Face-offs with cows, and flying chickens. Lessons in community from Ethiopian roads

Guest Blog by Alan Heeks, March 2016, first published at www.living-organically.com

It happens so often, you suspect the animals must enjoy it: why else do they spread the full width of the tarmac, instead of using the broad gravel verges? The cows are the worst: they glower balefully as if they might charge, and only turn aside from our approaching vehicle at the very last minute. At least the goats lose their nerve sooner.

Roads in Ethiopia are a community resource, with a stupendous range of users managing to share them. It helps that most roads are not just a two-lane tarmac strip, but a gravel belt each side. This gives lots of scope: for example donkeys on the far right, overtaken by a pony cart or a tuk-tuk, overtaken by a bus – with any traffic going the other way using the gravel strip on the far side.

 

Ethiopia road 2

I had rented a car and a driver for a long trip to the Bale Mountains, a beautiful, remote area in the far south-east of Ethiopia. We tried to overtake a slow lorry in mist, and car appeared, speeding towards us. My driver sensibly swerved off the tarmac onto the far-side gravel, alarming a lone riderless donkey whose lane discipline had been impeccable. We bounced along the gravel for a few hundred metres, and rejoined the traffic as if nothing had happened.

The sense of community remains very strong in Ethiopia, and qualities like tolerance and mutual support seem stronger here. There was never a sense that some users had a right to the road, and others didn’t: everyone flowed around each other. By contrast, in Britain it seems that car and lorry drivers believe they have an exclusive right to use the tarmac, and slower, more erratic travellers are an intrusion.

Livestock are a big part of rural life in Ethiopia, and the roads are constantly used to move them to grazing or to market. A lot of animals meander along with no supervision, especially donkeys, who have a strong impulse to turn suddenly across the road.

Because rural prices are much lower, my enterprising driver bought two chickens to take home to Addis Abbaba. They had a nice box with airholes, on the roof of the car. However, after driving through heavy rain, the box fell apart, leaving the chickens flying through the air.

The community response was impressive. Cars going the other way flashed lights and shouted to tell us of the problem. A huge lorry behind us stopped, and the driver rescued the shocked chickens from the middle of the road. I imagine one chicken telling the other, “I always had a bad feeling about today”.

Ethiopia Road

I haven’t yet mentioned the pedestrians, horse-riders, motorbikes, handcarts, nor the fearsome potholes, ruts, gulleys… but what’s impressive is how these myriad users flow peaceably around each other. British drivers could do with more of that tolerance.

‘Like One Big Family’

conservation weekendHazel Hill’s Conservation and Wellness Weekend

All 16 of us had a lovely time on this weekend, and did a lot for our own wellbeing and the wood’s. Many of the group were new to Hazel Hill, and made a really deep connection with the place and with other people.

We did some great conservation work, landscaping and planting the outdoor cooking area by the main buildings: this included planting a wide range of woodland shrubs, trees and flowers, and creating an amazing large wooden bench, masterminded by Roger Bingham.

Other highlights included large amounts of fantastic food, woodland games, and two great evenings around a campfire, with scary stories, and some lovely poems and songs.

These are some great quotes from the people on the weekend:

“I’m going to take away all the fun, and the love, and the family we’ve made.” (Joshua 6)

“I will take away the feeling of everyone chatting and chatting while they were working and spading. Five stars.” (Theo, 10)

“I had a lovely weekend and made some big life decisions. The community feeling and the mindfulness ideas all helped.” (Maggie, 20)

“I take away a sense of peace. I’ve reconnected with nature, and built a really nice bond. (Mandy)

 

50 Shades of Twilight: The Magic of a Wood in Spring

twilight in woodsTwilight is a special time for me in nature: and especially so at Hazel Hill Wood in Springtime.  Very recently, I sat on the deck of one of our buildings, facing west as the light very slowly faded.

Whilst the stages of the dawn chorus are well known, twilight too is a great time for birdsong: in different corners of the wood, I could hear a range of birdsong, with calls and responses.  The trees are not yet in leaf, so the bare outline of the branches provides exquisite sculpture against the last of the light.

The best bit of the whole experience was when the owls started calling, which was when night had almost fallen.  From where I sat, I could hear them calling as they flew in a huge circle around the wood: such a beautiful, evocative sound.  In traditional folklore, the owl is often seen as the gatekeeper between the worlds of the dark and the light, and this is certainly when their presence is strongest at Hazel Hill.

We go through several phases of spring flowers at Hazel Hill: from the snowdrops, through the primroses and wood anemones, with the climax being huge areas of bluebells, vibrant in colour, and sweetly intoxicating with their scent.  The bluebells are at their best in late April and early May: so if you would like to share this and many other woodland delights, join us for the Natural Roots of Resilience weekend, April 24-26.

Welcome

DSCF1591Hazel Hill is a beautiful, secluded 70-acre wood and sustainable retreat/education centre, seven miles from Salisbury, which offers unique scope for people to deepen their connection with nature and learn about living renewably.

The programme includes retreats, conservation, men’s and women’s groups, and the wood is available for group bookings. The facilities include heated bedrooms and sleeping lofts, indoor group room, camping area, compost loos, good showers, and a hot tub.