Friday, June 29, 2012

Does Humanitarian Aid Help With the Basics, Like Toilets?

Does humanitarian aid help with the basics such as sanitation?

After poking around several resources, I found this infographic that tells the story. It covers aid and basic sanitation for Haiti since 1990 to today.

As you can see, estimated humanitarian aid has been as high as a billion dollars in 1998. As recent as 2008 humanitarian aid received by Haiti is trending to increase.

Along the bottom you can see that the percentage of people who have access to sanitation has actually decreased. The decrease in basic sanitation could be attributed to a rise in overall population* or less attention by the Haitian government to building infrastructure like improved sanitation.

*Over the same period the Haitian population rose 36%, from 7.1 million to 9.7 million people.

Simply put, at least in the area of sanitation, aid does little to help improve Haitians' sanitation needs. This trend does not look to improve. It hasn't improve in the last 18 years.

We  have to find a new way to help with sanitation. It was a major contribution to expanding the cholera outbreak.

Now that we have been learning Biotecture and working with sanitation systems, I believe there is a way. Utilizing waste to grow food is possible/ (See "Black Water Planters for Earthship Owners" for concerns about bacterial counts.)

The method that the bucket flush toilets are set up does two things. A) It usually separates filtering and sanitation (two important components to preventing illness such as cholera) and B) produces far less waste to deal with since the plants are processing and using the waste for growth.

Knowing that aid is not solving the problem, we have to implement new solutions and I feel that Biotecture principles are just one way.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Earthship Academy Week 3 in Pictures

I'm not so good at the writing, so I'll give you the week's summary from my point of view through some pictures I took along the way. Instead of the regular lecture-styled classes, this week we had labs where we learned how to build the Water Organizing Module (the WOM) and some simple wiring associated with the Power Organizing Module (the POM). Water catchment/filtration and solar power are two of the basic principles that should be incorporated into every Earthship.
Lab 1: Learned about/how to build the Water Organizing Module (WOM)
Lab 2: Learned about the Power Organizing Module (POM) and some basic wiring skills with the solar panels
Acro Yoga for some stretching in the middle of the week.
End of week 3 progress on the build! The vigas are up and ready for us to close-in the roof next week.
Check out the rest of my album Earthship Summer.

Grace and Peace, ya'll!


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Al Jazeera's Earthrise, Better Missions & the Tallest Buildings in the World

What are the tallest buildings in the world? How tall are they? What do they do, again?

And why on Earth does anyone care?

Poking around the internet today I came across the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. And, believe it or not, they have an annual list of the Best Tall Building and corresponding awards.

What in the world is this all about?!
How is this actually a thing?
Who celebrates the height of buildings?
And why?*

I admit, I am as impressed with design feats as the next person. But I wonder how, and if, these feats benefit mankind. Holistic benefit to mankind has become a dominant criteria of mind. (Idealistic; yes. I know.)

Talking to Al Jazeera About Buildings

In contrast to concrete and glass urban towers, consider earthen homes. Living in an Earthship for the past few weeks, Marissa and I have been reevaluating what matters to us. More accurately, our ideas about our overall consumption and our desired impact in the humanitarian field have been accentuated more than reevaluated. Our focus is not mainly environmental. An attentiveness to environmental impact on the standard of living for the poor is merely a part of the humanitarian umbrella. Admittedly, being around Earthship Biotecture and its powerful team causes us to take environmentalism more seriously.

A British crew from Al Jazeera has been poking around Earthships for the past few days for their show, Earthrise. The guys on the three-man crew are excitable, interested in environmental innovations, and have an endless curiosity. They came by the Simple Survival model that Marissa and I are staying in to ask a few questions.

It was a great interview. I was impassioned as I talked about the systems involved in the Simple Survival Earthship. I marveled at how great I felt, how ethically integrated I felt, when talking about our consumption. 

"Do you feel that the Simple Survival model would be helpful for emergency victims, and those in the developing world, like those you work with in Haiti?", asked Russel, their energetic interviewer from Scotland.

"Yes, of course I do," I responded. Yet, I went on to explain, I think it would be good for most people, in the under-developed world AS WELL AS those in the developed world, to live in. I described how it would help the average person see the impact of their daily consumption of water, energy, and food. It would, I believe, help them see the impact of their daily, mindless consumption.

Perhaps it would turn the tide of destructive paradigms like "bigger is better", "exponential growth is the goal", and general expansionism. (Though the environmental impacts are impossible to ignore, I am far more concerned about the social impacts of such thinking.)

Life in an Earthship has been simpler.
It has been smaller. 
And It has been good.

Can Missionaries Perform Better

This got me thinking about the same mindsets that plague so much of mission work. Thankfully, with our work with Kenny and Jennie Ellis and CPI, we have had some fairly open dialogue about our underlying motives and mindsets. We have observed, however, in ourselves and others, the fruit of what I think can be destructive paradigms I mentioned above.

Bigger Schools.
Exponential growth of supporters.
More missions trips.
More missions groups.
Expand the students. 
Expand our presence. 
Expand their use of technology.
Ad Infinitum. 

And, as I write these things, none of them strike me as bad. They are, after all, in the service of others! We are making the world better, right? 

Expansionism is Bad,..Unless Its Humanitarian, Right?

However, what if we celebrated quality instead of quantity on the field?
What would change if the focus was on holistically improved individuals, one at a time, as opposed to expanded projects and programs?
It would be representative of what Steven Covey was talking about in his book, 'The 8th Habit', but would it be better?
Would the recipients of humanitarian help feel better?
Would the work of missionaries be more empowering, more sustained, more helpful?

In 2010 I attended a TED talk with Diego Uribe. He had something to say about expansionism.

I am unsure of whether or not a mega-shift toward a quality focus is better. I am unfamiliar with what the results of that change would be.

I am all too familiar, however, with the effects of expansionism on missions and humanitarianism. I am all to familiar with the results of it. Though mixed with so much good, the results could be much, much better.

And That's When I Stumbled On Tall Buildings

Pondering these things, I saw a blog post about an award system for the world's tallest buildings. In the frame of mind I was in, considering how helpful environmental solutions were, our humanitarian aspirations and the limited resources dedicated to such lofty ideals, and my interview with Al Jazeera, I was astounded and repulsed.

How are we celebrating such ivory towers 
and Babel-like accomplishments while people scratch at a living each day?

We know the superficial motives behind such actions. But what are the deeper motives, the subconscious brokenness that leads to building things bigger, better, faster? What is the blind spot that prevents us from seeing the people whose lives are mixed with the mortar of such accomplishments?

The tall building council has a committee dedicated to determining the best big buildings each year. They commit themselves to this work.

What Are My Ivory Towers

I know that I am repulsed by such things, but I do not know exactly why.
I know that there has to be better ways to serve humanity, but I do not know exactly how.

This time with Earthships is educational. I am learning a lot. More than that, I am again facing the possibility that I have constructed my own ivory towers within my desires for humanitarianism, and that I possibly want accolades for them myself.

Perhaps I just need to expand my thinking a bit. Maybe that would be better.


* - Upon further digging, I found these as a general outline to some of the requirements of a building to be considered "The Best". I felt it would be fair to share it here.
Exhibit sustainable qualities at a broad level:
Environment – Minimize effects on the natural environment through proper site utilization, innovative uses of materials, energy reduction, use of alternative energy sources, reduced emissions and water consumption. People – Has a positive effect on the inhabitants and the quality of human life. Community – Demonstrates relevance to the contemporary and future needs of the community in which it is located.  Economic – The building should add economic vitality to its occupants, owner, and community
I commend them for outlining such goals and the spheres of impact they may have. I can't help but think, however, that it is trying to innovate outdated ideas.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mouse Wrangling and Losing Man-Points

So, living in an Earthship is to live very close to nature. 

"Biotecture is to study and live with the Earth's natural phenomena." 

This is the mantra we hear time and again, in every classroom in fact. Living with nature, hearing the water dripping from the plants, with the odd cricket or flies in your house.

I am down with it. 

Until it involves
dodging daddy long-legs spiders
and wrestling with mice (or any other rodents for that matter.)

After our second long week of hard work in the desert heat, Marissa and I fell into bed exhausted. We watched the lightning storm over the desert and put on a television show.

We were getting comfortable, snuggling into bed when the flashlight fell over our heads. We both froze. It was a Daddy Long-Legs spider, hanging inches from Marissa's head. Now, I am not too jumpy at spiders in general. But THIS WAS HUMONGOUS. I am not exaggerating when I say that it was the size of my hand.

I kept the flash light on it and talked Marissa down. "Don't move, babe. Nice and easy." I moved toward the counter, grabbed a paper cup, placed it firmly over the spider, covered it, opened the front door, and flung it with all of my strength into the dark of the night.

Phew. THAT crisis out of the way, we moved the bed to check for any more creepy-crawlies, found none, and returned for a full-night's rest.

That's When We Heard the Real Terror

This would be our enemy for the next 12 hours.

We were on the border of sleep, nearing total rest, when we both heard the rustling across the room. It was the obvious sound of something bigger than an insect. It was definitely rooting around our small counter-pantry of food.

I quickly spun to grab my flashlight (already handy because of "The Daddy Long Legs Incident" fresh in our minds.) There, glaring back with black, beady eyes, was the vilest of all creatures, a mouse.

There was no returning to sleep, no rest, unless we dealt with this beast right now. And, given how tired we were at 1:00 a.m., it was a Hell-beast of a foe.

Marissa threw on her cell-phone light application. My fading flashlight waved at it for a second, hoping that the light would shoo it away. Needless to say this plan was insufficient. (Minus 5 man-points for even attempting that.)

Marissa and I hung suspended on how to tackle this creature. We did not want to move to suddenly and send it scurrying (a deadly move by mice, and just darn creepy.) But we could not let it go.

I rose to open the front door.

"Dear, Jesus," I prayed out loud. "
Please make this creature walk out the front door."

It was simple enough prayer. Humble. And minus another 5 man-points for not killing the thing.

Suddenly it shot the opposite direction, ran around the floor, and headed toward the bed.

As I watched it move at lightning speed, barely able to keep my flash light on it, I imagined the mouse scurrying onto the bed, Marissa's only safe place right now. I imagined it crawl in her hair, on her shoulders, maybe nibble an ear, and the blood curdling scream that would issue forth.

Unable to bear that (which would come with a minus 15 Man-Point deduction) I dashed across the room with the broom, brushing it back as I cut off his route toward the bed. He shot back behind the pantry.

I was breathing heavy, exhausted. We were now deadly still, trying to a) assess where he was exactly, b) prepare to prevent him from invading the bed area, and c) buy us some time in figuring out how on Earth to get rid of him (without the gruesome killing of him.)

FOR THE NEXT HOUR it was a violet swing between him dashing along, and me cutting him off, praying intermittently for him to just walk out the door. Periodically, he would inch behind the counter, nuzzle his way toward the door, ("Thank you, Jesus" I began), peer into the dark of the green house leading to the outdoors, and pause. Just as I or Marissa would move to shut the door on him, he would turn around to the safety behind the counter.

Marissa's patience waned. My arm was tired from wildly waving my broom and flashlight. We sat on the edge of the bed. These two Homo Erectus, having conquered innumerable animals and caused the extinction of many more, were defeated by this accursed mouse. We were tired. We almost pleaded for the night to end.

We were exhausted. When suddenly...

He Walked Out The Front Door

We paused. We watched. We didn't move to quickly lest he come scurrying back in.

A minute passed.
Two minutes.
Five minutes.

"Go, babe. Close the door now!"

Marissa jumped and shut the door! Victory! The creature was forced outside. We quickly stuffed a towel into the gap under the door. A huge sigh of relief was had by both.

We quickly shut off the lights. We wiped the sweat from our brows, shook off the willies and goose bumps of the creepy rodent, and laid down.

On the verge of sleep, we heard a thump! Again, a thump! sounded loudly. I swung the flashlight back up in a rage. How in the world was this thing still plaguing my sleep?!

The plastic wall the mouse thumped upon.
Like the tell-tale heart, thumping away, the mouse was throwing itself against our plastic sheeting windows that separate the greenhouse from the bedroom. The light showing its full brown coat and white fur undercoat. It hopped and flung itself again and again against the plastic. We turned the flashlight off, needed to rest.

Thump! Thump! Thump! It continued. Like psychological warfare, the creature continued until we fell asleep.

I woke up just a few hours later, the daylight rising, and I had to use the restroom.

After moments of deliberating, I grabbed my trusty broom opened the door, stepped into the greenhouse (where the bathroom is located), had Marissa cover the opening under the door, and began my search for the creature.

He Had To Be Banished

I poked around the restroom to relieve myself. With the all clear, I used the bathroom uneventfully. Tired but awake, I was ready for the second bout with this beast. Though it was in the green house, we showered and used the bathroom in this part of the house. We had to remove the mouse from the house once and for all.

So, it began. I jammed the broom here or there, hoping to get the mouse to show itself. Finally, almost settled that he had found his own way out, I jammed the broom into our things in the shower room.

Grey Lightning (the mouse's new villainous name) ran around the cement. ('IT CAN CLING TO WALLS?!' my brain blasted at me.)

From this shower room, across, to the bathroom and back.
I brushed at it.
It dodged.
I jabbed.
It hid.
I screamed (minus 10 man-points).
It ran between my legs, shot across the greenhouse, and entered the bathroom.

Marissa, irritated to the point of anger, came out with the garbage can. The only addition this made for the moment was the noise we made. I would huff. It would scurry between my legs. I would scream (minus 15 man-points for the woman's proximity to me). Marissa would shriek. AND, the mouse would end up in the room on the opposite end of the green house...


Tired. Done with this charade. Making no progress. Marissa got angry. "I am SO done with this. This was funny for the FIRST HOUR. It is not funny now!" And, that made me angry at this.

"We are freaking BIG HUMANS!" I shouted. I got aggressive. And, we knew its moves. We had developed a system.

I would scare it out of a given hiding place.
It would shoot to the other room.
Marissa would be ready to bang with the garbage can.
It would frighten and stop, now trapped between us. The open door the only way out.
Then, I would play mouse hockey until I could almost get it out the front door.

Though I didn't want to hurt it, I began swinging hard enough to roll it over on its back, take a second swing, almost get it out the door. It would recover for a minute. Then attempt for one of the rooms.

Marissa and I were angry, skilled, and ready.

Scream (minus 5 man-points, I was now tougher and angrier.)
Tired from battle. Needing a nap.
Garbage can bang.
Mouse hockey, and into the daylight he went.
I followed him out into the day, both he and I blinking at the bright sun.
Marissa slammed the door shut behind us both.

He scurried away, safe from my broom of doom.
I sat, exhausted, tired, but satisfied at my adaptability to the wiles of a mouse.

As I sat, I tried to count the man-points lost on this effort, but gave up when Marissa's kisses of appreciation took over.

I would consider that a WIN.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

My View of Week One

Week One of our Earthship summer is complete. The past seven days have been a whirlwind of working, learning, settling in, working some more, and meeting interesting new friends.

Back to School...

Earthship founder, Mike Reynolds taught our three courses this week, which included The History of Earthships, Thermal/Solar Heating and cooling, Solar and Wind Electrical Systems. They were all pretty much overviews of some of the basic Earthship principles that we will learn in more detail in the weeks to come. Mike has been building, researching, studying, and upgrading his techniques over the past 40 years to bring us the Earthships that we see today. He is continuously trying to improve and simplify the designs to use more natural earth phenomena (i.e. wind, rain, sun, gravity, thermal mass, etc.).

The main concept that I took away from the first week is the idea that a home can be heated/cooled simply by being surrounded by the right amount of thermal mass and positioned at a certain angle towards the sun. Because the thermal mass (in this case earth packed tires and an extra four feet of earth) acts as a battery, storing heat and releasing it when necessary, you can keep your house at a perfect temperature all year round without using any kind of centralized heating/cooling system. 
Think of the amount of energy it takes to keep your A/C on in the summer and/or your heater on in the winter. This is just one of the ways that an Earthship can cause you to owe little to nothing in utilities each year.

Let the Tire Pounding Commence! 

We are actually getting taught on a build that we get to see from the ground up. On the first day, our group laid out the beginning round of tires and started the tiring task of assembling and leveling the earth-packed tires. Needless to say, after the first day and a half of this, every muscle in my back ached. Getting out of bed in the morning was like trying to pry a lollypop out of a four-year-old’s hands.

As the week went on, it got easier (or maybe I didn’t let myself do as much physically intensive work. But I’d like to think that my muscles are just getting that strong. Watch out mom, I might be surpassing you in the awesome arm department!).

Anyways, on the work sight this week I wielded a sledge hammer, pickaxe and power tools, which is pretty awesome in my book. I learned how to get the tires in a single course to be completely level, how to use a builder’s level, how to get perfect dimensions in your building before you proceed, and how reinforce a tire wall with cement and cans.

Every night when we come back to our cave, I feel extremely accomplished and excited for the next day. I can’t help but think that this is how we should feel at the end of every day of our lives.

Traveling With My Person

Traveling like this while being married is a first for me and Grant. I’m finding that it is very different when you enter a situation with so many new people as a married person than as a single person. It is no longer me that people are meeting, it’s the GraRissa unit that is being introduced... something I am still getting used to.

I’m also realizing more than ever that my attitude directly effects Grant and his directly effects mine. Keeping a positive attitude in the face of exhaustion and uncomfortable situations is key when it comes to traveling with your partner.  If you are both not actively trying to do this, you will both be miserable whenever things do not go according to plan.

Overall, these past few weeks of travel and the first week of Earthships have been a huge learning experience and I know there is still more to come. 

Check back for more updates!

Grace and Peace Ya’ll,


Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Month and A Week, And a Million Miles Away

The view from our 'Simple Survival' model Earthship.
The comfort in this man-made cave is surprising. As I rub my eyes at the morning, I cannot believe it is Friday already. The sun rise over the sage-strewn mesa confirms that it is real.

I roll over to absorb this reality and the work for the day ahead. To get a grasp on it, I ponder the previous week.

The past week has been intense. Muscles have strained against the unchanging desert heat. Sand has embedded into my eyes. My nose bleeds almost daily, caked in dirt until I wash.

Carrying the solar-heated showers (similar to the ones we use in Haiti) is a herculean challenge at the end of such long days.

But, after a shower that is warmer than what we got in our apartment in Lakeland, and after we cook freshly prepared vegetables, chat about what we learned and what God is showing us, it becomes some of the most-deserved rest we have earned in a while.

We collapse into bed mostly unable to speak because we are so tired.

The Weeks So Far

Earthship Vol.'s 1, 2 & 3 are part of our weekly reading.
Three days a week we learn in class. This means we have a half-day of work on the project. The grass is always greener in this situation.

Being in class means more philosophies, more technicalities, more data, more education. It also means less blazing heat.

Being at the project site means more application, learning how to troubleshoot, becoming hardier, working with people; learning how to really build a building, out of the ecosystem no less. It also means pure exhaustion.

Pros and Cons exist for both. The Earthship team, though a band of roughnecks, are highly skilled, knowledgeable, and have put together a good program for the Academy.

This amazing gorge is just a mile or so from our house.
And, gazing out under the brim of my hat, I know there is more here, too. Just as the plateau we live on has a hidden 650 foot gorge, there are hidden spiritual depths to our time here.

This is the time in the desert for us. The desert fathers found profound experiences with the Lord. 'The Wisdom of the Desert' by Thomas Merton has enriched my life. It has brought revelation to our time here.

To wake daily, spend time with the Lord, prepare my heart, and then work in the heat and sun; it is cleansing. There is intense quiet throughout the day, something I need desperately. There is a barren land here, similar to what we find in many parts of the world that need the Mission. There are few things to detract from the responsibilities of living a simple life to help improve others lives, a model for the Mission itself. There are traps, snakes, prickly plants, pain and dehydration for those who merely wander off the path into the mesa.

It creates a narrow selection of options for the day. This is at first disconcerting. Quickly following that, it is alleviating. It is alleviating because it brings a quick clarity to vision for our direction. It simplifies things.

And, all good things were born into this world simple.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Sitting in a Cafe. Living in an Earthship.

I am sitting in a cafe.

It is decorated with tin can robots, ancient wood stoves, wood beams and open to the breezes. It would feel like a bar in the bayou of Louisiana, except for the weather. The desert, thermal-heating cycles suck the cool winds from the mountain faces down to the open mesa, breezing through this coffee shop.

Marissa and I have now landed in the Earthship capitol of the world, Taos, New Mexico. Today, Day 02 of Earthships, we found a coffee shop. We are gathering food and supplies to be back on the mesa, taking in a movie, and catching up on some internet.

Where We Are Staying

Click the link at left for more on the model.
We are staying in the first Simple Survival model Earthship home build in the Earthship community (known as the Greater World community locally.) We were blessed to be staying in this unit for several reasons.

First, we are actually able to be alone. For those that know me, you know that besides being extraordinarily outgoing, I also enjoy my privacy. Second, this model is the same model we thought would work with on the island of Hispaniola. We will be able to see what we like about it, what works, and what doesn't. Third, we have the southernmost building on the property. Since all Earthships face the equator (south in the U.S.), we have a view of the open mesa, which is stunning.

The mesa.
To get a perspective on the swing between harsh, blazing heat akin to Luke Skypwalker's home on Tatooine and cold, desert nights, as well as the type of people we are around, check out two videos. The Garbage Warrior and Life on the Mesa. Both of these videos are very informative. The Garbage Warrior (available on Netflix) is a good depiction of Mike Reynolds and the ever-growing community that are Earthshipers. Life on the Mesa (also available on Netflix) is more about the type of people around here. To get an idea of the demographic of Taosites, picture the mash-up of Southwestern, hippie spiritualists fused with off-the-grid government avoiders.

Keep in mind that it is only one small microcosm of people here. Earthshippers are more the type of people that simply know that the current system isn't working and are innovating sustainable-living solutions. The mesa area of Taos is ideal to experiment in both harsh heat and harsh cold.

What Our Time Here Will Look Like

As we are only the 3rd actual Earthship Academy held, the syllabus is ever-evolving. To summarize, each week looks like this:

Monday & Friday: 9a - 4:30p: Working onsite of an actual Earthship Site. (We are building a private owner's Global Model, the high-end version of Earthship.)
Tuesday, Wednesday, & Thursday: 10a - 12p: Class. 12p - 1p: Lunch. 1p - 4:30p: Working on site.
Saturday & Sunday: Off.

Or, for a detailed view:

What We Want From Our Time Here

Our time is packed here. We know that we will learn the ins and outs of Earthships, get our hands dirty from every aspect of it including what its like to live in them.

Aside from making friends with these crazy kids, we also hope to work on our greenhouse to learn about food production and dive into personal study. We have both expressed a desire to have a partially monastic experience. We have plenty of barriers to internet that we could fill that time with reading, praying and study.

We will also take advantage of our time together to refine the vision we have for our time in Haiti and Dominican Republic. We want to be sure to serve the people on the island well, and we know that Earthships will be a solution for many there. It is not the ultimate vision for our work there, but it will be a huge component of it.

Ok. More on this to come. I am still striving to find time to edit our video from the dates so far. Regardless, I wanted to get this update to you guys!

We miss you all, and look forward to hearing from you soon.


Grant & Marissa Nieddu