Work, work, work!

Fifth Week of Work!

I cant believe this is the fifth week of work! We have finished the digging of the first main line supplying one half of the total homesteads. In the past two weeks we’ve had one meeting which went by quickly because we wanted to spend more time on the sites. We presented the progress report, encouraged people to buy taps because it is nearing month end.


This is the first source filled with its first water






Dilemmas at work!

In the past two weeks there has been slow progress in the project relative to the speed with which we started. There have been numerous problems that have arisen due to a clash between traditions and development. The building of the second source has proven to be more of a speaking challenge than it is a physical one. The first issue was that the source is located on a boarder between two chiefdoms, Mbabane and Hlophe. People from the Hlophe chiefdom were claiming the water to be theirs, therefore reported a respected man Mr. Zulu (who is working with us) to their chief for taking their water and distributing it to the other chiefdom. Luckily, Mr. Zulu was not laid any serious charges and the matter was resolved. The second issue arose when we were digging the trench that leads to the second source. We dug it such that it passed through a forest before it entered the source. A man who has a homestead nearby was very unhappy with this as he claimed that the forest is his and we should not have dug at a place that was not appointed by him to us. After a couple of days of talking to him, he finally agreed to the trench passing through the forest. The final issue is that we don’t have any builders available. This has led to the building of the second source to be put on hold for a while. The builder we had for the first source found a job and no longer has time to help with the building. We have, however, secured one builder who promised to help only on weekends though.

Picture of us putting soil on top of the pipes




So far, what we have been doing was digging trenches and putting pipes and taps for homesteads that were already with their material. After the resolution of the first two issues two days ago, we started clearing the second source, getting it ready for the builder to start building the dam.

Pictures below show the site of the second water source and a few men starting to clear the rocks.



Pictures below show the clearing of the first water source so that grass can be grown on the surroundings.

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Playing catch-up

Over the last few days, we hosted a tough crowd at a neighborhood meeting, undertook the noble act of networking, went on vacation, and got home again in time to plan more comings and goings. No worries if that’s all a bit over your head, just think how mareada we must be feeling.

Welcome to the online gallery of the bicycle workshop of La Casa Naranja, a fellow collective way up north.
This is a mural they invited community kids to come help paint on the workshop walls. Of note in the bottom right corner: silkscreen print station!

Karen, the same author of our outside mural, showing us around the shop.

Tools galore.

“From the garbage to your legs.”

Did I mention that we made the trip over there to attend their fundraiser dinner to support their bike joust event? I know what you’re thinking, what a dope event, why not have one at La Colmena too?

Great call! They actually asked us while we were there if they could host another fundraiser in La Colmena, July 18. We were so honored that Las Bicis Piratas (a group usually ubicated out of Casa Naranja, a far older and wider-known collective than we are. Are we a collective? We’re a space, a group, a push to share) wanted to have an event at our place! We’re still figuring out the logistics, but look for updates on this late July.


So that all happened on Friday. On Saturday, we were scheduled to have our first of three neighborhood meetings about La Colmena and finding out best how we can fit the needs and harness the creative energy of our surrounding community of Portales Oriente.

We’d done our homework of going out and inviting the neighbors.

preading the word to the community.

But unfortunately only a total of 7 people came, all at different times. It was cool because we gave all the push we had. Meetings that droned on late into the night trying to figure out who we are and what we’re doing here, how we fit into this community, what our bigger goals are, and how we want to manage our summer school courses coupled with door-knocking and flyer-posting and cooking a feast of a meal including both red and green rice, chipotle hibiscus flowers, beans, and hibiscus water in our efforts to rally community support in the work we’re doing. Or at least feedback. The discussion now has shifted to how we can get folks to come to our next planned meeting which is in July. Ideas anyone?


Another thing we did Saturday was head out for a just-ouside-the-city vacation to Ixtapaluca, where we built a slumber house, visited some pyramids, and checked out another far-out collective, this time to the east, called Kontracultura.

iew of the hill from the hill.

o the Kontraculturas started as an occupation of a theater in a park in Ixtapaluca where they now give free workshops (like us!), have a free-lending library (like us!), put on shows and events (like us!), and help manage the little farm that was started in the park they’re in around the same time as them three years ago.

Here’s their theatre. Kids of all young and adult ages were playing on it just in the short time we were there.

This is what the rest of their park looks like, somewhat. They have an agreement with some municipal office for being there, but things are sounding pretty bad for a lot of the neighboring public spaces like this one. Take the basketball courts across the street, for instance. The municipality is planning to shut it down, undergo major renovations–so major that they will be enclosed hereafter and people will then have to pay to use them. Questions like who these new spaces will be targeted towards, who will be employed to work in these spaces, and how that will affect the health of the community were on the tips of all tongues.

his was our tourguide through the Kontracollective. Here he is showing us around the farm at the bottom of the park.

Zax with the animals for adoption.

irds and pig.




Back in La Colmena, we are trying to hang all the more out. English class today was a hit–we made phrase booklets. Amaury’s lentil soup was delicious. The sprouts are growing all the more every day. I think I finished my calculus homework for the week. If there’s anything else new, I don’t even want to hear about it.

With love and sleepies in the eyes,

Taking care of business

Today I got to show Ruth around UNAM and point out all the places I knew from when I audited classes there last year. It was beautiful to go back; even some of the hallways of the metro stations graced me with a bit of nostalgia. We didn’t just go for the sightseeing though–we went to get. stuff. done.

Stuff 1: making 100 copies of the flyers we’re going to distribute to every house in the vicinity inviting them to our community meeting where we’ll serve free food and check in on the neighbors about the project. Have they noticed La Colmena at all in the last year? How has it affected them? How can we approach the projects of the library and orchard to be most accessible to them? What overall feedback would they give us about the project to make it the best for them?

Interlude: walking across the campus (or city?), we saw a tilted truck wedged into what once was a fine square plate of metal on the sidewalk.

Stuff 2: finally, we made it to the cafeteria roof-gone-hydroponic orchard in the school of science.

Angel and Anna kindly showed us around the place.

In greenhouse 1, there were lots of healthily germinating lettuce. During mass production season (aka when the cafeteria’s open and consuming hella lettuce), 75 kilos of lettuce are produced weekly in this greenhouse.

This is the model our greenhouse is based on, but ours will be half the length and width, using the same screen for walls and accomodating the same ventilation system. From our greenhouse, we’re anticipating to begin production with 15 kilos of lettuce a week.

Next up, greenhouse 2. Here they grow tomatoes with a window that opens at the peak of the roof and wires rigged up to support the climbing vines. Soon to come: photos of my own upside-down growing tomatoes!

Greenhouse 3: cacti. They’re cultivating tons of gorgeous species of cacti, including some types that grow spikes of different shades of pink and some that are almost extinct.

Greenhouse 4 had aeromatic plants, but we weren’t allowed in.

The roof was made to support the weight of this project, but it has undergone various reparations to keep it up to snuff. These tiles were put in just last year:

Another greenroof highlight was when Anna showed us her germination station.

They germinate sprouts by the kilo, alfalfa out the ears!

Here’s what a bag of the coconut fibers looks like that we use with little red rocks to make the substrate for the hydroponic plants:

Wishlist for our orchard: gingko tree, lavender, and a germination station.

We raced home through the rain via metro in time to say goodbye to the bookbinding teacher and listen to the singing class students do their warmups. As we sat in the kitchen and watched the tea boil, we also ruminated over what it would be like to enlist an industrial stove to la Cocina Economica Zangano. But this sounds like a project for another day. If not tomorrow, when we’ll distribute flyers for the community meeting and move all the plants from the patio to the front of the house and make that broken tv into a flowerpot, then maybe the next day.

Thanks for reading this blog, Rachel! Can’t wait to see you here (or in Chicago)!

Clearing the patio, feasting sin casera

Twas a good day, twas a sad day, twas once again a happy day. Since the anniversary, we’ve cleaned up the house, tried to make a few connections with other collective spaces, and successfully held many a workshop. Since yesterday, in addition to realizing I had online summer calculus homework to turn in, we’ve been liberating the patio from its layersome oppression of occupation to make space for the boxing workshop. The bikes from one corner are now stationed in the garage. The shopping cart of glass to recycle has been emptied and brought to its various destinations. The trash has been consolidated, and now only the trees and bags of dirt are still seeking a new home. Part of this consolidation included repurposing a broken television set, that will either become a flowerpot or a bookshelf, depending on who takes the next step upon themselves.

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Hopefully some day the walls of La Colmena can somewhat resemble the public vertical gardens in the historic downtown we passed by the other day:


This afternoon, we were expecting the landlady and her son to come over and talk business. Or, feast on pozole with us and talk about where she’d like to see the project go. Unfortunately, when we did end up getting in touch with her a couple hours after the hora de la comida, they were far away and now won’t be able to come until next week 😦

Regardless, we’d made a delicious pozole and rewarded all the hard workers with the fruits of various farmers’ labor.




Following the meal we waxed philosophical:


And felices:


What is to come in the days that follow? Well, my little brother for one, and a Che Guevara conference and poetry slam for another!

Til the next immediate future,



You thought like a man!

Early last week on my way to the mountain, Mr. Lukhele, one of the men helping with the project asked me to pass by his house to get a wheelbarrow and buckets to help with the building. As I entered the homestead I was greeted by his wife who was busy making brooms she was preparing to go and sell. She was very excited to se me, on her way back to give me the stuff we had a rather interesting exchange of words. “My child, I don’t know how you did it. You thought like a man!” she said. “Thanks ma, but I don’t understand what you mean when you say ‘I thought like a man’. Even women do think like this” I replied. “No, my child, only men do things this big. You have really surprised us.” I knew I didn’t stand a chance if I was to argue with her about gender hierarchies. So, I just said thank you and left. She had not been the first women who had said something similar. A few days earlier my mother came back from home and told me a women had stopped her on the way to thank her for me bringing the project. She said that I had done something that a lot of men weren’t able to do. It really got me thinking about how this community needed women empowerment. That maybe women were sitting in their homes with big ideas that could potentially develop the community but cant voice them out because ‘only men come up with big ideas’.


In the latest meeting that we had on Saturday, I sat down with the committee and it was decided that instead of having the 20 homes that were originally proposed to help with water, we’d have twice the number of homes. This change was made because a lot more homes needed help with getting water easily. But because this change will hurt the budget for the project, it was decided that each homestead will buy its own tap, so that there is enough money for pipes to reach the additional homes hat have been added.

Work in site is still progressing well, although this past week there was a little less participation than with the previous week. Since we decided on having two reservoirs, the digging for the first one is done. We are now halfway done with the digging coming from the second reservoir to the other side of homesteads.

I also must mention that I am proud of myself and my friend who is interning with the project. During the week we had to participate with the community members in carrying bricks to the mountain because there wasn’t a road for cars to carry them. It was a long distance, about half a kilometer, with the additional difficulty of the steepness of the mountain.

Photo: showing some of the pipes and tanks to be used for the project.



Photo: showing the almost complete water reservoir.



Photo: showing the built stand for one of the tanks. This is where the tank is going to be placed once the digging is done.


Photo: showing us covering one of the connected pipes to the ground.


1 year anniversary!

All good things must come to an exquisite end-of-its-first-year-of-existence celebration, and La Colmena proved to be no exception to the rule. Yesterday came to pass the anniversary event that we have been planning since before I landed last Friday, and there is absolutely no better feeling that seeing the house filled with friends and family, workshop students and neighbors, continuing frequenters and some folks who haven’t seen the space in awhile.







The program went as follows:

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We cooked tons of rice and beans and beautifully colorful dishes for all the party attendees:


We inaugurated two murals and a library:

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We listened to storytellers and all took a symbolic bite of Colmena birthday cake:

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I’ve been thinking about what time passing means to me; to La Colmena. Some people made beautiful speeches last night, and the core group of us who have been working and living here since its inauguration have come to be family. The fact that we can draw a house full of people to listen to each others’ soul-soothing music is more than I could have asked for, but the fact that we are just embarking on a summer full of projects bien tendidos bodes more than well for the future of La Colmena.

Additionally, we’ve begun getting the word out about our first meeting for the neighboring communities. Next Saturaday at 3 pm we’ll be doling out free food (talk of homemade tamales has been heard), welcoming in everyone interested in hearing about and giving feedback on La Colmena, and asking the community how they feel we can best serve them. I am incredibly excited for what this meeting indicates for La Colmena. Not only are we taking ourselves more seriously in our internal projects (with the library and the orchard for example), but we are knitting more intentionally and tightly our relationships with those around us and living up to our responsibility to the community as a safe space and community center .

In case you’re hungry for more photos, keep up with our photoblog! My best friend Ruth and her fancy Canon came to La Colmena and have been staying here with us to live the communal life and occupy the position of official photographer:


All go all day!

As for the books, we are far from having them all classified. However, you might never guess that if you saw this gorgeous new library!! The bookshelves arrived the day before yesterday, and they are perfect!

moving in shelves

Library-bound bookshelves.

shelves and books in boxes

Emptiness, and boxes of potential to grow like that jade plant!

This was earlier in the day. The next evening after percussion class, we got to work:

chelas, zax, boxes of books

Jorge, Angel, Zax, and Galo: the get-it-together crew.

pato shelving, box piles

Pato filling the shelves.

our beautiful books!!

The beautiful books!

library view from the hall

Mariana and a view from the hall.

extra shelving!

We ran out of space quick, so made up some shelving solutions 🙂

box head confuses stefan

Stefan confused by box head.

In order to get the plans for the library and orchard together, we worked with a couple architect students who drew up incredible plans for la casa Colmena. I’m not sure what’s happening with my hair in this photo, but these plans are absolutely incredible!


The feasibility of actually following through with many of the changes they suggested is highly dubious under our current monetary circumstances, but hey, future live-it applicants, let’s talk!

Last night Zax and I stayed up late, listening to Erykah Badhu swirl lyrical truths and collaging poems and paintings into postcards. (I realize now it would have been cool to take a picture of it before I sent what I made last night out in the mail today. Likely that one of you lucky readers will be its recipient *ahem,Nara,ahem*) It was in one of those tranquil, reflexive moments that nearly only ever pass with other people who share their love for cutting up scraps of paper, sidewalk trash-made-treasure, and bags of pens and gluesticks and feathers and inkwells by sharing our scraps and treasures and gluesticks that I was able to dive into a bit of reflection on what La Colmena has meant to me–both in the last year and in the last few days. Not that I think I’m able to put them into words, but I’ll share with you all a small horizontal list of gratitude–also known as a paragraph.

The existence of magic, the potent ability of communal living to create time warp, and a love for weekly meetings have all been proven for me in La Colmena. Communication and what that means and how to do it–across languages, habits, and fears. The value of being completely open to the community, being open to each person I communicate with, and being open to myself have been proven time and again here.

The list will continue, elaborate, and become self-reflexive, I’m sure, as time goes on. For now, enjoy a moment of rest and congratulate yourself on having participated in the art of reading.


Clean Water for Mdzangwini

The Mdzangwini community is located on the outskirts of the Mbabane city in Swaziland. It is a small community that shares the same blessings as the rest of the country i.e. there are mountains everywhere. As geography would have it, mountains are a common source of water. That is why when we had our first meeting on Saturday of my arrival we agreed as a community that the water sources will be located on the mountains with two water sources.

Photo: Showing one of the trenches for the pipes to go through and the landscape of Mdzangwini

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The first meeting we had was very successful. I introduced the project and highlighted that it was from Macalester College. Then I laid out what I had initially proposed would be the way that the project will work throughout time I’ll be at Mdzangwini. Therefore, we set out to separate people who showed up at the working sites to be separated into two groups; one working at the source and the other working at digging up the trenches for the main line. A couple of community members pointed out during the meeting that there had to be money set aside by the families involved in the project as maintenance fee. This was to help with the keeping up of the project and making it sustainable. A joining fee of E50 ($5) was set and a monthly payment of E20 ($2). Then it was agreed that work would start the following day, Sunday.

Photo: Showing some of the community people of Mdzangwini at the first water source preparing for the building of the dam.

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Usually it is said that the first day is the hardest day, both in terms of people showing up and coordinating everything. Well, a lot of people were amazed by the turnout on the first day of work. More than 25 people showed up to work and we managed to work more than our target goal for that whole week. We divided the people into the two groups as decided in the meeting. We worked a total of 4 hours.

Photo: Showing digging of a trench

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After the first week of work I realized that this project is a learning experience for me. I’ve often heard people saying that a leader leads by example. This was evident for me when we set the time to start working to be 7am. If I am late then the people would also not take the time seriously. It is not an easy task leading people because not everybody is always agreeing with what is being proposed. On the first day of work some people were complaining about the division of labour, that is, some people were using picks, some spades and shovels and some slashers.

Photo: Showing more digging of trench

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Photo: Showing building of the first water source

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Photo: Showing community members using picks and spades to dig trench

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