Friday, November 12, 2010

Luke in Iceland on EVS - 2010

Six months down, only two to go! Time has passed so quickly on my EVS experience in Iceland. I have been leading workcamps throughout the summer season, which has now come to a close. It has been a wonderful experience, and I have met so many interesting and enthusiastic people I am left at a loss to describe what I have seen and done in words. Since my last entry, I have seen the summer through with four workcamps. With projects as varied as planting trees in the north of the country, helping to rebuild the ruins of an ancient monastery in the east, conducting two week photography workshops complete with our very own exhibition and helping Reykjavik’s International Film Festival run smoothly. I am also very happy to report that I realised a lifelong dream, I have seen the famous Northern Lights! They are even more beautiful than I imagined.

They were all great, and we had some fantastic volunteers staying with us, however, rebuilding the ruins in the east must be a highlight. We stayed in a remote valley where a huge lake meets Iceland’s wonderful Highlands. Working for a museum and culture house – home of the famous Icelandic Author Gunnar Gunnarson – we toiled with boulders and turf to enhance the site where archaeologists had been digging for 9 years. Each day we could see our work take shape from a hill above the site, the walls, the stone pathways and the turfed gardens. It was incredibly rewarding work, as tourists would view the site and, for the first time, get a good idea of where the old monastery actually sat. Of course, it wasn’t all hard work. Our host Skuli had prepared some special trips to the beautiful east fjords and their sea cliffs which are home to thousands of sea birds and up onto the vast and desolate (and very cold) highlands. Here, we saw a massive and controversial dam, which, when it was built in 2006, created a 50km glacial lake stretching all the way to Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajokull. We also had the amazing experience of bathing in a hot waterfall. At just the right temperature too! We relaxed in its pool, then ran for the freezing cold river into which it drained. Truly an experience to remember!

Now winter is well and truly on its way in the North Atlantic. At the beginning of November, the sun rises after 9am and sets before 5pm. It is confusing for the body clock to say the least, but I have plenty to be getting on with preparing the Seed’s housing for next year’s volunteers! Over the past month we have prepared our vegetable gardens for the harsh winter, having dug new vegetable patches and enclosed them with the traditional Icelandic turf walls. We are also building recycling bins to manage with all waste our 3 houses and one office produces (we recycle everything from old batteries to normal plastic packaging, taking one van load to the recycling centre almost every two weeks). We have also begun repairing our bikes – a mammoth task considering we have around twenty old second hand bikes. We have stripped and painted the windows of our main house, and the improvement is visible. It is good motivation to think we are working so hard to make the experience better for the volunteers of next year.

Even though the season is over, I feel I still have a lot to look forward to and we have certainly been kept busy. Not only do we have four more workcamps from the 21st November right up until Christmas Eve, we have also been planning events for Seed’s 5th Anniversary. Over the course of a week from the 11th of this month, we will be host to long term volunteers from Seed’s past years. With several events planned, it will culminate in a conference on the environment where several guest speakers will give talks in their field. I am very excited to meet previous volunteers, to share experiences with them and to have a good time.

The past week has been spent organising and preparing for the annual Akranes Day of Nations organised by the New Icelanders Foundation. It was fantastic to see the cultural diversity of a population as small as Iceland’s, and to taste the foods from as far afield as India, Hungary, Nigeria and Palestine. The event was a great success. We represented Seeds with information on our work through the summer, and with foods from our countries. I chose to hold a vote with the visiting public to see whether Icelanders loved or hated Marmite. Served with a bit of bread and cheese, it was great to interact with the locals and see the faces of those who clearly hated it! Though I am happy to say, Iceland officially loves Marmite!

Despite all the fun I have had over the past month, it has to be said that it has been a difficult month of goodbyes. Much of the team of leaders have now left, and it has been difficult to say goodbye to so many with whom I felt so close. Our house doesn’t quite feel the same without them. Still, I am happy to have met such wonderful and inspiring people. Though it is sad to say goodbye, I feel I have learnt a great deal from working with them and now I can honestly say I have friends in nearly every European country! So it will be a bitter sweet final two months. I am very much looking forward to the shortest day of the year, the snow and the renowned Christmas and New Year celebrations here in Reykjavik. I intend to make the most of every minute!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Adrian in Spain on EVS - 2010

Half-way through my EVS in Asturias, Northern Spain, at Libelula Huerta (dragonfly market garden). It´s a community-supported agriculture project that grows vegetables for 22 families on the outskirts of Avil├ęs, a small industrial port with about 80,000 inhabitants. Most of our work is in the garden, tending to the vegetables, harvesting and managing the soil. In the process we are learning all about agro-ecology (small scale, locally produced organics) and the need to re-skill a new generation in how to grow good nutritious food sustainably. We have also done a number of workshops with kids, sometimes in schools and sometimes in the garden - taking them round and showing them what a tomato plant looks, smells and feels like. I am also just about to embark upon giving a series of workshops on organic gardening, with the aim of creating a ´forest garden´in the centre of the city with a piece of land that the local council have granted us. Nervous doesnt even come close. I have no idea how it will turn out, nor if the trees will even survive the first winter!
I am here with another EVS volunteer from Italy, Arianna and another volunteer from England who has stuck around in Asturias and still helps out in the garden. Has been a great summer, with trips to the beach after work, hikes up into the stunning mountains to the south and long drawn out lunches (we always eat at the garden, cooking together after we finish at 1230). For the colder months I have just taken up a woodcarving course and have been to visit a baker in the mountains who has shown me all about artesanal breadmaking.
Would recommend highly this project. The values it promotes are focussed on a very practical aspect of social change: that of changing our diets and system of food production, and of becoming more politically aware of the implications of our choices and the way we organise society for what will become of our future.