I am in Jordan, where the monthly average wage is 300 Jordanian dinar. To put that into perspective, a phone card for one month cost me five dinar. But buying a car is the same as it is everywhere. Their major issue here is water. They have little rain, with an average of under 300mm a year. They use underground aquifers, and they say that will only last for another 20 years. Jordan is also one of the most peaceful and hospitable Arabic countries, so they take in many refugees — with the last wave of over 10,000 coming from Syria.
The earth surrounding me in the capital, Amman, is dry and rocky. Olive, citrus and fig surround the city. When people say plants need to be tough to survive in dry regions they sure as hell must have been talking about these. I couldn’t imagine they could bear fruit, but they do.
Today I travelled through a pine nature reserve. People were picnicking here, along a stream I travelled past. They weren’t picnicking on soft grass but on rocks and stones. Everywhere I look there are rocks and stones. For a few minutes I squirm in my seat. I want to nearly scream — get me out of here. It felt stifling, hot. There was no area that you could to take shelter — no lawn or large trees to take refuge, it seemed, from the parched earth and heat. There is only a trickle of water in the stream the people were picnicking at. It was also polluted — rubbish thrown everywhere, and scattered by the wind. People don’t seem to care about the rubbish; there is water and money scarcity to think about.
Having said all that, I find myself falling in love with the city and landscape here. It’s a monochromatic landscape with houses to match, dotted and squashed along the hills and valleys. I can’t help but find it pleasing. Young Jordanian girls come gushing up to me and offer a friendly “hello”, and giggle when I return the greeting. People here are survivalists, but not the kind you find on ‘real life’ American TV drama series — they are a community, a real one. People know each other, know their neighbours, and their neighbours’ neighbours. Shopkeepers know each other, as family businesses get passed down and the same shopkeepers have been doing business in the same street for generations. People know they are stuck with each other — they see it all within themselves and around them. They know who they are, what they are about, good or bad. I like that, it makes you be responsible.
About 45 minutes drive south of Amman is the setting for the April 2014 PDC at Greening the Desert ‘Sequel’ site (for more on this site, see here, here, and here), with Alex McCausland and Salah Hammad co-teaching for the first time.
To give you a little background on how remote the site really is, as you drive away from the city along the freeway, pavements, glass buildings and giant posters give way to stones, dust and hills. As you drive down into the Dead Sea Valley — the lowest place on earth, at 400 metres below sea level — your ears pop. The site is close to the Dead Sea. The rocky roads immediately take you into a land that is harsh and striking. It is a land that reminds you of desert landscapes around the world. You quickly realise you wouldn’t survive very long without water.
When you arrive at the project site, it is, in comparison, really like an oasis! The huge steel gate rolls back and you breathe a sigh of relief. A relief that there is life that surrounds you. A bright purple flowering bougainvillea greets us, herbs in the garden beds, sage, lemon verbena, rosemary, basil, amongst other plant species. Birds are calling to each other, and there is shade!
Around the back, trees flourish — olive, pomegranate, date palm, leucaena, prosopis, a vegetable garden with tomatoes, cabbage, broad bean, onions, eggplant, parsley, corn, sunflowers, garlic. There are chickens and eggs about to hatch in the homemade incubator.
Slowly people drag their luggage through the front door…. One English-born, now living in Ethiopia, one Jordanian-born now living in Australia, one Londoner, now living in Nigeria, two Australians, now living in Jordan, one American, now living in South Korea, one Moroccan, one Egyptian, one Syrian, five Jordanians — and me, an Australian, travelling through to see what it’s all about — all come together, as it seems only Permaculture can do, for two weeks of Permaculture immersion.
Some have known about Permaculture for years, others only a week, but one thing they have in common is that permaculture makes sense to them. In a world that doesn’t, where there is fighting and harsh realities it seems that all that permaculture provides brings hope and vision for a future. It seems to answer many questions and brings relief when things around them don’t.
Tents pitched and sleeping areas sorted, people start getting to know who they are going to spend the next 14 days with. Within the first day we slip into friendly banter with ease. Our days here are supplied with the wonderful cooking of the local women here. How they produce food in such a climate is a small miracle, and we are sure glad of it.
We eat the cheese and drink milk supplied from the next door neighbour’s sheep. Olives are locally home-made, bread and falafels from the local bakery — hot every morning for breakfast. Tomatoes, onions, cabbage and eggs come from the chickens and kitchen garden on-site. As a Permaculturist you appreciate home grown and homemade produce, but here I think it’s even more appreciated considering the surroundings we are in.
Land right next to the site — which is exactly what the site looked like five years ago
The site offers composting toilets, grey water re-use, a banana circle, reed bed, worm farm, chicken run, mulched beds, underground garden beds, shade house and nursery — all as a demonstration of systems for the students (and locals) to learn from. I ask the locals if they previously imagined this could be possible — “no way” was their reply, especially not in the four years it took for them to see it develop (it has been five years since it started).
It was a wonderful insight to watch the transformation that took place with students as they grasped the information that was shared by the teachers. Bewilderment, frustration — knowing the truth about world issues — and excitement as things fell into place and start making sense in what they can actually do.
Students got to build a small garden bed (a sunken bed, instead of raised bed, to hold more moisture) and planted it with seedlings (for some it was the first time they put their hands in the soil). They learned how to scarify seeds and plant them. They dug a swale, learnt about contours, made a compost pile, mulched, did soil testing, learnt connections and placement in zones, and had their world open up to them.
When it came to their design project, this is where they really got excited (as you do). Most just had small balconies or rooftops, thinking they couldn’t do much. Upon researching they soon discovered all they ‘could’ do — how they could implement it, and the prospect of showing it to others in their neighbourhood.
Alex and Salah brought an amazing wealth of shared knowledge and system implementation. Some days were hot and exhausting and it was a relief when one day an ice cream van came past the gates — I kid you not! Jordanian style of course!
In a country with people that are struggling to survive, be it with water issues or lack of money, the thought of sustainability is far from most people’s mind.
As a Permaculturist and travelling to different countries you need to not only learn how people think, but you need to understand the culture and how people work within it.
Later one day I asked a Jordanian, “how do you get Jordanians to change their attitude about pollution and sustainability?” “Money”, he said. No different really to most people in Australia or anywhere else. Tell them it will save you $500 and they will change, tell them it’s for the environment and they will ignore what you said and keep going.
As I struggle with the idea of how to affect change, I always think about education first. If people are educated on the effects of what they do, surely they will change, but here I think there is something that needs to come before that — like providing practical steps, different ways to do things, yes, by giving them an alternative income or saving them money by growing some food. Oh yes, and hope comes to mind….