One of the things we didn’t realise about ECOlonie before arriving was the no mobile phone rule. The site is free from radiation so there is also no wifi and I had an interesting talk with one long-term volunteer, Robin, about it all. Robin holds the magic bit of equipment which can tell if a mobile phone is not in flight mode, it also shows him what model the phone is and if he spots one he follows it up right away. Robin used to work in ICT before coming to ECOlonie and is in charge of most of the technical stuff here. The ‘free from radiation’ rule was one of the reasons he chose to go to ECOlonie, after years of working with computers and technology he began to notice the effect the radiation was having on him. I don’t totally understand everything he told me, because I know diddly squat about technology really, but basically he started to notice he was having difficulty concentrating and would feel a difference in his energy when he was in a room with a lot of computers… which I can definitely relate to. He talked about how people have all these different ways to communicate nowadays and yet people seem to be getting worse at making and keeping appointments – maybe partly due to the fact that it easier to cancel an appointment at the last minute, via text, phone, email… and all the other ways you can communicate via your mobile. And there’s been so many changes and advances in the world of technology in such a short space of time that how on earth can evolution keep up? As Robin said, perhaps in a hundred or a thousand years the human body will have adapted to cope, but so much has changed in the last ten years and no animal has ever adapted that quickly before.
Anyway, it’s quite nice to not hear mobiles ringing every two seconds and not to be surrounded by people texting or tweeting or whatever. I think I’d have to be in this new radiation free environment for longer to really comment on the difference its made to my personal energy, but I have noticed that the only time I’ve even slightly got a headache whilst being here is after using my computer. When usually, I get headaches on a pretty regular basis. Of course, you could argue that I should just wear my bloody glasses more often.
I had a few too many days of cleaning in a row at the beginning of the week… the weather hadn’t been great so they were getting some inside jobs – which tend to be cleaning of some sort – out of the way and leaving a lot of the gardening jobs for the nicer weather. At the beginning of a big cleaning job I tend to feel a little sulky, ‘I thought I was coming to an eco-community not a freakin’ cleaning academy’ etc… but by the afternoon, or when the end is in sight, I really get into it. It’s not like we’re ‘working for the man’, sweating in a wetherspoons kitchen for minimum wage… even whatever little cleaning job we’re doing is contributing towards the bigger picture of this incredible community where money is obsolete and people are truly connecting with nature, themselves and with each other. Also, the longer I’m here, the more I get what the residents mean when they describe what we’re doing as participating, rather than volunteering.
To be honest, its the same when I am cleaning up my own mess at home… it’s the thought of doing the cleaning, rather than the actual cleaning itself which is the horrible thing. Once I get started, I quite enjoy it, and finishing a cleaning or tidying job is a great feeling. Cleaning really is one of the most therapeutic things to do (of course, having music on and/or good company helps a lot) and I truly think cleaning up your own mess is good for the soul. I can’t imagine ever feeling comfortable with the idea of having a cleaner. I think it’s good for a human being to clean up after themselves… it’s such a warped society we live in that if we want something done, we get somebody to do it for us. Why can’t we do anything ourselves any more? It’s embarrassing.
Of course, not everything is perfect here all the time. How could it be with 50+ people living and working here? In the nine days we’ve been here, we’ve actually witnessed somebody arriving, ruffling a few feathers and eventually being asked to leave. The lady in question, a thirty-five year old Dutch woman, arrived on the same day as us and immediately began to rub people up the wrong way. She was repeatedly late to her working shifts, was overly tactile and eager to talk about tantric sex with strangers, very much enjoyed the sound of her own voice talking about her own life and agenda… etc. She just didn’t seem to fit in with the rhythm of the place, or the people here. Although, as somebody said at the camp fire the other night… in some ways it shouldn’t really matter if somebody is late to their working shift because there is always somebody around who can help out and things will get done. Of course, I guess the worry is that if one person is late than everyone will start being late because hey, sleeping late is nice sometimes. But if everybody is truly participating towards the same end-goal of a successful, sustainable community then it shouldn’t really be a problem because everybody should want to be ‘working’ in order to keep living their life in this way.
The thing that is a real shame about this place is the separation of the residents and the volunteers and the hierarchy that is more apparent some days than others. With the exception of one resident who often sits with a table of volunteers at meal times etc and really socialises, the rest of them do keep themselves very separate. I still couldn’t name all the residents or probably even point them out in a line up. There is a real community atmosphere, of course, but it is amongst the volunteers. And there are rules, some much like being in ‘real-life’ employment. There is a definite structure that the residents tend to be very determined to stick to. But all of this is more understandable when you hear more about ECOlonie’s past. The group of residents there at the moment are the second group who came when the place was about to go bankrupt and introduced the idea of having paying guests in order to save it, and it worked. If they hadn’t introduced the guests then it wouldn’t still be going. But things are starting to change… All of a sudden, the participants (volunteers) are staying for longer and longer, and also they are getting younger and younger. I’ve had a lot of talks about this and many people think it is down to ‘the awakening’ happening in society – more and more people are beginning to realise that the system isn’t working and are looking for an alternative. Now, there are so many long-term participants that having guests seems quite unnecessary. Also, the long-term participants are starting to break out from the structure put in place by the residents, but in a positive way. For example, the group of people we spent a lot of time with, from ‘the smokers bench’ (not all smokers, but just a group of people who share similar attitudes) have an informal agreement that if one of them is on the washing up rota that night, then they all will help to make the it quicker. Of course, this means they are washing up most, or all, nights of the week because there’s about eight to twelve people in this group… but it also means that sometimes the washing up takes fifteen minutes instead of an hour. This attitude continues with any tasks that people need help with or that would be easier with more people than may have been assigned to do it on the rota. And the more this continues, the less need there will be for a structure of any kind because people will just be doing what needs to be done because they want to help each other.
It was glorious sunshine for our last few days at ECOlonie and I spent a lot of time in the gardens, bare foot, weeding, planting and talking about everything and anything with volunteers from the age of fifteen to sixty. One morning task which I particularly enjoyed was collecting the slugs. With a jar and a spoon, I walked softly around the garden getting soil in my toe nails and collecting up every slug I spotted. A few people did this every morning, and it’s a great job to start the day with. When all the slugs are collected, they’re taken to the woods to a banquet of never-ending weeds and grass.
It would have been so easy to stay at ECOlonie forever. You can easily live a moneyless life there as a participant, and many do… although I think they are planning on introducing a pocket money system for long-term participants who have been there over a year. The longer your there, the more long-term tasks you’ll get, and you can also begin to specialise in a particular area. I can’t wait to go back and stay for much longer, but right now we have other places to explore…
We had long ol’ journey to our next adventure, including an overnight train from Paris to Toulouse full of starey french men. We arrived in Toulouse grumpy, exhausted, wishing we were back at ECOlonie and with ten hours to kill. We cheered up after several coffees, and finding somewhere to leave our luggage and actually had a lovely day. Toulouse is really beautiful in parts (though not in the part where the train station was… that area seemed to consist of sex shops, terrible buskers playing nothing but scales on various out-of-tune instruments, kebab shops and really unsubtle drug deals…) and we found a really beautiful park/public garden, got an icecream and watched peacocks for a while. The weather was beautiful and in the afternoon we found a little outdoor gig going on and treated ourself to a meal and a beer within ear-shot of the bands.
We arrived at Pierlo’s house near Capvern in the French Pyrenees on Sunday evening and him, his wife Sandrine and their two children seem like the most lovely people to stay with. I say ‘seem like’ because ohhh we’re really in France now and wishing we’d got on that French learning! Thankfully, Pierlo’s pretty good at English and it’s all been fine with instructions for the work – and general conversation – so far. But we’re feeling pretty guilty and very English. We’re here to learn about straw-bale building as they’re building their family home from straw-bales and other ecological methods. We’ll also be doing a bit of gardening, which is awesome for me to even up my tan lines (it’s hot hot hot!), not so good for Matthew who’s suffering from terrible hay fever. But we spent most of the day in the house today and it was so super duper interesting… it’s amazing what you can make with straw, soil and “flour water”! I can’t wait to learn more. I have a lot to say already, but this blog post is way too long as it is, so I’ll post again soon.
Much love to everybody!