#11 - Manu (The Garden pt. 3)
We found him in the back, building a new structure with the swing of a gorilla and the pace of a gazelle. He didn't ask why we had come. He didn't ask for how long. He just laid down the ground rules of his home and told us that we would start in the morning.
THE GARDEN - Part 3 - MANU
Manu had traveled to nearly every corner of the world, forming friends, family and many homes; from his roots in the Carribean to a life in Germany, a life in India and treks through Asia and nearly every other continent (including a journey on foot from the tip of Argentina up through Canada) all by the time he found himself sharing an evening with his now-neighbors on a hill in Vale Ferro 20 years ago. They urged the wise world-wanderer to make his home here, putting out a hand to shake on it. "In Alentejo, a handshake is a contract," Manu explained, "and you don't break a contract." He had been here ever since.
He bought some land, which he now calls Centro Ambiental de Cabaços. He began building a house for himself out of recycled wood and clay, and when he finished he started a greenhouse. They told him that he'd never finish a greenhouse by hand, but they were wrong. They also told him that you don't need a greenhouse in Alentejo, and they were right. So he tore down some walls and turned the space into a full kitchen and dining room with a balcony, and later added a living room and game room for his three sons. Then he started another construction, and another, each with the intention in mind of serving his community.
"Boys," Manu would remind us, "never lose your momentum. Even if you only work for 15 minutes a day, never lose your momentum on your goals." And that's how, little by little, one day at a time over 20 years, Manu built Cabaços. Including: a meditation temple with a sleeping room and a side room, separate spaces for his three kids (including hammocks and jungle-ropes for fun), a music room with a full ensemble of instruments, several multi-storied homes for visiting families, each with its own kitchen and bathroom, a series of shared rooms for the elderly to come to spend their last days being taken care of by volunteering youth, who Manu also shelters nearby in other spaces. Plus, workspaces for other projects, a large storage area to keep the recycled and deserted materials that he finds and uses to build with, a sheltered laundry area used by some of Manu's neighbors, a swimming pool, a kiddie pool, and a sauna.
He didn't nail every nail himself, of course. Over the years he has taught many people, mostly youth, how to build and work with the Earth. When people come to learn from him, he finds it a good excuse to start a new project. Felipe from Eco-surfcamp told me a story about when he came to Cabacos to learn from Manu. Together they started framing a wooden structure from the ground up. As the most important nail of the structure was about to be pounded in, Manu handed Felipe the hammer. Felipe protested, but Manu just laughed. "This is how you learn."
Traveling families and backpackers looking for a change of pace and mindset find their way to Cabaços by word of mouth. Cabaços is also a safe-haven and alternative rehabilitation center for troubled youth, seeking personal freedom from drug addiction and dangerous thought-cycles. Manu is always eager to share his space and his wisdom, operating on the principle of Karma yoga - the Hindu practice of finding peace through selfless action.
That next day, we were working on yet another structure that will be used to house travelers seeking a spiritual retreat which Manu calls his "Little Taj Mahal." Manu took us under his wing for a week, teaching us techniques in building Eco-houses with clay, working with wood, cooking, gardening and philosophy. It felt good to plant our feet in the earth and work under the hot sun, cooling off with the frogs in the pool and filling our tired bodies with food from Manu's gardens.
In our interview, Manu shares his methods for staying consistently overflowing with joy, including the concept of Karma yoga, singing, and balancing the energies of life. His way of life allows him a feeling of personal freedom. At the same time, he serves his community in a cycle of boundless generosity and abundance. If you've ever wondered how to break the spell of worrying about success and money, Manu seems a good candidate to learn from.
To find him, just take a bus to Alentejo and ask for Manu. Everybody knows who he is.