From Chile to Portugal: One Cob Love!

It’s August 14th and once again I am in the air in a plane flying back to California
from Portugal this time. This year started with Lisbon-Madrid-London-Buenos
Aires on my way to the Chile workshop where we were in the total wilderness of
the Bio-Bio region for 6 weeks. In a tent by a freezing creek every night I led my 10
new and old students in the building of yet another cob building. This time a
bathhouse with toilet and tadelakt-walled shower so beautiful the host was
pondering turning it into his home. The talent of the students in sculpting, even
those who have never sculpted, seems to grow with each workshop. Sometimes I
feel that is the reason they come. For the sculpting. Unfortunately it lasts only 2
days, but is worth all the challenge of the previous weeks.

Teaching a small group, as I also just did in Portugal, is a very intimate experience I
enjoy because we all become a tight family within a few days, working hard
together, playing, laughing, joking, crying, suffering, celebrating, and most of all
having endless conversations while dancing in the mud, helping each other make
the “breads”, tossing them in a chain to African beats, and of course on the wall,
trimming, sculpting, plastering….There is something about interacting with the
cob, the mud and straw mix that is like a dough texture you can mold and form
this way and that with ease, that feels like home. Recently my Uruguayan
colleague Hector Nuñez told me that there is serotonin in clay. Touching it relaxes
you. And in a cob workshop we are stepping on it and handling it usually for 3 of
the 5 weeks. Day in and day out gathering the clay soil and sand in buckets,
mixing them dry alone or with ur neighbour, and then little by little adding water
until it becomes the perfect texture, like bread dough. Not too wet not too dry. It
is in these moments that we become one with the timeless ancestors who made it
to build their homes, their pots, embellish their skin and hair and even consume it
to detox their bodies. In this last Portugal workshop some of my female students,
Lea and Clare, would begin chanting African chants repetitively like mantras as
they made cob, sorted, sifted, broke up horse poop with their hands and mixed the
plaster by hand to be one with the material and really know when it is ready. Same
with ur feet, only they know when the cob is perfect.

Students arrive on Sunday and by the Wednesday of cob week they are skilled
cobmakers. I realize my teaching improves with each workshop as the students
get it sooner and there are less really wet and really dry mixes. Each workshop is
an opportunity for me to improve my own teaching skills and organizational
managing techniqes. Each workshop is a new mix of wonderful humans that I get
to know for a month to 6 weeks. I fall in love with all of them and they with each
other. There is such a unique transparent closeness that happens almost
immediately, a comfort and familiarity. Nothing to hide, one heart, one love, we all
share a similar passion for what is real, earthy, beautiful, simple, healthy, clean.
For being muddy and tired and not needing to “look good” because we already do,
just being ourselves. Being seen, accepted, loved unconditionally and
immediately. An automatic community for the duration of the workshop becomes
very hard to leave and this last time in Chile, most of the students all went to Brazil
to build another student’s mother’s home. Today those plus some of the Portugal
students are all in Colorado building a previous host’s hom. A reunion of my
students from 3 different workshops getting paid to do work that feels good and is
gentle on the Earth.

My greatest joy is seeing the excitement when people are starting to get it, when
they are mastering the mixing from a one hour process to 15 minutes. When the
cob tosses go smoothly and noone gets slammed with mud or drops their hardearned
dough. When students begin, on day 3 or 4, to get cob fit and in cob
shape, and are enjoying the workout, especially when we have the playlists to up
the rhythm, I know I’ve done my duty. Almost like when ur child starts walking, or
your child leaves home, those stages of growth and independence which relieve
you. Of course there are many more things to learn while building a cob house,
but once the cob making is mastered, the rest flows more easily.

I amaze myself that I never get sick of cob. After a month-long workshop and
everyone is gone…. there I am making myself some horse manure plaster and
plastering my farm shed “jus for fun”. I loove i when the mix is so perfect in
texture that it just bubbles and expands wih each trowelling. One of my greatest
satisfactions, perfect plaster mix.
As I evolve I reallize how incredible cob is in withstanding a heavy reciprocal roof
with ten people on it, with hardly a crack. I never cease to be impressed and know
that one day very soon, Cob will be duly recognized as one of the best building
materials by all people young and old!!!