It’s been a looooooong road since Day 1 (December 9, 2014)…..

It’s been a year since I wrote the last COBlog, or more. Interesting. The last year of the
Globalcobtrotter Ride went quickly though not without many an event to keep this Cob Queen
busy. Today I sit by an oceanview window in the tiny end-of-the-world village by the name of
Mosteiros (Monasteries) on the Azorean island of São Miguel. And ponder the last 4 years of
intent.

Riding like the wind down the Bahian coast of Brazil…struggling breathlessly up the unpleasant
climbs of Colombia… succeeding the highest peaks of the Pyrenées on my tiny-wheeled foldable
Bike Friday while the racers flew by and cheered…and chilling in a hammock for four days on the
Amazon River while my bike took a break too. Clearly the memories are endless and colorful and
have been and will be recorded and edited in book form and, with much new learning and help,
movie format. The material is too good to keep for myself.

My journey was dual, as those of you who have followed me know. I wanted to bike around the
world (glad I even got to do the 15 countries I did) and teach international intercultural cob
workshops along the way for the good of the planet and the people. I did not know how I would do
the latter and had an idea of how I would do the former, as I had already lived abroad and always
with my bike.

As all of you who commune with Great Spirit know, when you are clear and intent on manifesting
your Heart’s Calling, nothing is an obstacle, only a new learning experience faced with excitement
and even some healthy fear. This adventure had everything to keep me entertained, including a
couple of robberies with happy endings. I could not have asked for more support from the
Universe. I am utterly grateful and blissful that I am in good health, good shape, a better person,
more knowledgeable about a variety of places and cultures, more experienced in social relations,
got to share good times with my boyz along the way, and even have more money in the bank than
when I started!!!! (That was the plan)

SInce the last Blog entry there have been 5 cob workshops: Austin, Texas…Carrancas, Brazil…
Guatapé, Colombia…Trinidad, Colorado…and Faial, Azores. Oh and the first CruzinCobGlobal
oven workshop taught by my students Krystal and Bea. They were a combination of 3 month-long
complete builds (the roof is always a wild card), an oven/bench combo, and a 3-week wall
workshop. My intent for 2018 was to hold 4 month-long workshops and I managed 2. Brazil was
cancelled due to organizational difficulties and Morocco was cancelled due to cultural confusions
and my own tired self!

With each workshop it seemed the students were more productive and were able to build faster
and more. Even the Wild Woman workshop in Faial, which did not quite turn out as I had
imagined, started with a 2-story building with a 50cm wide foundation and bottom of wall which
took a week and a half, and was still able to complete the walls, sculpting and plaster in only 2.5
weeks!!!

Each workshop has taught me something and grown me. Whether it was about including more
Circle Time and extracurricular activities like yoga, dance and salsa, or joining the students on a
field trip to Taos for the weekend, or letting go completely of my plans for the morning and sitting
and processing personal issues all together instead, I always received something from each
workshop and each student. And I know that each student took away alot more than just a new skill
and knowledge of how to build themselves a house. Even if that was all they took away, hallelujah!
But CruzinCobGlobal is definitely fulfilling its vision and mission of spreading the COB throughout
the Planet while giving students a memorable intercultural experience in each country.

Often it is a challenge for Cob Instructors to sustain themselves teaching in Third World countries
where people have less or no funds to pay for a workshop, which is why the international format
succeeds by allowing the students who can pay for a workshop to subsidize the possibility for the
ones who can’t. In the end we all need each other to build a house, a village, raise a family, live,
learn and grow. Cob workshops are a microcosm of a Happy Planet, with its ups and downs,
different personalities, celebrations, joy, difficult moments, rituals, playfulness, hard work, good
shared meals and all in all an opportunity to connect with the Earth and People in an intense new
way. You are guaranteed to come out transformed and with new ideas.

For me personally, as a solo lone wolf mama, the upcoming workshops are always exciting to look
forward to, to try new things and meet another new set of students. Working with new hosts I have
never yet met in person has proven to be a challenge alot of the time and for that reason I have
decided to only work with hosts I know or have had a chance to meet with in person. Yes there is
nothing like feeling out each other’s energy and getting a real take on your ability to work intimately
with someone for a month and their ability to host successfully. After 14 years of organizing
workshops I know what it takes to host. It is no small feat and most people underestimate the work
they need to do before and during to make it work well on all fronts. With all the documents I
provide, and photos and videos online, and conversations…just like childbirth…you just don’t get it
until you do it!

Nonetheless the workshops have been separated by wonderful journeys from one to the next
through lands I have wanted to bike through, which was my intent in designing my route and
finding hosting opportunities along the way. Who knows how many kiometers or miles were
pedaled..ALOT!!!!! My legs know, my arms and wrists know and my back and eyes know. Some
of the people I met along the way who were biking or who hosted me are now still on the road and
a small part of me wants to join them! Small! Cause I dont know if this body wants to keep going
and sleep outside night after night in a new spot with new sounds, new things to be aware of, new
foods, new adventures. I’m a bit tired though short month-long journeys I can see in the near
future. Once a bike traveller always a bike traveller!

For now…I am trying to adjust to incorporating this vision I had of myself gracefully sliding into
settled living and finding the land, the partner and the community with ease. Yeah, right? Did
anyone remind me that I would also unbeknownst to me gracefully slip into emotional postnomadic
withdrawal symptoms and depression? Noooo! I am freakin’ out! I was hoping that if I
just quietly made a call to live in the Azores and shipped all my belongings (54 boxes) by boat for
$3800 from Oakland, CA to Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, posted it publicly on FB and and told all
the important people in my life….that all would unfold perfectly. NOOOOT!

I have been on and off crying for the last 5 weeks, feeling quite restless and bored as fuck (not my
usual MO) and wondering what the fuck made me think that a fun and easy free-flowin’ bike ride
around this island for two weeks 2 years ago, camping everywhere and feeling free, would qualify
this place as my future ideal home. Did I even think of the people aspect? Hello!!! Society,
friends, music, salsa dancing, good restaurants, organic farms, Black culture, art life, and a culture
that stays up past 10pm and opens their windows to the world??? Heavy Heavy.

Well after 3 retracted way-too-fast offers for land and weird old tear-down houses that woke me up
to the reality of “You will be based here for a whiiiile…if you put that money down”…and woke the
real estate agents up to the confused foreign woman who you should stay away from….I’m pullin’
back, chillin’ out, and even if my worldly and emotional possessions are on a boat on their way
here after travelling for 2 months through hurricanes and the Panama Canal…I’m cool now. As my
son Viva says, “ Just take this sacred time for yourself Mom. Be with yourself. Love yourself. Make
your scrapbooks you’ve been wanting to do. Read a book. Don’t do anything. Just BE!”
And yes that is the word I’m hearing from on high too. Just relax now. Stop tryin’ to make things
happen. Stop pushing forward with the next plan and the next to-do-list. Man it’s hard. The first
thing I do when my eyes open in the morning, actually before they open as it is what make them
open, is think about my to-do-list. But my happy to-do list. My exciting to-do-list. Not the one with
“Call the IRS” on it. The endless creative development one. Still, it’s a to-do-list. And what I really
need to do is just be now. Smell the flowers. Save the poor juvenile endangered cagarro birds
walking the village streets at night because they fall from being blinded by the street lights and get
disoriented and need humans to take them to the beach. Talk to my neighbor Tania about the
weather and the figs on her tree that she downt want. Watch the endless flow of tourists park their
shiny little cars and get out with their 8” long lenses to take a few sunset photos, walk on the sand,
see the Beauty, and get back in to head to the next stop. Watch the teenaged boys, just like
anywhere in the world, huddled up in their hangout spot under the trees, smokin’ cigs or joints, and
checkin’ out the white bulbous female bodies they will never have an exchange with. Watch the
short, older well-wrinkled fishermen also huddled together lookin’ at the same white bulbous bodies
they will never have an exchange with.

The only life in this village is the kids and the elementary school. That is the saving grace of
Cecilia, my landlady. The youth keeps her sane and motivated. Like everywhere in the world,
right? The pre-10 year olds that haven’t been corrupted by much of the world happenings and
technology yet. Maybe. Anyway here at the end of the island it’s still a safe place. Safety,
security…THOSE are the key things that stuck with me about this island actually. That I could
sleep openly on any unoccupied field and noone would care or try to rob me or bother me. The
locals are shy that way. That there were no “Camping Prohibited” signs along the way. That I had
alot of space to just be. Of course that was after travelling through Africa and Morocco. It’s all
about contrast. We learn what we value and what is a priority for us when we don’t have it. The
key is to find the middle point where we don’t need to be in extremes all the time. I guess that’s it.
What’s my middle point that I can live with with my greatest needs met and my not so great needs
partially or not met. Greatest needs: my children nearby, mom close by, healthy environment,
moist climate, good drinking water, healthy agriculture, ocean nearby, cool, progressive society
with Afro-based dance and music, community vibes, ease to build and create…. and economical!
Not too much to ask for and probably most people I know’s greatest needs list too.

It’s funny. So many people are wandering on Earth looking for “home” right now, like the Jews of
yonder, of which I am a descendant. Only we self-chosen nomads are very fortunate to be free,
have some money-making skills, know how to create our income while being mobile (thanks to
those devices), and how to live without a home base. We get very good at it. We recognize each
other and commune easily. For a while. And then we are gone again on a plane, a boat, a train, a
car ride, a bike, our feet, away from here and going there. Cause we heard sopme good things
about it. Got some good referrals for housing and food.

And then there are the temporary nomads that after having saved up their income opportunities
and had minimal expenses for years on end, are ready to stop and buy land and create their
Permaculture Homestead with a bungalow or two to rent out and a food forest, some goats for milk
and cheese, and maybe room for a few friends. That is what I am finding here on São Miguel too.
Perhaps it is the budding next mecca that will take over the traditional island culture. And create its
own new culture with some contributions from the old guard that also knew how to thrive here in a
different way. But the squared-up white concrete block or rock-covered-with-cement houses all
lined up and facing each other with a few windows facing the street and the rest of the innards
hidden from the ocean will then be replaced because the New Generation of Azoreans have other
ideas. They want to face the ocean, see the sunrise and sunset, ride the waves, feel the wind,
work the land productively and naturally, many people together, grow as many fruit trees as
possible, repopulate the island with juicy joy, music, dance, parties, festivals, communities,
gatherings playfulness, and electric geothermal-generated transportation. Maybe the people who
came here years ago had to escape, run, and then kept going to the Americas and Canada and
saw this place as harsh, scary, overwhelming. And so that is how they built their homes. To protect
them and hide them from the elements outside.

So there is change in the air. Many lands are being sold to the newcomers for a hefty price. But it
is allowing a slow takeover and transition. Maybe that is what I was attracted to. The possibilities
inherent in this place. I didn’t think of the people because I didnt feel connected to them, as the
others here also feel. And this is cause for a strange feeling to be here and not connect with the
people who have lived here for a long time. When I say the people I mean more the villagers who
are a tighter-knit community because they are the ones who remain here year in and year out, who
rarely leave to visit other parts of the island even. One woman here, my landlady, goes to town
once a month and has never been to some other parts of the island I asked her about. What a
funny contrast with the nomads of the world who can’t sit still!! This village, Mosteiros, really puts it
right in your face. Maybe it’s not all boring here. It just is. And we have been too overstimulated
with our phones, computers, ipods, even books and movies, etc. Maybe just being with what is is
happening right here right now, all around me, and I can’t escape. Mosteiros, Monasteries, an
enlightenment immersion, if you so wish to embrace it. May the Force of Self-Love be with you!

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WE DID IT!!!!

I had a feeling this workshop would be the one that would reach my personal goal of truly completing the whole building right to the roof covering. It is the third month-long cob workshop I have led and for factors that I managed to control this time, the previous two did not attain the roof completion. I am learning to stay strict about building size relative to number of students and strict about the schedule. I think I am also learning to support the students mentally and physically in maximizing their potential.. I still realize that whatever number I declare to be the daily individual goal for cob batches, people rarely attain that consistently. The lesson this time was that as I lowered the daily goal to 3, the lowest yet, people lowered their output. If I had declared it to be 6 batches, everyone would easily be making 3 batches a day. At 3, there were many 1 batch days for a number of students. My intention in the cob workshops I teach is to have students experience the intensity of effort it takes to complete a cob building in a reasonable time frame. Most cob projects I have heard about take an excessively long time to complete because it’s hard work and not systematized or consistent. On the job sites I have had, the only way we can advance effectively is to have systems of concentrated production, multi-tasking with trimming, and of course having all the inserted materials prepped and ready when needed. Same for the workshops. When talking with other teachers or students who have taken other workshops, what I hear is that a full building is never completed. I know that students really want this experience and when they accomplish benchmarks like finishing the wall, there is such an ecstatic bliss that sets in, along with fulfillment, pride and confidence, that I know I am doing the right thing.

The Texas workshop students had a phenomenal synergy. There was the youthful crew that worked hard and played hard, every night, and weekends…and then the others that paced their energy with early bedtime and restful weekends. Nonetheless the closeness and joy of the whole group grew quickly from Day 1 until the difficult goodbyes one month later. The deep bond that was formed in the creation of this beautiful sculpted cob studio is irreparable and eternal. Each student has gained the knowledge and ability to do the same when they return home or wherever they are. For this reason, the Complete Cob Workshops will become CruzinCobGlobal’s standard offering 4 times a year, all over the world. It is this type of workshop that will produce confident and able Cobbers, ready to be assistant teachers and ready to build cob projects.

Congratulations to the new class of Advanced Cobber graduates! Well done!

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CruzinCobGlobal whirls thru 4 Portuguese-speaking workshops in 2 months!!!

I knew when I scheduled the last 2017 workshops of the Euro-Afro Cob Tour from Cabo Verde to Castro Verde between May 14 and August 7 that I would be in for an intense period of “work”.  Of course perhaps to the outside world it appears as a paradise lifestyle, earning a living teaching cob building workshops while travelling to places like Cabo Verde, the Azores Islands of Portugal, the Alentejo region of Portugal, France, Spain, Morocco, the Canaries and so on, but trust me once the workshops get rolling it’s nonstop intensity and very hard work to pull it all together and complete a quality building in a short period of time with new cobbers and an avid host or two .  Of course that’s why I love it. I like the extremes of working my butt off for a defined period of time, creating a fulfilling win-win-win outcome and then chilling in exotic locations.  And of course I LOOOOOVE spreading the passion of cob to new hands, hearts and feet who speak all kinds of languages.  The cob is the glue of the Heart & Soul that creates happy families during and after every workshop.  Long-lasting friendships are born and long-distance communities created and sustained by the love of the cob building experience.  My pleasure is knowing that I am providing each and every one of my students with the skills to build their own future home with minimal financial input and thus gifting them FREEDOM

Hallelujah we did it!

from dependency on the system for the one thing that can enslave us the most: our own shelter, an inalienable right according to the Declaration of Independence of the USA.  Freedom to use their time and energy to do what they love, follow their Heart’s calling, explore, learn and just lie on the grass looking up at the sky and daydreaming about whatever comes up!!!  We need more free unstructured time in our lives to be the creators we were born to be, the intentional actors in our stories, which comes with less financial pressure which, in the West and more of the rest of the world than ever, comes with no monthly mortgage or rent payments.  Right?

The glee on people’s faces when they see the cob building begin to look like a home, with plaster on beautiful sculptures, the roof structure going on, the finished floor being poured…and the excitement they exude about going “home” to build right away….are my Soulfood.  As the time draws near for this global cob journey to wind down (Summer of 2018), I will continue to grow CruzinCobGlobal’s reach and impact with an inspired and energetic team of committed assistants and future teachers from all over the world.  Who can resist a life making your income by teaching Cob Building all over the world? I need teachers who can speak all the languages required to hold workshops everywhere.  I have demand coming from every continent. Seriously! Give me Spanish speakers, Portuguese speakers, Romanian speakers, Wolof speakers, Arabic speakers, Norwegian speakers, Russian speakers, Hindi speakers, Chinese speakers….and let me train them!  I am doing my best  to make the workshops a win win win and affordable to all who want to come. Next year I will begin collaborating with sponsors for the interested students who cannot make a financial contribution or need assistance.

This Spring 2018 I will celebrate my 54th revolution around the sun in Bahia, Brazil with my 1st workshop in South America, a one-month Complete Cob Build in which we will be staying in a brand new Ecovillage and building their first communal building out of cob….the hearth, the kitchen, the food love space!  The Ecovillage is only a few miles from the beach and situated in a protected national forest on a river.  I cannot wait to see this place and Brazil after 30 years!  Save the dates: March 17th to April 15th, 2018!!!  Until then my friends we have an Oven Workshop in Santa Cruz and a Complete Cob Workshop in Texas as the grand finales for 2017.  Is it time for you yet to join the action?

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Fastest Build Yet: 7 days Foundation to Roof in Sal, Cabo Verde (w/ video!)

I am not sure if I am becoming a more efficient teacher, if my Portuguese is getting better, if Sal is the perfect Cob Building environment or I just got blessed with a Power Building posse of students in May…but this was the fastest 10km2 build yet!

I arrived on a Friday afternoon in Sal airport and was met and whisked away with excitement by Paola Mariani in her white flatbed delivery truck!

Best Hosts

Paola, an Italian wild woman (Leo) and her husband Camilo, an Argentinian wilder man (Gemini) brought me to their giant nursery and abandoned animal park at the entrance of Santa Maria, the largest concentration of tourism in Cabo Verde.  Their outfit is the only one of its kind on this dry desert landscape and an outpost of GREEN, humidity, shade and comfort on Sal.  Locals and tourists alike come to enjoy a break from the heat and sun and pretend they are in the temperate zone of Europe, romping on the green lawn and picnicking under the variety of once-local tree species.  All the vegetation is fed by reclaimed greywater from the endless resorts on the island and rows of dried poop from the septic tanks lines the hectares of unused land around them.

Grateful to collaborate with such a vibrant and effective young couple, I got to work immediately on Friday afternoon as we brainstormed the easiest and cheapest foundation materials.  Used tires!!! Yes!!!

Tires for foundation

And Paola sent Boris, their man-of-all-trades manager, off to collect tires everywhere!  Within an hour he was back with the 50 tires we needed to build our two-level foundation for a 10km2 structure right at the entrance to the tour of Viveiro Cabo Verde!  Within a few hours we had dug the trench, poured in gravel and lay the first row of tires densely packed with gravel with only half the builders (4).  We had 7 days to get to the roof.  Visitors were already showin’up to check things out after Paola’s Facebook launch only a few days before we started.

What followed was one of the most exciting worksites I have had the fortune to lead in all my experience.  Sal has clay soil everywhere, mostly red, and mostly free, or so it seems.  It does require an addition of “rough sand” to make it perfect, which we found in the riverbed, free too.  The only momentary challenge was the “straw”, which we created out of palm frond leaves separated a couple of times to reach the ideal width by a happy group of women who enjoyed the talk/work setup while the guys were sweating away.  I like to have men and women working on the site but in this case, with a time crunch, it was useful to have some active muscle at work bringing materials, making cob, building, throwing, etc.

My 7-8 Cabo Verdian mixed student body, as usual, did not know what was coming.  Some were from other islands, some had a building background, others specialized in landscaping and plants and we had one soccer player/bartender and one musician.  In 7 days they all became experienced cob builders and their eyes grew wide as did their smiles as they saw the red, personally sculpted “casinha” bungalow grow taller and more beautiful under their hands each day.  At the end of their 8-hours, they would all stand back and look at what they had accomplished that day and their self-confidence and empowerment grew as they realized the unexpected gift they had been given in these 7 days: the skills and knowledge to build themselves a beautiful, solid, organic home for free!  A real house that worked and would stand out from all the others!  No cement, no blocks, no rebar and little or no money!  With trade they could gather all they needed and afford a home soon!  The glee and passion I witness in my students all over the world as they accomplish and complete a structure is my gift to myself.  I know it will then go out and replicate bringing Joy and Happiness to more people, feed their Souls, expand their Consciousness and Images of what is possible on the Planet.  Most important of all for me is that I am benefitting the health of the Earth, my Mother, our Mother, who sits under us humbly gifting food, building materials, water, Beauty, comfort and Love.  I know I am doing well by Her and that is my Peace.

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Salaam AleyCOB!!!

Morocco is where my mother was born and raised. It is between Spain and Senegal, and east of the Canaries and northeast of Cabo Verde. Two years after beginning the Global CobTrotter Journey, I am completing full circle. Actually 3 full circles. Spain to the Canaries to Cabo Verde to Senegal to Cabo Verde to the Canaries to Spain to Portugal to Senegal to Cabo Verde to France to Portugal to Spain to Morocco. Fitting that I finish this triple circle in the middle and in my mother’s homeland. She is now 77 and after 40 years in NYC has moved back to the neighborhood of her youth, with her friends of her youth. While NYC is my hometown, I have been introduced to Morocco on many occasions but never have I introduced COB to Morocco.

Once again, I find an ancient earth-building culture that, like all the others, has strayed from its roots replacing them with inefficient, ugly and expensive concrete blocks. Our workshop was in the countryside which allowed us to experience more of the roots of traditional building techniques. There is a form of cob walls with no straw or fiber, and there are adobe blocks, also with no fiber.
Because of the minimal rainfall and the rich red clay content, these walls endure. However upon examination of a shake test of one of the very old (300 years?) walls that stands as ruins outside Jamal’s doors, we found no coarse sand at all in the mix. As a matter of fact it was about 30% clay and 70% fine sand. The ratio was ok but such a mix would be very sticky and not structurally as sound as a coarse sand cob mix. As I learned from my teachers and I teach my students…Cob is forgiving. But is it even true Cob with no fiber? Naaaah. That would be weak adobe.

Thus I had something to teach not only my American and European students , but my trio of Moroccan students, who will, hopefully, pass on the good deed to their friends who will show their friends, and so on. When they saw us mixing with our feet and getting all muddy, the Tadelakt (lime finish plaster) artisans would have nothing to do with us. Dressed pretty in their leather jackets and jelled hair, they watched from afar lest Jamal encourage them to join in. What is it about getting muddy and “dirt”y that is “lowly” in the eyes of non-Westerners? In Senegal it took a bit for the Senegalese to feel OK jumping in once they saw the white folk enjoying it. We, the new eco-generations, thrive on being one with the land, living in earth houses, eating mostly plants and ignoring plastic.

Eventually the locals cannot resist as they see how much fun it is despite the hard work. With some rockin’ Islamic prayer tunes followed by peppy Michael Franti and Cabo Verdian-Japanese fusion, our bodies move easier and our collaboration is more fun. Once again a new family is born, the cob bonding with cob and bonding the humans, who came from the clay and become transformed in the clay. Artists and sculptors emerge in the last days, embellishing and personalizing the sweatily-built walls, bestowing life and unique beauty upon them. Satisfaction reigns when we stand back and look at our work. The plaster is the reward, smoothing and finishing the walls with horse poop for ultimate protection. We work together on the last day to give our Hammam as much as we can, taking away the skills to build one out of cob one day, and finish it with the age-old smooth-as-silk Moroccan lime finish cultivated right here in homemade lime kilns.

Amazing food, amazing people, amazing vistas and souks to get lost in….another wonderful experience! Shoukran!!!

 

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Time to Reflect After France….

Dear Friends

Sitting here under a starry sky punctuated by my bright MacBook Air in total contrast to the peaceful cricket background hum and dark outline of the pine trees against the Pyreneean night.

I have spent the whole day in a 36 round fut cob/straw hobbit hut complete with ochre sculpted fireplace and smoke pipe. IMG_9944I have spent 3 weeks sleeping in this humble natural home with no door, exposed to the spiders, ants and other flying bugs that make it their home too. Outside my hut is a 270 degree panorama of open field, lined with fir trees and farther off the Pyrenee foothills begin. The evening is a welcome relief from the searing 100+ degree days with no wind. I can sleep clotheless and comfortably at night without sweating or chilling. Perfect temperature.

Today was Decompression Day after my 11th Cob Workshop since I started my World Bike Tour in December 2014. I am proud of myself for keeping at it and continuing to spread the good word and the good deed. Each workshop is a new adventure and has its own sets of challenges and new discoveries. Apart from the new soils and sands and straw or straw alternative to work with, I have new people, cultures, settings, climates, students, projects, etc. IMG_9686I am learning and growing and realizing, little by little, what it takes to make a good workshop while remaining open to the fact that I can’t control all the elements all the time. And getting to know my own personal preferences in terms of my needs as well.

This last workshop was a smallish one with 5 lovely diverse students who worked very hard to complete a 12m2 structure in the 12 days we had. Always the hard work starts and breaks everyone in within a few days. We find our groove and relax into the earth work. As the wall grows, people feel happy to see their work show up clearly before their eyes. The first 2-3 feet are always the hardest…straight cob around and around. We insert rocks for some reprieve from the endless mixes. This workshop I made a goal of 4 loaves per person per day. Even that was always a push. IMG_9720Maybe I should say 6 next time so 4 seems less overwhelming. There’s alot of mental effort as well in this work. I am learning that people need to feel ahead of the game. Satisfied with their days’ work. I am learning to have smaller goals. I tried to keep the structure small and once again the owners wanted bigger. Deals were made that were not maintained and once gain the push to complete the walls was on.

It seems a part of me wants the students to have that great satisfaction of finishing the wall(s) and seeing the results of their hard work, and another part wants everyone to take it easy and have a good time. I am always between the Owners of the land and the students, trying to find a happy balance. However in alignment with my own driven personality, I tend towards encouraging the students to work hard to complete. Another reason I prefer the goal of completion and its intense time frame, is that once COB BUILDING gets rollin’, especially with a group effort, it’s good to keep it rollin’. IMG_9940Earthwork is heavy and effortful and done communally it all goes much more easily. These are the points I want the students to experience: the physical work, the pace of actually getting the walls up, and the importance of bringing in a community to work together in a more productive and enjoyable flow. This is how a cob house can get erected in a “useful” timeframe. Working alone you’re looking at 4-10 times longer. For me it took 4 years. It becomes a long building meditation. And that’s fine if you have the time. But if you want to move in in, or if you are hired to build for someone, energy management is key.

On the other hand students who pay to learn in one of our workshops also don’t want to feel like laborers. Thus it is important to have chunks of downtime, yoga, playing and other activities to nurture the energy for the building. So many things to fit in, and still have the solid fresh energy to make those mixes for a week or more. Each workshop gives me the opportunity to improve the experience, for myself, the client and the students. Yet there is always the unexpected, especially as one moves over the Planet into new realms. This is what I chose and why I chose it. I was yearning for NEW, SURPRISES, UNKNOWN, CHALLENGES. And with these I am growing myself, as graciously and gratefully as my 52 year-young self will allow me to. One day at a time.

IMG_9878

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“Santiago Workshop On Fire”….by Viva Hansen

There is an ideal mission for CruzinCobGlobal. That mission is to effectively deliver the tools and knowledge of Cob building to people who need it. The workshop formula is a great way of achieving our goal. But it is always tricky realizing organization and coherence in our execution through different cultures.

This last workshop in the small town of São Domingos, Cabo Verde embodied the fullest expression of CruzinCobGlobal’s mission statement to date. The success of any workshop is directly proportional to a host’s desire and need for Cob,

Mom and Elayni

Mom and Elayni

which is proportional to their understanding of the importance of natural building and its role in community integration and environmental consciousness. All these things and more were evident in Neiva when she approached Claudine just days after we finished our work in São Vicente.

What Neiva had always wanted was a different home. She was tired of the monotony of concrete around her, and she felt there were other options she might not know about. The only thing slowing her down was the lack of professionals on her island. So when she saw Claudine on Cabo Verde’s news network she immediately began taking steps to manifest a workshop in her town as well. What was singular about Neiva was her effort to petition local government and non- profits asking them to appreciate the importance of a paradigm switch in the building practices in the community. She worked for

Almost there

Almost there

two weeks to present them with evidence that Cob building is a legitimate alternative to concrete and steel, and what she walked away with was word from local non-profit City Habitat agreeing to sponsor fifteen students to take our course. Fifteen young men and women, college educated and currently unemployed, who wanted to learn something they could expand on in their professional life. The students were architects, plumbers, electricians, masons, professors, government officials, shepherds, musicians and more—people that expressed interest in the alternative.

The first day everyone kind of milled around waiting for the

Polinho

Polinho

start. It was foggy, we were up in the mountains. It was good cobbing weather. We starting using the very earth we was dug up to build the foundation. Two buckets of that, one bucket of sand and a handful of straw we had collected from up the mountain. People started taking their shoes off and feeling the mix on their feet. As always the smiles start appearing—people rolling up their pants and turning their hats backwards. People getting into it.

The thing is, as the walls go up something sparks the imagination and we start to clearly see how we would use this medium of Cob. Now I’m on the hill overlooking the collaborative celebration that is a cob workshop and hearing everyone talk about what kind of house they would make.IMG_8963 People debating whether or not Cob could be used in this or that setting. Wondering if salt water would work for people who live by the beach and don’t have abundant access to water for building. And as the weeks moves on these students, these young people, start coming back earlier and earlier because they are excited to see this house that they are creating come into fruition. It cannot be stressed enough how empowering of a feeling it is.

But what was so refreshing about this particular workshop experience was that it really was the clear expression of CruzinCobGlobal’s goal. Here you have an organization that believes in the power of natural building enough to sponsor a group of budding professionals to build a model home in order to create a team to spread the practice throughout the land and into the future. Basically it feels like we’ve done our job very well. That we’ve helped plant the seed of sustainable construction in another community that might never have gotten it this straightforwardly, informally and easily.

A Familha Beleza!

A Familha Beleza!

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The Cabo Verdean Culture of Rock n’ Cob Houses Opens the Door to Something New…

As I make my way into new countries and cultures, especially non-industrialized, non-Western (all these labels are kinda janky, as my kids say) lands I am always excited to discover how my introduction of Cob will be received. In Senegal, traditionally a mud house-building people, especially in the Southern Casamance region, IMG_7397our techniques were still of interest. There they don’t use straw in their mix and often use termite mound mix which barely has any clay in it and washes away with water. Some areas do have really good yellowish clay soils that may be akin to the red ready-mix of the Sierra Foothills. They mainly use block-making building style with forms. They certainy don’t take time to test as we have been taught and teach others. But heck, if it’s still standing after the rainy season then it’s a good mix.

Here in Cabo Verde the tradition is rock with cob originally and now cement mortar. You only see them in the rural areas. It seems cob is faster and easier and cheaper though. It took the “pedreiros” or “stoners” (heehee) 4 days to build a 12m2 foundation! Rocks are heavy and unless they’re right where you want to build, the transport is costly and demanding.

The first day we started the wall the masons were still there and curious to see what we were up to in the workshop. Within minutes of starting the first mix, they were piqued. They watched intently as I demonstrated the pisé cob dance and came in

Nuno's First Cob Mix Ecstasy Dance

Nuno’s First Cob Mix Ecstasy Dance

closer to pick up on the fine details. They were excited. Everyone was… as they always are on Day 1. Come back on Day 5, 6 and 7 and see how excited everyone is! The “pedreiros” jumped in and began their dance with agile feet and a good rhythm. Everyone always has their unique steppin’-in-the-mud style but the Black Africans in Senegal definitely had a groove I’ve never seen that is somehow connected to their tribal dance steps. They twist their feet outwards and use their whole body weight at a nice clip. Here in Cabo Verde, not as African, there was a little less initial naturalness. As I said they are a rock land.

Nonetheless it wasn’t until we were almost finished with the walls that people REALLY got it. “Wow, these walls are strong!” the cheesemaker, the welder and the other rural folk began complimenting our work. “Touch it! Go ahead! Kick the walls!” I offered up. They did. A bit shy and surprised, they were not sure what to make of this new

Oooooh....wooooow....hmmmmm

Oooooh….wooooow….hmmmmm

technique for building that was clearly cheaper, natural, beautiful, local and sturdy. This part of the world is very set in their ways, we have learned. Things take a long time to come into effect. They got used to cement, didn’t they? We are moving forwards people….come along for the ride….

University professors, architects, engineers, contractors, the national TV, students and more neighbors all came by to see. You can talk about COB all day long….but it’s when you take action and make it happen by letting people mix and build and feel and see the wall growing in their hands that the magic of awakening and revolution begins to happen, one mix, one cob loaf, one builder, one cob family at a time. The auburn green-roofed12m2 room we built is now visible on the horizon to every passing vehicle on the road. Its unique shape and natural colors draw the eye and attention. Calháu will never be the same and has begun its road to showing an alternative to the concrete landscape of today. May the cob house speak for itself, silently creating transformation, a sensual kiss on the surface of Mother Earth.

Perfect Symmetry

Perfect Symmetry

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California Cob Hits “La Casamance” in Senegal

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Forest Beings Come to Each Village to Give their Medicine!

Finally biked into “La Casamance”, the lush breadbasket of Senegal that is separated from the “North” by Gambia and a plethora of cultural differences. Immediately the land welcomes you with its diverse forestry, greener landscape, greater living spaces and new language. Diola is the majority ethnic group in this land of rebels that say “Kassumei” rather than “Nangadeff”. It is more tranquil here, less Muslim, and palm wine is the beverage of choice. Tapped every morning by professional tree climbers who take along plastic water bottles which they hang on the tree after lightly tapping holes to find the fountain of this elixir which I am told brings a myriad of health benefits, akin to coconut water. The taste in the morning is fresh and bubbly and naturally earthily sweet. It has a watery milky appearence and people swig it up as they walk down the path home from the boutique. It flows readily most of the year and goes for 250CFA or $.40 a liter.

So here I am now in the land of “banko”, the mysterious earthen construction material and technique I have been told about since my arrival in Senegal. Still not quite sure what to expect as it has come in many different descriptions, I think I have finally figured out. “Banko” is the material of termite mounds which is 90% sand and a small sliver of clay in the shake tests I have performed. IMG_7398Nonetheless when they break it IMG_7397down, wet it and form it into 16” long by 6” wide and 8” tall blocks, they are used for construction, cemented together and perhaps traditionally with some kind of earthen mortar. Upon closer interaction and after dousing one with water and scraping it with my nails, I find that it disassembles and disintegrates instantaneously and feels like it’s all sand. Oh my!!! No wonder people don’t want to build with it and give it a terrible rap. In addition they build directly on the ground, in a climate with about 4 months of big rains. Some houses I hear withstand the rains for years under the protection of significant “hats” or rooves. Good for them! Other people add cement to the mix. The smart ones don’t cover the bricks with a cement plaster, others bear the consequences and perhaps learn. I am told that there is a cob-like technique called “poto”, demonstrated to me in hand gestures that look like handfuls of some clay mix are balled up and then added to the wall. The big difference with cob however is the lack of straw in their mixes. Despite the extensive presence of straw in this part of Senegal, it is not a custom here to put straw into earthen mixes, only on rooves or for fences. I think that is a major weakness I am happy to share.

Within a few days of landing here we met Peter Diatta who welcomed us onto his land and set up a spontaneous cob workshop. Peter lives in Monterey part-time with Jenny his American wife and so our Santa Cruz origins were the immediate glue. Peter and Jenny (absent and in the US) were delighted to have a California Cob bungalow on their property and within another week we had found the rare clay source, straw and an uncomfortable excuse for coarse sand. IMG_7473There is no such thing here so we decided to use their laterite gravel which cost us our cob bounce but seems to be working. One day we used small shells when we ran out of gravel. They could work too as we have seen them used in making cement blocks on islands where there is no coarse sand or gravel. They are certainly easier on the feet but we would need double the amount to get some real texture into the cob mix.

So here we are on Day 3 and 70cm up the wall. We have a small group of avid learners of all ages. We tried hard to get some more paying students besides Jenny’s sponsorship of Peter and Maimouna, but it is no easy feat to gather people up with a few days’ notice and ask for 175 Euros on top of that…in a land where you can live on $1 a day. Most “Toubabs” here have giant plots of land, cars, an entourage of labor and live a very comfortable life on their “small” pensions. Nonetheless our last minute timing did not work for them. A few definites never showed up. My boys and I gave up trying to meet our minimum fee of 100€ a day and were grateful to have a beautiful cozy place to build our campsite, water and a gas propane tank. A short ten minute walk to an endless beach of warm water, fresh fish daily and afternoons off…the good life!

Building a 10m2 structure is a wonderful relief. To complete a building from start to finish with a group of students is still not something I have accomplished, both because most buildings have not been finishable in the workshop timeframe and because I usually let the owners finish the roof and the finishing touches for their own ownership of the building. IMG_7587However I have heard that there is a real desire for that in the student community and so here I hope we can meet the goal for the first time. The second time will be in Cabo Verde where we will have two workshops in which I plan to complete the structures with the students. It’s been a good life so far and I feel graced to have two of my boys along for the ride, learning and sharing. We are making very memorable memories…again…on the road. As I map out the rest of the Global Journey I cannot turn my back on even if I feel tired and ready to stop here and there…I am focusing on my hotspots and aiming to set up workshops ahead of arriving with my cob and ecovillage connections on the various continents I have yet to visit. This means completin somewhere in December 2018, a year longer than I had envisaged, after my learning experience of not circling around twice but just moving forward with some good pre-planning using the good old Internet. Next stop after Cabo Verde….Cameroon!  Bechikanam! A bientôt!

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Cob Perma M’Boutik launched in Toubab Dialaw, Senegal

After the 8th CruzinCobGlobal international cob workshop and our 4th one in Senegal, I am starting to see some trends that make me happy about the work I am doing. One is the family feeling, friendships and love that develops when a group of people bound by an interest in doing the right thing for the Planet and the People come together to learn and build a Soulful structure. Even more so when IMG_6723that group consists of individuals of various cultural origins who may not even share a common verbal language. It is a real “high” to be a part of and to watch. Something about touching and working with the Earth dissolves barriers and inhibitions. We come from CLAY, ARCILLA, BAN, L’ARGILE, ARGILHA and water and, like clay, we breathe and absorb and release water through our pores. As we age our skin gets drier and we develop more wrinkles like cracks in clay.

Secondly, one of my favorite times during cob workshops is when the sculpting begins. Some people get very excited and anxious to see their creations come to life on the walls, and others become scared and insecure about their sculpting skills. In the end all IMG_6913kinds of beautiful surprises arise and often the ones who affirmed that they were not artists and would not be able to contribute anything worthwhile, produce the most amazing wall beauty.  There is a yummy feeling in the sensual act of sculpting clay. A total freedom to express ourselves simply and easily. Our inner artist and inner child come out to play and there are no rules. Even myself, I am proud of the bas-relief art I adorned my walls with in Santa Cruz. I love to see how entranced the students become as they spend endless hours detailing and refining their work. IMG_6853IMG_6966

Thirdly I love the interaction of passers-by and their growing interest and appreciation with each day of work. They become part of the family as they are our fan base, noticing and applauding the growing building.

Fourth, when the plaster goes on and the building’s finished look begins appearing and the end is in sight….EVERYONE smiles! The physical relief of having finished the grunt work of the walls and IMG_6988transitioning to the lightness of the trowelling and detail work, especially using the plastic trowels, is one of the well-earned just desserts Over and over again these phases repeat themselves from workshop to workshop, country to country, people to people.

Cob building is hard physical work that everyone has in them to carry out, no matter the degree. Seeing the daily progress at the end of the day and the next morning keeps us going to the top, little by little. But truly, the most special part of this type of construction is its feeling of health, simplicity, honesty, community and pride. The large delicious lunches, the music on the site, the laughter and conversation, the mutual support and the universal access by all everywhere are what make this building art so attractive and keep our cob workshops happening. Can’t wait for the new experiences and new friends awaiting us in Cabo Verde in May and August….

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