And now, here I am, in Damanhur. Gazza (Magpie) checks me in. I’ll be spending my first night in the guest house. If I want food, there’s a little cafe/bar down the hall. Or I can wait at the gate for a “synchronic ride,” that is, a car that might be leaving the parking lot to the next village where there’s a food store. After the long trip to get here, I’m in no mood to stand by any gates. So, I decide to eat what’s left of my travel rice cakes and fall asleep.

The next morning I walk to the Welcome Center for my first meeting with Wapiti. I sit down in the cafe with this friendly native of Croatia while she outlines the general schedule for New Life folks, telling me all the activities I can be involved in. Imagine someone placing a menu before you and you suddenly realize how hungry you are? Will it even be possible to eat all those amazing things you see?

o_img 07052010 25“I feel like I’ve jumped into a roaring river current,” I tell Wapiti as she drives me to my first event as a New Lifer, a guided group nucleo tour. “Yes, that’s about it,” she laughs. We pull into the parking lot of Crea, the main commerce center of Damanhur. Wapiti tells me to buy some food for myself in the store and meet her in the cafe. I buy a snack and sit down at a table to wait. And wait. And wait. Until Wapiti runs in the door saying “Ann Marie, what are you doing, we are waiting for you in the parking lot!”

Now this is to be the first of many rapids, or whirlpools of my beginnings here. I get confused about instructions and directions, of what I’m supposed to do, where I’m supposed to be, and when. I think I understand something and it turns out I don’t. This kind of disorientation is typical of me to begin with. But here I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s not just me, that it might be how Damanhur operates in general. And then there’s the Italian factor, which is another vortex of chaos compounding it all. I remind myself to take it easy. After all, I’m in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language, not to mention I’m in a place that seems somewhat surrealistic. And I’m jetlagged beyond belief.

In the parking lot I have my first opportunity to meet a group of New Lifers. There are about a dozen of us, all from different countries and of various ages. Most everyone speaks English, which is a great relief. There are three Americans, including myself, an Argentinian, a German midwife from Costa Rica. Others are from Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Greece, Scotland and Italy.

Riding in different cars, we embark upon a guided tour of two of the many nucleos of Damanhur. Nucleos are composed of “families,” groups of people living together, organized around a particular theme such as agriculture, art, winemaking, alternative energy, and so forth. Damanhurians buy and remodel various old houses around the region to form new nucleos. Each nucleo is an island that’s more or less integrated into the local territory of farms and towns.

7 julio 2011 - 7 JulyWe drive along wooded, serpentine roads and hills to the first nucleo, Magilla, which specializes in alternative, wood burning heat. There are also solar panels on the roof. And a phenomenal view of the surrounding hills. I walk into the large kitchen to the aromas of cooking food. Someone is preparing batter-fried flowers of some sort. I am trying to imagine what it will be like to live in one of these places. Next we visit “Porta della Luna.” By now I am so tired with jet lag that it’s hard to focus on things. (I will learn more about these two nucleos a couple of months later when they come around again on the weekly guided tour). I sit beneath an oak tree which happens to be the “hello tree” of the nucleo. It’s the tree that greets everyone when they arrive. The tree we ourselves touch, or hug, as a hello…

by Ann Marie Molnar

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