Home is where the Earth is

2011-08-05 00:00

SAMANTHA Rose looks like a hippy from the sixties. Her long dreadlocked hair is coloured a vibrant red and she wears long patterned skirts or dresses. Anywhere she goes, she cuts a striking figure and her American accent draws curious stares.

Her home at the Zuvuya farm close to Impendle is a fascinating example of how dedicated she and her small family are to making the land and its resources work. Six years ago she and her ex-husband decided to “buy” into the Zuvuya concept.

Attracted by the raw beauty of the countryside, they felt this was a place where they could enjoy nature and implement their vision of working in harmony with the environment. The original idea behind Zuvuya was for a collective of people with a similar vision to live on the land as caretakers and to buy rights to live on the farm.

The tenants all signed lease agreements with the owner. These have been recently revoked, causing some uncertainty for the future; however, Rose is optimistic that these problems will be ironed out.

Rose and her partner Shiny Murphy live in a delightful A-frame wooden house which they have made almost entirely from natural materials. The bottom floor is the living area and the top floor is the bedroom area.

The living space is an eclectic fusion of colour and function. It feels warm and friendly, and animals wander in and out. Rose always wanted to create a home that was in harmony with the environment and she believes her eco-awakening began when she was at university in the United States.

“I was a very privileged child of parents who worked in the U.S. foreign service,” she says. “We travelled the world and we were always accommodated in luxury quarters and never wanted for anything. When I went to university to study I realised that there was so much wrong with the world. I protested in rallies and I sent petitions.

“I studied anthropology and I realised that the Western model and culture left a lot to be desired. I realised that so many indigenous cultures had systems that worked for them in regard to living sustainably on the land.

“I moved to South Africa and I have felt a kinship with this land and the people here. I realised that I wanted to make changes to the way I lived, to be truly authentic.”

Murphy was an advertising executive who decided to turn his back on the commercial and exploitative world of advertising. “I was making a fortune and living in London, and it all seemed so meaningless,” he says. “I could not work out why I could make so much money, basically selling lies. Yet so many honest people are barely able to survive. It doesn’t add up.”

Zuvuya hosts annual rainbow gatherings where people come from around the world to live for a month, completely living off the Earth in a communal and rural environment. They also advertise for people to visit and experience their lifestyle. Many WWOOFA (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) volunteers come to stay at Zuvuya.

Rose home-schools her two children, Oriah (8) and Kei (6), and their school syllabus is made up of academic lessons and practical lessons where they learn by doing things on the homestead. Kei, an adopted son, is sent to buy fresh milk from a neighbour.

He has been taught to say “Ngicela ubisi” (milk please) while ringing the bell. This is one of his daily chores, and he takes along a large two-litre glass jar. He loves this chore, and he returns with the fresh frothy milk and a big smile. The milk is kept in a cooler box and is usually consumed throughout the day.

Cooking using ecofriendly principles is not for the disorganised or faint-hearted. You have to prepare your meals before noon if you are going to cook them, so that you can use the sun’s energy. That means preparing lunch and dinner in advance. The food is kept warm in an insulated hot box.

On the gardening side, you have to find out what grows in the area and plant a vegetable garden. Rose has a big garden built along the slope of the mountain. The beds are arranged in tiers and all kinds of vegetables are grown, but they mainly stick to what is seasonal.

Rose has attended a few courses in permaculture, which is learning how to use the Earth and natural principles of agriculture. She says that her ideas have changed since attending the course and she would have done things differently.

“Before setting up one’s home or garden, one should analyse the natural elements of the landscape and work with them. We did not do that properly and now we have had to adapt. One example is a large tree that blocks the sun on their verandah. On the verandah is their cooking equipment, a solar stove and solar oven which need maximum sunlight to work effectively.

During the day they boil water on the solar cooker and keep it hot in flasks. Although they do have a gas cooker, they prefer to use this only on days when there is no sun. They have two solar panels on the roof which are used to power Rose’s computer and the lights, which are all LED lights — of course!

They use a clay wood oven to keep warm at night and it is part of the children’s tasks to chop the wood into small pieces for kindling. The house is slowly being insulated with orange bags stuffed with plastic and paper, this stops the wind from coming through the cracks.

The children also help with tending to the vegetable garden, and they have learnt all about different insects and the seasons from these lessons. Murphy and his helper are busy creating a basement using the traditional Zulu method of mud and cow dung to plaster the walls.

Rose has made a yurt (Mongolian tent) using wattle branches and canvas. This is the place the children love to play in and do yoga, and which Rose will use for her workshops. She has decorated the inside with blankets and colourful saris, and it is wonderfully cosy.

“This lifestyle is by no means easy,” says Rose laughing. “We sometimes think there should be a camera in our house to record the crises, like a reality show.” But despite the tough times, there are the simple pleasures of going horse riding and swimming in the mountain stream.

They bath in a huge old metal container that was once a cattle drinking trough. A fire is built underneath and it heats up the metal and the water until it is steamy. Lying in the warm water is a treat and above is a canopy of stars.

The composting toilet is a small A-frame shack structure with a rickety door. The waste is collected in a chamber and sawdust is added after each “deposit”. The chamber faces the sun which dries the waste and the sawdust helps to absorbs any liquid.

When one chamber is full they move to a second chamber, and the other is allowed to dry. Rose said: “We opened the chamber after six months and it was not at all yucky. It did not smell at all and it looked just like fresh earth. We use this compost on our fruit trees.”

Rose and Murphy also teach environmental education to schools at Impendle. They come into Howick once a week to buy any supplies they cannot get locally and get books from the library for the children to use in their weekly lessons.

While most of us would find their lifestyle quite daunting, they believe that most people can adopt one or two things to make the world more environmentally friendly.

• Sam Rose hosts a number of workshops. Contact her at sam@zuvuya.co.za or 083 599 4792.

• Buy local produce if you can’t grow it yourself.

• Buy goods with the least harmful packaging – eg: cardboard instead of plastic.

• Buy in bulk where possible, to avoid creating litter.

• Support small local shops rather than chain stores.

• Recycle.

• Buy second-hand goods.

• Eat healthy food and be positive for good health.

• Protect and nurture the Earth and it will provide for you.

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