Massive Attack – Paradise Circus
From India originates the tale of 6 blind men who went to “see” an elephant . As everyone of them feels another part of the elephant they all come to different conclusions of what the elephant they all come to different conclusions of what the elephant looks like. None is wrong. But none is right either. None of them possesses the whole truth. You can easily apply this to all fields in human live. In my case engineering (or in a broader sense problem solving). So I’ve come here to discover another part of the elephant. I’ve come to learn. That’s at least my intention.
As I arrive at barefoot college I find a self-sufficient community. The new campus is 100% solar electrified with solar panels worth 70 kW of electricity and multiple battery pack is in every house. A rainwater collection system, a solar cooker on the roof of the mess (cantine). Library, solar workshop, offices and a puppetry. Old campus possesses a water filter system, a recycling workshop, a wood workshop, a metal workshop, a solar cooker manufacturing workshop, craft shop that weaves its own cloth, a workshop to make sanitary napkins and a class room to educate illiterate women from all over the world to be solar engineers.
But first I get sick. The food, the water, the heat – it is just to much, all at once. 3 days I am out. When I finally dare to leave the vicinity of the bathroom I start to explore…and find the nursery, declare it my favorite spot and move on. I love trees but I want to do something with solar energy, preferably with the Scheffler solar cooker. There are three spread over the two campi (campuses?). But none of them is used for cooking. As I spend another day in bed, hung over from the medication cocktail off the last days, the idea arises to kill two mosquitos with one strike: use the solar cooker to melt plastic garbage into something useful. First experiment proves it is possible, the second experiment makes clear: The problem is not the lack of heat but the controlling of the heating. The plastic burns and sticks to the “mold”. But I am going, fully in my element. Not realizing that I am missing the point.
When I arrived I found a functioning community that is very self reliant. The word “Barefoot” is not so much an indication off missing footwear but certificates. The barefoot community opposes the western obsession with standardized learning. People from villages with a certificate tend to leave for the cities for assumed prosperity. Especially men. So barefoot college trains mainly women, mothers, grandmothers. Students don’t get a certificate. They earn their respect and acknowledgement from the community. No need for certificates. Additionally kids are not only taught conservative school subjects but rural knowledge, culture and skills as well.
That is why I came here. Well partly. I didn’t realize the full extend till I got here. Anyway. So after talking to the founder of Barefoot, Bunker Roy, I have to focus on a steam boiler water filter extension to the solar cooker. Apparently barefoot has to buy 670 bottles of water every month for foreign visitors. The solar plastic becomes a “hobby”. No problem. But when I get called “a white imperialist that is useless to teach because he will just go back and be another stepping stone in the system” I start to wonder which part of the elephant I am actually exploring here. I am angry and upset. My pride is hurt. I have good intentions. I came to learn. And that is exactly what I did not. I came and started to work exactly like would have in Europe. And no matter what my intensions are/were it comes across like somebody who comes and thinks he brings the light. Realizing that humbles me. I stop trying to proof myself and start to open my eyes, submit to the way Tilonia roles. Much more enjoyable.
Looking back at my first three weeks here it seems like every time I reach a certain point in my personal development something/someone comes along to show me the next step. An eerie feeling.
A couple days later pursuing my “hobby” I find out that there has been a plastic project a couple years ago. Though different from what I had in mind. But the astonishing thing is we find two hand driven injection molding machines (!!!) in the back of the metal workshop. I mean: Wow. Although they are only 5 years old they look at least like 30. But they can be fixed up again. There are even one or two bags left of the plastic grind they used. Despite my amazement I dismiss any ambitions in that direction. It is about getting rid of waste plastic not introducing more of it. So back to steam boilers and sanitary napkin production feasibility studies. Meanwhile my “hobby” already had a distinct impact on my room. 35 empty plastic bottles, a collection of bottle caps and bottle sealings, three containers of different sand, different cut-up plastic wrapper samples, marble stone plates, stainless steal containers, strips of cloth … I plan some experiments for the day of diwali but the clouds are against it. Well I finally get to write this blog entry plus more time to contemplate the events of the past weeks.
Concluding I would ask everyone to watch the documentary “Schooling the world – the white man’s last burden”. It is a vastly different view on the western schooling system and it also deals with “good intensions”.
All photos in this blog are my own and are not allowed to be used without my explicit permission.