We arrived in Slavonski Brod in the late afternoon, it was raining heavily. We had just completed our first journey from project to project. We left Vukov Konak in Bosnia with the plan to hike approximately 250km to Andrejs in Slavonski Brod, Croatia. This plan lasted all of a few days! Despite our best efforts to minimise all our worldly possessions into a form we could carry ourselves, we still had too much. Not to mention the temperatures in Bosnia being in the 30’s and the terrain being what can only be described as ‘mountainous’! After a few days it was clear this was not the mode of transport most suited to us, the idealistic images of wondering in the wilderness, our packs and the open road, had not panned out. I find it hard to admit defeat in these situations but even in my head it was obvious we needed to rethink. For now it was hopping on a bus headed for Tuzla and from there to Andrejs. Amazingly this bus rounded a corner at the same moment that we appeared out of the wild on to a main road, I guess you could say this was a confirming sign.
We trudged through the streets of Slavonski Brod in the rain. A fairly bland looking city, although most cities are in this weather I guess. As we were nearing the point of full water immersion a taxi pulled up and a jolly man with a fisherman’s hat on appeared at the window.
“You looking for Andrejs place?”
“Yes we are.”
“I’m Andrej, hop in.”
This was perhaps another sign, who knows. But it certainly was a wild and synchronistic start to an epic few weeks at ‘Andrejs Place’.
From the first sight of this place it was clear it was different. All manner of organic buildings, hard to tell if some of them were still growing or not, half the land looked like a rubbish dump and then there was this enormous garden, a very wild and beautiful chaos of concealed abundance.
To start with there were 5 of us helping out at Andrejs, us two, a dude from New Zealand, and two girls one from Germany the other Thai. For the first week or so it was all hands on deck for jam and preserve making, using up all the fruit that was past it, there was almost nothing thrown away or wasted here! We were harvesting apricots, grapes and tomatoes, all past their best but perfect for jams or the worst ones went for Rakija, a homemade fruit brandy, real powerful stuff. Many nights we were up until the small hours having ‘Jam Parties’.
Before long we discovered the story behind the “rubbish dump” half of the place. Andrej had an agreement with a local company who installed windows and doors, they paid him to offload all the old ones at his place, he then used them to build with, a pretty great little arrangement.(We actually built a greenhouse with them whilst we were there!) The house had been his parents house before he took it on full time and for a period there had been no one living there, during this time the company had still been dumping their old windows and doors, subsequently when he moved back the entire garden was buried under windows and doors! When we found this out it became apparent that what we had thought was a mess was actually great progress!
Andrej also liked to drive around the town every morning at about 4am, he had very odd sleeping patterns, and collect anything that seemed useful, and much that didn’t, from the bins. He would bring it all back in his van and then sort it, building materials, trash, recyclables, household items etc. Amazing what you find sometimes. He came back with a chicken once, a live chicken! She was in a bad way but bounced back heroically.
One morning Andrej got Sam to dig a duck pond in the middle of the floor of the workshop. He found him digging it a couple of hours later.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m digging your duck pond.”
“Did I ask you to do that. Oh sorry. It’s probably best to never listen to my first idea.”
As you can probably tell Andrej was quite out there. He had his own way of functioning. It was great to see his resourcefulness, his ability to make use of every last thing. His creativity and artistic flair. He really helped us see things from another angle. He had very little money, no bank account but he made it work. It felt really good to be able to be there and help him and his family. He needed his volunteers. It was by no means an ideal situation or some utopia but it certainly had a great deal of the elements that we feel can contribute to a more sustainable and just community. This place took us out of our comfort zone and helped us break away from the dominant story, if only for a short while.
By the end of our stay we were a large tribe of volunteers who had truly bonded through the ups and downs. We had created so much and from what most would call “so little”. We built a greenhouse, a clay oven, numerous bedrooms, an epic treehouse and cooked some of the tastiest food of our whole trip using a lot of stuff that would’ve ended up in the bin.
This sort of experience can transform your way of thinking, and in such a short time. We were only there for six weeks, however by the end we were fully acclimatised to this life. Foraging, scavenging, creating, growing, sharing, caring, communing. This was a large moment. It really shows how quickly humans adapt to different situations. I mean this life of cheap convenience has only become the norm in the last 100 years and accelerated massively in the last 30. Now most of us feel we couldn’t live without it! But we found in as little as 6 weeks you can get used to something different. We could make the necessary changes for our world and adapt, it might take a little more than 6 weeks though.
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