To be honest I was quite sceptical when Jirka told me he wanted to build us a house out of mud, yep, mud. Can you see where my scepticism came from? I imagined living like the Flintstones, and had flashes of my future home melting with the first rain; however, the 10 day workshop dissipated all my concerns.
After a long day of hitchhiking from Czech to Slovakia, we arrived in time to meet Petr, our super relaxed, informative and spiritual leader for the following 10 days. We set up our tent, grabbed dinner and met the other participants around the camp fire.
The course took place amidst the mountains in Slovakia, the closest village is 4km away and the atmosphere is calm and peaceful. There were about 50 of us that were there for the workshop, plus a few other longer term volunteers. Food was taken care of by two ladies who slaved away in the kitchen 24/7 and served up delicious vegan degustations.
The first two days consisted of theory; we all sat inside as Petr blew everyone away with his knowledge on building with natural materials. He explained how to construct with natural materials including hay, clay, sand, water, grass, wood, wool, straw, hemp, wood shavings and much more. We learnt about insulation, protection against the elements, mice and insects, how to create and ferment plaster, make our own bricks and live a sustainable environmentally friendly lifestyle.
After two days of theory, we had two days of practise, a nice free flow approach where pretty much whatever we wanted to try out or practice we got a chance to do it. All around the area there were projects in the works, walls half complete, roofs needing to be tiled and materials needing to be made into plaster.
After getting dirty for two days, we were back inside for our last two days of theory. What I liked the most was Petr’s tips and tricks on saving money whilst constructing. He told us how to find second hand building materials, helping others recycle while also getting free windows, bricks and other things.
Our final four days were spent outside, working on projects of our liking. The beauty of the course, and I guess the beauty of paying for it, is that we weren’t obliged to work, but could freely move about the area, watching, learning and trying things out.
A group of us set about making a clay oven for the garden. Something I’d never imagined I’d be able to do without a team of specialists monitoring my every move. But with our little group of amateur clay oven enthusiasts, we actually started to create our own little masterpiece. Some set about building the foundations; others mixed the materials whilst different groups of people did the calculations. We all worked together really well, even though every step of the process had five to ten people giving their own opinion about how it should be done, it all worked out in the end.
People were also decorating the walls with plaster, carving spoons and whistles, painting the clay sauna, creating beautiful mosaics, playing on the guitar and relaxing.
When we had done as much as we could with the clay oven, and was waiting for it to dry, Jirka got started on creating a dehydrator powered through the use of a solar panel and incorporated greenhouse aspects into the design. With a bit of help, he finished just in time on the final day, and the result was a success.
The course ended up being so much better than I had imagined, the information was fantastic, the hands on work was even better and we both got to try out a bit of everything over the 10 days. I can actually see myself building and living in a house made from natural materials knowing that it won’t be blown down by the first fart.