There are some amazing things happening in this country that tend to be overshadowed by all of the death and violence and fences and bomb threats, things that would have been unimaginable even 10 or 15 years ago in the West. I had the good fortune of experiencing one of these amazing things, and you're looking at it right now. This is a mud hut built on a Permaculture farm in the middle of the Negev Desert. Yes, a Permaculture farm in the desert. This place has been in action for 20 years and self-sufficient for 12. The notion of sustainable and ethical agriculture and energy has really only been inside the mainstream for a few years back in Canada at least as far as I know-perhaps it's not even really permeating mainstream consciousness yet and I am projecting, perhaps it's been going on for a while and despite my position in the Academic world and surrounded for years by Hippies, Lefties, radicals and the occasional dude who wants to go blow up a dam to make a point, I still wasn't aware of it...
This farm was actually a living and breathing example of what can be done to an environment without actually impacting that environment. Everything grown there can be eaten, and everything that's eaten goes right back into the earth-yup that's right, compost toilets, worm colonies, and no pesticides anywhere. Adding to it is the giant row of solar panels collecting the powerful desert rays which are used to power not just this little farm, but also the neighboring Moshav. Instead of going off grid, which I assumed was the plan, the grid was reversed, one of the ways the farm is able to support itself, especially during the hot summer months when this surprisingly lush green space turns into a dust-bowl and there are no crops to be sold.
In about three months, the only viable plant life will be the cacti in the distance. The weeds, flowers, shrubs and crops will all come back again in the winter, but this really is a farm in the desert. I look forward to a return visit when there is nothing but sand and dust (and mud huts!)
They also had an extensive greenhouse set up, planter boxes that doubled as composters to make the most of limited space and designed to leave as little of a footprint as possible, and the best part of all is that with all of this organic material being contained in one space, it smelled a lot better than I was expecting! Really, it mostly just smelled like hippie, and not even the pretentious western bourgie-hippie smell (patchouli and weed mixed with organic deodorant), but just the musk of people who work outside and don't really care what the rest of the world thinks. It was a truly incredible use of space and place to provide for both the land and the people living on it, a sign that better ways of looking at consumption patterns and environmental impact are possible, without resorting to Derrick Jensen-like strategies that tend to advocate blowing stuff up. I know of a few places like this back in Canada, and have a close friend who wants to create such a space as well, and upon seeing such a community in action, I understand how viable Permaculture can be. I am not trying to use this blog to advocate for a drastic return to an
anarcho-primitivist lifestyle but there is something to be said for
knowing that you can eat everything around you, that weeds have a
purpose often forgotten in the western world, and that other plant-life
in the same families can be located and planted, knowing that the
growing conditions will actually work. After the shock of spending a month living with checkpoints and guns in a land that seemed harsh, unforgiving and insular, this was a welcome respite.
I should follow up about my new neighbours in my ongoing quest for cultural exchange. There is truly something to be said for the idea of Arab hospitality, and my Druze friends made a point of making sure I know it. Every time I see any of them, they always seem to want me to feel welcome here on their floor, in their home, inviting me over to visit with them and never shying away from talking politics with me. I've spent more time with them in the last little while, but it wasn't easy for me to do. Even as recently as two days ago I was feeling somewhat agoraphobic, to the point that when my neighbours had friends over and got really loud, I would hide in my room. All the shouting in Arabic got to me, not because it was Arabic, but because it reinforced my own otherness, my perceived inability to communicate, and therefore not really be a part of the community. I know I should be using these moments as opportunities both for research and, more importantly, to get to know my new community better, yet I struggled with the courage to do so. When it would be small gatherings or chats with 1 or 2 people, I would be fine, but once it turned into groups of 4 or more watching soccer and getting rowdy, I tended to retreat to my room. Being Jewish, White, and foreign living in their space sometimes makes me feel like a post-colonial jerk. I know these feelings are entirely in my own head and not real, yet they do exist. I usually don't avoid these sorts of issues unless I am forced to the outside, such as an experience I had at a conference when my whiteness, heterosexuality and masculinity were the direct causes of my removal from the organization's annual general meeting, but it is a different experience for me here. I was removing myself rather than being forced to the margins by external forces, hardly my standard practice...and yet...
The good news is that I broke my own barriers last night and watched FC Barcelona, the football team of choice on this floor, absolutely crush Leverkusen with a fairly large group. There is something about sports that seems to be a strangely universal mode of communal bonding. This went beyond nationalism or religion and into something deeper, more visceral, almost base level. Sure we have our national and regional rivalries like the Battle of Alberta or The Old Firm, but there was something remarkably different about watching a Spanish club taking on a German club in a Champion's League match, while listening to the play-by-play in Arabic. It was such a profoundly social experience that cut across so many cultural divides, moments of shared joy in 3 different languages creating new bonds of affinity. Tonight I am going to use my trusty Game-center PVR and record the Oilers/Leafs game. Tomorrow my neighbours will watch their very first hockey game. Win or lose, I hope it will be an experience my new friends will remember.