Monday, February 07, 2005

Permaculture Community Restores Hope After World Social Forum

IPEP, Bagé, Brazil

The day the World Social Forum ends, a heavy rain falls on Porto Alegre. It is as if the city is cleansing itself of all the dust, sweat, commerce, and human drama it has endured. We say good-bye to our host and his family and friends and head to the Forum to meet up with the folks from IPEP (Institute of Permaculture and Ecovillages of the Pampas) who have invited us to their site.

We find the folks from IPEP huddled under their bamboo shelter, eating mangoes and starting a fire in a tiny cob oven. We approach them and ask for Guillerme, the person with whom we’ve had most contact. Bira, a wiry guy with blackened, calloused hands shoves two papayas and a knife at us and explains between spastic hand gestures and fits of laughter that the van is broken, we won’t leave until six , and we’d better eat something because we have a lot to do. We spend the rest of the day breaking down bamboo structures and stacking hay bales then race to the station to catch the bus to Bagé.

Six hours later we stumble into the open arms of Andreu and Cristiano, the IPEP residents who stayed home to care for the land. They welcome us with a warmth I’ve never experienced anywhere, showering us with hugs and kisses and babbling excitedly about how happy they are to receive us. Andreu leads us up two ladders to drop our packs in our loft, then insists we join everyone for tea and a midnight snack. When we finally crawl under our mosquito nets, we sleep like rocks.

In the morning, we awake and wander outside into a permaculture paradise. Though it's only three years old, IPEP has two completed earth houses and two more under construction; a lushous veggie and flower garden; composting toilets; a biodigester; an organic rice paddy that produces 800 kilos annually; fields of yucca, black beans, and other staple crops; and huge areas of regenerating native forest.

I spend the morning mulching a field with Joanna, a young woman from São Paulo who has come to visit her friend Jessica, who lives at IPEP and teaches yoga in Bagé. We exchange histories as we work and discover many similarities in our personal journeys and world views. As Joanna describes her academic migration from Economics to Psychology to wondering if any university program can teach her what she wants to learn, I nod continuously. Her eyes light up when in response to her intellectual journey I tell her it makes sense to me that studying economics would make her wonder how our brains could come up with a system that assigns a higher value to gold than the clean water and fresh air our lives depend on. She tells me most people are confused by her transition.

At lunch we gather around one long table, our plates heaped with rice, black beans, deep-fried polenta, arugula, cucumbers, carrots, beets and tomatoes – all grown on site, except for the tomatoes. Over our meal we discuss what we need to do to prepare for the week long, 100 person natural building course that begins in a few days. Some disagreements arise over how to prioritize chores and how many scoops of saw-dust should be tossed in the composting toilet after each use. But the arguments are more entertaining than divisive: Those in disagreement imitate one another, they make histerical facial expressions and bring up funny stories from the past to prove their points. In the end the room explodes into laughter, with everyone hooting and hugging and walking away shaking their heads. I try to imagine our world leaders resolving their differences this way- Bush cupping Hugo Chavez’s face in his hands and kissing his forehead between fits of giggles...

We have tons of work in very little time but our hosts insist that we find a nice place to relax after lunch. Andreu explains, “Now we rest. One hour. In Brazil we call this sesta. Then we work until
dinner”. We crawl into a hammock and nap until Joanna appears with a armful of burlap sacks and says (in English), “Come, we’re going to catch beans.”

We follow our hosts through the rice paddies, up the hill overlooking the earth houses. Along the way we stop to look at an area where they’ve planted avocados, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens beneath the native climax species. “We are showing that you don’t have to clear the forest to grow food,” explains Cristiano. “Most people here are too impatient to wait for this tree to grow fully and die back so they burn it down. It is uneccessary. If you wait for it to die back all the matter that it drops adds nutrients to the soil, helping the next cycle of life.”

Just past the forest garden Cristiano points out a gulch with hand-woven dams at 15 ft. intervals. “For erosion,” he tells us. “The previous owners mistreated this land. They cut down all the trees and grazed too many cows. So the rain causes a flood and it cuts this trench. We’ve planted species with strong root systems on both sides to prevent the banks from receeding further...and the corn in the gulch itself. The dams catch the soil, water, organic matter. And we eat the food.” Cristiano flashes us a smile that reaches from ear to ear. We respond with a thumbs up, a sign Brazilians use all the time to express both delight and gratitude.

We follow the property line to the upper fields. Hardly anthing grows on the neighbor’s side. There is only stubby grass and a shrinking, algae covered pond. Some cows stop grazing and stare at us. “They wish their owner did Permaculture,” someone says and everyone nods and laughs.

We harvest black beans until sunset. I do not think of what we are doing as work. We are amongst friends, sharing dreams of a sustainable future, exchanging stories, joking about Mayan calendar signs. At one point we ask one another’s ages. Everyone turns out to be between 22 and 24 years old. Andreu (who is somewhat easily excitable) raises his hands over his head and begins cheering, “Nossa generacion! Nossa generacion!” (our generation) His shouts make me feel ecstatic. They erase the saddness that the chaos and commercialism of the World Social Forum had left me feeling. Whereas the Social Forum made me doubt that another world is possible, watching my generation growing food, building earth houses, sharing meals, and resolving conflicts restored my hope.


4 Comments:

At 7:05 PM, Blogger kristen said...

hi, i am just looking at this site now, we met at the wsf, i'm kristen, we ate together and you attempted to coax me into coming to yoga a few days in a row, and i never came. strange world and time to be in, wanting to share that space with you, wanting to learn you (sarita, eh?) and what's dude's name (ethan?) more than i did. anyway, there's still future to connect in, now to connect in. i loved this entry. the place and home there sound so beautiful, i'm very grateful for your writing and also for them being there. i havent read other entries yet, only this one, dont know if more reading will happen this evening...i like hope. i like that feeling of wonder, and awe, and love in eachothers eyes! yes yes yes, i think it is not macro scale we need to work on now, but micro, our own lives, always being aware, networking and such, but changing ourselves, forming our own home families and living in our faith and for our own community stories to tell. i know this is not private email but i wonder anyway when you return to the usa? i'm going to be in alaska this summer, and possibly passing through the northwest on the way UP, wonder if we can share more then?
blessings to you both, love too,
kristen
sunseed@riseup.net

 
At 6:10 AM, Blogger jojobelo said...

sarita, ethan.. great couple..
how r u guys?

here is joana, we ´caught´some beans together in bage..

I really liked to read our bage experience, made me miss everything
even more

I am back in SP, looking for some people that try to work w/ permaculture inside this huge grey jungle

I´ve been to some houses, some of the people living there were in the WSF as well.. they have little plantations, biodigestor etc, interesting people, interesting houses..

I plan to start planting a kind of floresta agronoma in a farm here in SP, I´ll se what i can do
I´m looking for a guy called Pete Veb who gives courses about permaculture.. he lives close to the place where I am trying to plant what is good cause he can help me telling what can I try to grow, when, where etc.. all these journaslistics questions about the area

Let´s keep in touch
beijo
joAna

 
At 6:27 PM, Blogger Iza Firewall said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 2:17 AM, Blogger David Bartlett said...

Reading this really excites me, as my partner and I are leaving for Brazil in a couple of months time. We're on a bit of mission to meet and learn from people of our generation that want to create a different future....one that isn't far fetched....one that isn't "hard work", but instead one that is fulfilling.
Your story just makes me even more sure that we've chosen a good place to go.

We're starting in Sao Paulo, as a friend lives there and works at USP. We'll then be heading up to Bahia.
Both of us will be on tourist visas to start, but we're hoping to spend a good amount of time exploring permaculture and general Brazilian culture.
We both have English teaching qualifications.

Do you have any suggestions that might help us make the experience fairly smooth?

All the best from Durban, South Africa

 

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