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Permaculture Hero

East Timor 2003

It’s a fine dry-season morning and Im driving West towards the West Timor border in a Landcruiser owned by a Portuguese NGO. They owe me a favour so I borrowed their vehicle to check on a new project. Pedal to the floor, extended awareness, music from the tape deck, another Timor trip. Chickens and goats scatter ahead of me as I hammer the horn. If you hit anything out here the villagers will demand payment for not only the chicken or animal, but all the future offspring. They will also reinforce their demands with a mob armed with machetes. The best practice is to keep going and don’t stop unless it’s a buffalo and your vehicle’s out of action. There’s a rumor that some villagers scare their poultry out on to the road to get them hit and make some cash. It’s probably just a story concocted over a few beers too many. Johnno, an Aussie volunteer sits beside me as we race through the tropical countryside. Both of us need to urinate badly so I pull over.

I walk into the shade of some bamboo and Johnno finds his own tree to water. I’m just finishing when I hear “Mr Steve!” I almost piss all over myself. This dude’s snuck up on me! I spin around and see a smiling brown face…sort of familiar but I can’t place him. “Mr Steve, Its me Eduardo! Eduardo from the Permaculture Design Course in Hera!” he beams. This guy is delighted to accidently find his permaculture teacher just a few meters from his village in the middle of nowhere. “Oh Eduardo!” I still don’t remember him after training so many Timorese.

Eduardo leads us into his village only 100 meters from the main road. Under the shade of some imported African acacia trees the village looks like paradise. Wow! It’s like a permaculture dream. All the huts have productive home gardens. The fences are covered with various food vines. Passionfruit, beans, choko are all in abundance as we walk through the small village. Eduardo points out his house and I see a picture book thatched bamboo hut with herbs, vegetables and flowers planted everywhere. Out the front are 3 happy healthy children weeding one garden. Everyone we see is healthy and happy. This is amazing!

Eduardo points across the valley to a burnt out hillside. Burning is traditionally the way for these people to clear land and create grazing material for their livestock. Unfortunately this method destroys the soils, wildlife and creates erosion. “See that village up there Mr Steve?” Eduardo points to a cluster of huts on the ridge near the burnt patch. “Our village was once like that but thanks to permaculture we changed to a better way of life.” He looks at me expecting me to pat him on the back. I just nod. “Also my group have permacultured another 16 villages!” he says proudly. His eyebrows arch up expecting his teacher to give him the thumbs up approval. I just nod. Johnno is watching us both wondering why I’m not saying much.

20 minutes later we have seen the chicken systems, the pig systems, fish ponds, and the goat milking facilities all made from local materials. I’m certainly impressed as this is by far the best example of local permaculture I’ve come across. As a trainer, activist and aid worker I have little time to track my students. I haven’t seen Eduardo for 3 years and he has certainly been busy with his community-based organization (CBO).

We finally have to go so I shake Eduardo’s hand and wish him well. Johnno pumps his hand and tells him his village is beautiful and we head for the Landcruiser. With Johnno waving out the window we tear off down the narrow highway, off to our next mission.

Johnno turns to me and asks. “Mate, that guy has done an epic job, why didn’t you give him a medal or tell him he’s the best premaculturist in Timor or something?” I’m looking ahead as we drive. I laugh and say, “If I would have told him that, he would have stopped. He’s probably going to permaculture another 16 villages to prove his worth to his teacher now.” Johnno nods and we both laugh. “You evil bastard!” exclaims Johnno still laughing.

I’m very happy to find out my student has done so well with only a 2-week course to go by. That’s a great ripple effect from my training. I imagine Eduardo telling his team the guru has visited but he is still not impressed. I smile. Maybe one day I’ll give Eduardo the permaculture Victoria Cross or something…