Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Teepees with Internet in Shambhalabamba: a Modern Self-sustaining Community in Ecuador

The common kitchen is flanked by plantain trees on side, and mountains on the other

“This place is how life should be. There is no schedule. There is no job to buy the things that you think you need. You just have to find a balance between living, working the land, and being happy.  We all support each other in doing what we want. This place is so healing.”.

Such are the thoughts of Andrea, a 27-year-old American who has been traveling through South and Central America for two years. When she first came to Shambhalabamba along with her partner, the intention was to stay a week or two.
They will soon complete their ninth month here.
The community of Shambhalabamba is situated in a valley near Vilcabamba, in South-Eastern Ecuador. Three acres of land were bought here by a retired American who decided to make a self-sustaining community of it. He had a house built for himself, sustained by 40-metre-high tree trunks, and six teepees for future community residents.

Fast-forward six months.
There is now a common kitchen, an auditorium for circus practice, a studio for mixing and recording music, a small man-made lake for swimming, a pond for the fish, and fields of a wide variety of crops: bananas, oranges, sweet potatoe, quinoa, amaretto, yuca, corn, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, peas, carrots, mangos, avocados, medicinal plants, and many different herbs.

The number of residents fluctuates between 18 and 25. Andrea and her partner built a little house there, and two more families are in the process of building their own houses.
One major trait unites the people of Shambhalabamba: they all aspire to live freely, working only for themselves. There are street performers, painters, DJs, producers, artisans, and musicians. They don´t gain much – but they don´t mind living simply.  Besides, the cost for staying in Shambhalabamba is of a mere five dollars per week – the necessary to cover the cost of food that is not yet grown on the property.
A vegan lunch: oven-roasted eggplant with garlic and tomato sauce,
pumpkin soup, beans and peppers with rice, spinach tortilla, and salad. 
In the morning, there is ususally a ´minga´. This is a time where everyone in the community gets together to complete a major task – this could be anything from transporting heavy materials, to cleaning and sowing a field, to building a clay oven.
Lunch is served for all between 1 and 4 pm (the notion of time holds very little value here, to the subdued frustration of those who try to schedule an activity at a precise hour).
In the afternoon, people do what they want.
“Every day, you ask yourself ´what should I do? Should I draw, dance, swim, cook, play music, go to the circus workshop?”, says Fiama, a 20-year-old Argentinian  who came to Shambhalabamba along with her partner and her 1-year old baby. “This place influences upon you a desire to be creative.”.

However, more so than the daily activities, residents stress the value of the human relations pervade this community. “We are mirrors of other people. It´s thanks to these human relations that you purify yourself of many things”, says Lucio, a 37-year-old Ecuadorian who came to the community with his partner and 10-year-old daughter. Andrea agrees: “ It´s about living with an open heart, and caring for others as your own family”.  Indeed, the three toddlers in the community are entertained and cared for by nearly all the residents, children and adults alike.
A short lapse of attention and... 

But like everything else, Shambhalabamba has its faults.

 “The majority of residents here are foreigners. I have never seen a local person, and very few Ecuadorians.”, says Mitchell, a Mexican expert in permeaculture who has spent time in many different communities. “Generally speaking, there is very little interaction between eco-villages and their surrounding communities. They should be supporting the needs of these communities through initiating small-scale commerce with them, or by attending the community`s festivities, for instance.".

Upon the arrival of any resident, the community holds a private reunion to decide whether to let the newcomers stay or not. Fiama, who was given an ambiguous nod to stay, laments the process: “I wish the community was more open, more relaxed. That people here wouldn´t feel like this is their land, and only theirs to share.”.
The lake on the property, mirroring the mountains.

But despite its faults, there is no denying that the way of living in Shambhalabamba holds a minimal ecological footprint, and greatly fosters self-sustainability.
“This lifestyle is the way of the future if we are going to live in harmony and balance again in this world. This system is not going to last, so it´s very important to learn how to be self-sustainable”.

According to Lucio, this lifestyle is possible, though more difficult, in the city. “In the city, it´s much easier to alienate yourself from your spirit, and from that connection to the land.”.
A circus workshop in the auditorium

Mitchell is of a similar opinion: “It´s possible, but everything will be more expensive, especially all the materials that you will need to build your own house”.

Andrea has aspirations to intertwine the two. “I want to start helping people learn how to grow their own food in their apartments. To show them that it´s possible. Anyone can do it, as long as they have the right frame of mind.”.

After spending a month there, I left Shambhalabamba with a pervading feeling of hope and inspiration. Maybe I can actually live my life exactly the way I want. I can be a journalist, a musician, an economic analyst, a photographer, a mother.
Why choose? I will try it all.

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