*This post is written by me, Jorie, but I am no longer on bike tour. If you are visiting this blog to read about biking in Mexico check out our earlier posts or look for new ones from Peter. This is about natural building and my time working with an environmental education project. Word*
I just had my first day of elementary school. I ended up volunteering at a small school in mexico because Alejandra Caballero and her husband Paco, two excellent Mexican natural builders involved in the school, are friends of my teachers at the Cob Cottage Company.
School began promptly at 8AM Mexican time (ha!) on the concrete slab between classrooms with a flag parading ceremony. Orderly marching followed unfamiliar saluting, and patriotic hymning in Mexico’s honor. Next came the Tlaxcala’s regalia, bandera, and song. Tlaxcala is the smallest state in Mexico, about two hours east of Mexico City. The region has never been conquered or defeated in battle.
One last flag was honored with song, perhaps the most important of them all: The Planet Earth flag! Along with it was a song about taking care of the trees which take care of us, and thanking the clouds for rain! Fuck Yes. Way to go Mexican Esquilita Ecologica.
I presented myself in broken heavily accented Spanish ( ” Good mornings. Good morning. Hello to all friends (m) and friends (f). My name is Jorie. But it too hard to say and so you can call me Lloree like Llorar (to cry) because of much more easier, ¿no?”)
After the government mandated flag ceremony the curious young minds swarmed. They wanted to know where I was from, what language I spoke and what was with the metal in my face? They were really into shoveling dirt and filling buckets of water for me. A few helpers and I tore out cob* from the gazebo bench where it was braking, chipped or weak. La ardilla, as the bench is fondly called (meaning the squirrel,) is a favorite place to hide, to chase one another around, and to jump over in dramatic escapes. It takes a lot of ware and tear. A 5th grader told me that this is the fourth time she’s helped repair it in her time at the school. We put a new support frame made out of wired together branches in the hole we’d created. The school didn’t have many tools so I spent about 40 minutes bending wire back and forth to cut it.
((*Cob building is a type of natural, earth friendly construction. No, it doesn’t mean corn cobs, but you wouldn’t be the first to ask. It’s a sticky mix of clay, sand and straw which is used to sculpt walls, benches, niches, and more. Once dry it’s covered by earth or lime plasters to protect it from the elements and give it a clean smooth finish. Mud building is used all over the world in all sorts of climates from Mali to Wales to Ecuador. The results are beautiful, and if done well they can last for generations. The best part is that there are no harsh industrial chemicals involved and the house can one day decay back to the earth that it came from.))
La Ardilla en processo. The white areas are spots have been re-cobbed and covered in a new layer of lime plaster.
Repainting to happen soon. The larger squirrel is a wood fired oven.
A familiar face to anyone who knows Kiko Denzer’s Build Your Own Earth Oven book.
Projecto San Isidro was started in Tlaxco, Tlaxcala, Mexico, on Alejandra’s family’s land over 15 years ago. It’s a natural building and environmental education project which continues the legacy of environmental stewardship began by Don Carlos, Alejandra’s father. He spent decades reforesting the hills here and practicing organic biointensive farming. 50 years ago the family opened the small primary school to be in closer connection with the pueblo and to encourage environmental consciousness among local children. There are about 70 kids here (1st-6th graders) and four teachers. There’s also a principal named Lula (Alejandra’s sister), a cook, some neighbors who come and clean, a pack of starving toumored dogs which visits around lunch time, and some wandering chickens.
Here’s a sweet video about the Caballero family and their tight project.
The excellent Alejandra Caballero.
My volunteer position for the next two months is to do maintenance and repair on the natural buildings and structures at the school. This includes repairing the cob bench and squirrel shaped cob oven, plastering a new vaulted adobe playhouse, helping the 2nd and 3rd graders put a mosaic on their bathroom sink, keeping the urinals unclogged, and more. I already want to extend my stay.
A man waiting at the fence the other day told me that it was ”hard to watch a woman doing this kind of work.” Psssssshh! Whatever. He should try hand-washing laundry, chasing kids and cooking all day long. The women around here are no strangers to hard work. Building is easy in comparison: watching the progress and manifestation of an idea, sorting out challenges, meditating and letting your hands take over, unleashing creativity. It’s a joy.
I swore that I would never participate in natural building’s spiral plaster design trend.
Fuck, so much for unleashing creativity…
Yet to be painted.
Sweet vaulted ceiling
New bathroom sink mosaic designed by two girls of the third grade class and
executed by 3rd and 4th graders.
Smashing tiles was by far their favorite part of this project.
There are about 50 pounds of excess tile shards sitting in the school yard….
End of the week…12 de Mayo
Work at the esqulita continues to be challenging and fulfilling. The kids are super simpatico sweeties. They help me with my Spanish and always want to ditch class to come work with me. The only problems working at the school so far are the gas trucks and the ooglers. Starting at about 7:30 every morning, trucks selling cooking gas start circling the barrio like sharks blasting their repetitive sales jingles and advertisements from loudspeakers. There’s about 5 different companies doing it, and it goes on all day long. Every 15 minutes or so one will slowly drive by, but you can hear them from blocks away. I already have that shit memorized and it drives me crazy. The ooglers are another kind of shark. They’re the guys who walk past the school and stop to chat me up. The bench where I’ve been working all week is right by the fence which means that I get to meet all the sweet neighbor ladies, but it also means I have to grit my teeth and politely fend off advances too. Thank goodness for the mainly psychological boundary of that fence…
Greenhouse and garden
Giant nose behind water spigot?
Thatched roof over humanure bins & The ladies room- composting toilet.