Saturday, December 18, 2010

Building with Straw

Chris and I joined back up with Anselm and Dan in Al Jawaseri, northwest of Madaba and near the Dead Sea, to help cobb one of the walls of their strawbale project.

Future Jordanian Permaculture Institute

The guys picked us up early in the morning from Madaba, and together we climbed up (in their car al-hamdulilah) over Mt. Nebo, where Moses supposedly heard God speak while looking over the Holy Land and where he later died (at the ripe age of 120). From Nebo the road descends with switchbacks into the dry Jordanian Valley, occasionally dotted with herds of sheep and camels. We stopped a few times to admire and wonder at the few desert plants that have managed to survive in such a harsh environment; many were familiar to Chris from some of his classes in Tempe.

What kind of tree is this and where did it come from??

The strawbale project is in conjuntion with the Jordanian Permaculture Institute and Australian Permaculture Society, who recently came to host a workshop. The building and grounds will become a test site and future location of the Permaculture Institute, hopefully hosting many more locals and foreigners who want to learn sustainable building and farming techniques. Geoff Lawton, one of Bill Mollison's students (BM is the founder of coined "permculture"), developed an esteemed desert conservation system here in Jordan, married a Jordanian woman and now runs his NGO here, so hopefully their efforts will continuously expand. (Watch Greening the Desert if you can)

Permaculture garden

Cobbing team

Along with a few Jordanians and American-Jordanians Chris and I helped cobb one of the first walls, delayed only slightly by problem solving the wall's leaning. The muhandas (engineer) who refuses to be called a muhandas, rigged up some horizontal poles to hold the wall in place until all the cobbing is finished, and we continued to slather on batches of mud-sand-straw mixtures.

Anselm and the non-muhandas muhandas fix the leaning wall

Hearty lunch for hearty workers

The work is tiring but very empowering- I can go build my own house I'm sure of it now!- and we feel energized by such motivated people. Our group worked late into the evening, finishing the last patchy layers by electric light.

Finishing the cobb wall at night

To celebrate a job well done, and because the opportunity arose, Anselm, Dan, Chris, and I ate dinner at Haret Jdoudna. Anselm ordered all the Jordanian mezzes we simply must taste, and together we feasted on specialties like fattoush (toasted pida salad), sawani (meat and eggplant baked in a clay dish with yogurt), and spicy, garlicky yogurt. Nearby a duet of live music, one man with the double-stringed oud and the other man on tamborine, filled the room with ambiant and lively Arab sounds.

Dinner with Dan and Anselm at Haret Jdoudna, Madaba

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