After travelling through 80 countries in eleven years I didn't expect to find myself doing a study of communities in New Zealand, but in the last 4 months I have WWOOFed at 8 places and experienced
Communities from The Outside
I will admit to being kind of lost in life, but one thing I know is that if I stay in The UK it's get's cold and nothing much happens; wheras if I travel I find myself having lots of adventures and learning lots of things. I have found myself doing the normal run of strange jobs from fruit picker to movie extra from businessman to nude model.
Photo of me teaching english in Brazil.
So I have a pattern of travel to a continent, spend 3 months working and 6 months travelling. When I saw how low the exchange rate is in New Zealand was, work didn't seem like a good idea so I decided to change tack. WWOOFing (where you work four hours a day in return for free food and accommodation) would allow me to spend more time in the country and meet more Kiwis and experience more NZ culture.
When I got the WWOOF book listing 500 hosts across New Zealand I found I was immediately attracted to the communities. I don't know exactly why, but I have always been interested in communities and apart from ones in England I have visited projects in California, West Australia, The Czech Republic and Ecuador.
What an excellent choice I made in the last 4 months I have had a wealth of fun and experience.
Kiwis often being adventuring and pioneering types I found communities dotted across the land, so often in beautiful locations, with mountains, waterfalls, beaches and spectacular views.
The work has been varied .. weeding, cleaning a lake, weeding, harvesting, cooking, juicing, weeding, cutting gorse, planting, weeding, mulching, fencing, cutting gorse, weeding, helping people with computers, construction, digging etc (one thing I know is that organic agriculture is very labour intensive)
Meeting the people has been good too, in each place there there was always a number of people to talk to and a great interchange of ideas.
The community atmosphere, noticeboards and libraries leads to the awareness of alternative ideas.
Outside work there has often been a lot of interesting activies going on volleyball, conversation, epic card games, trips, walks, theatre games, art classes, shared meals, backyard cricket, music evenings, helping milk the cows, parties, BBQs etc.
I learnt about organics, Steiner (he's everywhere isn't he !), and so many practicalities of community life. About NZ agriculture I learnt of the dreaded Kaikuya, the dreaded gorse, the dreaded convolvus, the dreaded oxalis , the dreaded couch grass etc I did find out a lot about NZ culture and way of life : from Lemon Paeroa to Possums, Nadoor, logging, that NZ isn't that green really , but leads the way in some areas.
The sunflower garden of the Coromandel Community Cafe
The Communities -It's interesting to me to see that, all the communities are similar in so many ways, but different and individual in others.
Things they have in common
.. People of more liberal politics and green intentions,
.. beautiful surroundings away from the cities, indeed that they were quite isolated.
- successfully rescued from overintensive agriculture.
- a commitment to allow land to regenerate to native bush.
- great libraries
.. Seemed to all experience phases throughout their existence : a core group being close together
: The community getting larger : getting smaller : amost finishing : new people coming a new lease of life etc
.. Stages of development, then key people leaving leading to cut backs.
.. Problems in organising and controlling things when money was not part of the process.
.. The inevitable stages internal communication and of disputes.
.. Phases of being close (shared meals etc) to phases of more individualism.
.. Most meals are vegetarian.
.. Interest in alternative ang progressive ways : Medicine, therapy and education.
- a high degree of democracy which sometimes leads to a high level of bureaucracy (We'll have to have a meeting about that !)
- maybe they aren't so radical attitudes don't often differ from the normal consumerist desires for a big house and a big car
- a high degree of awareness as regards enviromental and alternative issues.
-sometimes collective responsibility is a way of avoiding responsibility .
- different attitudes towards the tolerances of drugs and alcohol.
- the levels of individualism and of sharing.
- varying levels of financial commitment from being like a normal housing development to the more communistic ideals of giving up ones own wealth.
- varying levels of organic commitment
- the extent that they were able to live from the land ;from almost completely to almost nil.
- varying levels of greeness as regards things like compost toilets and recycling
Impressions that they had all matured and learnt similar lessons.
All had the benefit of more remote utopian locations, but this brought the drawback of low employment opportunities nearby. I believe they have scope to benefit from teleworking and telecommuting.
I realise now what attracts me most to communities - the high level of socialisation. Human beings are basically monkeys so sharing, caring, support and camaraderie are natural. Most of our existence we have lived the tribal way, but now in our nuclear phase our lunchtime conversation consists of "would you like fries with that ?"
People choose the nuclear family way because it works : you can move easily, you don't have to deal with people you can lock yourself away etc . It's the easy safe option not necessarily the better. I believe that we will readapt to living tribally after this stretch of living the nuclear family way. We are still finding our way and it's not easy.
.. Well done to those who are initiating the way into future culture.