Article by Kirsika Mühlberg
Social Gardening Youth Exchange organized by Creative Youthland
A youth worker and 4 Estonian youth are heading to a youth exchange in Greece. The topic about social gardening raised interest in me straight away, but the participants at the first glance were interested in the possibility to travel to a beach paradise more so.
“I learned about cultures and gained many new friends from different countries. ” Jan-Kaidur
Our flight was during the night. We met up before the midnight in Time-Space youth centre to acquaint with one-another and start our journey together. A co-worker in our NGO Youth with Great Ideas agreed to be our chauffeur 4 the night, and he took us 5 from Tartu to Riga. What a great man, he probably enjoyed a rave driving back down the 250 kilometres in the MoNo bus to keep him awake.
Now, at the Riga airport we are getting ready for boarding and one of us is freaking out about flying and is using alcohol as an excuse to numb the fear of flying.
After a brief, few hours flight, we arrive at Athens airport. Welcomed by the Sun heated air, we are taking the shuttle bus to the main bus station, to start another 2-hour bus drive to Egio city, in the South-West of Greece. The bus is packed with luggages and people, all leaning on something or someone. People freaking out about their stops, a lot is going on. A window is opened, and everyone’s hair is blown by it. It’s good.
We are now on the bus to Egio, we got here just in time to catch it. Looking out the window, at some point not too far from Athens, we saw the damage that the wildfires had caused. We took a clear moment of silence to remember the lost lives and homes, that it had destroyed. We already know however we quickly acknowledge the importance of nourished soil and the waters that surround our homes and ground.
After travelling the whole night, finally the tiredness is starting to kick in. As I have locked my eyes on my laptop screen to do some work brought along from home, I start hearing a faint snoring sound, as I raise my head to see, where it may be coming from, I notice them all in a deep sleep with their mouths wide open. I realize that as a great leader, it is a time for a sneaky photo.
We are now in Egio city, in a tiny bus station where there is a cashier and a cafeteria. Needing the toilet now, we find one, which is kind of a surprise! Right beside the bus station, white and decent looking, well, okay no paper, that’s okay, but hey- where’s the toilet seat? A hole in the ground solely. Although many Estonians still enjoy a compost toilet in the countryside, we had the holes back in the mid 90’s. At least no flushing problems. Done and out!
Observations and meeting our new family (no, we were not adopted)
In front of the bus station there was almost a white dog, that was trying to get some well-deserved rest from the heat in a tiny corner in the shade, not bothered one bit by all the noise around him. Feeling as thirsty as the desert ourselves, we can’t but feel sorry for the dog. Observations continue, the beautiful Greek language ringing in our ears and the crazy traffic surrounding us. Loud horns, tires screeching. Wait, everyone else seems local, but some people are foreign. Could it be that they are also waiting for the same bus, and that they are the rest of the participants of the social gardening project? I step closer and start a conversation with them, yes, it is our new international family for the week. Even though, we are all tired from the travelling, our spirits were up and we had wonderfully fun conversations to slowly get to know them all. The Armenians, Spanish, Italians, Greek and Estonians emerge. Last bus, and finally after a short 15-minute ride, we are at our destination.
Pete- The Great!
Well, we’re not quite there yet, even better- We are at Pete’s place! A humble and cosy local taverna, and seemingly the only restaurant around here. We are all welcomed by a very positive and enthusiastic Pete, the owner of the place. He has a beautiful Canadian accent, that we quickly learn that he inherited while living there. He does all to make us feel comfortable. Locals are raising interest in us and we are catching sight of the looks, that come from the surrounding tables. They have gathered to watch a football match, while playing some game.
What? Why is Pete is already apologizing to us? Oh, okay, he shares a secret that he has been asked by the organizers to prepare us only vegetarian dishes for the week. No worries new friend, I am happy about it, as I don’t eat a lot of meat anyways, but the carnivores are not so happy to hear about that surprise. The food was fabulous, and we thank the happy, youthful, long-grey-haired Pete, whom we already became friends with.
Stars, dogs, trees, and accomodation
We take a walk from his taverna to our accommodation. It’s dark outside and we can see the silhouette of the mountain cut by the bright starry sky. You could even see the milky way. Magnificent. Stray dogs, pomegranate-, and citrus trees, the surroundings seem so natural and harmonious. We arrive at the apartments, and you can smell the beach close by. It’s only a 5-minute walk away! Yay! We are divided into apartments, and we get the keys. I find myself with 2 fun Italian girls, and one red-lipped Greek girl, sharing a 1-bed apartment. Now, we are ready for the week.
Oh no, always remember in Greece that “Do not throw paper down the toilet, or you are in trouble”!
Breakfast at the accommodation, we are set and ready to start with the activities.
” I learned about new cultures.” – Kristofer
We walk down to the centre, where there is an old building covered with marble floors. The Greek flag that is hung outside the building is like one of the pirates. Torn and ragged, and there is a monument of an angel in front of the building also.
Let’s get to know each other. Name games, ice breakers and and introduction of the program is carried out. We are already curious of, and inspiring one-another.
Activities and The compost
While we got to know each other we started to elaborate on the topic. How interesting was it to discover a simple logic, that once our waters are polluted, so is the rest of everything also. Everything. And the funniest part is to witness that the polluter is never none other than the human animal itself.
After having watched a documentary on Monsanto corporation, we learned that it is a cruel system that holds control with their power over simple people keeping farms. There is secrets that only a few know, what is done to the livestock that ends up in our bellies. Framing those who let others in on their secret. Animals kept in darkness with no open air with no room to move. Makes you question are we eating darkness? Yes, the unknown secret.
We are trying out different techniques to make compost, that one day would be our nutritious soil, providing nutrients to our food. Did you know, that it’s also possible to make compost on your balcony, if you know how to make it right, as it’s right humidity levels are vital to making a good compost. Otherwise it would smell bad. First we learn about them in theory more. We did try it ourselves indoors, however, we soon go to the field to actually try it out in practice.
Getting down and dirty
” We got the knowledge of using different electric tools, and get our fingers dirty with the soil on one of the local farmers land- an opportunity like that would not happen, travelling as a tourist.” – Kristo
We visited the grape vineyards and soon we find out, that the owner of the fields, is one of the only ones in the area to not use chemical pesticides on his plantation. So the surrounding fields become your enemy, because what is sprayed on their plants, does not solely stay there. It affects its surroundings.
Excuse my ignorance, but you know the way the fields usually only have one type of plantation on it? Well that’s called monocultural farming, and it is the reason why those plants have pests, as there are no other plants beside it, to provide it protection from the pests. It makes so much sense now. But why do we do it mostly in that way anyway then?
Next morning we go to the field to actually collect dry plantation to make compost out of it. We are given big black sacks to collect as much dry hay, leaves or other organic matter to make that happen. Some braver ones are volunteering to collect chicken shit, as the fertilizer to the compost. Oh why, it’s dry and it’s flying in the air like dust.
Meanwhile we sweating and working away in the Sun, we are having fun as also, by adding songs and dances into the making. Maybe, it’s even going to make the compost better somehow?
We also try making a system for the plants to self hydrate themselves for up to about 2 weeks. We made them into a barrel cut in half. Everyone got down and dirty, even the frowniest ones, soon to realize how fun such an activity may be. We used pebbles from the beach as the base. Getting acquainted with the tools was very fun, and even empowering. There is something about having the knowledge to use electronic tools. But they’re also dangerous. We also made one huge compost making „organic machine“, using euro pallets as the walls. This one you can use over a longer period of time. I think euro pallets are universal fix for everything and anything. Love them. You got to love them too.
Pete is keeping our bellies full of happiness by giving us his skilled cooking each day. Even though the active part of the program was all very interesting, I think we all secretly waited every day to meet the bubbly wonderful restaurant owner, Pete- The Great.
Free time, The BEACH and the consequences
” The place to carry out the activities was magnificent and the beach being right there balanced the everyday long walks.” – Annikki
We spend time at the beach, or sleep when we have free time, as it is so hot outside, you need to cool down somehow. The Sun is really strong. The beach is flooded with gangs of stray dogs, who are so friendly with one-another. Like another civilization of different mammals. They are almost pure breeds, which is kind of strange to see. Soon, we find out that they are there due to the tourists that come to live here for the season, and as they leave, they let the poor dogs go. Putting them on the streets of Nikoleika. Problem fixed? I doubt that. They were so happy, yet sad and constanty looking for human contact. I will never forget their joy, while they were around us. They are one of the reasons, why a bit of my heart is still there. Shame on the people who leave their pets like that.
What do you think is the best resource of all times? Have we still got it?
The biggest understanding from all of the information gathered during the „Social Gardening“ youth exchange is definitely of becoming a more conscientious person in our everyday lives. The big problems in the world are cured by the ones who take responsibility in their everyday actions, as the industrialization in a hundred years has succeeded to do the vice versa. No one takes any blame to anything that is happening around the world, all the problems that have arisen. We have to remember, that the snowball effect can also work positively.
Do you think we can reverse the damage that the industries have caused by acting conscientiously individually? I certainly have belief in that. And I think we have already started, and that we are not a long way off from having a better collective world.
WE CAN DO IT- YOU, ME, ALL OF US!
We are the best resource that the slightly too brown(dry ground) Mother Gaia has got! Let’s make her self-sufficient once again! Beach paradise is not everything, we need to support her lungs. Because if we keep living the way we have been living, then the North Pole shall look like the desert in no time. We would boil and destruct everything.
You are the most valuable resource of all- a human, who you think and react to the consequences, even better, those of you, who prevent them from happening at all.
Which is it destruction or reconstruction? Or are you living on a different planet from me?
To know more visit the NGO’s facebook pages here:
This Youth Encounter was made possible thanks to the co-operation of NGO Project Spirit(EST), NGO Creative Youthland(GR), NGO Youth with Great Ideas(EST) & the funding of European Union
13th of December, 2018