Land of Peasants

I am writing this post sitting in my parents living room in Israel after watching Andreea in a live appearance on Romanian TV to speak about Cutia Taranului (I’ll update this post with the vide of the interview once it becomes available).

Since we launched Cutia Taranului we have been swept up by waves of goodness. All of Ildi & Levente’s boxes have found a home with families in Cluj; kind friends wrote about the project with their unique personal perspective and helped to spread the word (thank you Sam, Nora and Gina); a TV and news crew came out to inquire and help spread the word; we have been contacted by people from all over Romania asking when boxes will be available in their cities; we have been contacted by other peasants and are slowly helping them put together additional boxes (40 more boxes for Cluj will be announced in the coming days); Ildi and Levente have discovered a supportive and embracing group of customers new family amongst their fellow Romanians in Cluj; we have discovered that this country that is looked down at by other countries and too often its own citizens as being poor and corrupt is able to demonstrate qualities of trust, faith and support that have touched my heart and sent shivers down my spine … and I could probably go on and on.

However there is one interesting feedback that has popped out 2 or 3 times that surprised me and I believe deserves to be addressed. There are people for whom the word “peasant” comes with negative connotations … for them peasants is equated with a simple, primitive and poor life. As a result, when we speak of “peasants delivering fresh food directly to your doorstep” these people perceive us as patronizing … as if we, the foreigners playing “little house on the Romanian prairie” are taking advantage of the poorness of peasants.

In Romanian the word for peasant is Taran (spoken “tsaran”) for men and Taranka (“tsaranka”) for women. The meaning of that word is not “simple, primitive, poor people who live a shabby life in a shabby house growing their own food”. The meaning of the word is “man of the earth”. The Romanian language is not particularly pleasant to my ear, it’s a fairly “functional” language, it doesn’t have the depth of Hebrew – my mother tongue. However it has this one beautiful word that simply means “man of the earth”. I look forward to earning the right to label myself as “man of the earth” and I have nothing but awe and respect for people who are “of the earth”.

Romania is literally a land of peasants. It’s not an opinion, it’s not a romantic description … it is a fact. Practically half of the Romanian population are peasants. It isn’t a land of wonderous cities (it is a land where cities are basic functional creatures of necessity that rely on and support peasants). It isn’t a land of industries (however it was once the world leader in production of hemp and hemp products). It is a land of peasants. So much so that I have a feeling that when industrial forces swept across the planet during the previous century, some core quality of Romania (it’s nature?) resisted. Even now when it is under attack by unrelenting foreign financial powers, it, in its own way, is resisting change (though I am not sure it will be able to hold out much longer).

Maybe this is why in many ways Romania is a “backwards” country – where the village market parking lot is packed full of horse-carriages and not cars? Maybe this is why it has historically manufactured Dacia cars which are ridiculed by the west but perfect for a land of peasants – cars that are simple, cheap, long lasting (you can see many very old cars moving around Romania) and super easy to fix for local village technicians (qualities that were for the most part lost when Dacia became ambitious about expanding into European markets). Maybe this is why Romanian population is in decline – as if preferring to fade away instead of betraying its true nature?

After Andreea’s interview the show aired a story about some 40,000 euros of EU funding that, if I understood correctly, were intended to support local farming. I was amused (and slighty offended) when they used the images they shot for Cutia Taranului (at our place and at Ildi & Levente’s home) to illustrate their point. In that piece two people were interviewed, both officials who work in government agencies charged with distribution of EU funds to farmers and peasants. Both were wearing suites and ties and looked, to me, like aliens in a land of peasants. THERE, in them, I could sense a lack-of-interest at best and patronizing attitude at worst towards the “simple, poor peasants who should be grateful for the EU funds that come to their rescue”.

Then … 🙂 there was another live english speaking interview (I could barely follow it because of the simultaneous translation) with an english speaking professor and a colleague from the UK. They were praising Transilvania and its food and spoke about food-tourism and all sorts of things – they love the place (Transilvania) and support and promote it. It was a very positive and supportive interview. One of the last questions presented by the interviewers was something like “What would be your one recommendation for us to grow in this direction?”. The answer was direct and simple “support your local producers”. I most definitely agree 🙂

I am so relieved and proud that we were able to establish our life in the village and to breathe life into Cutia Taranului without any EU or other public funding (which we did consider when we first set out). Call me crazy but wouldn’t it be fantastic if Cutia Taranului could reach peasants and city-dwellers all over Romania? If it could recreate a traditional and sustainable coexistence of village and city? If it could remind Romanians of the natural abundance that is available to them? If it could recreate a sense of personal security (for both peasants and city-dwellers) in these unclear and unstable times? Wouldn’t it be super-awesome-cool if instead of hemorrhaging money to greedy foreign banks, Romania could softly gravitate, literally from the ground up, towards a natural economy that would enable it to get over its past mistakes (pay its debts) and keep its copper and all its other god-given natural resources?


Springing into Spring

I have fallen behind reporting on our most recent happening  … not because there haven’t been any but because there have been sooooo many.

We were blessed with a local gypsy worker who was all around excellent. He has helped us quite a bit over recent days. At first he helped us to clean out the area in front of the house. This included more destruction, cleaning and organizing. We now have a large open space and a huge and fairly organized pile of scrap wood.

Then we asked him to stay another day and help us clean out the large prune orchard behind the house. It was overgrown and overpopulated. We took down many unhealthy trees and provided better space for the remaining trees. Meanwhile I used the tree cuttings to build large Sepp Holzer style Hugelkultur raised beds of which there are 5 … with plenty of wood still hanging around (more on this project in a separate post).

Then we had him help us fix the rear (north wall of the house). It was in bad shape and we decided not to deal with it last year. Then a few weeks ago Andreea noticed a cool draft of air coming in through the wall above her head. So the wall has been fixed and hopefully will hold out for a long time (more on this in a separate pose).

Amidst all this work we finally launched Cutia Taranului. It has been amazingly well recieved. Waves of goodness are spreading out and coming back to us. Ildi & Levente‘s boxes have almost sold out. We have had requests for boxes from people all over Romania. We have also been contacted by other peasants who wish to join the project to sell their produce. We are overwhelmed by the waves of good-will this project has stirred. Andreea has spent many hours responding to emails and speaking to people. Next week, while I’ll be away in Israel, Andreea together with Ildi and Levente will be interviewed for both newspaper and TV. Fantastic energy.

During the weekend, right after the launch of Cutia Taranului, we were visited by some friends from the city together with some really nice people from organizations that are working to support peasants in Romania.

Cutia Taranului is another loud and clear confirmation that we are finally on our correct path. We are catching up with our Dharma and where there was once bitter friction there is now sweet flow. A true blessing.

Today I started out with some wood chopping but realized that I am physically tired. So I went back inside and got back to doing some coding – something I haven’t done since SweetClarity. I’ve begun designing and building a web-application that will enable us to better manage and organize the information that is rapidly accumulating around Cutia Taranului.

I am beat but very content 🙂

Monday I am flying to Israel to visit my family (for the Jewish Passover holiday) in what is an almost historic family reunion. I’ll try to see some friends … but otherwise intend to rest. We have many things we want to do when I get back. This year is very different from last year. Last year we were in a race to finish preparations for winter. This year there is no race. Ahead of us is a vast space of exploration that we can now travel through and enjoy at our own pace. We are heading into a nice life 🙂

Cutia Taranului – Celebrating Romanian Peasants

During the time we’ve been here in Romania we have taken an interest in the way of life we have chosen for ourselves – a sustainable and abundant peasant(ish) life. One of my first impressions of Romania (from my first visit here in 2009) was of the market in Piatra Neamt – I was blown away by the abundance, quality and affordable prices of vegetable produce in Romania. My jaw literally dropped, especially when I realized what a heaven this could be for a vegetarian like myself. Mind you this was in December – winter time when there the market offerings are not nearly as rich as in spring and summer.

However when, less then a year later, we arrived in Cluj, my impression of the market was … disappointing, especially since I expected to find an even richer offering since Cluj is a larger city and in Transylvania (west Romania) which is considered a more economically and culturally developed then Moldova (east Romania). The market had much less to offer and the prices were much higher.

Since this is intended to be a celebratory post I will keep my rant short. The peasant way of life in Romania is under a relentless attack from many directions. However we believe that the peasant way of life is not just a wonderful path towards an abundant life but is a strategic national resource in terms of sustainability. Simply put: Romania is still a country that can feed itself and that makes it a rare and special place on this planet. We feel that should be nurtured and protected.

With that in mind and heart, and as a celebration of both spring and Romanian Peasants, we are excited and happy to share with you a project, one that has been slowly brewing for almost a year. At first it was just an idea we tossed around openly. Then, shortly after moving out to Mociu we met Ildi and Levente, neighbors and peasants from whom we purchased most of our winter food supply (an abundance we are still enjoying), who, despite their justified skepticism listened to what we had to say and ultimately agreed to partake in our little experiment. Our idea was to create an alternate sales channel that would enable peasants to directly bring their produce to city-customers in a simple, reliable and sustainable way (bypassing the existing obstacles and abuses peasants have to deal with). The code name for the project was “Peasant Box” which in Romanian translates into “Cutia Taranului”.

The idea isn’t original, it has been applied in various forms in many places around the world. Peasant families offer boxes of produce that are delivered directly to customers in the city. Customers in the city can choose a box they would like delivered to them but not it’s exact contents. The contents of these boxes are a result of a delicate and miraculous collaboration between a peasant family, their work and Mother Nature. Therefore it changes with the moods of nature and the seasons of the year. By joining a box customers get healthy fresh food and a direct, continuous and co-supportive relationship with a peasant family.

Currently the project is an experiment with one peasant family. All it takes is 50 families in the city of Cluj-Napoca for them to sell almost all of their produce (available as either a small or large box). It would guarantee them a steady and reliable income without having to pay the outragous fees of the city markets and without having to stand in the markets long days. There are other long term benefits – but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves 🙂 If this experiment works we hope to see many more boxes being offered by peasants to cities all over Romania.

All that is left is to invite you to have a look at Cutia Taranului, and if you live in Cluj-Napoca maybe you too can enjoy the wonderful produce that Ildi and Levente grow 🙂

2nd 1st Shower

The day before yesterday I managed to get running water into the house again. Yesterday morning I was relieved to see the infrastructure survived the still freezing night temperatures. It was flowing just fine. Yesterday evening we showered again .. for the 2nd 1st time … and it was just as wonderful as the 1st 1st shower.

Warning – true story ahead. Some years ago (while still living in a city in Israel) I needed to make a large batch of tea (I don’t remember why). I remember standing in the kitchen wondering how to go about it. In my mind I saw a bunch of cups on the counter with a tea bag in each. It felt too complicated. Andreea caught me pondering and suggested I simply put the tea bags in a large pot with hot water. At the time it seemed like a genius solution … and no I am not really that stupid I was however “programmed” to doing these a certain way. One things “programs” fail to do is deal with things for which they aren’t programmed.

Living here in Bhudeva has drastically changed the way I do things. Not only am I required to learn lots of new things (right now there are more new and unknowns in my life then there old knowns) but I am required to change how I learn. What does all this have to do with a shower?

Well showering is a program like any other. When we first arrived here we didn’t have running water. My “shower programming” went haywire. Fortunately Andreea knew of an alternative “village bathing” program. It’s pretty simple: All you need is a small plastic tub (large enough for you to sit in), some heated water mixed together with cold water and a small rag. You start with your face when the water is cleanest and soap-less. You can sit in or over the tub for washing your genitals. Then you use the rag to wash your body part by part. If you happen to be a couple then a “village bath” can be a wonderful gift of grooming … and beyond 🙂

I was fascinated to learn that it is possible to bathe without electricity or running water. I was also amazed at how little water is needed for it (talk about sustainability). But more importantly I learned (yet again) to be adaptive and flexible. I felt empowered by it.

If you live in a city and depend on electricity and running water and they fail (which they occassionally do) there is nothing you can about it. You are helpless. When we purchased our pump I remember thinking what we would it should if fail? should we get a spare pump? what it if fails in winter and we are snowed in and we can’t get to the city to get a new pump? Well those questions have been answered … and the answers are simple and peaceful. When we were without running water for a few weeks we still had water  – of course we had to schlepp buckets from the well … but we had a well with water for shlepping. Our rocket stove (which requires schlepping of wood) continues to generate heat without electricity. Our practiced ability to live and function independently is empowering and liberating – it is a core skill in moving towards a sustainable life.

However it was fantastic to stand in our home-made shower with running hot water again 🙂

24 Hours of … I Kid You Not

Yesterday we had a city day. We went to pick up the chainsaw that was finally fixed and to do laundry (and shower 🙂 at Nora’s place (no running water at home). The day started out with doubts about going it. We had a fresh snowfall and I wasn’t keen on testing the car and my driving skills in fresh snow. The forecast was that even more snow as expected in the coming days so after going back and forth about it we decided to head out.

The car was fine as was my driving. The most difficult part is the 200 meter road immediately leaving Bhudeva, the next though less difficult part is the road after that (another kilometer or so) and after that its pretty much smooth sailing. The main roads are kept clean and driving on them is fine. We made two or three small stops to get a few things then collected the chainsaw and then headed to Nora’s place. Two washing machines, two showers and about 6 hours later we headed back home. The drive back was OK (we took longer then we had hoped for so we drove back on the dark) because there wasn’t too much snowfall that day.

When we got home I tried to pull in to the driveway, as I usually, do in reverse. That’s when things started to take a turn – my instinct is to say “for the worse” … but I don’t really feel that way. After a bit of back and forth and trapping the car in the snow we decided to give up and get back to it next morning, in daylight. We left the car literally blocking the road to Bhudeva – no one could enter or drive past us (not that anyone does).

Andreea went ahead to open the house while I started carrying some things inside (mostly the wet laundry we wanted to hang to dry and not leave in the car to freeze during the night). Inside Andreea realized that once again, divine intervention was working for us. The wood on top of and next to the rocket stove had burned completely – only ashes were left. We keep as much wood as close as possible to the rocket so that it dries before we use it. This has never happened to us while we are at home. This is 2nd time it happened. The previous time it was minor, this is time is was more drastic. It can only be divine intervention that prevented more damage to the house or its contents.

However we had a smoke filled house. Needless to say our plans for hanging laundry to dry and a quiet evening went out the door – as the door was open so that smoke would leave and fresh air would enter. Everything in the bedroom is covered with a thin dark film of I don’t know what. All of our remaining clothes now reek of smoke and some of them (the top ones in every pile) are also dirty. We went to sleep with watery eyes and heavy breath. Sleep isn’t really the right word here … as the entire event had an entire mystic context that went on throughout the night and does not have a place in this blog post.

We got up the following morning … dazed. We started to get things in order and had plans to go visit with our neighbors Ildi and Levente. At one point I walked past the car and noticed that one of the tires looked a bit flat. I kept an eye out on it until it became clear we had a flat tire … well not yet flat … but definitely heading in that direction. So we paused everything and headed out to the village to get the tire fixed. There are to tire-repair shops in the village. One was closed because its owner broke his leg. The other was closed because the owner was away for the winter months working in another country.

So we had two options. One was to change the tire to a spare (which I had never seen, let alone knew its condition) and the other was to drive to the next closest repair shop – just outside Cluj – a 30km drive. We were bummed by having to drive almost all the way to Cluj because we already had plans to go back to Nora to do a whole day of laundry (complete with drying). Levente suggested we come to his place to change the tire so he can (a) help and (b) if things didn’t work out with the spare – he could take the tire and get it fixed as he was planning to go to Cluj the next day or the day after.

So we decided to go to Ildi and Levente. However I accidentally took out of the car a bag with some flour they asked us to bring for them from our visit to Cluj the previous day. So we drove back home, picked up the flour and I changed into work clothes … and we headed back out.

Now remember we have a tire that is slowly flattening out. As you read through the next events try to keep in the back of your head a hissing sound … it was as imaginary to me as it will be to you … but the tire was slowly losing air and we were asking it to pull us in 4×4 mode through snow.

We neared a junction where we needed to make a kind of u-turn. As we neared the junction we saw two large carriages drawn by horses both carrying huge loads of hay. I paused at the junction to (a) choose if I wanted to start maneuvering this turn or to just continue straight and turn later on where there was a convenient place to do so and (b) decide if I want to start maneuvering before or after the horse-carriages arrive at the junction. I decided against maneuvering and drove ahead of the carriages.

We were moving along OK until a few seconds later Andreea noticed someone lying in the snow on the side of the road. We stopped to see what was going on and if we could offer help. We found an old man who fell in the snow, so drunk (which is why he fell) that he had no idea what was going on.

By the way … can you still hear the hissing sound?

We helped him up (it took the both of us) … he wasn’t to good at staying up. We asked him where he lived and he pointed in the general direction which we were planning to go (still the opposite direction – since we had not yet turned around). So Andreea invited him to get in the car and a ride home. I think he accepted … but it doesn’t really matter. What did matter was that we couldn’t get him in the car. Andreea tried to help him in, he went in head first, had one knee on the floor of the car … and that’s as far as we got.

Fortunately, by now the horse-carriages arrived and Andreea asked for help. The guys laughed … apparently this isn’t the first time this old man is found fallen drunk in the snow. One of them was large and strong enough to lift the man and place him in the car. Then they told us with better approximation then “there” where he lived. We thanked them and all went our way. We continued a few more seconds to the place where we planned to turn around … and surprisingly that worked out fun.

hiss …

We started driving back in the direction we wanted to go. We past the horse-carriages one more time, this time heading in the opposite direction, and waved a greatful goodbye to them for the last time (today). Abotu 30 seconds later we arrived in the vicinity of the man’s house. We found a partially plowed road/path that led in the direction of the house. I hesitated to take it … but take it we did. Shortly AFTER we passed a foot path that led to the house he told us that we passed the house. Now this is barely a one way path – turning around really isn’t an option.

hiss …

So we continued with the path until we reached it’s end … which was the house of the plumber we didn’t hire because of his high prices. The only promising place to turn around was right next to his house where there was a small driveway. We drove in only to find the drive way was occupied. We started heading back out in reverse … hoping to be able to make a forceful turn around. By now the plumber had come out and was looking at us.

hiss ….

We headed back in and Andreea went out to speak to him. He came to the car, looked at the old man and smiled. Yep, he is a regular. He told Andreea exactly which house we were looking for, went inside, came back with his car keys and backed his car out so we could turn around … and we did. We reached the foot path and stopped.

Andreea helped him out of the car and began walking him home. I took over and Andreea went ahead to see if anyone else was at home with him to take over. At this point the old man decided to strike up a conversation with me in Romanian. I told him I don’t speak much Romanian, but that didn’t have the desired effect. He asked me where I was from, I said Israel. A few seconds later he asked me if I was from Spain.

hiss …

While I was having this non-conversation with a drunk old Romanian man Andreea reached the house. She stopped at the gate because of a dog and called out. It took some time until the door opened. At the door appeared a man which looked even older then the one I was escorting. He quickly figured out what was going on … though he didn’t move away from the door. Finally as I was nearing the gate he too came to the gate and we handed the old (younger) drunk man to him and were on our way.

Apparently they are brothers. When the at-home brother saw me helping his brother home he said to Andreea that he keeps hoping that one day his brother would fall in the snow and just stay there. So there you have it.

So we headed back out and made it safely to Ildy and Levente. Levent came out to greet us, Andreea went inside and we stayed and played mechanic. We dug away an area of snow so that again I could get the car turned around. We found the well-hidden car-jack and how to release the spare from under the car. The jack refused to work at first (it is a fancy-shmancy jack that uses compressed oil). Levente got it to work and we managed to change the tire. Great relief.

We are back home, on an improvised bed – the sheets on it reeked of smoke, other sheets were in the clost and also well-done, the only clean ones are half frozen since they came from the laundry but were not yet dry. The rocket stove is running fine. Soon there will be tea. Tomorrow we will be going to Nora again and doing Laundry all day (with a stop to fix the tire). The day after we will continue to clean the after-math of the almost-fire … and … well we’ll see what comes.

Land, Water & a New Economy

Yesterday morning, after charging the car overnight, we got is started and when on a small treasure hunt (we spoke to a person, who sent us to another person who sent us to another person) to a neighboring village to purchase up a small electric stove (from a villager who brings small batches of them from Bucharest) which is going to make our life much better.

We then stopped at one of the village bars where we had a conversation with the owners (who we know). We talked about this and that … sustainability, land, water. There is a once-fertile area in the south of Romania that has been gradually transformed into a desert. It is now covered with 3 meters of snow … housed are buried in snow (I can’t help but see that nature will always come around like a bumerang). We have a relatively comfortable winter (except for the freezing temperatures).

We talked about land. They admitted there is a soil-fertility problem but there’s nothing to do about it. We disgareed and explained that our approach is going to be based on the understanding that soil-fertility comes before everything else. They still don’t think it’s possible.

We got around to water because we asked their permission to fill a few large water bottles with water from the main water supply (comes from the city of Cluj). There is a freely accessible faucet nearby but it is now frozen solid. Romanians who have running water (many villagers don’t – they carry water in buckets from a well) are extremely wasteful with it. They still think it’s an endless resources that can be exploited carelessly. Yet everyone knows that water tables are dropping. A large area on the way to our property was once a lake. Wells are drying up … and yet no one admits that there may be a problem.

We then headed out to visit neighbors. On the way we saw a woman pulling (uphill – from her house towards the road) a small cart with two large aluminum containers (usually used for delivering milk) on it. She has a small flock of goats. We stopped to say hello and to ask about goat milk. There isn’t any now … there will be some around April/May. The containers were empty – she was carrying them to a public well (at least another 200 meters from where we were) because the two wells on her property were dry. Yeah … there’s no water problem.

We continued to oue neighbors and had a wonderful discussion about an initiative we call Cutia Taranului (Romanian for Peasant Box). We hope that by this spring their produce will be sold directly to families in the city instead of through the abusive and inefficient city-markets. This is an experiment with one peasant family which we hope will be adopted by many others. More to come on that soon 🙂

Purpose Guides

Today the sun went into hiding and snow came falling down. Still very cold, and I decided to leave all the malfunctions and stay inside where its warm and cozy (though I did place some warm rags on our drain pipe exiting the house). But a neighbor came by to try and help me get the car started.

He came with a raggedy looking converter which connects to the power grid and outputs 12v DC … and it is hooked up the car battery to charge it … we decided to leave it until tomorrow morning and see if it helps. It has very loose connections so I need to keep an eye out on a small indicator light telling me its working – when it goes out I need to go and shake some wires around 🙂

He also took a look at our water situation and it is dire. He encouraged me to completely take out the pipe going into the well … and it is completely frozen (over 5 meters of ice). It is now in the pantry where we keep the temperature to a few degrees above zero … so it should defrost. But that is not the end of the freezing problem … nor is describing it the subject of this post.

The thought that we may not have running water until spring when everything thaws out (2 months at least) is disquieting. So is the thought of not being able to start the car (and drive to the city to pick up our chainsaw that is in repair). I have so far managed to contain the turmoil. Today I was reminded of how.

Just when our neighbor was arriving Andreea called on a break from her course (we barely manage to talk because my cellular phone is dying too and our cellular Internet connection blocks Skype).  She is in Bucharest teaching her 2nd Doula course in Romania. We spoke shortly because I needed to go out and meet our neighbor (the dogs were giving him a less then pleasant welcome). She was filled with joy and energy. 13 women made an effort to participate in the course … some had to travel with babies long distances by trains, in freezing temperatures and at the mercy of snow-storms. All the women made it, some at the last minute. They came to learn how to assist other women (and themselves) during birth.

This is why we are here. This is a powerful energy that we embraced into our lives and has carried us into this new (freezing, waterless, car-less) life. A few seconds on the phone with Andreea confirmed this. We are fulfilling our purpose. Personal frustration, worry and discomforts are brought into context by having a purpose and staying true to it. From afar it tells us which direction to take, from close up it supports and strengthens us.

Don’t get me wrong, I am dying for a hot shower and a flowing sink to do dishes in and not having to carry water from the well in these freezing temperatures. But, I was much less comfortable in a life where these comforts were obviously available and life was devoid of  purpose.

I’m off to  cook a simple dinner of rice with lentils and peppers. I’ll use only one pot so there isn’t much washing up to do … and it will be a delicious meal sprinkled with our secret ingredient – purpose.