It is an irony that living in an environment in which 5 minute showers (when available) are the norm, the only toilet facilities are compost squat loos; ‘home comforts’ are replaced with hard work; cooking or heating water happens mostly in solar/thermal gadgets that take 2-3 times as long and the constantly eye-opening to the responsibility of the resources we use and if we can reduce them… all somehow feels so effortless.
The saying ‘the way to a (hu)man’s heart is through his or her stomach’ is proven here – we’re fed incredibly well so working is such a pleasure. In spite of the hostile landscape that lies beyond this lush patch of valley, a simple palette of vegetables, salad, nuts and seeds, fresh herbs, eggs and flour all freshly prepared means that the daily menu reads more like fine dining – pesto gnocchi, tortilla, caramelised onion sourdough and a solar-powered solution to brownies.
The gardens boast courgettes, giant tomatoes and aubergines, and while the fig, plum and mulberry trees are ripening, delicate cherry tomatoes and apricots dry in the sun to be later squirreled away for winter. What’s more, travelling vendors have started to appear with wheelbarrows heavy under the weight of honeydew melons. With the natural fridge still in progress, snacking on fresh fruit is a must during the hottest part of the day followed by a nip to the poza (a deep pool, created in a flash flood two years ago) for a cold plunge. I’m half expecting a bill for the luxury spa break that I’ve accidently appeared on – this isn’t at all how I expected semi-desert living and working to be. Curiously, how soon this blissful routine has become ordinary has equally defied my expectations. How peculiar is that slippery fish called happiness, the one that many visitors and volunteers have briefly left the daily grind of cities to catch hold of.
The role that expressing gratitude plays in our well-being is increasingly debated so we decided to challenge our blissful living conditions and mark this year’s Solstice with a day’s fast. Despite the challenge of the hunger by the 22nd hour (yes, we were counting), we enjoyed the discipline and mental clarity. It brought fresh perspective on how we’re all only three meals away from discomfort – no matter where we live – a great reminder that in an age of phenomenal technological advance, there are certain truths from which we cannot escape.