In the middle of the hardest lock down measures in Spain our living community was invited to participate in an international project initiated by Global Ecovillage Network (GEN). Out of hundreds proposals and based on similar characteristics on our reality as a living community we where selected and linked to a project based in Nicaragua.
This is the story about a man who had never seen India and a story about a militant theologian and revolutionary and a story about two expats and their vision of community and a story about informal education, neoliberal hubris and the second sentence of thermodynamics.
It is also a story about the ability to relate, to bind, to be humble and to love.
Nicaragua is the land of a thousand volcanoes, a very fertile area between Honduras and Costa Rica, hard hit by Spanish and British colonialism, shaken by wars up to modern times and deeply divided in its camps: large landowners versus rural population, village versus city, poor versus rich. Like a sleeping magma chamber, Nicaragua is waiting for the outbreak of the next civil war in order to get rid of the tension of unresolved land ownership claims and yet only to pile up new suffering in its own history. There is a rural exodus, but at the same time there is also a great opportunity in this crisis. After the colonial rulers and the capital oligarchs came free thinkers, hippies and dropouts. But, as in modern Spain, there were also committed young people from the north who wanted to create a different, new reality for their families, children and themselves. Some came with weapons, others with ideas, some were interested in efficient harvesting, others in learning and sharing knowledge.
In a first video panel we exchanged some personal information and we dived into a brief conversation of what could be a real sustainable exchange between our two communities. We decided to explore the chance to route some knowledge about old Latin American native technologies back to its source, Terra Preta in combination with our infrastructure project in the art camp, which is part of the color garden in Cervera del Maestre.
To enjoy more lets step back a bit and have a look how the universe had put together this story inside of the story inside of the story.
In July 1502, on his fourth voyage, Christopher Columbus became the first European to set foot on the soil in this area. More interested in the sea route to India, he did not subdue the indigenous people. Gil Gonzalez caught up with that twenty years later and many indigenous people ended up as slaves in the mines of Peru.
The immeasurable accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few was initiated by the hunger for gold in the ancient world. Enslavement as a means of efficient exploitation of natural resources required the intellectual idea of races and their differences, followed by their evaluation. What the mounted Europeans began, the ore, oil and finance barons completed in modern times. They left behind a severely decimated indigenous population and drove the impoverished farm workers to the metropolises to find cheap jobs in their factories and to service themselves.
Of course there have been riots to counter this blatant injustice, but as always, counter-violence is only a link in a chain of violence. After the large landowners were driven to the beaches of Miami, the land was given to the rural population without formal legal protection in land register titles. In the following counter-revolution, thanks to the corrupt judiciary, many won back their lands and the question of land ownership still hangs over the people like a sword of Damocles.
When the Portuguese under a Spanish flag set foot on the bottom of Nicaragua on the Rio San Juan, the geography appeared to be a hindrance when looking for the sea route to India. The Spanish crown recognized the potential of cheap labor all the more. The monk Bartolomé de Las Casas estimated the total population in 1552 to be less than 5,000, the rest of them had been expelled or murdered in barely 50 years in the slavery abroad. Imperial America also enjoyed the instability on its own doorstep and intervened as early as 1927. As so often, they installed Varsallen, in this case Anastasio Somoza. He invited his enemies to the last supper (1934-02-21) and put himself to power in 1937 against his uncle, whom he himself installed as president. The Somoza clan was to dominate the country for 42 years and even take advantage of natural disasters to enrich themselves. Even a murderous poet could not avert this. Cotton, gold and silver mines, felling of precious wood.
As strong as the pendulum swung to the right, it also picked up speed on the way to the left. The Sandinista under Ortega tried it with education, elevated Ernesto Cardenal to the position of minister of education and also used women’s rights as a unifying force. But they too were subject to the hubris of knowing better than their own people. What began with a forced relocation of 8,500 Miskito Indians ended with another exodus abroad. While the rich indulged in the villas on the beach in Miami, the poor decided to flee to neighboring Honduras or hired themselves out as illegals in the meat factories and plantations of the southern states of America.
Thomas Müntzer, qui pro veritate militat in mundoA monk acknowledges his last sold in Zwickau
History has not only divided the population in their earthly values. The argument about true faith broke out in heaven too. So Nicaragua repeated what happened 500 years earlier in the county of Stolberg (Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation). While Columbus was looking up the Rio de San Juan, the theologian and reformer in Luther fan Müntzer stood in his print shop and sank about the syntax in high pressure to spread and implement his ideas, the dissolution of monasteries, space for the homeless, the dissolution of privileges for the nobility. From the pulpit of the Marienkirche, a church in Mühlhausen he led the peasants to the gates of Frankenhausen (old german cities), where they had their lives, he lost his and his head, first tortured and then beheaded in May 1525.
Before that, after studying for a long time, he had received his ordination, probably also because he was teaching as an assistant teacher in Halle an der Saale.
The Catholic Church had also lost ground in Nicaragua, with only 47% now professing this belief. Many free church initiatives share the task of getting their message across the majority. Again and again intellectuals got involved in politics and tried out their visions of a different Nicaragua, displaced by violence and arguments, in social projects. The Casas de los tres mundos, a book bus with literature by Berthold Brecht and the Musica en los Barrios are just examples.
The Global Ecovillage Network has now brought the community Nuestra finca sagrada from Nicaragua together with ours in Europe. Both are initiated by expats. Both are small, are preparing for new communards, relying on education and sharing, on closeness to nature and sustainable development, insofar as people can have a lasting effect at all.
Both prefer to recycle rather than buy, both want to combine country life with nature experience. Both share a desire for delicious, valuable and healthy food.
An both are sharing a more holistic way of seeing the world.
In the original Latin American communities, it was customary to pay tribute to the host after being invited to a meal together. With respect for the food served, one visited the host’s toilet after the meal to leave something valuable. The manure was covered with earth and pieces of coal and kept in clay pots in the absence of air for several months and then applied as black earth to the fields as fertilizer. The compost of the Incas still works today. The anaerobic bacteria find a safe habitat in the coal and in their fermentation process they digest and upcycle them over many years. What the indigenous people anchored in their culture was lost in Western societies. FamiliaFeliz has brought this knowledge back and has gained initial experience in the construction and operation of dry toilets in recent years.
Ironically, a high school from Halle, named after the theologian and revolutionary Müntzer, provided the opportunity to build two more toilets. As part of a new infrastructure for visitor groups of up to 60 people, in addition to showers, washing facilities and cooking areas, toilet houses were also built from old pallet timber.
Four concrete blocks and a wooden pallet form the basis. A wooden box was screwed onto it and a concrete slab in the front part (entrance) to weigh down the construction (wind, storm). The concrete blocks promote rapid drying of the cheap wood and prevent termite infestation.
The walls and roof are also made of pallet wood and a roof with tar paper protects the interior a little from rain.
A toilet seat is screwed onto the wooden box. Next to it there is an opening to make the earth coal mix accessible to cover. Feces, earth and coal are collected in hermetically sealed metal buckets, as is the paper. A urine trap allows the liquid to be drained into a tank, which is also fed by shower water and wash basin. This urine-water mixture is used to irrigate the terraces further down.
After we presented the infrastructure to the students, they decided to divide the toilets according to gender. You use the toilets several times a day for a period of 9 days. They could organize the handling of the buckets themselves and also procured more earth and coal (the latter was also used for cooking at the nearby barbecue area). 55 students and 6 teachers used less than 1000 liters of water for the shower and wash basin and left behind about 1500 liters of urine-containing wastewater, suitable for watering the nearby trees thanks to natural cleaning agents. In addition, the group left about 100 kg of the mixture of feces, soil and coal. The closed metal buckets are still waiting to be used in the color garden in places with ornamental vegetation or in the dye garden. Since we have to suspect drug residues in the leftovers and want to make sure for future visitor groups that they eat uncontaminated vegetables from our garden, we decided to separate them. We are thus also compliant with the health regulations of society. And yet we give back what we have borrowed from the local nature with respect.
The students were very attentive, very social, very committed. After two years, we even received a request from two of them whether they could do their social year in the projects of our community. Both must have been impressed by the life in nature and with nature.
The initial reason to create a minimal infrastructure for the first group of visitors was important. This visit mobilized the strength in our community to create this opportunity, without money, without funding, without other public help.
In the period that followed, it was precisely this infrastructure that offered visitors the option of pitching their tents on the Art Campus for a while. With Nora Valdez, a Latin American artist came to exactly this place and, in addition to an impressive group of figures, also painted the toilets in the tradition of the colorful, naïve, often socially critical and ambitious murals of Nicaragua.
The black and red human torsos formed the basis for the action artist and painter Rolf Habel to work out the colors and souls of the people.
Now these toilets are connected with a distant place in Latin America, with its history and its indigenous knowledge of food production and the treasures of nature, but also with a farmer leader who as a teacher risked his head and shoulders for his convictions and with new generations who oppose it decide the mainstream and set out to revive the abandoned land and create new space for free thinking and action, for informal education and the dialogue between north and south, young and old, city and country.
A big thanks we want to announce for Arta Garanča for her exquisit drawings!
The Art Camp in the Garden of Colors (val.: jardi de colors / laboratori d’artistes), as Esther, a friend of our community, called our dye garden, is now setting out to process and pass on the knowledge about these Terra Preta toilets to a new community project in Nicaragua. And this article is the beginning.