Cycling into a head wind on your way to the local farmer to buy organic fruit and vegetables, you wonder why you didn’t just buy them from the supermarket around the corner. That would have saved you a long chilly bike ride. Instead of fussing with your recycling, you could just dump it all in one bag and be done with it, couldn’t you? One garbage bag doesn’t make any difference, does it? Twenty-four hours into an over-land bus journey you are annoyed at the smells and recurring, often loud, phone calls from fellow passengers and you wonder why you didn’t just take that damn plane, you would have been sitting in the sun with a nice glas of wine by now, AND it would have been cheaper!
Why make your life so complicated? For whom or what are you actually decreasing your energy consumption (other than to save money), conserving water, buying as little plastic as possible, installing solar panels and banning animal products from your life? And all this while being made out to be a hypocrite or gutmensch by people living with ‘after us the deluge’ as their motto.
Maybe you wonder why on earth you’re doing these things, while polluters continue polluting and our governments keep helping them.
Pretty frustrating, right?
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First story on MEDIUM. Let’s connect! I keep on writing here as well.
If the COVID-19 crisis hadn’t started one year ago, we wouldn’t have discovered how fragile our systems, such as economy, healthcare, food and livelihood, are.
Also, in my case, I wouldn’t have recognized how life on the countryside is the best what happened to me. In fact, I have become very grateful to live on the countryside. I see it as a step closer to becoming more resilient to crises.
When I read about families cramped between apartment walls in the city as we were forced by law to stay in our homes, I knew this would be a huge challenge for all these families and particularly not without danger. Not being able to go outside jeopardizes people’s (mental) health.
Many times we said to each other how lucky we were to live on el campo — the countryside — and to be able to be outside in the garden and to walk around. It always seems to be the case when a dramatic event happens, suddenly we come to realize a few things which weren’t so obvious before. We see what’s really important in life, the things that truly matter.
In that sense crises aren’t always bad. They offer new ways of thinking. New ways of being and doing.
The fact that the health of our planet is suffering, that we breathe polluted air that kills us, that wild life is dying, and that we see forests and its inhabitants devoured by ferocious flames, are no urgent reasons for our political leaders and for us to massively reconsider our choices. They haven’t been urgent reasons to make pressing regulations and to slow down for a change.
This pandemic is/was an immediate danger to humans (well, mostly to those who already have health problems, but there certainly have been exceptions too), whilst apparently climate change, the loss of biodiversity and forests aren’t. Because, we don’t see the effects in our daily lives. Not yet. But this could be — again — a new reality in the future to come.
Obviously, the corona-crisis is about human fragility. We are fragile, but so are our systems — health, food, economy, livelihood. I have come to realize that it makes sense to learn about growing our own food, to start community-gardens, or, if we can’t, to make connections with local farmers or shops which sell their products. The huge dependence on supermarkets isn’t a healthy system.
It makes sense to become self-sustainable and to build communities/networks where we can look after each other. This doesn’t mean that viruses won’t kill us, but it makes us less fragile when we need to live through even bigger crises. Yes, it makes sense to become resilient beings, to become more self-sustainable and free.
So, how do we become more resilient, self-sustainable and free people?
Move to the countryside, go completely off-grid, install solar panels, harvest rainwater, grow your own food, poop on a wooden box, make compost, and build yourself a tiny house and live a debt-free life.
Man, that sounds far too drastically, doesn’t it?
I can imagine it does, but I know it is possible. It took my partner and I some years to arrive here. Over the years we completely transformed our lives and we are now those off-grid people, living on 12 square meters. I’m not saying it’s always easy and I never long to a warm, indulging bath.
Of course not everyone likes the idea of having such a lifestyle. But for those who are interested, know you can start by taking small steps.
1. Buy from local market gardeners
We need to eat everyday, so changing the way we provide ourselves with healthy food, is an important step. See if there’s a local farm where you can get your organically grown veggies from. Or a local market where the farmer sells his products. Maybe there’s a community garden nearby or start one with neighbors and friends.
Buying in bulk, such as oats, chickpeas, beans, flour , etc., is cheaper, eco-friendly and makes us less dependent on supermarkets.
2. Live with less and buy less stuff
Things don’t make us happy. Well, maybe they do for a short moment. In Spain the shops were closed for months, so shopping wasn’t an option. I realized I didn’t really miss them, and it even felt life is more simple that way, to realize what’s essential and not.
Ask yourself before buying new stuff, “Do I really need this?”
3. Start saving at a young age
To have a financial buffer is a peace of mind and reduces the stress in times of change. Start young and the benefits come later. I wish I’d been more aware of this when I was younger.
4. Radically cut down expenses
* See if that telephone contract can be cheaper.
* Do you and your partner really need two cars? Public transport is much more economical (and better for the planet). Or, take the bicycle to work.
* Celebrate holidays closer to home.
* Be your own restaurant and cook a nice homemade meal, have dinner parties with friends at home instead of going to a restaurant. I used to go to restaurants a lot. Now it’s only for special occasions.
*If you’re living costs (rent, mortgage) are relatively high, see if changes can be made. If not, consider to move to a more inexpensive, and smaller, house or apartment.
*Invest in that what matters (to you), such as solar panels, a piece of land, trees for wood and fruit, knowledge, such as permaculture and regenerative agriculture or whatever rocks your world.
When we lower our expenses a crisis will hit us less hard, and therefore we’re resilient financially.
5. Work remotely or do “essential work”, but most of all do that what gives you purpose
The bullshit jobs are leaving first, as we could see with this health-crisis. The “essential workers” kept their jobs. The nurses, (mental) health professionals, doctors and all those caring for vulnerable and ill people. Of course, society needs them. The same goes for market gardeners, teachers, some lawyers, some politicians (really just a few, most we don’t need) and engineers. But also the healers, the inventors, the creators, the creatives. Without them the world will be a poor place.
Basically, it all boils down to meaning. With meaningful work, where our heart is, the financial means will follow sooner or later. Honestly, I’m not there yet. I’m investing time and money in the work I believe in and it can be hard sometimes to keep the faith that it will bear fruit any time soon.
6. Find support by having healthy relationships and family and friends who want the best for you
Being connected to people who care, increases resilience. We all need a support system we can rely on and they are those people, they are our community. We can’t do it all on our own. Care about each other, and share resources or exchange goods.
7. Cultivate personal resilience
We are much stronger than we think we are. When difficult times hit us hard, for example the death of a loved one, illness, a divorce, the loss of a child, we will discover how we live through those hardships without losing ourselves if we only see ourselves as victims of the hard circumstances.
To boost resilience we can use these three, powerful strategies mentioned in this beautiful and helpful TED-talk by resilience expert Dr. Lucy Hone:
Acknowledge that shit happens. Human existence means also suffering. Life mostly isn’t shiny, happy pictures on Instagram.
Make an intentional, deliberate ongoing effort to tune in to what’s good in our world. Focus on the things we can change and accept what we can’t.
Always ask ourselves: “Is the way I am thinking and acting helping or harming me?”
Know it is possible to live and grieve at the same time.
I hope these tips will help you to be more resilient, self-sustainable, and free.
It was seven years ago, when I first saw an eco-toilet. On Ibiza. This toilet didn’t use any water to flush the poop away to a place unknown. Instead, it stayed there, in a deep hole and we used sawdust to “flush”. The poop, toilet-paper and sawdust stayed there for around 3 months. Once full, the toilet seat was shifted to the next seat, again with a deep hole below it.
We left our donations, as we called it, for 3 months and after these months we shovelled it into a wheelbarrow and there was nothing left, but compost. Perfect power to grow plants in the garden. At that time Dorus and I stayed in Casita Verde, an ecological centre and community on Ibiza, where eco-toilets were business as usual.
Pile of shit
The first times I despised eco-toilets. I hated the fact I couldn’t use water to flush my poop away, far away, so I didn’t have to deal with it all. I found it gross to have this pile of shit below me. Especially as we shared the toilets, there were two, with around eight people at that time, depending how many people where living in Casita Verde. Sometimes it could be over 10 people.
The constructions though, were beautifully done, out of mud bricks, beer cans, and decorated with mosaic tiles. A hippyish, joyful atmosphere. After a while I got accustomed to using the eco-toilet, but I found it a complete different story if only the two of us could use the toilet and not that many people.
My reluctant mind started to shift when I saw “the product” that came out of the shit hole: beautiful and smell-free earth. I never thought about this before. Of course, living in a city for years, makes you somehow disconnected from these interesting eco processes. In that sense I was rather clueless. I just never thought about poop this way.
However, after some months living in Casita Verde, I was kind of done with it. We got the opportunity to rent a studio with a magical sea-view and we were sold. I was thrilled by the fact to have my own bathroom again — and to make myself a coffee in the morning without having to talk with other people, but that will be another story 😉 It felt such a luxury and I couldn’t be happier. A new kind of appreciation was born!
But our “new”, conventional toilet appeared to be a drama. After I went to the toilet the first morning, it got blocked, and the toilet almost overflowed. It happened quite some times and it was sooo annoying. According to Dorus, the toilet tubes of our apartment weren’t installed the proper way. One time my sister visited us during her holiday and everyday the toilet got blocked and it was a lot of work each morning to flush it clean. After a while we knew exactly what to do when it got messy again and we became true loo experts.
Five years later, in Casita Verde, we moved into the eco wagon, a tiny pallet home on wheels, including bathroom, constructed by Dorus. To have our own compost toilet was a big difference and right from the start it felt natural and normal. The only downside was the size of the wooden box. It was too big and not so easy to remove in order to let the closed box sit and rest in the garden.
Cycling with shit buckets
On Mallorca I experienced again another type of toilet: chemical, like in a camper. Luckily it was only for a short time, until Dorus made an outside bathroom from pallet wood on the land where we lived last year. This time we used a plastic bucket of around 60 litres to store the poop. It worked quite well. With more than sufficient “flush” — we used small dried leaves from the garden — odours hardly did have a chance. But what to do with these full buckets?
Well, just take them on the bike!
Every time Dorus took a full bucket on the bicycle in a carriage — and heavy that is! — eight kilometres away, to make our own hot compost on our small finca.
The first time I burst into laughter and thought we were completely nuts to cycle with our own shit — the bakery in the village was on the way. Dorus was happy to cycle with a full bucket each time.
It’s over now, no more cycling with shit buckets, as we recently moved to our small finca and empty the bucket into the hot compost, bring it into our own garden, into the natural cycle. See below for a little video!
What was once “only” shit from the food I ate, has become the nourishment for the land where we will grow our food; closing the loop.
Wanna know more? Our upcoming “hot compost” and “compost toilet” workshops are held near Algaida, in Mallorca, on the 20th and 27th of February. All information you find here: www.greengorillas.eco
It’s happening now…living off-grid on a piece of land on the Balearic Islands with my man and two cats. We’ve just started life from scratch. There’s land, water, solar energy, a compost-toilet and an old tiny shed which my partner is converting into a tiny home, and that’s about it. The rest we make ourselves.
The last weeks of December were chaotic and crazy. We moved all our stuff (which isn’t much) on our bicycles to our new place eight miles further from where we used to live. Even the cats were moved by bike in a trolley. I expected them to be stressed out, but I was the one who was stressed, not them.
The Mediterranean nights are cold now and as I write this, my partner is working on a rocket mass heater, an efficient and eco-friendly wood burner. Also, the bricks and pipes he purchased were transported by bicycle. Everything we do, is by bicycle; we don’t own a car. You can imagine, it’s a long process.
The sand we scrape from a rock wall, is mixed with cement to paste the rocket stove bricks and to plaster the walls. Some days in winter sunlight is scarce, so we need to use the solar power wisely and building with the help of electrical tools have to wait until the batteries are charged sufficiently.
Our new off-grid adventure on the Majorcan countryside is an extreme exercise in patience and perseverance. And it’s way out of my comfort-zone. Also, I noticed I can hardly explain this way of life to my family and friends, who live in central-heated houses with beautiful bathrooms and spacious kitchens. Our lives are so incredibly different; I’m still surprised how some of them try to understand all this and think of us as brave people.
Sometimes I can hardly understand it myself.
My partner and I used to live in Amsterdam with “normal” jobs as a contractor and jurist, and we were happy in the city. We went to restaurants, to techno parties, and traveled to New Zealand. We used to make long hours and worked hard for it, like everyone who needs an escape every now and then.
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Sometimes coming home is not as good as you hoped it would be. Coming back to the island however, it surely was. When I arrived last Wednesday by ferry early in the morning in Palma and my feet stepped on Mediterranean soil again, I felt butterflies in my stomach. Somehow I feel I belong to this soil.
As I passed the marina the sun was rising, a few men and women were running along the marina in the fresh morning air, early cyclists passed me by on their fast bikes. “No gracias,” I said to the taxi driver. I didn’t need one, I just wanted to walk and roam a bit. I have time, nobody was waiting for me anyway — except for the cats.
After a month in the quiet French countryside where I stayed moreless at one location all the time, I enjoyed the dynamics of a city, especially a city in the early morning when a part of it is still asleep. I entered Santa Catalina, a popular part of Palma, which has a creative vibe with its vintage shops and trendy, cute cafes where it’s possible to eat healthy and glutenfree tostadas.
I stayed in Palma the whole morning and took a bus which brought me to the village of Algaida later that day. From the village I walked home, which was long. As I walked home, the weather started to turn and the clouds were closing in. As I got closer, I couldn’t wait to see our cats again. I never left them alone for that long, but they were taken care of, foodwise.
Sad arrival home
A t first glance the cats looked confused, a bit upset even. Our shed was messy, no water, no food for the cats (probably they already ate everything). The garden overgrown by weed, our bathroom (which Dorus built for the two of us) dirty. In short: it felt sad to arrive home, it wasn’t good. The wife and daughter of our landlord moved to Asturias, the north of Spain, and I suspect he is busy with other things than pulling out weed. Times are uncertain right now and he has to keep his head above water. Suddenly I noticed how dark our home is. It felt depressing and heavy.
Howard’s country house in France, where we stayed, is just fantastic, so spacious and warm with wooden beams, a cozy fireplace and the bedroom Dorus and I stayed in, was huge! The kitchen has everything you need to cook delicious meals. It’s an old house — a former barn — and I adore these kind of houses with history and character. To me, these are the best houses.
Time for change
I think the change from this warm place to our dark, tiny shed was just too big. All of a sudden I realize I can’t stay much longer here, also because another tenant arrived to live here in a caravan in the garden with two little girls, his daughters (he will take over the shed when we are gone the 15th of December). It isn’t for long anymore, only one more month to go and we will move to our land and start creating our own home, just for us. No more being a guest at what is supposed to be home. I’m so over it. After almost two years (it began in Casita Verde) of being a guest somewhere, I can’t wait to have a home, a place which is ours and we take all decisions, nobody else. Where we are in control. I think for me that’s the most difficult part right now: not having control in relation to our housing situation. It has been a financially good solution and it was supposed to be temporarily, and it still is, but time has come for change.
In the meantime I make sure to leave the house every day and go out on my bicycle and enjoy the soft, sunny weather (the best now!). Cycling is my medicine when I’m alone. Bring my laptop and write somewhere where it feels light and I can leave the heaviness behind. The cats, especially Luna, is constantly around me when I’m home and is more affectionate than usually. Maybe she knows I’m not having the best time right now. She’s so adorable and it probably sounds crazy for some readers, but she’s my friend. And so is Liefje, our Amsterdam cat. Love them.
Our month in France has been wonderful and the Sustainable Living course a success, although we only attracted a small group of people. More people said they wanted to book, but they couldn’t travel or didn’t have the time. We were extremely lucky that we were able to have these great men and women on board and in these times of Corona, it isn’t an easy job to get people booked (we worked on that whole summer).
When I first met the participants, I felt immediately grateful for this group. We had a beautiful two weeks together. Most of the time, however, I was in the kitchen by myself preparing food. Some of the people weren’t vegetarians or vegans to begin with, so it felt so good to hear they didn’t even miss the meat and animal products as this is mostly the case when people just start to quit meat. I can say mission completed. Thank you so much!!
It was quite a challenge to arrange the materials needed for the course, but Vanessa, Howard and Dorus managed to get all of it (through market place, Howard’s friends and construction stores).
The shopping for the vegetables and fruit I did as much as possible at the local markets. And wow, it was expensive! (Two cauliflowers seven euros!). Such a difference with the vegetable – and fruit markets in Spain, but the people earn way less too in Spain; salaries here are extremely low.
My French was terrible though. Once at school I loved learning French and I wasn’t bad at it. But when you never practice a language, you really lose it. Only reading French went quite okay. Maybe in a next life as a Parisian, I will learn to use the words like Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour did – I (re)discovered and played their music when I was cooking and what a great music these people made! I remember my mum used to play Charles Aznavour at home, the French Sinatra. La Bohème is just one of his master pieces and I couldn’t stop listening to it.
It was special to experience the falling leaves and the colors of autumn again after quite some years in the Mediterranean where this change of season doesn’t exist. One day when I walked through the forest, right next to the house, I thought I heard raindrops falling down. It wasn’t, the leaves were making that sound. I stopped and looked to the sky. These falling leaves were so noisy for a moment, just surreal. I looked above to each of them, watching their fall. Never before I saw this remarkable rain of falling leaves.
Despite the autumn colors, the surroundings in France look quite grey, without any color. It was hard to imagine, a life in France, but I understand for our host Howard that he feels happy there. The people on the markets were super polite and friendly, addressing me with “madame” constantly. “Bonjour, Madame”. “Bonne journée, Madame”. The cashier in the supermarket waited patiently until I had put all groceries in my bags before she helped the next customer. I can’t remember the Dutch were that polite. Obviously life in the village differs from life in the big city, nevertheless it felt refreshing and welcoming.
France went in complete lockdown again. Yet, I was still able to travel by train to Barcelona. A very recommendable, environment-friendly, safe and economic way to travel (a ticket for only 80 euros). The true eco-warriors are Dorus and Vanessa though, as they chose to travel by bicycle. They’re still on their way to the south.
While in France I watched some videos on YouTube on my laptop and this video below suddenly popped up. I got immediately drawn in. This video is so incredibly well made with these actors in it. You can turn on subtitles of other languages, so you can understand what the judge has got to say. It was on my mind for days. I showed the video to the others and we were all breathless. Its message is incredibly sad. Really, animals, and children in need – the loyal innocents – they should deserve only but our love.
A quite unexpected note to — almost — end this blogpost, but somehow these true words showed up in this very moment.
The American dream
World events didn’t stop when we were in our small French bubble. Trump lost the US elections. The first woman (of color) as vice president in the American White House. Yes, it’s on the other side of the ocean. No, it isn’t my country, but it feels kind of good and positive and hopeful. Although my mum speaks of this lady, Kamala Harris, as a “leftish witch,” I do like this woman. She’s intelligent, charming, a true powerwoman. Her speech and her white suit made me happy. Kamala Harris is the realization of the American dream, and better.
N.B. For those who want to know more about our sustainable living courses and tiny house builds make sure to follow us, Green Gorillas, on social media: