The last of the original first footers, James, left John Obey today. Ben posted a picture of James’ farewell to Facebook that brought a smile to my face and then tears. Not tears of sadness but of deep love for a people and a country. Looking at all of those faces, remembering conversations, stories and experiences. It’s not easy to let yourself go. But there, wow. How people can get into your soul. How spending a few weeks with complete strangers can affect you. Cleanse you. Recharge you. Inspire you. Initially, I was skeptical about the whole tribe thing, but after nearly three weeks immersed in this community, I completely get it.
Love my tribe.
a farewell for James- photo courtesy of Tribewanted
Most likely something you haven’t seen before are the earth bag buildings constructed by Cal-Earth, an organization based in the Mojave Desert in California. One of several organizations involved working with Tribewanted on the John Obey project, Cal-Earth is constructing a dozen small eco-dome structures for living space.
completed eco-domes from another Cal-Earth project
Much like a beehive, these adobe structures are made from synthetic bags packed with earth and spiraled much like you would make a coiled pot from clay. During my 2 ½ weeks there, I was able to see a great deal of progress on the first building. Day one was the excavation of the foundation, and of course, the lamb sacrifice. After the first bag was laid the building quickly began to take shape. My last week I was there, an entry way and steps began to appear and the floor joists had gone in. I’ll be excited to see the finished structure completely stuccoed when I return early next year.
Tribewanted's first eco-dome underway
As I was reading Cal-Earth’s website I found it interesting that these buildings are using materials easily found in a war zone- sand bags, barbed wire, earth – making them ideal for countries trying to rebuild post-conflict. The houses are inexpensive to build, don’t impact natural resources and can meet the demand of the growing housing crisis in developing nations. The domes can be simple in construction or can incorporate arches in doorways, windows and additional rooms.
Hooman Fazly is the resident earth bag specialist overseeing construction of the new homes. Always armed with a wicked tool belt, and his mudflap girl water bottle, he will be working six days a week for the next year to complete this project. I admire Hooman’s intelligence, fashion sense on the job and his sense of humor with his crew. He is quite the character as is evident in the pics. It’s Hooman’s birthday today. Happy birthday, Hooman! Hope you are able to celebrate Salone style.
Hooman Fazly with Cal-Earth
It’s 1:30p and we’re hungry. Wonder what’s for lunch? Don’t bother. It’s one of two choices, cassava over rice or groundnut over rice, both containing pulverized fish and bones. Yummy! After seven days of heaping bowls of rice and fish sauce that comes in only two colors, some of us decided to get creative in the kitchen. My favorite lunch modification was peeled cucumber over rice with lime juice and salt. Sounds pretty bland now but it was absolutely divine a week ago.
ground nut stew
A varied diet is not something for which Sierra Leoneans are known. They eat the same thing over and over which is due to food availability. How spoiled we are to have so many choices in our supermarkets back here in the US. Cally and I spent an afternoon going through the pantry to see what items we had on hand, took a trip to the market in Waterloo to see what items were readily available there and started to come up with some different recipes to introduce to Elijah. A touchy thing to do without offending, but, in the long run, I think it will be a big morale booster, especially for those working at Tribewanted for months.
- fish, fish, fish
Cally and I made curried chicken with coconut rice one evening and also tried making bruschetta out of tomatoe paste, onions and giant hamburger-like rolls. One morning, Cally made crepes with lemon juice and sugar that were a huge hit. Popcorn went over well, too, however the British and Americans could not reach an agreement as how to flavor it –with sugar or salt? Americans prefer salt. As for French toast, or rather eggy bread to my British friends, it’s meant to have syrup or confectioner’s sugar, definitely not ketchup. What’s with ketchup and beans for breakfast?
During our trip to the market we found the offerings there are limited; however, there are some things we can do to vary chop. Once I have some time on my hands, I hope to come up with some recipes to bring along in February when Cally and I make a return trip.
The morning I was packed up to leave, Elijah, the head cook, walked into camp with a small antelope dangling from a stick. I thought it looked like an interesting purse idea. It was going to be Tuesday night’s dinner.
So, how does one prepare a furry fresh antelope for dinner? Skin it first, of course. And how does one skin an antelope, you ask? Well, there’s more than one way, but bet you never thought to use a bicycle pump.
Hooman, our ever so clever resident architect/earth bag specialist, was in charge of flaying Mr. Antelope. I saw Hooman sharpening his knife as I was getting my bags ready to leave and then overheard the discussion between Mike and Hooman on how to remove the skin. Next thing I know, they’ve got a ball pump and are inflating the antelope to separate its skin from muscle. The ball pump was working! They even discovered that when you press on an inflated antelope, they make some rather embarrassing noises.
inflating the antelope
view toward the wreck
Alejandro, our Costa Rican perma-culturist, invited me to join him for a swim out to a shipwreck that rests some 300-400 yards off the beach. A good sized portion of the hull was visible at low tide and it looked very tempting and fun to explore. Given my fear of dark water, I normally would have said no but Alejandro has a way about him that makes everything feel good and safe, so, I pushed aside my fears and decided to go. He shared his thoughts on fear- simply acknowledge that you are a part of nature and ask the creatures of the sea or forest for their protection and acceptance. Oh, to be so mellow.
Armed with masks, snorkels and sharing a pair of fins, one broken and both too small for Ale, we made our one legged swim out to the wreck. Ale liked to swim down to the bottom and would disappear every so often, causing a mild panic attack on my part. I am an expert on all things bizarre and all gruesome ways to die, so the Discovery Channel’s footage of the giant great white breaching the water to swallow a sea lion whole came to mind. Between the beach and the wreck, we swam through greenish water with no bottom in sight- to my neurotic mind, prime hunting grounds for sharks. I asked for acceptance by the sea creatures and hoped they were listening.
As we got closer, the waves broke over shallow rock formations where the wreck had come to rest. Happy to be in friendlier waters, we started exploring the sea floor. There we discovered the mast, much of the railing and a good portion of the hull still intact. Oddly colored but beautifully detailed pieces of scrap surrounded the wreck. We dove hoping to come back with some interesting treasure. Snapper, barracuda and all sorts of fish were there for us to enjoy. Ale managed to climb up onto the rusty piece of wreckage that stuck about seven or so feet out of the water and pulled me up to share a much-needed rest. The swim back was tiring but it was a beautiful way to spend the afternoon and a treat to share it with Ale.
One of the things we westerners really don’t appreciate is the privilege of having clean running water pumped into our homes. I remain fascinated and thankful for the water that comes out of my wall and especially water that goes around in the toilet. So, what’s it like to not have water in your village? Well, it pretty much sucks. When I arrived at Tribewanted October 1, the compost toilets and just been completed- a true luxury for us firstfooters. For the poor guys who were here preparing for our arrival, they had to carry the orange shovel of shame to the bush, sometimes having to hold an umbrella while attempting to keep the roll of toilet paper dry. Needless to say, we all love the compost toilets.
As for drinking, bathing and laundry, it’s a one mile walk up hill to the river to fetch fresh river water. Granted we’re beach front and also have a beautiful brackish lagoon for our backyard, but it’s not drinkable nor ideal for wash. Jerry cans, those bright yellow 20 liter plastic jugs seen all over Africa, are the water delivery vessels. Children as young as ten can balance these 40+lbs. cumbersome things on their heads, some with no hands. I can barely drag the cans ten yards to fill the bucket shower. Early on, we had to load all twenty jerry cans into the back of our truck, drive up the bridge where we’d scramble over rocks to submerge the cans into the water, load the truck, drive back down the road to our village, unload the truck and haul the water cans down to the outdoor kitchen. After nearly two weeks, we now have a completed well which will provide water for us and the neighboring village of John Obey Beach. It’s going to be wonderful not to have to haul water anymore for us and a life changing luxury to the villagers here.
How many showers can you take with one of these? The more you carry, the less you'll use!
James and Aaron at the river
Filippo, Aaron and James fill the water tank
the well diggers
Seems the thing to do here if you’re a Sierra Leonean single man is to hit on single white women. The question always comes up shortly after meeting a man — so, where’s your man? Answer that you don’t have one and you’re in for a long line of suitors. For me, I had four candidates.
Peter the Obama t-shirt-wearing-dreadlocks man with a few screws loose came into the village and serenaded me publicly singing “I Will Be Your Hero Baby”, “Every Bread You Take” and several others I can’t remember as I was laughing too hard. He tells me rasta men make the best lovers and I have earned a special place in his heart.
Perfect — “I hear you are a swimmer and swam out to the wreck. I will to defeat you and I will make a fine husband for you. So what do you say? Will you be my wife?”
Isa- “I need to talk to you. First I will go home and bathe myself.”
Straight to the Point
Mr. Toure- “You will be my second wife.”
Mr. Toure- charmer extraordinaire
Today was a very special day. Tribewanted John Obey officially welcomed its first-footers with a village wide party complete with djembe drums, traditional dancing, a feast of ground nut and cassava leave stews, Star beer and poyo, a local brew made from the sap of palms. Most memorable was the blessing of our first earth bag building with the sacrifice of a lamb by the village elders.
blessing of the new earth bag building
Early in the day the excitement of the day was apparent. The sound of the villagers practicing their drumming and singing spilled into our camp. Women were busy cooking fish and rice over open fires. The lamb was escorted into the village and sensing his impending doom put up a struggle coming down the hill. A couple of squeamish tribemembers opted out of the ceremony. This was my first animal sacrifice and although I thought it would be gruesome it was done humanely and with respect by the village elders. Not exactly my cup of tea though.
Rasta man Peter made his first appearance singing Bob Marley songs in his Obama shirt. This would be the beginning of Peter the Rasta stalker. More to come on Peter.
Peter- my Rastafarian suitor
After a hard day’s work getting the solar panel tower near completion, visiting a local medicine woman’s farm in the rain and digging a well, tribe members celebrated chief Ben’s birthday with drumming and the passing of the communal whiskey bottle. Several of us slept on the beach under a beautiful starry sky. All in all, a perfect day!
Birthday Ben shares his banana birthday cake with the villagers of John Obey
Drummers and whisky- a fine birthday celebration!
It’s been seven days since I arrived in John Obey, a small fishing village on the coast of Sierra Leone. I’m a visitor, or rather tribe member to Tribewanted, a small organization dedicated to promoting sustainable development through eco-tourism and am one of eight first footers to visit this new village.
My journey began Thursday evening from Washington, DC and I arrived just over a 27 hours later to the Tribewanted village. It was pitch black on the beach but my fellow tribe members and I were welcomed by enthusiastic and friendly faces all ready to help us set up our tents and settle in for the night. We sat around a small fire sharing tea and briefly chatting about ourselves. We then scurried to our tents to try and get some much-needed sleep. Sunrise came all too soon but first light revealed an expansive golden beach, bright blue water bordered by lush tropical hills.
For now, our tiny community consists of a thatched open-air kitchen, a handmade large eating table nestled under some trees and a compost loo. We have two bucket showers on the beach that we fill with river water to bathe. It truly is paradise for the fearless traveler.
There is much excitement in our new village as there is much to do and all involves the local villagers. Each morning we gather to plan the day’s work, roll call is taken and duties assigned. Tribe members and villagers work along side each other with the goal of completing what is now Sierra Leone’s first eco-village. We are building a tower from trees we cut down out of the forest. It will support two large solar panels that will provide us with electricity- something we don’t have at the moment. With the help of a perma-culture specialist, we are planting fruits, trees and vegetables and learning new ways to conserve and give back to the Earth. We also broke ground on our first of many earth-bag buildings.
There’s much to tell including a boa constrictor in the community, a welcoming party of over two hundred villagers complete with djembe drums, tribal dancing and the sacrifice of a goat to bless the earth under our first building. For now, I’ll say the one thing that I wasn’t expecting was how much I’d enjoy the people who are living and working here and those who are just visiting as tribe members. They are some of the most unique, pleasant and interesting people I have ever met. Several of us are conspiring how to stay here longer or even permanently! So interesting that we are living so simply yet feel we have been given paradise.
Internet is not easily accessible at the moment but I will follow up with stories and pics as soon as I am able. Check back for pictures and more.
Alejandro enjoying the beautiful sunset