Bellingham. My husband is involved in Transition Town work, building local community for hard times ahead. I participate, too, but not much, and not very often. I hate meetings, for one thing. I believe in consensus building but sitting through it gives me restless leg syndrome body-wide. Potlucks would be okay if they didn't require a whole evening of blurting things out (See How to Talk to Strangers below). Work parties can be fun, but I often fall behind the thirty-somethings, who appear to move compost as effortlessly as they pick up their children’s toys.
The saving grace of transition folks: they show a lot of movies. I’ve seen The Age of Stupid, What a Way to Go, and The End of Suburbia—all of them recipes for sleepless nights—but missed some of the cheerier offerings, like Mad City Chickens. A few nights ago I decided to walk out with my husband (that’s what they call dating on the BBC) to watch The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989-1990, Cuba’s supplies of imported oil and food were drastically cut, causing widespread hunger and desperation. Cuba’s agricultural sector had previously embraced the “green revolution”—cash-crop farming requiring petroleum-based fertilizer and petroleum-fueled machinery. Their “peak oil moment”—many people believe ours is near—arrived suddenly, and they responded rapidly. In just a few years they were able to switch to organic methods of farming inside and around cities, producing enough food to feed the population. How they did this so fast and so expertly makes for a film full of fascinating interviews, too many shots of the backsides of oxen, and small but gorgeous gardens.
After the film, a woman who’d traveled to Cuba (illegally) during the latter Bush years showed her own photographs. She’d biked into countryside the filmmakers didn’t get to. Her impression—and mine, after listening to what she had to say—was that Cuba’s transition to local, organic agriculture worked throughout the country.
I sat there thinking how ironic it was that forty Americans were watching, in a room above a store,
a film in
which Cubans accomplished quickly and effectively what might take us decades to work through and may come too late to help much. How the worm has turned.
The thing about introverts is they tend to sit on questions so long, the stuffing goes out of them. What’s left isn’t carefully couched but flat and bumpy. I raised my hand. “They have a centralized government,” I said, “that provided experts, training, public policy. We’ll probably have to do all that ourselves.”
Which led to a discussion of HOW CUBA WORKS, in particular of Castro’s neighborhood watchdogs, the CDRs (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), who organize things like blood banks and hurricane preparedness but also keep an eye out for those who, say, have a tendency to hoard supplies.
One man remarked that living the way Cubans do requires a level of maturity Americans haven’t developed. I wondered if I could develop that kind of maturity alone in my house, and given the treatment of outsiders in Cuba--gay men, for example--whether I wanted to. Talking to more strangers about this, about anything--I'm pretty sure it can't hurt.