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5 April 2007updated 27 Sep 2015 5:44am

Can’t help but smile

Hit with a usual bout of culture shock upon his return from Africa, Jonathan finds designing a carbo

By Jonathan Dawson

Back from Sierra Leone – with a smile on my face. The last few days in the country were light and graceful, filled with the positive energy that comes with working alongside people who are serving the needs of the poor and marginalised in their midst. On my last morning, as a token of appreciation, I was presented with a beautiful length of woven cloth, hand-made by one of the groups that MAPCO has been training.

Back in the sterile half-light of Heathrow, it feels like God has taken the great remote control in the sky and turned off the volume, the colour and the heat – along with the smiles.

Bums and boobs moon off the top shelf of the newspaper stand. ‘Phwoaw’, roars the headline in one over a photo whose caption alleges Prince William is groping a young woman’s boob – he clearly isn’t, but what has that got to do with newspaper sales? A row of vacant faces stares at an item on the television in the lounge on the launch of Sony’s new Playstation.

The culture-shock involved in going to Africa is a mere shadow of that experienced coming back ‘home’. Countless times on re-entry into this country I have pondered on how impoverished we are in so many ways compared to our African brothers and sisters – how much we are in need of a comprehensive development package to address our profound social and spiritual poverty.

I learned that the African Union offered to send election monitors to oversee the last US presidential election. (The offer was politely declined.) I do think we should seriously consider receiving teams of experts from Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Chad in community solidarity and the art of living.

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Back in Findhorn, it is comforting to be greeted by Craig who is showing around a group of inner-city London youth. This visit is the first of a series to explore the suitability of Findhorn as a venue for workshops aimed at helping young people from the cities get exposure to the natural world. We are too white and bourgeois by half and the kind of energy they would bring in would likely help shake us up in the most interesting and creative ways. Fingers crossed.

Back at my desk, a really interesting piece of work has come in. A small team of us has been invited to design a carbon-neutral island – a notional rather than specific island, at this stage at least. The only specifications we have been given are that it should be off the Scottish coast and have a population of between 500 and 1,000 people. Scotland has been described as the ‘Saudi Arabia of the Solar Age’ and it is fascinating to begin to deconstruct the various elements of the carbon footprint knowing that, provided populations are prepared to put up with small wind parks, it may be possible to balance the carbon account-books.

Here at Findhorn, our four wind turbines make us net energy exporters. Not only is this very satisfying from an economic point of view. Also, every time I come over the crest of one of the surrounding hills on a windy day, at the sight of our wee turbines spinning merrily away, my smile extends from lips to heart.

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