Our Jedi Knight-like djellabas came in handy in the cold of Moroccan winter. Photo credits: Matteo Uguzzoni
As I moved in the OpenVillage House in Sidi Kaouki, in late January, I realized it was not the easiest place to live. Morocco was (and still is) undergoing a phase of exceptionally cold weather. We get plenty of sunshine, but it goes down to 6-10° during the night, and it’s always windy. Still quite good by European standards, but houses here have no heating. Also, the equipment and infrastructure could use more maintenance. In my two weeks in the House, we spent significant time and effort re-organizing the kitchen (everyone), chopping firewood (@matteo_uguzzoni, @AhmedMajdoub, @gregoiremarty and @SyMorin), fixing the bicycles (@matthias), uncluttering drains, and taking the washing machine apart (@johncoate for both). @hazem, housemaster, helped a lot with support and kindness.
I was only the third person to move in. With so much to do, frankly, we were struggling, and not much project work was getting done. Ahmed arrived after a few days, but that did not fundamentally alter the dynamics. But then Gregoire and Simon moved in. When we were six, things shifted.
Food got better. Now people wanted to outdo each other in preparing the best meal. As an Italian, I had a field advantage ; but nobody wanted to be left behind. One evening that I was the main cook, Simon insisted in making dessert, and he ended up with something positively decadent: strawberries glazed in melted chocolate! This was the same effect we noticed in the unMonastery; if you can cook one meal out, say, four, and be served the other three, you try to reciprocate by making an effort when it’s your turn to cook. Additionally, both at the unMonastery and here cooking shifts consist of two people, so cooking turns out to be social and fun.
The cleaning got better, too. People who had not been cooking did not want to be seen as slacking, and so threw themselves at doing the dishes. People who had missed on that got busy sweeping, or cleaning the bathroom.
None of this was planned, and no one had to say anything. Simon and Gregoire left, but were replaced by John and Matteo. The same dynamics stayed – and in fact was enhanced, since both John and Matteo are handier than most. Maybe six is a kind of Dunbar number, but a minimum number for these dynamics to unlock. Maybe there are other Dunbar-ish numbers, and new things will emerge when, say, there are ten or fourteen people in the House. We’ll find out.
Matthias and I had a very interesting discussion reflecting on this. It went more or less like this:
ME: This is great. It’s not broken, don’t fix it. The informality works fine, and has zero overhead.
MATT: I worry that the less visible house tasks will go unappreciated. It would be more transparent if we maintained a task list [we have one now], told people to expect to spend 1.5 hours per day on house tasks and to go find something to do on the list.
In a way, this goes back to the old discussion about how introverts and extroverts run things, as introduced by @trythis. Matt has a valid point, and so do I. What do you think? Should we have formalized task lists or does informality work better?