At Alon we all had a home. Sometimes it was the corner of a dormitory and sometimes it was an entire house. But everyone slept in a warm bed with a roof over their heads. There were times when these roofs were even caravans, but no one was left out in the cold. This is true.
What’s also true is that you never knew when you might move house or room or caravan.
Owning a Home
Most of us weren’t home owners and none of us had written contracts that bound us to any one abode. Over time, as the community expanded, more and more houses sprung up and many of these were paid for by individuals – the professionals that made up a significant portion of our thriving community. Doctors, lawyers, accountants and the likes, the educated amongst us who ran their own businesses and earned salaries. These members would be approached by Davit and offered “Such a fantastic piece of land! Look at that view!” Then they’d pay to have a new house built for their family to live in. These houses would be designed by the owner and then re-designed by Davit. There were no contracts, no building inspections, just lots of money poured into the foundations of a home that essentially wasn’t truly theirs.
But, it was an unwritten code that if you’d paid for the home to be built then you had first dibs. No one would ask you to move out of your house besides the occasional temporary move when extra guest accommodation was needed.
Using your Home as Guest Accommodation
We had guest houses on the farm but sometimes they were so full that the guests would have to spill over into the homes of community members because it would be a shame to turn away a paying guest. In these cases, it was your responsibility to get your house ship shape before said guest arrived. If you were lucky, then you’d be given a couple of hours off work to make up beds, clear out your fridge, open shelves in your cupboards and be ready for inspection.
Someone, usually Micah, would pop in to run their fingers over your counters and check behind your couches for traces of dust and cobwebs. Bedding had to be ironed and crease free and windows had to be sparkling. If you blew the inspection then you were drenched in guilt and shame. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, remember? Micah or whoever was inspector for the day would huff and puff and let you know how hard they had to work to get your slovenly efforts up to scratch. A housewife’s nightmare because of course, cleaning was a woman’s job.
No one received any monetary compensation for these periods where their houses were occupied by paying guests. The money went straight through Airbnb or Booking.com and into the Alon farm bank accounts. No one questioned. It was all about cheerful giving and group effort.
On the Move
For the rest of us plebs that couldn’t rub two dimes together, our housing was not at all our own. We had no say, no dibs. At any moment Davit might come striding by and have a look around your living quarters only to declare, “I have an idea! Why don’t you move? I think it’s time you got a bigger home.” (He always put a positive spin on it). “What do you think?” And can you imagine if the resident in question disagreed? Because they could, of course, we live in a free world… But then they’d hear about it at the next communal meeting. Davit would smile sweetly and say something like, “Cindy really loves her home. I wonder if you can love your home too much? You know, people, it’s not good to live in a comfort zone.”
The next time you saw Cindy, she’d be asking if you had any extra boxes. “I’m packing up and I need to get it done today, so that all the guys can help us move tomorrow.” she’d explain with a thin smile and tear stained eyes. “You know it’s a real blessing that I found out on Friday because at least I have Saturday to pack and Sunday to move. I can be settled in before the new week begins.” she’d add if she noticed you looking at her puffy eyes and mascara stains. Keeping things cheerful was important. It was our responsibility to make sure no one (aka Davit) looked like the bad guy.
If you were really lucky, then you’d only find out you were moving once your entire home was packed up for you.
One evening I left my house early after supper to go to ‘show practice‘ and when I returned, all my possessions were packed up into boxes and crates. Granted, we were newlyweds and didn’t have that much, but it was still a stunning feat.
There my husband stood, surrounded by cardboard boxes, beaming with pride at his handiwork. I was gobsmacked.
“Surprise! We’re moving down to the circle tomorrow!” he cried, smiling from ear to ear.
“How did you you get all of this done so quickly?” I was trying to stay calm and mirror his apparent delight.
“Some of the ladies came and helped me. Isn’t that great? No stress for you.” I was horrified, imagining them rifling through my things and no doubt having a lot of opinions about my cleaning skills. “And tomorrow when you go to work,” (I was doing my first stint as a receptionist in town) “they’ve given me time off to move all our things in. It won’t even take that long.”
“But who’s house are we moving into?”
“Oh, Gabe and Micah’s house.” he looked really excited about that but all I could think was that it was such a huge place to try and keep clean. Also a bit of an overkill for just the two of us.
And just like that, we became permanent residents of the “circle”.
There’s a kind of weightlessness when you have little to no belongings of your own. This has the ability to either make you feel untethered and adrift, as if there’s no evidence of your existence. Or it can give you a sense of unfettered freedom, as if there’s nothing solid holding you back or pinning you to one place.
But here is the danger: take away land, control income and the result is a powerless people. When you’re in this position you literally cannot afford to oppose the powers that be. As far as I’m concerned, the World Economic Forum’s utopian/apocalyptic ad campaign… can pack their bags and bugger off.
Anyway, back to the kingdom of Alon…
At Alon, most of us owned nothing and lived a carefree existence where bills and bank accounts almost didn’t exist. But we had worries, they didn’t come at the end of every month, they were a constant gnawing dread. A nagging feeling that the next knock at the door or phone call would bring tidings of our sins and the resulting consequences. And sometimes that meant moving house.
It wasn’t uncommon for families to move out of their homes temporarily in order to share living quarters with another family. In some cases, where space didn’t allow for a complete relocation, the families would simply share kitchens and prepare and eat meals together. “God wants to break your family bondage and selfishness. It’s good for your brats to be around other adults who aren’t going to idolise them.”
Sometimes people moved out of their homes as a punishment for their sins. Jeb and Freya, along with their three small children, were ordered out of their home because of their “slumber issues”. And possibly also because Jeb had become argumentative with Davit in the middle of a communal gathering, when Davit had accused him of some or other malpractice. The family were without a home for a number of months and lived in the orphanage. Anton and I were given their beautiful home. It was a bittersweet move.
Sometimes Davit got very creative with his discipleship, like the time that he made my mother move out of her home and live with another young family. The biggest catch about this arrangement was that although she had a room to sleep in, she had no allocated place to eat. At this point the community had expanded so much that we ate most suppers in our own homes and only had one or two communal dinners a week. So my mom had to find a new place to eat every night. She wasn’t invited, she had to invite herself to eat at a different couple each evening and sometimes she was turned away.
“My girl, it’s time to break your independence and pride.” Davit and Sara chided as they sent her packing.
At the age of fifty-something, she was essentially homeless for a couple of months while her little cottage stood empty and unused.
The other day someone said something to me about how a home is a sacred space. I’d never thought about it that way. But it’s such a beautiful way of putting it and I think it’s so true.