Recent Mornings at Bhudeva

the village is in a low spot and we are in a valley so it can take some time for the fog to lift … sometimes until noon … until then I need to either run on faith (or drive up and out of the village) to know that the sun is indeed shining.

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Last Minute Rocket Stove Workshop

I’ve started preparations for replacing our first rocket stove with a newer, better built, better functioning rocket stove.

I am planning the new build for this coming weekend and have decided to offer this build as a mini-workshop on rocket stoves.

We will be building a rocket stove with a small mass attached to it (not a full bench as in the complete rocket mass heater design). It will be an opportunity to learn what were the limitations of the previous design (and why they were introduced in the first place) and the considerations that went into the new design. We will be building a typical rocket core with an attached brick chamber with some cob to add more mass and bring it altogether. It is a tight design that will fill a tight space.

You will have an opportunity to:

  • Learn about rocket stove design.
  • Participate in all stages of construction.
  • Meet the materials and the tools involved.
  • Spend some time at and learn about Bhudeva

All within the settings and limitations of a traditional Romanian village house.

The build/workshop will take place on August 23-34 (Saturday & Sunday). There are 5 places for participants. Sleeping will be in tents (there is plenty of space). We will be doing everything together: working, cooking, cleaning. The price of the workshop is 450 Ron.

If you are interested, please fill out this form:

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Attending FanFest 2013

I decided to go to Rosia Montana by car. It isn’t too far from Cluj (~130km) and I had passengers with me to pass the time in conversation.

Arriving at Rosia Montana is mostly uneventful. We were suddenly there – another Romanian village. The main and most noticeable change are the brainwashing banners hung by the gold mining company describing the benefits to the locals.

The event is organized and operated by volunteers. This was my first time attending such an event and I was really impressed. There is a headquarters area where there is a large campground and kitchen that feeds over 300 people (volunteers and guests) 3 times a day (though food is not cooked on rocket stoves but on very wasteful fires).

From what I understood the event was originally entertainment-based (mostly music concerts) that was intended to draw youth to the place. It seems to be maturing to something more purposeful with plenty of sessions on many social subjects (mostly flavored with activism). Activities take place in many locations.

I felt welcome but not belonging. The food was really good and offered me plenty of support given how outside-my-element I was.

The rocket stove session drew quite an audience and I can only hope that many more small cooking rocket stoves are now built and working.

The first Yoga session drew a small group ~10 people. The second was much larger ~30 people. Both were held in an unsupportive space: outdoors, on a rugged hilltop, in the sun, with plenty of sound from all over the place. The second session, out of respect for those who attended the first, was faster – enabling the newcomers to sort-of catch up and then to move on. It was, for me, a magical session. People were attentive and put in good effort. When it was over I felt that the practice had isolated the hilltop from the surrounding busy-ness and transformed it into an island of peace.

I can say much more about the event, the place, the people … but I don’t feel like doing it and don’t feel it is valuable. But I do want to make a note of something about the overall karma.

I have great respect for the people who make this event possible. It takes huge commitment and tons of work to make it happen. Yet I have my doubts about the long-term effects of confrontational attitude that dominates the event.

The most poignant example in my mind is the smoking. People there smoke a lot and its young people – they are aware and know what smoking does – and yet they smoke … a lot. They smoke openly in the faces of non-smokers and they do so everywhere. And I wondered why do they think that it is OK for them to destroy their (and others’)lungs and that it is NOT OK for the mining company to want to destroy a mountain (interestingly: the lung destruction is already happening while the mountain is still unharmed). In my mind there a difference mostly  in scale. Both represent an attitude of destruction towards nature.

It is easier and satisfying to turn against an outside enemy then to look inside. But I believe that actions motivated by such perceptions have limited effect and are likely to have undesired consequences.

I wondered quite a bit about taking action with the gold-mining company rather than against it. I realize it sounds like a futile effort but I believe that in the long term it may be a valuable one. I believe that the “us and them” mentality is wrong (incomplete, misinformed, immature, etc.). I believe that for both individual and social growth there needs to be continued movement toward a “we” mentality. I am cofident that moving in that direction will take a very different kind of effort (then the kind required to produce the event) and cause an expansion of awareness. Maybe pursuing a connection with the gold mining company will cause many of the young people involved to quit smoking? who knows.

Since my visit to Rosia Montana there have been large and peaceful protests in Romania. It seems that the movement (which has many fronts) has been successful (at least temporarily) in stalling the daft destructive (on so many levels) act of gold-mining (despite a threatened undergound hunger strike by a whopping 33 miners who, of course, support mining).


An interesting and rare historical perspective on Rosia Montana.

Fanfest 2013

For the past few years (I think 5, though I am not sure) there has been a summer event called FanFest in a place called Rosia Montana (~130km from Cluj Napoca). Rosia Montana is an area rich with gold and has attracted the attentions of greedy corporations who together with corrupted & ignorant Romanian governance have been working relentlessly to start mining operations that would have destructive consequences not just for Rosia Montana but the entire western area of Transylvania. I don’t know enough about the details of this long battle but my values put me on the side of nature.

A few weeks ago the organizers of FanFest invited to me come to the event and represent Cutia Taranului at a debate on social activism. I am a bit wary of such events since travelling, camping, festivaling and what not … are not in my nature. After a few days of consideration and a kind promise by the organizers that they would arrange accommodations (a place to sleep and food to eat) for me I opted to go.

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Shortly after that I realized that if I am already there why not make the most of it? So it look like I will be quite busy at Rosia Montana:

  • I will be participating in the social activism debate.
  • I will be giving two “introduction to Yoga” workshops (Friday & Saturday).
  • I will be giving a workshop on how to build a 16 brick rocket stove and through it introducing the core concepts of rocket-stoves.

So I look forward to seeing you there, and if you are a reader of this blog please do come and say hello.

 

Sheep Milking

After the spring sale of the young sheep the rest are grazing all around the place. They have a fenced roundup area which has to be moved periodically so that the ground does not get overcome with their urine and manure (just the right amount means it will flourish like crazy next year) … and they moved it right next to our place so one evening I went out to see their milking … it’s done twice a day 6am and 6pm. First the sheep are brough into the fenced area:

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The guy carrying the stick is the shepherd (Choban in Romanian). He seems slightly drunk most of the day and very drunk at other parts of the day. This is what he does. He gets paid per season (essentially a year, though he typically has the winter months “off”) per head.

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There are still a few suckling youngsters in the herd:P1060419

The milking process is efficiently executed using a smaller separate enclosure. They try to herd into it only those sheep that need to be milked though a few others slip in too and skipped (it is important not to miss any of those that do need to be milked). Ricky always gets very excited when sheep are herded and always wants in on the action … though not always useful:

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Once all the sheep-to-be-milked have been collected into the separate fenced area it is closed offP1060425

And then their only way out is through the milking station which stands between them and “freedom”P1060426

Hand are washed (the two guys on the right are the owners of the herd and the one on the left is the shepherd)P1060428

And the sheep start flowing through. Notice that the shepherd  is taking his time … he will start after the other two and his milking pot will be filled when the other two are only half full … he’s the professional in the groupP1060430

You have to be alert, the sheep are happy to just run through to their freedom without being milked. They are usually caught by the tale or a hind legP1060432

And milked. There’s isn’t much milk in a sheep … they milk ~130 sheep and will have a yield of about 40-50 liters total … these are grass-and-weeds-fed-only animals. I asked but my Romanian is not good enough to receive an explanation of the purpose of the cup hanging in the milking pot.P1060434

On the other side of the wall the sheep are so crowded that they are practially lined up to pass through

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Though there is a guy with a stick to prod and remind them and keep them packed against the two-passages. He can be (too!) fierce.

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And all three are in full-milking modeP1060441

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And slowly the herd flows from the smaller enclosure to the larger one (which is wide open … yet the sheep stay inside).P1060449

Clean shoes are awaiting their ownerP1060451

Knees are used to keep keen sheep from passing through before they are invited in.P1060453

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Beer is VERY big in Romanian villages … almost everybody drinks .. alotP1060459

But when you are the guy with the stick … you have to stay on the job otherwiseP1060460

When the milking pots are filled the process is paused and the milk is transferred into large (25 liter) aluminum containers

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And the guy with the stick gets “busy” as fewer sheep are left:

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And this happens twice a day

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Hands are washed   P1060477

The pots are also washed and the milky-water is given to the dogs who happily make it disappear really fastP1060479

Some males showing off malesP1060480

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The “structure” in the background is the “hut” in which the shepherd lives.P1060487

And this his dinner:P1060490

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Some of the milk goes to personal consumption (including ours) and the rest is sold (via collection trucks) to one of the large national dairy-producers. There are other flocks whos milk is processed into cheese products. The milk containers fit perfectly into the trunk of an old Dacia … as if its trunk was designed FOR the milk containers. The Dacia needs to push-(as in by people)-started

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Unlike horses and carriages (true 4×4) which for the most part start very reliably P1060495

From Drill bits to Scythes

For many years I watched my father struggle as he drilled holes into concrete walls (you know, for hanging stuff around the house and what not). He would work very hard, put a lot of force into it, needed someone (sometimes me) to hold up the ladder so he could push into the wall. And when I grew up and began drilling my own holes in concrete walls I did the same. One day, as I was browsing the drill bits in a DIY store I came across some Bosch bits which were much more expensive than the cheaper bits. I purchased one and the next time I drilled into concrete I was blown away … the quality drill bit took on a lot of the work I was doing. Good tools are not cheap and good tools are … well … good … or at least much better than cheap junk tools. I’ve applied that lesson many times since.

Fast forward many years … we move out to Bhudeva. We find an old scythe (worn blade) in the barn and decide to buy a second one with a newer, hopefully better blade. In our shopping we found two kinds of blades: cheap and really cheap. We decided to splurge and went with the cheap. It looked nice but it really wasn’t impressive nor pleasant to work with.

Fortunately, during our first year I was gifted with an opportunity to watch a guy who really knew how to work with a scythe. He did it really well, elegantly, efficiently, with correct effort (he could go on and on). I picked up some stuff from watching him and from an occassional tip he was able to communicate to me. Though a scythe may seem like an obvious tool to use … most people use it bluntly (hacking away). He didn’t, he danced with it … I think it was a meditative experience for him.

But no matter how much I practiced I couldn’t seem to find my way into this dance. I got better … but something wasn’t working out. Then a few months ago I came across some information on scythe’s and eventually wrote this post about it. As I did so I found an Austrian company FUX that produces Scythes and has been doing so for hundreds of years (the same company!) – hand forged to this day. I emailed the company to ask if they had representation in Romania and they replied with two contacts. Liviu (who has been really helpful interfacing on my behalf with the Romanian speaking world around me) spoke to them and indeed they had FUX scythes. We ordered one and it has been here at Bhudeva for a couple of weeks.

During this time a couple of (local) people who saw the blade asked me if I was looking to create back problems for myself. They couldn’t understand why in this day and age of power tools (small and large) I would want to invest in a back-breaking scythe (all the way from Austria). So …

I purchased a snath (a long wooden handle onto which the blade is attached) and a binding ring in the village market. Today I finally got around to setting it up. The snath was properly sized to my height. The scythe blade was installed at a correct angle …  and I went swinging away … and I was immediately blown away. The blade flowed through the grass and weeds smoothly and with ease. It seemed like the grass was surrendering to the might of the blade and falling on its own, before the blade even reached it. What a pleasure to use.

When I finished playing around with it I wanted to wipe it clean and it slipped from my grip. I sent out a hand to catch the blade … mistake. In a fraction of a second it peeled a small patch of skin from one of my fingers. Later in the evening I also found that as I was playing around with the scythe it seamlessly cut through a power cord that runs through our yard (delivering power to the workshop). I found out because the same cable powers the electric fence that protects our chickens and ducks … and the fence wasn’t working.

It’s an amazing blade, so different from the cheap stuff that is so abundantly available. Thought I wouldn’t (for now?) want to cut down acres of grass with it, I do look forward to working and finding my groove with it. What a difference a good tool makes.

I was (again, as with the axes) disappointed that we couldn’t find a decent Romanian made scythe. I doubt there is a country on this planet where there is a higher scythe-per-capita ratio. Yet only junk is readily available here – no wonder people think it is back-breaking work! So now I have a Finnish axe and an Austrian scythe, both from companies who have been making them for hundreds of years. There should be Romanian companies who make axes & scythes (and many other such things). Everywhere I look I see so many opportunities to create meaningful things here in Romania 🙂

Sheep Shipping

There is a herd of sheep grazing in our valley (including on some of our land). During this time of year the herds expand since many lambs are born. At this time herd owners that want to make an income from milk (used to produce dairy products) need to separate the lambs from the rest of the herd (because they consume much of the milk). Herd owners that do not want to expand the flock (substantially) need to get rid of the lambs. In Romania some are butchered and their meat especially for the Easter holiday. But most are sold.

A couple of days ago a truck pulled up in front of our house. It was a lamb-merchant who came to buy lambs from the herd staying with us. The road is covered with stones up to our property, beyond that it is an earth road … which the heavy truck could not negotiate. So it stopped right in front of our house. It was a great opportunity to watch and take some pictures.

By the time I got out (boots, raincoat …) negotiations had begun. My Romanian is still limited so I only partially understand what is going on … a lot of interpretation and guessing on my part 🙂 A lamb was being weighed.

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This is important because the price is based on weight. There seemed to be a debate about the precision of the scales and what followed is what I like to call a Romanian callibration process. Representatives of both sides (buyer and seller) stood on the weight to assess? it’s precision.

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When they didn’t seem to reach an agreement a second (manual) scale was brought out for comparison. Again, both parties stood on it … and a lamb.

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When that was set there was more debate maybe on the price per kg. The buyer took the seller to the truck (which was already loaded with some lambs) and fingered one of the animals as if to say “you see this is a meaty animals, yours are all bones”. But that too was settled (somewhat grudingly) … and it was time to start gathering lambs. A demanding and pretty aggressive venture. I wouldn’t want to be a lamb!

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Once caught, each lamb is weighed and then placed in the truck.

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This truck will also be loaded with some pigs and is then headed to Holland.

In this picture you can see our dogs “helping out”. The large dog (Indy) seems to have some herding in her genetics and is very good at it and very happy to do it. The smaller dog (Ricky) is more of a follower and imitates Indy, though clearly does not really know what she is doing.

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Its hillarious when one of the sheep turns to face Ricky … and:

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Indy is also a passionate car chaser-barker (unless its a car she is used to). She chases rear tires and if the car is moving slowly enough (as is sometimes the case with horse carriages) she will try to actually bite a rear tire … as if she is trying to herd the vehicle (to join the car herd?) … an unpleasant site for us (I’d hate to see what happens if she manages to latch a tooth onto a moving tire). The crazy thing is that Ricky learned this behaviour from her … but she applies it completely wrong. When Indy chases a moving tire Ricky chases and barks after Indy and bites Indy’s hind legs. Its obvious she picked up this behavior but has absolutely no idea what it is for. The craziest thing is that Indy, as her teacher, accepts this behavior as normal and to our suprise never turns to bite off Ricky’s head. Hillarious to watch 🙂