COMMUNITY LIFE IN SPAIN
We’re good again. Yesterday morning we were deciding whether to just pack the car and go. I’d downloaded a ‘to whom it may concern’-letter from the Dutch ambassador, requesting passage through Spain. Plus, the form you need to be out on the road in France from the French government.
Then we went outside and talked with people. Slurping up all the information that was pouring out of our screens made us forget that we actually have the support of a community of likeminded people here. All we need to do is step outside of our yurt. Maria, one of our Spanish neighbours who lives in a caravan on her field, called the local police to ask about still being able to go out for groceries. They told her that of course it’s not a problem for her, or for us, to go out. Provided we stick to the rules of one person per car, and the other directives, of course.
Turns out, the town hall suddenly became very concerned, because of all of the travellers in caravans; people who under normal circumstances get by, by living on the road, but who now are also trying to find a place to stay put and sit this one out. Also, a big piece of land that some of those fellow-hippies were staying on, one hippie-town over, was recently bought up by an English gentleman, who, in the face of the crises, decided to ask everybody to leave. So, the fear was that an uncontrollable situation would arise here on the riverbed and the various park-ups around. That’s why they put out the message that only residents would be accepted in town. Not to pester us. In fact, Maria was told that the police are actually instructed not to be authoritative, but to make everybody at ease with this situation, of which we all need to take care collectively. Sort of like what we’ve already been doing in our community, before it became fashionable. Or a dire necessity, although I think many of us already felt like joining forces was already a dire necessity, in the face of certain global developments it is so conveniently easy to turn away from, as individuals, using your individual lack of ‘strength in numbers’ as an excuse.
The people in our community are from many different countries all over Europe. There’s a Danish couple whose daughter was born here last January on the field, in the clay-house they built themselves. There’s a Dutch-English couple with a 1,5-year-old daughter who was born here too. There are our English neighbours with their two girls (1 and 3), another Dutch couple with two boys, aged 3 and 6, a German-Italian mother of a 2 year-old girl together with her Montenegrin father. Anna’s the only Hungarian on the field. And then there are the single fellow-field-dwellers, who hail from France, England and Germany. And Ester is from Holland too, so we Dutchies are well represented.
The pandemic is very rapidly becoming a less and less abstract reality. And there’s a lot of heart-warming stories in the news of the virus turning into a common threat, for people to rally around. But already before we were consciously dealing with the virus, all of us here were already rallying around, and coming together. Not around anything too concrete – not a dogmatic belief system, but a vague understanding of what it was we were taking distance from, and what we were hoping to come closer to. As a result, it seems like everybody around here, and on the neighbouring fields somehow knows what we’re doing. Even though we might get it wrong when trying to put it to words. What sticks out though, is that, on average, people know how to avoid being closed or unkind. And whenever I forget that, and sinks back into rebelling against the lack of space for my consumer-taxpayer-just-leave-me-alone kind of self, there’s clear mirrors around here to kindly confront me. Over the last few months, with all of these very huggable people around, I have cramped back into that state of mind, which seems to be in a life-or-death kind of struggle, desperately seeking the validation of its existence, and fearing being loved to smithereens. I still sometimes get a bit carried away with the ‘I’m a father with responsibilities now, and that’s more than enough, so you shouldn’t come to me looking for help emptying the compost toilet’-kind of attitude. It’s a work in progress.
Anyway, all of us here have in some way or form attempted to distance ourselves from lives that so very frequently haven’t felt like they were truly our own yet. In my case, it has often seemed that careers were the lives on offer. I've had a tough time trying to see what I got to choose from, as anything other than the heritage left by previous generations. Generations to whom I owe so much - my life and everything in it - that I find myself easily guilt-tripped into actually wanting the life my forefathers would have died for. Needing to choose now distracted me from arriving at the foundation of my own convictions, which I think is the only place that choices can be made from, if they are to be understood as our own.
All of us here have gone out in search of something else. Something else, involving more physical work, so that we could reconnect to the bodies we were about to loose to our brains. Something else involving face to face contact with real people, and being able to feel their warmth, both literally and figuratively, before we’d forget what that is like and why it is important. We went out to find a place to plant something, so that it may grow, and surpise us by coming into the world, much like Félix and Oliver are surprising us on a daily basis. The other day Félix said that I should also slide off the slide, and that I shouldn't worry, because "your big bum will also fit, daddy".
This field here in the South of Spain is where we ended up, and where are just now meeting each other. And this is where we are grounded now.
After a day of connecting to others neither Anna and I could remember why we were even taking our urge to flee this serious in the first place. Maybe in the Netherlands I would be able to read the system better, and I would surely enjoy seeing all my friends and family there, and reconnect with my previous network of support and friendship. But there would be no yurt, less sunshine, the community would not be the same, the access to trampolines questionable. And it feels like what we came to find here, hasn’t been found just yet, but it is right around the corner. That last reason is a difficult one to deal with, because it is so much about us and what we want. And we understand that must not be prioritized in the face of the tragedy this country is undergoing at the moment.
So all of that was yesterday. Today, we are knackered. There was a sharing circle this morning, and we joined in. I set an intention to clearly recognize when I was being afraid, and to not make any decisions in such a state. It’s something that will come up more and more, I imagine. I recognize that I now need to actively recreate the circumstances in which I get to practice my ability to trust. Not to ignore my fear, not to magically sprinkle it away with the dust of half thought trough asceticism or other well-marketed cheap idealism. But to feel the tiger of fear bite my leg. To know how it hurts. And then to trust life and what it has in store for us all the same.
I just called my mother. She’s ill. She’s never ill.
We didn’t sleep well. Just before goint to bed yesterday, we read Boris’ message on the community’s Signal-app. “I have been asked to translate this communication form the townhall but given it is an emergency AND TIME IS OF ESSENCE I will just ask for people to put the word out to travellers from other areas who are making their way towards the various park-ups around us here. It is not allowed because of the coronavirus-situation. Only those who actually live here already can go in and out for any of the state-of-emergency-reasons: to buy food, to seek medical help, etc. If people do not turn back of their own accord and park up away from the already saturated areas they are being fined.
This is causing a chaotic situation for all concerned and will make lives of those who really do live here very difficult. TELL ANYONE YOU KNOW WHO IS ON THE ROAD TO TURN BACK NOW. Thank you.
A suggestion is to self-organise the park-ups so that only those who can prove that they live here are the ones who go into town individually with their papers and can do the shopping for others. Those who have difficulty accepting the gravity of the situation should read what doctors and nurses are sharing right now. It is a complete health crisis in the Spanish hospitals. Please observe the directions of the Spanish authorities no matter how much they may rub up on your idea of civil liberties.”
Last Saterday, two Dutch families and a German family had come in campervans, looking for a place to stay. We couldn’t offer them a place on our field, and warned them against staying on the public riverbed-road in front of our field. We used to park our cars there, and a few weeks ago, the Guardia Civil had told us we were not allowed to do that anymore. Also, as a community we were just preparing to retreat inwardly, so it was an unfortunate timing for new faces to arrive. They were nice people though, understood the situation, and moved on down the river, where somebody else allowed them to park on their land. That is, until the Guardia Civil came to send them home anyway. Apparently under some kind of threat of taking their children away from them, which seemed totally out of proportion to me. Even though it was hearsay, that detail has stuck with me and I should ask a bit more about that from the person who told me this.
The app message continued with the decree from the local municipality, in Spanish, followed by Boris’ translation: “Access restrictions for non-residents to certain places in the municipality. The town hall informs that due to the State of Emergency generated by the Coronavirus sanitary control, Article 7, ‘Limitation of people’s freedom of circulation’, The Guardia Civil have set up traffic control points at the access of the different settlements in the municipality in order to ensure that this article is being carried out.
As a result, people will be asked to prove residence. Those who are not residents and those who cannot show they are on the road for any of the reasons that article 7 of the Royal Decree 463/2020 allows, will be turned back. This law allows for the authorities to fine those who do not comply and who do not follow the indications the police are giving to ensure the law is being observed.
Given the seriousness of the health situate due to the tremendous contagious capacity of COVID-19, we appeal to all the people who live in the municipality and all those who need to journey to the city for the permitted reasons, to please observe the Edict in every detail. The reason is to reduce the effects of the pandemic as much as possible.
The town hall is grateful to everyone for making an effort and cooperating so that we can get through the emergency situation as best as possible.”
Of the 21 adults who are living on this field, none are residents in the strict sense; none have ‘residencia’. The two owners of the field, who also live on it, went on a holiday to Marocco two weeks ago and are now stuck there, since Marocco has closed all borders to Spain, both ways. Only three of the people currently here have ‘empadronamiento’ – that is to say, they are enlisted in the municipal registers, which we hope will also count as some kind of proof. But only one of those three has the actual empadronamiento-certificate. The other two certificates are still in use for some kind of bureaucratic process in the town hall itself, which is now closed to public. But even if it was open, they would still have to pass through a traffic control point first, to pick up the document that we hope would allow them to pass through the traffic control points...
To get to town from where we are, you have to drive up from the riverbed, which takes you into a small settlement first. From there it’s a five-minute drive into town. We’re lucky that in that small settlement there’s a wholesaler of ecological fruits, veggies and other edibles. They have a shop, which is allowed to stay open. Were hoping there won’t be a traffic control point from the riverbed up to the store...
Ah, and this is just in. We just received word of a camper-van with two adults being caught on the road by the Guardia Civil last night. They had no valid reason for being there and were fined €3000. Each.
So anyway, this is the kind of crisis situation that we woke up with this morning. And then, on top of all of that, a second crises unfolded during breakfast. The rice-cracker with butter and Marmite that Félix received wasn’t perfectly round. A small piece of it had broken off. Félix was inconsolable.
Nice weather. Resignation to things being as the are - intellectual more than emotional though. A dispationate sense of calm, numb relaxation, letting the tiredness that we’ve been carrying across Europe these last few years surface. But also flashes of intense gratitude for being here now, as a part of a community of 21 adults and 9 children.
We’ve been here since September, and in the meantime lost of people have come and gone. Everybody who lives here has had visitors every now and then, so as a community we’ve been constantly adjusting to accommodate whatever it is that any new person brings along. Now, we’ve entered a period where this is it. And that feels good.
I got to read a book in the middle of the day today. For that, I had to take Oliver to the Church, where his mother was. The Church: that's what we call the communal building in the centre of the field, because of it's pointy shape. It’s where all our meetings, parties, meditations, workshops, jam-sessions, etc., happen when it’s too windy or too wet to be outside.
Anna was working on setting up a project. We’re in Spain, because she gets to follow an off-grid course in holistic midwifery here, in another self-built structure on a neighbouring field, in the community next to us. This year’s class is 10 women strong.
Ever since Félix started growing in her womb, Anna's interest in all things related to childbirth started growing too. Giving birth was an empowering experience for her, to say the least. During most of the pregnancy we lived in Budapest. There we followed a class for soon-to-be parents given by Ágnes Geréb, in her home. She is a Hungarian midwife of repute and a champion of the global home-birth movement, operating in a country where it is risky to be a pioneer in that field. Case in point: her prison sentence, her house arrest, the revoking of her licence to practice. Still, she has never stopped making waves that contributed to the legalization of home-births in Hungary, per 2011, and, before that, the right for fathers to attend their children’s births. It’s been a long time since she illegally smuggled fathers into labour rooms, back in 1977, and the outlook on many things regarding childbirth has changed in Hungary. She was in the news again not so long ago, because she received a Presidential pardon for her two-year prison sentence. That was in June 2018, just a few weeks after Félix’ first birthday.
Even though home-birth is now legal in Hungary, you still have to conform to a whole list of strict conditions. And if hospitalization ultimately can not be avoided, it is a given that you will receive harsh criticism from hospital staff. In fact, throughout the pregnancy you would need to brace yourself for advice, aimed at changing your mind, often expressed strongly by the various medical authorities. So even today, it still takes a strong will and a thick skin to see home birth through in Hungary. We didn’t feel like having to put up any defences or adopt such a stoic attitude towards our caregivers.
Also, a hospital-visit to Anna’s grandmother, who had broken her leg, didn’t inspire confidence in the Hungarian health care system, to say the least. She was in a women’s room; patients being sorted by gender rather than by condition. She was lying uncomfortably: a piece of foam was her matrass. Her lunch was a single slice of white toast, one tomato and a can of spam. At one point I was asked to leave the room, because one of the other patients had to use the bedpan. There wasn’t so much as a curtain between any of the eight beds. One woman was in pain, moaning. Some were sleeping, or trying to. Another was staring aimlessly into the distance. There were no TV's. A few weeks after that visit, there was an item in the news, saying that a patient had gone missing in another Budapest hospital. He was found five days later on the toilet - dead.
I don’t mean to badmouth the brave men and women who actually continue to work in the health care system over there, but boy is it clear that they are underfunded and underappreciated by their government.
We moved to Holland when Anna was 30 weeks pregnant. It was Ágnes who recommended an independent midwife in Holland. Marjolein was great. She was there with us when Félix came into the world, and into our living room in Zutphen, early in the morning on May 23rd 2017. And it was also Marjolein, paying us a visit a few months later, who told of this place here in the South of Spain, where she’d just taught a class. “I can totally picture you guys there!”
I wanted to continue reading my book, so I brought Oliver to the Church, and put him on his feet. He’s been climbing up on all of our furniture in the yurt, and could already stand up straight, holding onto our trouser legs with one hand. But now I was standing back a bit, and he stood there by himself, steady as a rock, for a good 20 seconds, without holding onto anything!
According to the WHO, 973 people died of the coronavirus today. 15 of them in Holland, 90 of them in Spain. Zero in Hungary.
This morning I went into town. I took a shopping list, because if you get stopped you need to be able to prove that you have a valid reason to be on the road. There’s a €601 to €30.000 fine if you have no excuse. If you are then caught a second time, you go to jail for three months to a year.
Bread, butter, yeast, flour, soap. Bananas. Tahini. Most things I can get in the local eco-shop. It’s a little more expensive than the market though. I mean, organic butter, 180 grams for €3,75? No way.
I still walk around the shop like it’s three days ago. New is that now, whenever I pick an item up and put it back, I feel uncomfortable. Also, me and the two other customers are keenly aware of each other. Not alarmed, but aware of our count, approximate age and gender, location in the shop, trajectory. I take my basket full of groceries to the counter and am greeted by the shopkeeper as always. Only now she’s wearing blue rubber gloves. I hover my back-card over her card-reader and my money flies across Europe to her account. After, she offers me some self-made hand sanitizer. She sprays the inside of my hands, then the outside. “Great stuff,” she says. “It has alcohol, aloë vera, tomillo, oregano.” The price tag on the small bottle reads €9. I smell my hands. “Very nice.”
In front of the pharmacy, a woman with a dog looks flustered. The dog has vomited. A pharmacist wearing gloves and a mask comes out with a bucket of soapy water to flush the pavement.
There’s a sign on the pharmacy's door: “no more than three people at one time”. The woman ties her dog to a post and raises her voice to ask if she can come in. “Yes,” they say, and when she goes in, I can see only one other person. So I ask if I can also come in. A bored pharmacist nods, but the dog owner tells me “no, maximum three!” and points at someone I can’t see from where I’m standing. So I wait a little longer to find out that they have run out of both hand sanitizer and alcohol. Maybe next week. And no, we don’t sell empty atomizers.
The canals in Venice have become so clear that you can see loads of fishes swimming in them. Satellite images mapping air pollution show a dramatic improvement of air quality over the whole of Europe.
Last stop is the small shop where I’d managed to buy 250 grams of organic butter for €2,75 last Saturday. They’re open, but this shop is much smaller, and there are more people here. Most of them have their mouth covered. I check, but see they have run out of the organic butter. There’s only non-organic butter left. I consider making an exception and take two bars of non-organic butter out of the fridge. Immediately afterwards, I decide not to use the crises as an excuse to change Anna’s principles. I put the butter back in the fridge when no-one is looking, and buy some turmeric instead. Organic, obviously.
Last Saturday I liked the place. Now I like being outside of it better. Outside it’s quiet, and there is just so much more space around. The atmosphere is not at all the same. My thoughts are clearer. I can breathe.
Police cars slowly drive through town, showing that they are there. They are not doing anything though. Not yet. There’s an ambulance too, blocking a side street. No sirens or lights. Just two paramedics in front, filling out paperwork. A tow-truck passes by. The mechanic behind the wheel is wearing the same paper mask as the paramedics, the pharmacist, the shopkeeper.
Before driving back, I quickly pop into the first shop again to buy the expensive butter. And the €9 hand-sanitizer.
At 8AM the emergency measures went into effect. Ten minutes earlier, Félix pulled the eyelash of my right eye up, telling me: “No daddy, it’s not sleeping time any more. You have to play with me.” We had oatmeal for breakfast, with honey, goji berries, sesame seeds and some brazil nuts. It rained again a bit this morning, which was another blessing for the land.
Anna took Ollie to meet up with a handful of her classmates, presumably to talk about what the lockdown would mean for their schooling, but ended up just going to class for half a day. My mom sent me an email, asking us to consider going back to Holland as soon as possible. Esther, a fellow community member, also Dutch, cooked the communal lunch today. When we were all sitting down to eat, we started exchanging thoughts about what to do and what not concerning the virus and the strict rules from the authorities.
Félix and I had fun on the trampoline. Anna had her lunch at school, which is a few hundred meters down the road, on a neighbouring field. She came back afterwards and Félix had a little nap with her. After that, Ollie also fell asleep while breastfeeding. It gave Anna some time to think – which is at least as rare as rainfall around here. After that, she wrote her class: “Hey guys, sorry, I will take this week off for some self care and adding one more drop to the big slowing down of the world. Love you all and see you soon anyway.”
When the boys woke up, we tried to video-call my mom. She didn’t pick up, so we sent her a short video message in stead. She replied later saying thank you, and also that the frying pan and chef’s knife that I’d ordered in November had finally been delivered. She is taking care of our house and cat back in Holland. Today, by way of exception, she didn’t have to sign for the package.
In the last 24 hours, the coronavirus killed 48 people in Spain and 621 worldwide. 1954 new cases were discovered in Spain alone. Hungary will be closing the borders and the airport. Holland also seems to be following Spain and France’s example, if I’m not mistaken. I haven't gotten round yet to googling the prime minister’s address to the nation.
We ran out of bread so I ended up making chapati’s with hummus for supper.
Tomorrow morning at 8 am the lockdown will start. Everybody in the whole of Spain is to stay at home. Yesterday, when we were trying to get our heads around all that's happening it got us quite fearful. By the end of the day, we were exhausted. Today we actually find ourselves very much at peace with the situation - quite to our surprise. Everything is grinding to a halt right now, but it is as if that is exactly what we needed. Not just to slow down the spread of the virus, but also to finally slow down ourselves. Someone in the community here said: "It's like finally everybody else will finally be slowing down to my speed."
Félix and Ollie are also fine. I think Félix is somehow aware of some our concerns though, and he doesn't like it when Anna and I talk about things that he is not involved in. So he was acting up a bit sometimes and peed in his pants today. Twice. Though on the whole, I think he liked his day. Especially because it rained for about half an hour today, which is quite rare for where we live, and so he got to watch a cartoon. I read him his stories tonight and he fell asleep half-way through the second book already. I'm sure that's a record.
Oliver also had a great day. He's been practicing his first word and today he finally mastered it. He picked it up from Juno, a 2-year-old British girl, who lives together with her family in a caravan on the field next to us. She always greets us in the morning, by sticking her nose on the glass pane next the door of our yurt, saying "hiya!" Thanks to Juno, today Oliver and I had our first talk. When I came back in after chopping some wood he said 'hiya!' to me, and I said it back to him, and so it went on for a few times. Big smiles.