How Cuba Survived Peak Oil

Cuba has gotten a head start (due to artificial scarcity) on dealing with peak oil and this movie is offered in the spirit of learning from their experiences. One lesson that is never quite stated in the movie but stuck with me was that their awakening came only when crisis hit them. Their response to the crisis was impressive – even and especially the government’s response (which puts to shame many if not most of the modern governments). Yet there was no motivation to do something until crisis hit.

I also continued to reflect on the circumstances which make Romania different. There is much to be done to bring Romania into a sustainable existence. Most of “sustainability credit” exists due to its past peasant-based culture. These “sustainability credits” are being eroded by both time (a natural erosion) and man (an induced erosion) as unsustainable practices carrying false-promises penetrate Romanian society.

Whenever I watch such movies and contemplate Romania I find myself feeling (1) that there is much to do and (2) that Romania is a relatively safe place to be … it is somewhere in the middle … generally a good place to be … when a crisis comes the fall will be shorter and the crash will be softer.

A very interesting movie to watch:

Complements of Permies.com

How Not to Change Romania

This morning I came across this video via BucharestLife – it’s in Romanian so you may want to turn on captions (a “cc” button appears after play begins):

I happened to come across this because I live in Romania and a bit more attentive to it then other places in the world … but I imagine this is a scene that repeats itself many times all over the world … which just makes it all the more powerful. The behavior of the police was most disquieting.

It’s already quite obvious to most people that economic patterns we have taken for granted all of our lives don’t quite work for us. But I believe the problem goes much deeper then economics. Here we can see that the legal patterns we think protect and uphold society us are also collapsing.

I feel privileged to be witnessing intense evolutionary changes happening on so many fronts. And with that in mind I return again to Robert Pirsig’s insight on this subject:

If you don’t like our present social system or intellectual system the best thing you can do … is stay out of their way.

Go Around: Cutia Taranului & Romanian Politics

Romanian politics have managed to infiltrate into my consciouess through the very thin and filtered funnel of information that reaches me from the world. I know very little about Romanian government or politics. I don’t know more because every time I’ve thought about learning more I realized I don’t want nor feel a need to know more. In my mind there is practically no government in Romania. There is an inevitable beaurocratic system that runs parallel day to day life … beyond that there is a void.

Void’s tend to fill up and the void that was where a Romanian government should have been has indeed filled up with two powerful substances that are heating up and heading towards combustion. One lethal substance is corruption – a persistent residue left behind from communist and dicatorship times. The other lethal substance is corporate greed which has probably always been present but escalated dramatically since Romania joined the EU and became addicted to dependent on EU/IMF “bailout” funding. The bad news is that corruption and greed bind tightly to each other … the good news is that they also burn out together.

This burning out is apparent all over the world … even (and especially?) in so called democracies where corruption is not supposed to be as dominant a factor. Economic collapses, disasters and corruption are outranked only by the outraged voices speaking helplessly out against them. I assume that these economic waves have sent out ripples here in Romania as well, but it seems to me that to a lesser degree (I haven’t heard, yet?, of any banks collapsing in Romania).

When I lived in Israel this, oh so typical, combination of local government corruption and global financial storms worried me. My life was tightly integrated and dependent on money which in turn was strongly influenced by both. However here in Romania, where both the corruption runs deeper and after the world economic crisis has continued to escalate, I am not worried. Not at all. I’m not worried because we live a village life. Plants are very sensitive to water (rains are expected this weekend and during next week) … however they are relatively immune to politics, economics and corruption. The same goes for chickens, cows, goats, sheep and pigs – they all continue to grow and produce regardless of any political or financial turmoil. Horses and carriages (unlike tractors) are unmoved by continue to move regardless of the rising prices of gas. Life here is resilient.

When I say “here” I don’t just mean our village … but village-life in Romania. Village life in Romania is not a neglibile phenomenon, it represents almost half of the population … it IS Romania. This makes Romania, as a country (in my mind) a relatively resilient place. Resilient enough to withstand corruption and greed? I don’t know and I am not waiting around to find out.

I prefer Romanian corruption to developed, western, industrialized/capitalized corruption. I prefer it because it is visible and blunt. It makes an easier target then, for example, western corruption where money and politics are in bed together behind close doors. Here in Romania politicians are childish compared to their western counterparts … they do everything out in the open.

The question is what to do about it? I am not one to go marching in the streets in protest. Protesting against something is not in my nature and, in my opinion, not enough (the current political situation in Romania is a direct result of the protests held here just a few months ago) … there has to be an alternative constructive path to complement destruction. Romanian politics have (in a few months) gone through most of the alternatives … and what we currently see is simply what is left. Upcoming national elections are practically meaningless if all you can do is choose between not choosing and choosing the best of the worst.

My opinion is that instead of picking an unwinnable fight, it is better to step back, regroup and to aim to completely circumvent existing problems. Cutia Taranului is an example of such a strategy.  Local grown Romanian produce has been pushed aside by many social, market and political forces. I am resisting a temptation to make a short list of these forces … I believe they all deserve deep caring inspection and attention. I will instead give one current example of a destructive policy about to go into effect.

If you are a Romanian peasant who, for example, saves tomatoe seeds (very easy to do) from this years tomatoes to plant next year, you may find that next year you will not be allowed to sell those tomatoes in markets (or any other official channel). Current legislation (I don’t know exactly where it is in the legislative process) will make it illegal to sell produce that was not grown from authorized purchased seeds (with proper paperwork to prove it) … making it illegal to sell produce grown from saved seeds. This is a direct product of greed (agro-businesses interested in selling their seeds) and corruption (local politicians making a profit from cooperating with agro-businesses). Mind you, this immoral, unsustainable, dangerous change is going to be perfectly “legal”.

Cutia Taranului was born when I asked myself what could be done about the current situation. I didn’t (and still don’t believe) in trying to fight or change the current reality. I did (and still do) believe in creating an alternate reality: if I am a peasant and you are a friend from the city, nothing can prevent me from giving you food I have grown and nothing can prevent you from paying me something in return for that food. No legal, social or political energy can prevent that from happening. It is in that spirit that Cutia Taranului was created. It is designed to go around all the existing obstacles directly into a new, simple and direct paradigm.

Cutia Taraului provides affordable food safety for city-dwellers and financial safety for peasants. It is a sustainable community that is resilient in the face of current and future political storms (and then some). It is also a strategy I would to see replicated on a national scale. I hope to be able to support and partake in an effort to create an alternative socio-political reality, in the spirit of Cutia Taranului, that will completely circumvent the existing and dominant socio-political forces and propel Romania into a new, simpler and more direct social paradigm.

Because of its immature political culture I believe Romania is a unique position not only to better itself but also to become a role model for other countries. In Greece there is talk of a “potato revolution” and people are turning to farming to escape economic collapse. In the midst of economic collapse Greece is trying to become, of all things, Romania! If you put on the right shade of glasses you will see that (a) Romania is in many ways ahead of the curve and (b) staying true to this course requires inventing a new future rather then expending energy on impossible obstacles.

Like it or not, our relationship to Earth is changing. Indeed, our consciousness has changed already … We all want ecological healing. We all want to enter into a new relationship to Earth. Our consciousness has shifted from the early-20th century ideal of conquering nature. However, our institutions, whether money or politics, are not yet in accordance with our changed consciousness. They trap us into behavior that no one really chooses and render us helpless to avert our collision course with catastrophe.

Charles Einstein

Cutia Taranului is not enough but I think it is facing in the right direction … and it is no coincidence that it has taken root so well in, of all places, Romania 🙂

 

Numbers in the Village

We went out to make a few arrangement in the village today.

300

We stopped in the village office building to pay our yearly taxes. There was an elderly man at the payment window. He was holding a thick pile of money all 1 lei bills. I am pretty sure he worked hard for everyone of those bills. His taxes came to just less then 300 lei. He was holding 3 packs of 100 1 lei bills. He handed them over to the lady behind the window and she began to count.

When the money was counted she handed him back his change. He was polite and humurous and said he had just enough left for a drink. She didn’t laugh.

We then paid our taxes and as she returned our change she said that there wasn’t enough for us to get a drink.

We then stopped at one of the bars to pick up a pack of cigarettes for our neigbor – and indeed the old man was there holding a drink.

We then went into a shop to get bread of our neighbor … and we decided to splurge and buy a (soft) drink too 🙂

6

Our yearly taxes came to a total of 1260 lei (it was actually a bit more because we got a few discounts for paying early in the year) which included:

  • Car: 936 lei
  • House: 6 lei
  • Yard: 71 lei (this supposedly includes some terrain around the house + the others structures on it).
  • Terrain: 301 lei (this includes the rest of the almost 9 hectares of land we own).
  • Fire Department: 12 lei (we’ve seen what looks like an old firetruck drive through the village center once or twice).

I am tempted to draw a few conclusions from this, but I am not interested enough to actually think them through and put them in writing. I leave you to it.

2

We then went to pick up 4 liters of milk – 2 for us and 2 for our neighbors (not the cigarette neighbor – different ones). The going village price of a liter of fresh milk (milked from the cow the same day) is 2 lei.

6000

We stopped at our neighbors to deliver their milk and chatted for a while. We are exploring with them a possibility to market their produce directly to customers instead of selling at the city markets (as they currently do). We learned that they pay over 6000 lei a year for renting a space in two of the city markets for 2 or 3 days a week. That probably accounts for at least 70-80 percent of their profits.

It wasn’t always like this. The markets used to be open-spaces where farmers paid a symbolic fee for selling their produce. Then the city decided to create better markets. It took away the open spaces, put them in the hands of private business-people who built closed spaces and now charge farmers a tremendous fee that eats most of their income.

You do the math. I started to, but I am to angered by it to actually sort it out and put it in writing. I leave you to it.

I can tell you this … if city people were to depend on me for growing food for them in this economic configuration, they would be going hungry.

Brats, However …

Sam (an American living in Cluj) wrote an excellent post about Romanian people. Sam is a city dweller while we live in the village – so sometimes I feel that his take on all things Romania is a bit tainted by his perspective. This time I think Sam nailed it:

There are a few tough old bastards living in this country but by and large this is a nation of spoiled brats, who were given the gift of living in one of the most beautiful and abundant countries on the planet and yet they never appreciate it. Foreigners come here and immediately love it. Romanians are inevitably shocked by it when I tell them and ask me why. Open your eyes, dumb ass! It’s obvious why.

But when the little princes and princesses get their country handed to them, when they get all that territory and all that democratic freedom as a gift, when they get free tuition and free health care, when they get their cities beautified by free money, when they get their roads built by others, when they get their trendy clothes made by others, when they dance to music made by others, when they sip on drinks made by others, when they consider going to McDonald’s a cool thing to do on a date, when entire forests are logged to be sold abroad but all the toothpicks in the store are made in China, you get a nation of spoiled little brats.

When we moved out the village I was under the impression that I was going to live amongst “tough old bastards” … and though there are a few, for the most part, it seems that I am surrounded by spoiled lazy people. It can be hard to miss in the village because by western standards a lot of the people here live poor-lives and work all day in the field, so it can be hard to think of them as spoiled. However there is always excellent fresh food (plenty of land and water) on the table and their houses are warm in winter (fire-wood is pretty abundant here and mostly harvested greedily, illegally and unsustainably).

People are content doing boring and unchallenging work (sitting in the field watching cows graze and grass grow) and suckling on the tit of yearly EU funds (we recently learned that growing tobacco is highly rewarded by the EU!). They show no signs of motivation to improve their lives – unless it is handed to them on a silver platter.  There is a lot of superficial behavior of keeping appearances and very little appreciation of the natural abundance  inherent in the setting of their lives (I learned that I am better off going to the market in my work-clothes – while most of the people, ahum, villagers dress up in their “nice” clothes). As the winter sets in and most of the intensive work (harvesting and preparation for winter) is done, there is much more free time – a void largely filled with dumb staring at a TV, drinking and ensuing drunkenness (more amongst men though women too).

We don’t have TV or cable at home but on the 1st day of the new year we were with our neighbors and they do have a TV and while we were there, there was a rerun of one of the celebration programs that was broadcast live during the night. It was setup as some kind of game show with two teams of celebrities (I am assuming they are celebrities since neither Andreea nor I have any idea who they are or who are Romanian celebrities at large these days) with other pop-stars coming and going. It was a pathetic display of a culture of idiots – butch men and their bitch women … a very very sad expression of popular Romanian culture. It is a mish-mash of the most superficial and destructive expressions of fashion the western world has to offer. Very sad.

HOWEVER I am happy to say that this is NOT a complete image of Romania. Like all things good, the good stuff is shy, doing its thing quietly and peacefully and mostly content being away from the spotlights of the superficial mainstream public eye. Unlike Sam I only know a handful of Romanians each of which are human gems. This took me by surprise – not because I knew about or had an opinion about Romania and Romanians but because of my past experiences in life. I didn’t come to Romania thinking it’s a great country – it isn’t – but I think that the very idea of a country sucks – so Romania just happens to be another sucky country (I paved my own road, I don’t have any medical insurance and my children will not go anywhere near formal education systems).

I came here thinking I could simply fade into the background and live my life in peace – which IS possible and one of the great things about Romania. But instead I kept meeting beautiful people. People who have often traveled and lived outside of Romania, people who have questioned the core values of life they inherited, people who are spiritually endowed, people who have grown to appreciate, love and protect the natural wonders of this country. Some of these people are actively involved (via a large national volunteer-based youth operation) in inspiring new young generations of passionate, hard-working, open-minded and open-hearted Romanians who are and will continue to slowly but surely change the face of this place. But you won’t see it on ProTV … and that’s a good thing 🙂

Another 1st: Our Car

We wanted to live without a car but we chose to live in a rural area and self-build our home – which pretty much forced us into getting a car. We deliberated what to get for many weeks … we put off making a decision as long as possible. We were intimidated by another large expense taking a bite out of our finite “creating a home” budget. We were also intimidated by the actual act of buying a 2nd hand car in Romania. Finally it became a hindrance and  we had to take action.

Our needs were:

  1. 4×4 to give us access to and from (and on) our land all year long (including snowy winters and muddy springs).
  2. Automatic – Andreea is not used to driving a stick-shift … and thinking into the future of driving with kids in the car … convinced us to go with an automatic.
  3. Not a pick-up truck – although it would have probably been very useful in the short term (construction project) it was (a) too expensive and (b) yearly taxes are higher because it is considered a commercial vehicle.
  4. Limited engine size (2.5L) – again a tax consideration – the larger the engine volume the more expensive the tax – and it rises drastically.
  5. Powerful enough to tow a loaded carriage (instead of the open bed of a pickup truck).

We narrowed our search to Kia Sorento, Nissan X-Trail and Hyundai Tuscon. We had the opportunity to ride and witness the capabilities of the Kia thanks to Horatiu (our architect) who owns one – including driving to and arriving at our property. So we focused on the Sorento.

We were strongly advised against purchasing a 2nd hand car in Romania (poor maintenance, poor roads, unknown and untraceable history, plenty of devious ways to disguise car problems). Instead, we were told to purchase a car in Germany. This used to be a good option until the end of 2010. Then Romanian lawmakers imposed extremely high registration taxes for foreign cars. The tax is based on the car pollution/ecological rating – naturally the older the car the lesser the rating and the higher the tax. These taxes made it irrelevant to bring a car from Germany (or any other country for that matter).

So we started by lots of online searching. At one point, to bring more focus into our efforts, we visited a very large car-market outside of Cluj city and that only fueled our fears. The market was overwhelming and according to rumors (which we could feel in the air) is dominated by local organized crime. So we headed back home happy to have made the effort, but dismayed by its results.

We hit the online searching again and found a very few (we only need one!) appealing cars. We had two primary cars listed (both Kia), one in Bucharest and the other in Costanta (we also had one or two other cars as secondary options in both cities). We were still inhibited and had no specific travel plans (~9 hours by train to Bucharest + another ~4 hours to Costanta) until Horatiu came to our karmic rescue and invited us to join them on a drive to Bucharest. We still deliberated until the last day but decided to jump into the water.

The owner of the Kia in Bucharest was kind enough to come and meet us where we arrived in Bucharest (near Horatiu’s in-laws). We looked over the car, it’s service record and spoke to the owner. Horatiu was again with us and supported us in looking at the car and communicating with the owner. It looked well kept, immaculately serviced and loved by its single owner. It already had a tow-hook installed (valuable for us) and many other extra amenities (less valuable to us). Andreea and I each looked inside our hearts and bodies and then at each other and decided to go for it.

We made an offer that the owner was reluctant to accept. We openly shared with him that we had another similar car waiting in Costanta but that we would be relieved to spend a weekend in Bucharest instead of having to travel to Costanta and happy to buy his car. We asked him to consider it and let us know by the end of the day, so if need be we could prepare to continue our travels the next morning. Later that night he called and agreed.

Despite all the warnings about buying a Romanian car and the nagging bureaucratic processes involved we had a smooth and great experience. The owner was pleasant, understanding and supportive. We drove around the city (making arrangements) with him an entire day and were happy that he was a safe and pleasant driver (not typical of Romanian drivers) which also reflected on his use and care of the car. At the end of the day, having recognized our discomfort in navigating the vast and unfamiliar city, he left us where we were staying and took a taxi back home. He was sad to part with the car. He also invited us to contact him if we have any questions on using and or maintaining the car  … really a great all around experience … and this is now our car:

We are happy to add this to our magical list of firsts:

  • The 1st taxi driver – the one that drove us from the airport when we first arrived in Cluj (and also moved us into our current apartment) was also the driver who took us on our 1st and only tour of the county to Mociu where we found our land.
  • We are currently living in the 1st apartment we saw (though we did see more apartments we came running back to it).
  • Horatiu is the 1st and only architect we met with.
  • Our land in Mociu was the 1st property we listed in our spreadsheet and the 1st and only property we saw.
  • Our house plans, though they have gone through numerous iterations, are true to the 1st sketches Horatiu drew for us.
  • Our car is the 1st car we physically saw.

Our process repeatedly involves a lot of waiting, thinking, feelings, talking and research followed by clear and focused action yielding magical results. We usually arrive with an odd mix of clarity and doubt that together seem to guide us with phenomenal precision.

Today we are going in our 1st car to to our 1st land to plant a 1st tree:)