Monday, July 9, 2018

The Future is Communal

The longer we are on the road, the more clear it becomes that when you live a 2m x 4m box with another person, that person is always very very there. Even if I am say, reading on the bench at the front of the van, and Ryan is tidying the bedroom at the back, we are still never more than about 3m away from each other. We obviously spend time out of the van, and sometimes that time is not together - for example, Ryan will ride to the shops without me if the hills are too bloody steep and there’s no way I will get back up them without complaining or having a heart attack. But on the whole, in the last three months, we’ve been together 95% of the time (based on no maths or actual calculations, it just sounds like a lot, and it is.) 

We’re currently in South-West Germany, just outside the Black Forest, and this weekend Ryan had a gig in Berlin. So he flew there from Stuttgart, and I am On My Own in The Van for the first time EVER. I had to drive from the airport to where I am staying, By Myself. I’m even cooking my own meals (we’ve reversed stereotypical gender roles quite nicely - I do all the driving and then put my feet up while Ryan does all the cooking. He’s a chef, so I reckon I’m onto a winner.) And yes, driving in Europe without a co-pilot is a little scary, and yes, my van toasties just don’t taste quite the same, but…does it ever feel amazing to have those few square metres to myself for a few days?! I slept as sideways across the bed as I could considering it’s only 120cm wide. I got up late and listened to feminist podcasts while I ate breakfast - heaven! 

I am aware that I am only enjoying this time alone as much as I am because it is temporary - Ryan is coming back, and a good thing too, I’ll be starving by Monday. But it’s also because time alone, or your own space, is hard to find when you live like we do. So it’s important to revel in every opportunity you get. 

I’ve learnt this lesson a lot over the last month, when we spent three weeks volunteering at an incredible community, Mittlere Muhle, near Tingen. There are 14 adults and 5 kids living in a huge house, as well as at one point 7 volunteers - as you might expect, it often got hectic and crowded, especially around the weekend of the big annual party they held when we had almost 30 people having dinner the night before. There were times when I found it draining and exhausting, and was so grateful to have the van to escape to, where I could read, watch a movie or just have a cup of tea alone. But I realised that I often got caught up in being around people; I got easily distracted, and meditating every day went right out the window. If I’m around lots of people I really have to make the effort to make time for myself, right at the start of the day, before I get sucked into being sociable. Living in a community for a while has made me see how important it is to be alone, even if it’s just for five minutes. 

The Mittlere Muhle house
The reason I find it hard to make that time is because, even if it can be a bit full-on at times, I love to be around people. If you asked me what the best thing and the most challenging thing about community life was, I would give the same answer to both questions - there’s lots of people! It can be hard to make decisions, find your own space, and there’s always a shitload of washing up to do. But lots of people means diversity - of opinions, knowledge, skills and personalities. And whatever the political ‘leaders’ of the day might be telling us, diversity makes us strong. 

Community life is so different to how we ‘normally’ live (as if there’s anything ‘normal’ about being separated into boxes, not sharing or communicating or interacting at all), and it can take a little getting used to. Spending time at the community made me see how this is surely the most natural way to be. There were families with young babies who had support, an extra pair of hands when they needed it. People who were interested were growing food, there was a plethora of skills being put to use on the house, and everyone had something to contribute to the festival. 

Our contribution to the party - digging the spiral for the fire ceremony that started the festivities

Every week there was a community meeting for people to talk about how they were feeling, there was a monthly decision-making meeting, and we were there for the yearly ‘vision-ing’ weekend which focused on future plans for the community. It was inspiring to see a group of people working so hard to make their vision a reality. Wherever our travels take us, this is what I want it to look like at the end. 

And even though I’m technically on my own at the moment, I’m staying at another kind of community, a wagenplatz near Tubingen. We’ve seen a few wagenplatz on our travels round Germany - they are (often squatted) areas of land with vans, trucks and trailers parked up, small alternative communities of van dwellers. The one in Tubingen has been here for 28 years, and is beautiful - lots of the wagens are no longer mobile and have porches, terraces and outdoor kitchens sprouting off them, there are small gardens planted everywhere, and cats, dogs and chickens roaming around. There’s even a peacock! 

I’ve never met anyone who lives here before - my introduction came from someone I met at the Mittlere Muhle party who used to stay here - but everyone I’ve met since arriving has been open, friendly and welcoming. The couple I met when I walked up to introduce myself invited me to their house for dinner - even when I have to cook for myself I don’t have to! It’s an amazing feeling, to be around people who understand your lifestyle, who are living the same way and who welcome strangers in without question. It feels like this is fast becoming the exception, rather than the rule in our world, and anywhere I find it it lifts my heart and gives me hope. 

Communities where people live together are not the only kind - there is something very powerful in finding your tribe, your particular kind of weird, and taking comfort in being together. This is what both sobriety and feminism are teaching me right now - that we are stronger together, that we grow by supporting others, and that knowing you have backup makes you braver. 

So find your people, share your stories and begin building communities. Because while it’s great to be on your own for a little while, it’s a hell of a lot harder to get shit done by yourself. Especially if you’re not strong enough to get your bike back up on the bike rack. 


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