Sekem Part 2




FLORIS BOOKS                  2004


Chapter 2: Return to Egypt (Cont.)

My heart tries to understand

  • I continued to work with anthroposophy and became acquainted with its practical applications in many areas of life. I repeatedly found life changing solutions presenting themselves after intense contemplation.
  • Biodynamic agriculture particularly fascinated me. It was developed out of anthroposophy by Rudolf Steiner, and has been practised successfully in Europe since the beginning of the 20th century.
  • I attended a lecture by George Merckens, advisor to the biodynamic farms in Austria and Italy. I accompanied him on a week-long tour of Italy, during which he would tell me about biodynamic farming and show me practical examples.
  • I understood that biodynamic farming could transform Egypt’s agriculture. In my opinion one had to start by establishing a self-sustaining farm, and then add more projects.
  • My urge for knowledge knew no bounds. I felt there was nothing I could not know; nothing I could not do.
  • I listened with great concentration at the evening meetings with the farmers and believed that I found the critical weak point of biodynamic farming: it was a lack of knowledge about how to market the products.
  • I developed a vision of a holistic project able to bring about a cultural renewal. As well as the farm it would need one or several economic projects, a school and different educational institutions and offer cultural projects and medical care. My first priority was to educate people.
  • I could not find anyone willing to join me. So I decided to go it alone. I wrote a letter to a friend: ‘I have decide to leave Austria to start a farm in the desert in Egypt based on a holistic developmental impulse for the country and people. Partially I see the reason for this decision coming from my occupation with anthroposophy. It has deeply influenced me. My soul has begun to separate into two parts: an ambitious successful part and a seeking questioning part, willing to see things in a new light, and to transform and elevate them to a higher level. I am consciously leaving the successful part behind me and am giving myself up to the questioning one. With this I am uniting my soul with its spiritual home and am liberating the rigidity of ambitiousness so that I am open for new tasks, encounters and goals.’

Returning home

  • Because of my three abilities – the ability to learn; social skills; and my energy for doing things – I felt that I would be able to change this situation of hopelessness. I hope to find people who followed the same ideals and would support me with their abilities and energy.
  • My faith in God gave me an inner strength which had grown out of years of meditation on Allah’s qualities in particular. I was able to develop inner peace through my devotion to Allah, and even today I can still submerge myself in its depths.


Chapter 3: The Beginning

  • After arriving in Egypt I first went to visit the minister of agriculture to explain that I was looking for a patch of desert to cultivate using organic methods.
  • Kamel Zahran said: ‘It is impossible here.’ Overnight I reached a decision – and by next morning I knew I wanted to buy this piece of land. If biodynamic farming and everything else I envisaged could thrive in this wasteland and under such extremely adverse conditions, then it would be possible to transfer this model to easier environments and we would develop immense energy through overcoming such difficulties.
  • I slowly learned that many of the people I dealt with had no concept of time, or put differently experienced time in a different way. It is impossible to plan ahead, set goals, analyse, correct oneself or reflect on one’s actions with this concept of time.
  • At the same time I saw the amazing warmheartedness and openness of these people who lived completely in the moment of their feelings, who dealt out of their current state of mind.
  • All my experiences showed me the importance of moral deeds as an example for these people living primarily in their feelings. The Prophet says that everyone of you is a shepherd, and everyone is responsible for those under your protection.
  • It often sufficed for these simple people to see me raking paths or painting walls and they would try hard because they knew I cared so much.
  • At the same time it was important to awaken people’s wonder by exposing them to art and science, which leads them to independent questioning.
  • The next step, especially for these people living in their feelings, is to establish concrete social forms: How and when do we start our day? How do we stand in a circle, how do we dress for work? How do we treat each other in a dignified manner?
  • This starts with very elementary examples: to start work punctually at seven you need many preparatory considerations: getting up on time, getting dressed and catching the bus. This forces the people to think about things they would never have otherwise dealt with. In most cases Egyptians start working when they have slept sufficiently and finish when they are tired.
  • After I had positioned the first roads, plotted the fields, drilled two wells for water, I planted shade-giving trees. Egyptians are not able to experience the wonderful tall trees of European forests, which can inspire people to inner uprightness.

People of the desert

  • The Bedouin, as people of the desert, are continually subjected to the overpowering influences of light and heat. They have to be able to shut themselves off from their outer surroundings; otherwise they would feel torn apart internally.
  • The liberating, calming, releasing quality of water is lacking in their experience of life. Surrounded by sand and stones, they cannot profit from the mediating green of living plants.
  • The harsh contrasts between the deep black of the night and dazzling bright daylight, of cold and heat, shapes their character.
  • In this struggle for survival, these nomadic people, who have no need for anything, must see all cultural life as superfluous and weakening. The Bedouin do not have art in the western sense of the word.
  • Water is too precious for washing and cleaning and is substituted by sand. As women are considered a burden, in earlier times newborn girls were buried alive. Even today many Bedouin regard women as insignificant, even though the Prophet in Islam spread a different message.
  • All the energy the Bedouin needed for survival has been transformed into an extreme shrewdness, earning money through smuggling and finding it difficult to accept laws forced on them from the outside.
  • They reject the lifestyle of farmers living at the edge of civilization in houses with gardens and fields as soft and unworthy of humans.
  • The Bedouin’s reticence reaches very deep. Even their children in our school can hardly stand experiences of culture and beauty which open and expand their souls.
  • We hope that their hard, proud disposition will be touched by sufficient love and attention, even if this task takes generations to achieve.

Economic beginnings

  • The biggest question was how to finance the whole venture. I had the idea of making aromatic medicinal herb teas to remedy common ailments occurring in Egypt.
  • Because of unreliability people meet each other with mistrust when dealing with business matters. One of the important tasks of Sekem is to consciously trust people with their work so they can reveal their honesty.
  • This task will take decades to be achieved, but a new morality in dealing with each other can be developed. It has to start with little and requires daily supervision – but it is a worthy task!

Chapter 4: Prevailing

  • The ministry let me know they were going to send inspectors out to the farm to see how the earth evolved after treating it with compost.
  • It required a huge amount of effort to set up the compost, which is the basis of biodynamic agriculture, and the people around me could not understand the sense or point of it.
  • When Angela Hofmann came she immediately began working with the animals with great enthusiasm, set up the cheese dairy and took charge of the bakery. The manure from the 40 cows shipped from Allgäu was excellent for the composting.

Catching my breath

  • Shortly after my 49th birthday I became seriously ill for the first time in my life.
  • After my illness we decided to re-organize the entire initiative and lay a new foundation stone.


Chapter 5: Economic Foundations

  • When travelling through Italy visiting biodynamic farms with George Merckens before coming to Egypt, I noticed that one of the most important prerequisites for successful economics was completely lacking: the awareness of associations.
  • Products are passed through a chain starting with the producer and ending with the consumer but nobody knows about the life and work conditions of the partners in the chain.
  • This anonymity causes people to think solely of their own advantage and try to get the best deal for themselves.
  • I imagine an association where the whole value-adding chain becomes transparent. The consumer is asked which product he wants, what its quality should be, and how much he is willing to pay for it.
  • The distributors are given a percentage of this known final price for themselves. The producer is given a price, and he knows the conditions which have made it.
  • The basis of an association is trust, an economy based on fraternity. Everyone involved in the economic process is aware of the others and recognizes their mutual dependence.
  • With the increasing interest in biodynamic farming we saw the necessity to expand our farming and marketing products beyond the medicinal herbs we cultivated.
  • To accommodate this increase in cultivation Sekem leased further plots of land throughout Egypt and employed 70 new farmers.
  • We are not only called upon by Allah to care for the earth, but to heal what has been destroyed. When plants are subject to artificial fertilizers during their growth they absorb more water into their fruits but produce less vitamins.
  • The Koran differentiates between two food qualities – food which people are allowed to eat, halal, and exquisite foods, tajeb. This is explained in the Koran in Sura 16.114 ‘The Bee.’
  • How does food become tajeb, exquisite?  With the help of many trace elements in the ground the plant develops its active ingredients. Micro-organisms help to prepare the ground around the root hairs so that these trace elements become available for the plant to absorb.
  • Artificial fertilizers intervene with this living, sensitive process and change it in two ways: they change the pH-value of the ground and destroy the microorganisms. The plants absorb more water and fewer trace elements and the fruits are not exquisite.
  • If we do not look after the living energy of the earth by using compost preparations, people cannot be nourished properly, which has far-reaching consequences, even for their soul life.
  • People have sunk ever deeper into materialism during the last century. Scientists emphasized the importance of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus for growing plants and showed how the yield could be improved by adding these substances.
  • But they overlooked the fact that the amount of artificial fertilizer had to be increased continuously to achieve the same results and that the plants became more susceptible to pests, which had to be controlled using poisonous chemicals.
  • Herbicides were used to control weeds resulting in soil erosion, soil compaction and the disappearance of whole species of plants.

Chapter 6: Education and Culture

Chapter 7: Social Processes

A chronology


Photographic Acknowledgements


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