LIVING AT LYNEDOCH
All images by Andrew Marshall
In this strange place that I call home, I’ve learned not to take for granted what a home means. My friend, Ross, came nearly 20 years ago, and said “die mense het nie huise nie”, the people do not have houses. The farmers are evicting us. That’s the thing about falling in love with a place. It brings all the stories of that place. And I guess it’s ones choice - either the stories touch your soul, and draw you in. Or they don’t. Either way - you’re now in the story. Ensouled or not. The stories found me.. and, in a heartbeat, I was in.
It was working with what this place brought - people who had never had secure homes in their entire family history. I used to try and imagine over and over again. What must it be like to live with the constant sense of dread under eviction orders, on top of the daily struggle of often not having enough to feed your children. As well as the abuse of alcohol that is pervasive in the rural Western Cape.
One part of me was trying to energise different ways of connected learning through beginning what was then the Spier Leadership Institute. (Became the Sustainability Institute in 2002). Another part was sneering, bewildered. How on earth could a different way of being with children, and students, take root with people who didn’t have a home they could call their own?
And so started the Lynedoch EcoVillage - the first mixed income ecovillage in South Africa. Messily, scrabbling around trying to find the money to work with ten families who could have access to various subsidies to build and eventually pay off their own homes.
No grand vision, no nondescript boring mission statement .. just hard activist work on an oil rag and a shoe string. The middle-class property sales only started happening because our neighbouring farm lodged an objection to having people of colour owning their own homes in the glamorous Winelands. Huge holding costs built up while the local and provincial governments took their time overturning the objections. The middle-class purchases of plots of land made possible the cross-subsidy of the plots for the people, and kept bankruptcy at bay. Along with a bank loan.
Anything ecological was regarded with deep suspicion by the people. Was this second rate technology being palmed off on them? Why use clay brick, like traditional people - we wanted to be modern. Solar panels would definitely be a waste of money, and anyway modern houses in Stellenbosch had no solar energy at all - why were we trying to lie about this? And recycling our water was ridiculous - no one else did it. Why not just flush and forget?
And always, in times of vociferous and frightening altercation, our racism, historical hatreds, fears, domesticated and colonised minds would erupt in a nanosecond.
The mountains in the distance hold our valley, and have done for 60 million years. Slowly, ever so slowly, we discovered that there are over five billion earth-based dwellings on the planet. That one of our clay houses withstood a terrible fire. That our solar water geysers are long paid off, and our electricity bills are half what they would be without solar. That our village recycles 100% of our precious water, using smelly recycled water for flushing.
We are still often divided, racist, crabby and argumentative. We have gone through births, deaths, family splits in a quiet solidarity. And there is also a kind of pride. For this year all the ‘subsidy’ homes have been paid off, and our tiny non-profit company is transferring the homes into the names of the people. After ten years, ten more families own their own homes. Never ever to be evicted.
As Ross and I contemplate more social housing now, perhaps for the young members of those families, I’m deeper in the stories. And the stories are deeper in me.
LIFE AT LYNEDOCH
All images by Andrew Marshall
It’s amazing living in a tiny village I co-founded from the year 1999. I’m not at all sure how you ‘co-found a village’, but that’s literally what happened. A place calls one, I think. We seem to live in some illusion that we choose our place - well, this place chose me. I feel sure I wouldn’t have chosen such a bust-up bomb site. Death threats, broken down buildings, broken down humans, post-colonial, post-slavery, post-apartheid, post dop system wreck of a place. All of us residing in the pristine Winelands of the Western Cape.
Seriously. Seems nearly 20 years ago, I thought I was going for a life of writing, in depth teaching and figuring out what leading might mean in the vast continental shifts of African realities. How come this mess of a place grabbed me by the jugular? By the time I knew what was happening and tried like mad to bale out - it was way too late. Sometimes you are so far in, you just have to keep going. Well, that’s what happens to me. I learned to curse like a sailor. Cry myself to sleep. And pray like crazy that something good would happen in the end. The Sufis have a saying - that God is as close as your jugular. Now that’s a good saying - except when you feel like you are wrestling a python. Means then you have to have total faith. Maybe God is in the mess? In the stuff that’s real. Not the delusions of ‘storifying’.
Couple of weeks back, these guys arrived from the U.S. to make a small documentary of what’s happening here, mainly with regard to learning. David Kahn, and Andrew Marshall. Andrew is the videographer. He turned some of the video material into a set of stills. Seems like a great way to write a bit on living in what Lynedoch is becoming.
The two keys were nature, and children. It’s not rocket science. What might we offer children for a flourishing life? Playing in nature, great Montessori early learning years, real food, respect, stories, timelessness and adults who know how to connect with the river that is.
Here are some images now… 18 years in. Lynedoch Children’s House and Lynedoch woodlands and gardens:
All images by Andrew Marshall