among the thousands worldwide where
people are learning how to cooperate, how to live healthily, making best use of modern technology but not enslaved to the use of it.

I have been to the third world. I know that if the borders were opened, two billion people would be headed to France, England, Switzerland, and the USA. I know that we have closed those borders to protect our resources. I used to drive a Range Rover and I used to live in a big house, for a while by myself.
That was before I saw the real people on the "other side" of the border. I am not committed to immediately reallocating my resources across those borders.
(I might be if on the other side, there was equality - but in those overexploited countries there is as much inequality in distribution of wealth as there is here, and any redistribution before they have ironed out there own issues is futile.) But I am committed to trying to live within my fair share of resources. And living in community is part of how that can be done.

We already have a lot of resource sharing - public transportation, libraries, ecological reserves. We have a lot to be proud of as developed society. But we have room to grow, and I invite you to be part of that new development. Of course, we are already all part of it and I´m not the party organizer so I have no right to invite you. But I´m doing it anyway because you trust me and value my insight into life. Next time you take a vacation, think about going to the third world. See the people on the other side of the fence. Then have a good think about your resource consumption. Then go visit some intentional communities. No obligation. Just go because I told you to. Tell me what you see there.

One thing that is happening at these intentional communities is the development of the skills of how people can get along with each other. It turns out that we have to figure out some complex interpersonal issues when we want to share limited resources. I owe a deep gratitude to the hundreds of years of collective ventures that have courageously taken temporary or permanent shape, including biological families as well as these more extended created families.
And it is on that heritage that I base my current projects. I believe the society of five centuries from now will likewise owe tremendous debts of gratitude to the work that the current 1% of the population is undertaking, living within their fair share of resources, striving to be ecologically and socially harmonious and sustainable.

Stepping off my soap box (for just a moment), let me tell you about in interesting reunion. Back when I was a student at Hampshire College, a friend of mine told me about one of her friends who was traveling through India on her own, volunteering. That person was Marjorie Singer. I immediately knew just from that story that something important would come from that story. Somehow it seemed to be a missing puzzle piece to help me see the alternatives to spending 30,000 USD a year on my "education." I wrote to Marjorie in India, and she wrote me back. One day, I hoped, I would be like Marjorie Singer, planning a trip, learning about the third world, combining education with life, taking responsibility for my own life.

That day came about five years later and I was also finally in India running to the toilet with dysentery. And yes now the puzzle pieces are falling together. I never got to travel with Marjorie, though I did meet her several times and we´re not in touch although in one way she will always be one of my most important teachers. But in another way I am Marjorie. And several weeks ago, I met someone else with a similar mission and dedication and this time I dropped everything and tagged along for ten days to see it from the outside.

I had met Manu, a social worker from Paris, en route as she was driving to Mali
- via Spain, Morocco, Moritagne. She didn´t seem to think her adventure was anything unusual. She had a GPS and a two-wheel-drive ´75 Citroen and was planning to go exploring through the desert on 4x4 trails in a third world country by herself or whoever would come along. And she didn´t think it was unusual. Well, rarely have I ever found myself the voice of "conservatism" but it happened here, where several times when I was clenching my teeth as we forded rivers and circumnavigated dunes. We met some village people and had bread and tea with them. Some of the village kids stole from out of the car (we still aren´t sure how) but when we found out things were missing, Manu turned the car around, headed back to the village, and got back almost every single item that had been taken. We ended up staying another night in the village and breaking the fast of the first day of Ramadan with a family there.
So it´s not exactly a reunion, but it was sure an adventure.

On February first, Manu starts work again in Paris. She has to decide whether to drive back through Algeria, or through Morocco again, or not at all. Do you have any tips on this? So far, no one has volunteered to do that trip with her... do you dare?? I will pass on any advice you send me. Also I set up an experimental "poll" for whether you think Manu should return through Algeria or not - if you want to participate, go to: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/peterchristopher-news/polls
(Let me issue my sincere apology for the emails that Yahoo sent out to you when I set up those polls. Bear with me please; I´ll try to get that under
control.) I´ll be sure to let you know in my next letter what path Manu chooses.

If you want to know what I consider to be a "higher-order" alternative to Burning Man, follow the path or Marjorie, Peter, Manu, and many others. Go to the third world, preferably alone, but in any case go, and engage with what you find. Of course that´s not the ultimate way to spend your time and money - I´ll let you know about that in upcoming years - but it´s a portal.

And finally as darkness falls here in Malaga, Spain, let me tell you about two upcoming events. One, I will be in Moscow teaching at an alternative school for two weeks, starting Monday. It is the School for Self-Determination, which supposedly has 1000 students who have the right to leave any class at any time. (I´m planning to teach English and swing-dancing.) Two, some friends and I are getting together this December for the first meeting of a group called living_our_dreams. I mentioned this group before - we have a yahoo email group where we send some messages. It is a group of social activists / ecological trailblazers. Some of us are considering founding a new community focused on healthy living. That will be one of the items for discussion when we meet in December (perhaps Dec 27-30 in Cleveland, York PA, or NYC). If you would like to know more, just ask.

Best wishes to everyone.
Peter Christopher
Malaga, Spain

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