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Friday, 9 October 2009

October Newsletter

Dear friends,

October has arrived, bringing with it some let up in the furnace-like heat we have been experiencing over the last few months and even a little life-giving rain; and it seems that both we and our tree nursery have survived another Middle Eastern summer. Al hamdoolilah. Of course, far from enjoying the respite from the physical ordeal of the extreme heat, most of our neighbours have spent the last month fasting for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, taking neither food nor water between sun-up and sun-down. Since the sun rises at about 6am and goes down at 7.30pm and temperatures are still topping 30˚C in the middle of the day, this is no mean feat, and one that we decadent Westerners are only too happy to forego.

The summer has passed in something of a haze, and it seems a very long time since we were enjoying eating all the spring greens and admiring the wild flowers. A lot of our time and thought since then have been used up in bringing ourselves and the farm through the water crisis, which seemed to bite even harder this year than the last. This is possibly because we have had on average about 3 times as many people at the farm compared to last summer, and also have had much greater water commitments to keep all our trees alive. Nonetheless, cut-offs have been frequent and lengthy, with the longest lasting for 26 days in July.

When there was water coming through the pipes, it did not have sufficient pressure to reach the roof tanks that supply the house, and so we were only able to fill lower tanks (meaning there was no water inside the house for more than 2 months). Episodes of water supply would only last a few hours every few weeks, and each time we would scramble to fill as many containers as possible, knowing that whatever we could store would have to last us and our plants, trees and animals for many days, weeks or even a month.

I think very few of us will ever think about water in the same way again after this summer. We will be forever flinching at taps left running for no reason, horrified by the idea of the wastage of this most vital resource. Particularly sobering is the knowledge that we are probably better off than over half of the Palestinian population of the West Bank and the vast majority of Gazans. At least we have a pipeline to our house (over 250 000 West Bankers do not). At least the water coming out of it is drinkable (over 90% of the water in the Gaza network does not meet international drinking water standards).

To cope with the water shortage we developed some fairly rough and ready but nonetheless effective strategies. Our first problem was obviously one of conservation – how to use the water available to us in the most efficient way possible. On average, Americans, Europeans and Israelis use about 150 litres of water per person per day in their homes to maintain the sort of lifestyle we are used to (showers, washing machines, flush toilets etc). This water use is broken up as follows:

Toilet flush: 29%
Toilet leaks: 5%
Dish washing: 3%
Bath: 9%
Taps: 12%
Washing Machine: 21%

If we did that at Bustan Qaraaqa, we would be in bad trouble and fast. With an average of 10 people at the house we would need 1500 litres of water per day just for the people, never mind the plants (which require at least 3000 litres per week). We have a storage capacity in and around the house of just 16 cubic metres (16 000 litres), so we would not last very long (and certainly not 26 days). Fortunately, because we have a composting toilet, we already cut out about 34% of this total (toilet flush and toilet leaks). Just this one thing saved us about 500 litres of water per day, and prevented us from contributing to the huge untreated sewage stream pouring out of Bethlehem into the Judean desert to poison streams, soil and groundwater.

Just the other day I turned the first of our ‘humanure’ heaps that has been ‘cooling off’ for the last 9 months (meaning that we didn’t add anything to it, except the occasional bucket of greywater to stop it drying out). I was able to reflect on the beautiful alchemy of nature as I heaved spades full of rich, dark, good-smelling compost teaming with soil invertebrates into a heap to be used for tree planting this autumn and spring. How much better than a poisoned stream is this?

After the toilet, the next biggest water users in a normal household are showers and washing machines, at about 30 litres per person per day each. To cut these quantities down, we developed The Ultimate Bustan Qaraaqa Conservation Shower, using one bucket of water to wash ourselves, our clothes and the floors. This is achieved by the simple expedient of standing atop a pile of laundry and detergent in a large basin whilst washing so that all the water falls into the basin. Since our shower didn’t work for most of the summer due to the lack of water pressure, we would always wash with a bucket of water in any case, cutting 30 litres down to about 18. Once we had finished washing ourselves we would wash our clothes (stamping on them seems to be pretty effective), and then pour out the water to wash the floor. In our house all the water from the drains goes out to water plants via the greywater system, adding a fourth use to the list for just one bucket of water.

Thanks to a generous donation by the Chaput family and a successful fundraising party in early June, we were able to fill and shade the new cistern and install a drip irrigation system for the tree nursery, giving us greater water security for our plants and saving us a lot of water and hours of work in the nursery. This also provided us with a place to cool off during the hottest hours of the day, when staff and volunteers were frequently to be found wallowing like hippopotami in the cool green water.

Another problem we had to overcome was one of water quality. Storing water for days on end in tanks that stand in the sun and are not completely sealed to incursions by lizards and birds at least places a question-mark over the wisdom of drinking the water without any form of treatment. Boiling the water is one way to ensure that it is sterile, but this takes a lot of energy (electric or gas). So instead we used the power of the ever-present sun to cleanse the water, laying it out on the roof in clear bottles for a day. A combination of the heat and the ultraviolet rays passing through it kills pathogens and renders it safe to drink.

Building on this idea of using the sun’s energy, Tom and Julian spent several weeks designing and constructing a solar oven, using mirrors to focus the heat through a glass panel and into an insulated box. After some trial and error we found that this oven could reach a temperature of about 150°C during the hottest part of the day and was excellent for slow-cooking casseroles or roasting vegetables.

In August we were proud to participate in the first ever Occupied Palestine and Golan Advocacy Initiative (OPGAI) volunteer camp, hosting groups of youths from all over the West Bank to learn about the mission of Bustan Qaraaqa and participate in green building activities with us; helping us to construct beds out of old tyres stuffed with rubbish and covered in cob in one of our empty caves. Hopefully this project will be completed soon and we will add another dormitory to our sleeping accomodation, in time for the Olive Harvest influx.

Throughout the summer, we have continued to work with out good friend Abed Rabbo on his land in Al Wallaja, rebuilding water catchments around the trees and cutting back encroaching weeds. Unfortunately, Abed’s situation has worsened recently, with increasing attempts to expel him from his land by Israeli authorities. Abed has been arrested several times in the last few weeks and held at the police station in Talpiyot for questioning. It turns out that Abed’s ownership of his land is not in question, since he holds deeds stretching back to the time of the Ottoman empire. However, since the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem have been changed, the land is now classified as being inside Jerusalem despite being on the Palestinian side of the Green Line. Therefore it is now considered illegal for Abed to go to his land without a permit, which he does not currently have.

Legal aid is being sought, and we are trying to support Abed by maintaining a presence at his land as much as possible to protect his trees and his possessions from interference, and to witness any violations of his human rights. We intend to continue to support him in developing his site, and hope to install a rainwater harvesting system before the winter, as he still lacks any piped water supply. We are currently seeking support for this project (we need about 3000 shekels or £500), so if you would like to help, please check our website (www.bustanqaraaqa.org) for channels of donation.

And so having come through the summer, we are looking forward to our most exciting season yet. After we have harvested our olives in October/November we can begin the work of planting out the 2000 trees we have raised in our nursery this year. We plan to use approximately half of the trees on our own site to begin to establish a unique food forest, and to plant the other half with our partners in the local community, holding workshops with local schools, restoring degraded land, establishing community gardens and a number of other projects. We can also then begin to reseed and expand the nursery so that we have even more trees to plant next season.

Bustan Qaraaqa will also see some staffing changes in the next season as our co-founder Steve and his lovely wife Rania will be leaving for the UK, where they will continue to network and work to support the farm. Our permanent staff on the ground in Palestine will therefore now consist of Alice, Tom and Roman (as ever) and new team member Lyra, who has rashly agreed to manage the guesthouse for us. We are also excited to welcome Daniel as a long-term volunteer for the coming year.

As ever we have to thank our multitude of volunteers and supporters for their generous contributions to the project. In particular we thank the Chaput family, Imogen Bright, the British Shalom Salaam Trust, Phil Olive and M Hussein for their kind donations; Julian for funding and designing the solar oven; Adam for his continued work on the website; Phil and Mary for running around administering the project on the UK side; and Jared, Faith and Baha for their help with the fundraising party.

That’s all for now. You can keep up with us in the coming months by checking our website (www.bustanqaraaqa.org) and our blog (www.greenintifada.blogspot.com) for news. We wish you all joy and light wheresoever you may be and we warmly invite you to join us at Bustan Qaraaqa for the coming season (it’s the Olive Harvest in October!).

With love from

Alice, Lyra, Nick, Roman, Rania, Steve and Tom

The Bustan Qaraaqa team
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