Photo: Peter Axisa
The sun goes down on another PDC and another 11 students are glowing and growing. This time the sun sets on a little mystical island in the southern reaches of Thailand, a little island called Koh Phangan. Their teacher and inspiration was, and still is, Rhamis Kent (author profile, WPN profile), a magnificent PRI-accredited teacher and now a great friend. On behalf of the class, I would like to thank Rhamis for our new outlook on life and the empowerment to know we can make a change. But more about Rhamis in a bit, we’ll save the best till last and head back to that little mystical island that a few of us will always remember.
Photo: Peter Axisa
I never knew the power of the island until I left, and as the plane took off and flew over where I had just been; we soared through towering clouds, clouds like I had never seen before. Huge vertical pillars of cloud with well-defined crisp white edges, interspersed with brilliant blues from the sky and sea. It was only the clouds immediately around the island that had this effect, all the others were drawn out blurry versions of clouds and as I looked down on the island I knew that the last two weeks of my life will shape the rest of it. What a magnificent place to have been born again, so to speak — to get a new positive outlook on life. Rhamis said a couple of times "if a PDC is taught well, you leave and start looking at things differently" – I now know what he was talking about.
Koh Phangan is only a short ferry ride from Koh Samui, which is a popular hot spot for visitors from all over the world, with beaches, bars and the amazing Angthong National Marine Park. Even though Koh Phangan is known for its full moon parties, you would never know once you are there. The island is actually very quiet. Although it was the low season, it was pretty obvious that the party hot spots were few and far between, nestled in little pockets away from the rest of the natural beauty.
Photo: Julien Balmer
Just to illustrate how peaceful the island actually is, there are quite a number of yoga retreats in the area and if I had my time again I would have tacked on a couple of days at either end of the course to partake in that experience. In fact, phanganearthworks, the host location for this PDC have built two silent retreat earthbag domes and a large yoga loft.
The site itself was very interesting and my first real look at the opportunities of alternative building. The use of earthbags in particular and bamboo architecture was grand and the open-plan living really appealed to me. Simple, cheap and off the grid, it was a wonderful look at affordable outdoor living. Establishing the main infrastructure (water harvesting & storage, buildings, road, solar power supply) has been the priority during the first couple of years, but now, almost 4 years into the site development, the focus has shifted towards growing food — and lots of it. One of the highlights of the PDC was the design exercise. To be able to walk around the site and work with what was already there and to be able to ask questions about what the ‘client’ wanted was more than just an exercise, it really felt like we were there to do a job.
Photo: Julien Balmer
The guys and girls at phanganearthworks were very accommodating and provided a lovely experience for all. Class started at nine and half-way through the 3 hour teaching blocks, both in the morning and afternoon, tea, coffee, fresh fruit, and biscuits were provided. For lunch we had two hours, and being so close to a little fishing village, we were able to sample the many tiny kitchens on offer. There was one that stood out amongst all: Momma Pooh’s (the food was better then the name suggests!). After lunch there was time for a quick dip in one of the many lovely quiet beaches or time for a quick siesta in your hammock. The accommodation was close by and offered a variety for all budgets. You could stay in a luxurious air-conditioned villa with your own private beach for 50 AUD a night, or you could stay in a bungalow with a fan right near the beach for 5 AUD a night. Meals were generally anywhere from 3-5 AUD.
Koh Tao – one of the best diving spots in the area – is only a one hour ferry ride away, and although I didn’t get to dive myself, I spoke to some people who spent two weeks diving with whale sharks and manta rays. Elephant treks, waterfalls, high adrenalin activities; Koh Phangan has a lot going for it, and with the PDC interest, I think it’s the ultimate learning holiday.
Photo: Julien Balmer
I guess for me the real strength of the PDC was Rhamis and his teachings. The way Rhamis taught really opened my mind and took things to another level. He made it enjoyable and really honed in on getting you to look at things differently. He spent a lot of time exploring systemic mechanics – how things really work – not just in the garden, but in all facets of life. He said "I’m not teaching you to run off into the horizon with this knowledge, I’m teaching you to use this knowledge, to show people there is another way."
The real inspiration for me and I’m sure the rest of the class was the conviction of Rhamis’ teachings. His humour and charisma made the classroom fun, and outside the classroom we all made really great friends. During lunch breaks and evening movie nights we all came together like we were in training, ready to go out to the front line, armed with nothing but knowledge and a different perspective. The class really came together and Rhamis made us all feel comfortable about questioning things. Together we talked about many issues relating to the world crisis and how to tackle the many inherent problems.
Photo: Peter Axisa
PRI Australia-trained Rhamis has been bearing the permaculture flag for a number of years now. He has worked closely and formed a strong relationship with Geoff Lawton and I believe that is a true testament to his ability and determination. Having consulted internationally he has already made a dent in several areas throughout the Middle East, Northern Africa and Europe. The strength in his teachings is both the content and its delivery. Although we walked the garden and did miniature earthworks in the garden, most of our time was spent going over the Permaculture Designers’ Manual and the real possibilities of large scale permaculture. We covered so much material, looking at how real change can be made, in the garden, in soils and forests, and in the community.
Rhamis is determined to empower people and arm them with permaculture. His training is fun and intuitive, you could nearly call his graduates WMP, weapons of mass production. His continual hard work and enthusiasm is taking him further forward and not only is he working alongside the likes of Geoff Lawton and Mustafa Fatih Bakir, he is now also co-director of the PRI USA. He was a guest speaker at the IPC Jordan where he lectured on empowering people and the current situation in Somalia and also works on projects such as Plant for Peace.
It’s telling that as I sit here on the train traveling through the countryside from Sydney to Brisbane on my journey home, I find myself staring out the window and constantly evaluating the landscape. I see things out of balance, where wetlands should be, there are dried muddy bogs, where forests should stand, I see grass and not even green grass. I witness a desert in the making. I look around me at other people and wonder what they see. Do they too recognise the apparent systemic failures? If only more of us were empowered with the vision and understanding that permaculture has to offer, the planet we inhabit would rapidly become healthier again.
Thanks buddy for all that insight and inspiration. Also a big thanks to the rest of the class and to our hosts at phanganearthworks – it really was an amazing experience, what a wonderful crew — laughs all the way.
There is an upcoming PDC at phanganearthworks with Mustafa Fatih Bakir who trained at PRI Australia with Rhamis (earlier this year they also co-taught a PDC in Istanbul at the regional permaculture conference and convergence). This PDC is highly recommended. Dates are 11-23 February 2013 and there still remain spots. For more information and to book, click here.