Saturday, November 2, 2013

Faraggi Scalas: The Role of Water in Community

We had just arrived in Thessaloniki when we got a call from Antonios.  We had been introduced to him by Niko, the Greek professor we had met in Scotland and who is now our friend.  Antonios, his wife Erica and two children gave up a conventional life in Thessaloniki to start a new life near the village of Zagkliveri (about 50 minutes from Thessaloniki) at a place they have named Faraggi Scalas.  Together with another couple (Nikiforos & Anna) they are turning to a more sustainable living arrangement as a solution to the economic, environmental and social issues facing Greece today.  They have organised a weekend of sharing and learning at their community and are keen for us to spend the day with them.  We decide to take up the invitation so early the next morning we catch a bus to Zagkliveri. 

Anna picks us up at the bus station and drives us to the community of Faraggi Scalas.  We arrive just as many of the guests are trickling back after a walk in the surrounding bush land.  They are mostly Greeks but there are also a handful of English expats amongst them.   Everyone here has one thing in common – they are all searching for answers to a more sustainable life and are passionate about reducing their ecological footprint

After the hectic pace of Thessaloniki it is good to be in the hills.  There are a couple of small houses on the premises with solar panels.  Water for this community is fetched from a little stream that flows close by.  A common composting toilet, vegie patches, and a children’s playground give further clues that this is an eco-village in the making. 

Over lunch we get to know Antonios as well as many of the others who are here.  We meet Irene

whose sister lives at ZEGG, the community in Germany we volunteered at.  We chat to an Englishman who tells us he has left his life in England and is trying to set up a community on the Greek island of Naxos.  It is exciting to be surrounded by people who all dreaming of similar ideas…

Even as we visit various communities around Europe we see how connections are made between them and the invisible thread that seems to link them together.  You make one connection and it leads you to ten others.

Today, Antonios has visitors from the eco-village of Tamera, which is based in Portugal and is a sister community of ZEGG.   They have come here to share a video about the water retention landscapes that have been constructed in Tamera.  Interestingly for me, the entire discussions today are centered on the theme of ‘Water’ and the part it plays in a community.   It is exciting to hear that water is the most important part of the puzzle when setting up an ecovillage. 

We learn about Sepp Holzer, a revolutionary permaculture expert from Austria who has transformed the desertified landscapes of Portugal.  We are amazed at the dramatic effects water retention can have in a place and how a landscape that was once a desert can be transformed to be a natural solution to the global problem of water shortages, landscape erosion and pollution.  The actions of man have altered our environment and caused problems such as desertification through logging of old growth forests.  Many people are not aware that this devastation can also be reversed through the construction of water retention structures.

The idea is to build a little structure that will hold water back and hence slow the runoff process over land.  When water is retained, it infiltrates very slowly into the ground water and at Tamera this has given rise to an underground stream downstream of the structure.  The water creates a cooler microclimate around the area, which allows the plants in the area to thrive.  Before long the community has a thriving edible landscape.  The plants in turn help generate more rainfall and eventually the water cycle is restored! 

It is an inspiring video and excites us immensely as we consider the possibilities for the Australian landscape.   If you wish to learn more about this, watch this YouTube video:

After the video and a short tea break, we gather around a campfire that has now been lit away from the houses.  Irene has brought a jug of water and the folk gathered here are invited to share their stories of water and to give a blessing for the new community that is starting up.  We talk for quite some time reminiscing on our experiences with water and blessing the new project.   We are really glad we came to this gathering.  We have formed new friends in Greece and obtained another insight into the work that is slowly changing the way we choose to live all over the world.  Projects such as this give us hope for the future and inspire us to keep travelling the road less travelled in search of our own solutions…

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