Merits and Challenges of Moving to the Countryside

Erasmo Calzadilla

Pablo Ivan Romero Rovetta

HAVANA TIMES — I’ve been writing about the need and benefits of returning to the countryside for some years now, but, how persuasive could my arguments be if I didn’t preach by example?

Luckily, I have friends in other parts of the world who have set out on this adventure, before civilization collapses or the Great Rebellion triumphs. I have made a point of learning from their experiences, in case one day I decide to follow in their footsteps.

One of these forward-thinking fellows is an old acquaintance of Havana Times. Pablito came to Cuba as the member of a solidarity brigade and published his thoughts on the journey in these pages. I asked him to tell me about the peculiar life he leads among mountains, goats, old villagers and other courageous people like him. Below are the ideas and stories he shared with me.

Incidentally, when I think about the hills in central Spain, I can’t help bring to mind the adventures of Don Quixote. With that, I leave you with our friend Pablo Ivan Romero Rovetta.

Main Street.

Peak Oil and the Collapse of Industrial Civilization: The Rural Alternative

When I was asked to write this article for Havana Times, I began drafting a version which alluded to all of the noxious and negative things of the urban model. I focused on the negative aspects of the city as reasons one should head to the countryside. Ultimately, however, I decided to change my approach and explain why one should go the countryside in a positive way, that is to say, describe what rural life offers those of us who have chosen this path.

Havana Times has published a number of articles dealing with the energy crisis and what is known as “peak oil.” Regrettably, our planet’s ecological situation goes far beyond that and, even though that’s the most pressing issue, we should add other, far more serious phenomena we will face in the middle to long term, such as the Sixth Great Extinction, drinking water shortages, loss of land fertility, the accumulation of toxic substances and climate change. Addressing each of these problems would demand too much time and debate. I merely wanted to stress they are some of the fundamental reasons behind my decision to head to the countryside.

Other reasons were the search for inner coherence and self-sufficiency. I can’t speak of freedom while my lifestyle depends on the exploitation of third parties and territories, as we find in cities, in general, and First World cities in particular. In the city, you are entirely dependent upon the globalized social totality even when you’re eating a loaf of bread or drinking a glass of water, to say nothing of the culture and consumer habits of Western Europe (in my case).

Milking the goats.

Life in the countryside should not be idealized. Going on a trip or camping is quite different from living and working there every day. Work there is different from wage labor, for better or for worse, and it depends entirely on the rhythms imposed by the earth and seasons. Vegetable gardens and livestock know nothing of holidays and work that is postponed in excess can spoil your reserves for the rest of the year.

There are also psychological obstacles for people, like myself, who have been brought up with the hyper-stimulation of cities and individualism, as personal relationships become more intense in small and endogamic environments. Many projects of this nature fail because of purely emotional reasons. This is coupled with the political problems faced by each region, such as the hoarding of land, violent tribalism, State pressures, environmental degradation, the fragmentation of social structures and others. At any rate, I am speaking of what I know about the countryside in Castille (the large, central region of the Iberian Peninsula) and that the rural life I am speaking of consists of initiatives that seek to bring back traditional and community practices.

The idea we’ve been taught, that the city represents freedom and the countryside misery, slavery and ignorance, is false. To the extent that towns were closed (or nearly closed) systems, social reproduction required profound knowledge of the environment and the skills that were passed on from generation to generation. This wisdom has all but been lost today, and no one in an urban context preserves it or has any interest in it. Living in the countryside allows us to recover all of the knowledge that is essential to human survival, as well as the cultural traditions (proverbs, festivities, music, beliefs, etc.) that have succumbed to globalization in our country.

From the economic point of view, living in the countryside is cheaper, affords us many opportunities to be self-sufficient (in our context, full self-sufficiency is not possible) and the possibility of entering into trade and barter relations. Though some groups practice this in the cities (through barter fairs, social currency, time banks, informal support networks, etc.), they face serious limitations: people lack the means of production to satisfy their basic needs (that is to say, there is no access to the land, not even a tiny area for a small garden. In addition, the barrier between work and leisure becomes diffuse in the countryside. You never stop working but, at the same time, you enjoy what you do as a collective or you develop your creativity through activities useful to your day to day life.

Sewing room.

Politically, it affords you greater independence from large economic structures, through production and consumption spaces removed from the logic of the market, and through a lifestyle that does not depend on the plundering of resources (and all this implies) in other regions. This also allows one to reduce one’s environmental footprint (the impact one’s consumption habits have on the global environment) and to work for the conservation of native spaces and traditional agrarian practices that maintained the balance of the ecosystems we inhabit.

There is also the undervalued fact one begins to preach by example, to practice the lifestyle and establish the form of social organization one defends and preaches ideologically (to the extent possible). While still in the city, to speak of my vital concerns about industrial society or the ecological and energy crisis is to be the annoying “truther” giving everyone sermons. Now, with the excuse of coming to visit us and spending a few days out in the country, it’s people themselves who become interested in our work and see what the rural world can offer with their own eyes. Many factors make daily work a communicative tool far more efficacious than the video-fora and debates I’ve participated in many a time.

Vegetable garden.

The countryside also offers many subjective, aesthetic, spiritual and other benefits I cannot generalize or reduce to a political statement. These have to do with one’s connection with nature, the change of vital rhythms across the seasons, daily chores, mental peace (at least in comparison to the large cities), the landscapes, the building of towns that transport us to times past, and other factors. This is essential, as the subjective perception of the countryside can spell the difference between undertaking a project or not, even among people with the same political ideas.

That said, it is clear to me that the countryside is not a guarantee for the future. To start with, because it has already succumbed to the primitive accumulation of capital, and because some of the bloodiest conflicts today are taking place in rural environments, where global control over strategic resources or plantations is sought. As they once told me: you can create a network of rural communities if you like, but, as the European Union is interested in carrying out fracking in your area, you won’t be able to prevent that. We should add that some of the dangers we face have to do with the balance of life itself. Climate change is already affecting many ecosystems and plantations (here we had the driest May in history and an abnormally hot July), and, as the crisis worsens, any kind of ecological farming will become more difficult. If we add the water shortages and loss of fertility in some regions, we can see that our prospects for the future are not too bright.

Rooftops in the town.

Despite all that, here we are, in a mountain village, with a project centered on pastoring goats and other animals. We have vegetable gardens, a chicken coop and bee hives. We make fermented drinks, cheese and meat. In nearby towns, other young people raise sheep, pigs and rabbits, grow vegetables and bake bread. Barter and collective work is a common, informal thing.

If that offers us no future, let it at least offer us a present as we want to live it: coherent, just and with the certainty that we are doing what we can to build an alternative to this world of madness and death.