Report for Ecoversities Residency Program. “Terra Adentro”. Brazil.


“Terra Adentro” is an educational project in Brazil that researches, through experiential practices, the borders of modernity, both at systemic and at an individual level, and tries to find/create/imagine possibilities of being otherwise. As an emerging project matured during many encounters with other members of Ecoversities network, it is open to disturbances from worldly contaminations and may shape shift many times still. For now, it is flowing from workshops facilitated in urban contexts in cities such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Berlin to a land based experience in the mountains of Serra da Mantiqueira, in the Southeast of Brazil.

Gorca in Earth’s Care is a land based educational project that takes place in Gorca, Slovenia. Last August, we hosted a group of 20 participants involved in Global Citizenship Education (GCE) that are part of the network of Bridge 47 project, a network of 15 organizations funded by the European Union that aims to mobilize and strengthen civil society worldwide to contribute to a change towards global justice through GCE. The call for participants was a Train-The-Trainer (TTT) workshop with the title: Digging Deeper and Relating Wider – Global Citizenship Education (GCE) Otherwise.

What connects Terra Adentro and Gorca in Earth’s Care is the collective “Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures”, a collective of researchers, artists, educators, students and activists involved in research and artistic, pedagogical and visual mapping experiments that tries to develop ways of living that engage with, rather than deny, systemic violence, our entanglements and complicity in harm, and the limits of the planet.

In 2019, Gorca Earth care was hosting its educational program for the third year, while Terra Adentro is developing its first land based immersion. This residency was a good opportunity for learning with the challenges faced on a project with similar objectives and outcomes but that works in different realities.

How do we encounter otherness? Is it possible to really find common ground to engage with different ontologies, or rather, to exchange practices from different grounds? Ground in this case are the mountains of Gorca, a wine producing region in the east of Slovenia, 40 km from Maribor, the second biggest city in the country and just a few miles from the border with Croatia. Non-human entities that participated in the residency included grapevines, a beech forest, a stream, a valley that drives the gaze towards a long horizon and the mythical presence of a dragon, which enfolds the region and is inscripted in the land.

While I was sitting in silence on the head of the Dragon, I remembered a Qigong practice at the 2018 Ecoversities gathering in Udaipur, India, where I was told that Dragons are the only animal that you can’t learn from within nature. Funny enough, it is also a difficult task to learn from the land. How can we learn to listen to what a land want us to do?

On the days before the group of participants of the immersion arrived, the facilitators were already there, immersed in a pedagogical process of attunement with the land guided by Ubiraci Pataxo, an indigenous leader and community therapist from the Pataxo community, located in the Northeast of Brazil. In the work of the collective GTDF, we are deeply informed by indigenous practices as a way of learning from possibilities of being otherwise, approaching these practices with reverence without idealization. The collective upholds the idea that other ontologies may hold keys that can unlock the process of moving the violent and unsustainable structures towards more generative directions.

At the same time we were working on preparing the place to receive our 20 guests: weeding to open up space for camping tents; building dry toilets, sinks and showers; cutting wood for fire; cleaning spaces, preparing a lecture hall and meal spaces; creating a map and signaling the terrain; making shopping lists, buying food and deciding where and what to cook; organizing the daily schedule and sharing other responsibilities. There is important work to be done outside the spotlight and we were learning to do it with a sense of humility and respect for those who were actually holding the space.

One other thing that we understood was important for the experiment was to facilitate this immersion as a sacred process, in which we would learn (if it worked) to see what is really important at each moment and change our proposals and exercises accordingly, in an emerging practice of listening to silences and other senses.

Despite the difficulties we predicted, we were determined to dig deeper into the challenges and difficulties of being together, emulating in our microcosmos the kind of work that is needed from all of us educators, activists and change makers: to “stay with the trouble” and with the fact that maybe all our efforts are doomed to fail, and yet we’ll need the stamina and trust to keep moving in the direction we are required to.

Trust is also an interesting word, because for this process to unveil, a lot of trust was needed. Trust in ourselves and in each other, but also trust in something else, which could be named in different ways, but doesn’t necessarily need our acknowledgment to exist. What it does need however, is that we are able to unpack our fears, traumas and insecurities, while holding space, while hosting a group, while staying with the trouble of being together and facing human extinction lurking down the corner. This is why we named it a “pedagogy for the end of the world as we know it”.

The end of the world is a metaphor, and it’s not. It is a metaphor in the sense that it is used to move things up, especially the places and paradigms that lead the conversations around the “work that needs to be done”. One of these places is a house entrenched in and from a land. As you walk in, the concrete floor gets harder and harder, and even though your feet loses the ability to mold and be molded by a land buried many meters bellow, your footprint leaves permanent marks. You are alone, and yet all these marks are around you, bringing a dense presence in the room. Other bodies, pilled over each other, start touching and dragging you around. You start feeling inundated, suffocated by so many hands, so many people, so many desires of leaving permanent marks. Your feet can’t touch the floor anymore, and as you try to climb higher and higher to be able to breath, you reach the ceiling and touch a roof tile, that breaks in your hand. As it breaks, other tiles start to fall apart, scaring the other presences in the room. Back to the ground, you see a seizure in the wall and run away to the next room. it is possible to hear a conversation. You have the opposite feeling now: you are in a room with other beings and no one notices you. The conversation continue as if you were not there.

It is possible to see a box, and a globe being wrinkled, cut and flattened to fit it. People are excited about their work and congratulate each other with effusive vivas, hugs and selfies. Someone quickly makes a call and report in a respectful voice how much progress has been made. You can’t hear what is been said at the other end of the line, but you see red cheeks inflating. Everyone is now fed by proud, and yet again there is less and less space. You see a door to the kitchen and enter it. You know the diet has to change.

It is not a lack of knowledge. We don’t need yet another ground breaking theory. It is about been nurtured in a different way, with different kinds of foods, and more sober portions. It is an invitation to renunciation of consumptive pleasure, comforts, authority and control. It is about testing a different metabolism, through fasting and interruption of compensatory consumption of coffee, sugar, alcohol, spicy, tobacco and what you’ll find (and you will find) out to substitute them as well. What can be found in an empty stomach after the rage of those at the living room? It is a metaphor, and it is not. It is not in the sense that we are actually talking about substances and been able to notice subtle changes and waking up dormant senses and thin language, and gain strength from something else, something we may be able to grasp if we could unclog pipes and open up veins and dismantle veils.

So you are in the kitchen with the job of changing diets rich in sugar and fat, which means that everything else you offer will feel tasteless. To recover the ability to taste other stuff, a cleanse process is needed. A diarrhea needs to be produced.

You do it. And lock the toilet door. People in the living room are afraid of dirt and illness and contamination. And yet their bodies still work and they rush out of the house to shit. You don’t eat. You are the carrier of the antidote, the ant slowly eating the tools of the house master. You are part of the good team. Soon enough you see that your guts completely disagree with that. Your stomach aches so much that you can’t reach the door when the process starts. You leave a path of dirt until you find a portion of grass and lay down, flooded in your own shit. It is bad, but not as bad as that old nightmare that still haunts you.

Some flies start to show around and sip from your former constipation. You are wet and sticky and melting with the land, that is also absorbing your shit. You, or the idea of a you, is absorbed before. You are now part of a body touching so many times, spaces and beings that you cannot focus or analyze anything.

The wind blows, a door opens and allows you to see a rat run away. The rat shape
shifts into a snake, that inject venom into the not yet transformed mouse tale. They both rotten and are absorbed by the land. You few an excruciating pain that can’t be located. It is as if everything could be in pain at the same time, but there is no sign of complaint.

Now it is quiet, empty and dark. You hear a crack, and another and a (w)hole starts to open. You see big and cold eyes. The Dragon’s eyes tell you that we are not even close to zero yet.

This essay was written as a report for the 2019 Ecoversities Residency Program. In the spirit of unlearning that characterizes the network and many of the participant projects, this text is also an attempt of undoing what should be conventionally done in this kind of writing. It is written both with hope that this grammar could encompass more “world” than it usually does and with the sorrow common to many irredeemable ventures.

I’d like to express my gratitude for the Ecoversities Network effort to wave threads and build networks of resilience across continents.

Share this post

Other Publications