As I left New York on a freezing early January day, I was filled with excitement about coming back to Tribewanted at John Obey beach, Sierra Leone, after being gone for nine months. Would the sustainable community we built last year have withstood the test of time? Would I be welcomed back? Would season two be a success?
The plane from London was four hours late, and I finally arrived at the beach at 3:30 a.m. Even in the dead of the night, I could see the incredible growth the vegetation went through in a rainy season. I indulged myself by staying in the "honeydome" earth-bag building, complete with its own compost-toilet. I took a bucket shower under the stars and passed out. I slept a hundred times better than what I was used to last year having only slept in a tent in the first season, and was awaken by the "chop" bell announcing lunch at 1 p.m.
"I'm back home," I tweeted. After years of fighting the pressure to use social media I finally had to give in to Twitter in order to stay in touch with the rest of the world from the beach, Internet connection permitting. "Never been prouder," I continued. The work that the local team, headed by Ibrahim Fatorma, all John Obey locals, have done here is inspiring. The workers now manage the construction of the new earth-bag building, called "The Wall," they manage the permaculture gardens, the kitchen, procurement, all the money transactions and the interaction with the visiting tribemembers, helped only by an international volunteer. Tribewanted has flourished in the last nine months. We now have two finished earth-domes that resemble Gaudi's finest work, two traditional wooden bungalows on the lagoon and the Wall in its completion stages.
Today it is being wired, the solar tower is holding strong and providing us with all the energy we need.
The first day, without beating around the bush, Old Pa' Braima asked me about the new microloans for the team. I headed to Salone Microfinance Trust and got them approved: 15 Million Leones for 22 applicants; $160 each, repayable in six months. Then at the morning meeting came the issue of healthcare. We took care of Abu, who almost died of typhoid over the holidays, and Saidu's leg keeps on swelling. Prevention is the most important thing here though, as so many easily treatable diseases are left to degenerate, so we created a small fund allowing the workers monthly expenditures for smaller health issues, as the insurance only covers major ones.
This morning myself, Fatorma, Daniel, Momo from the permaculture team and Tribemember Tom Evans shoveled 6-month old compost from the toilets, dry and odorless, it will be a great addition to our gardens. A big thanks goes out to all the tribe-members for their generous contribution... The banana trees in front of the compost toilets have also grown tall thanks to the nitrogen-filled urine, and we are harvesting our first batch of bananas. On Monday we lost 5,000 liters of water from the tank, a pipe leak -- two days worth of pumping!
I'm back to work on our sustainable index of 10 metrics, to quantify our impact and provide a blueprint for how we can live: Financial, environmental and social sustainability. In order for the project to continue to bring benefits to the local community in the long term, we must break even financially. We achieve this on some months, while we still have to go into our pockets in others.
The biggest challenge is still the price of the plane ticket to get people here, and we are working hard in our continued efforts to change the international perception of the country from a negative one to a positive one. We measure energy, water usage and waste per capita. We measure food miles and our carbon footprint, and plan to start a nursery to offset our co2 emissions (mainly flights), and help Sierra Leone's efforts to save the Peninsula's forest. We are in the process of measuring employment, healthcare, education and even happiness metrics at John Obey, for our local workers and international tribe-members... Does living on a beach with a salary of $75/month make you happier than living in a high-rise in a metropolis earning $7,500/month? We shall see...
We have big plans for Tribewanted in 2012, a new location and the launch of a new platform and membership structure, which calls me back to Europe. But spending a month a year on our beach in Sierra Leone is something I hope to always do, brings me back to the four elements, brings me back to simplicity and an inner balance. Knowing that the local team has taken ownership of the project gives me conviction that we are doing something right, and ideally we can replicate this sustainable living model not just in other developing countries, but in developed countries and urban settings as well.