It is crazy to think only two weeks have now passed since I left the US of A – it definitely feels longer! This past week I spent in northern Denmark, an hour from Aalborg, the fourth largest city in Denmark. This is my first Workaway experience and I am loving it! I am on a farm that belongs to a family of four, staying in their spare room (from which I can see the distant fjord and a neighboring field of sheep – gah! The fluffy cuteness!) and helping out with what needs to be done.
The deal with Workaway is that you pay a membership fee, which gives you access to their worldwide database. From there you can scan through hostels, resorts, restaurants, families, farms and more that are looking for help. Similar to WWOOFing, but not just farms. You send them an email suggesting when you would like to come, they say yea or nay, and voila! You are traveling the world for free! In exchange for about 4-6 hrs of work/day, one day off a week, you get free room and board and the chance to see the country through the eyes of a native. Workaway is everywhere and a great way to travel for a long time, as you end up with hardly any costs besides transportation.
I spent hours on Workaway before my trip, because I kept changing my mind whether I wanted a city or farm experience, with kids or not, gardening? Cooking? Behind a hostel desk? France? Greece? With the Bedoins in the Middle East? I am really glad I ended up where I did, though- even though it took me a 27 hr bus ride from London to get here. For some reason when I bought the ticket a few months ago I was sure bus was the cheapest way to go. Now I’m not so sure it was, but ah well, I had fun trying to sleep sitting up…and learned to be careful where I sit so creepy older men can’t sit next to me… although one of them did have candy.
The family here has completely welcomed me in. They are very relaxed and easy going, that is to say, very Danish. They run a “self-sufficiency” farm and are able to produce a majority of what they need. They have a cow, a horse, ducks, a goose, chickens, rabbits, and pigs. They make their own sausage, cheese, butter, flour, etc. I am here on a quieter year – they are cutting out production of some things and simplifying, but I am still learning a lot from them. They are especially knowledgeable with how the native plants (aka weeds) can be eaten and used.
Here’s what one of my typical days here might look like:
The family are more night owls than early risers, so I have breakfast between 9-10am. Usually just oats in fresh, whole cow’s milk, with raisins, strawberries, or dandelion syrup in for sweetness. I try to drink stinging nettle tea twice a day, as it’s supposed to take care of eczema. I hope its stings help too, ha!
The cow, Anna, has to be brought in from the pasture and milked between 10-11am. This takes about an hour for me, though I’m a slow beginner, and I get about 4 liters of milk. I was able to milk the cow dry by my 3rd day and the family was pretty surprised, apparently I was a fast learner! The romance has quickly faded as it takes a long time, during which my hands are sore, I listen to grunting pigs, get slapped in the face repeatedly by Anna’s tail, shrug off flies, and occasionally lose the milk when Anna kicks and I’m not fast enough to grab the bucket. But it is still very neat to be learning a new skill. It’s too bad I’m not rock climbing too, I’ll bet I’m working up a great grip!
I also carry buckets of water out for the cow and feed a few other animals before moving on to a job. Well, first I indulge Christina (5) and Tobian (3) for a few minutes. The dirt- and strawberry juice-smudged little imps always find something new that makes them shriek with delight and beg for “just one more!”, whether it’s a piggy back ride, swinging them by their arms, or hiding behind a building to scare them. My favorite game is when I am “Firestar” from the old Spiderman cartoons they watch. They pour water (usually pretend) on me to make me die. And I lie without moving on the grass, in the sun, while they gloat and eventually run to get a flower or whatever has been decided will bring me back to life. I stand up and am promptly killed again, and fall back down to stay motionless until they bring me another flower. Yes, it’s an excellent game. Sometimes I can also make them sit quietly in my lap while I read children’s books I download onto my tablet.
When I decide to ignore their “one more!” pleas, I will work for a few hours, sometimes by myself, sometimes with the kids nearby or squirming into my way looking for attention. The mother will take me to a place in the gardens and point out what needs to be done. She plucks the weeds and eats them as she talks. I’ll weed or water or dig where she pointed for a few hours, with a break for lunch. Then once I’ve worked my hours the rest of the day is mine. I might nap, or read, or get lost on a walk in the countryside and ask random people eating dinner outside how to get back. Once we made a trip to a nearby beach, and picked up ice cream on the way back.
WORKAWAY. DOT INFO. Check it out.
We eat dinner around 9pm. It is usually some form of meat and potatoes, and always delicious. The father used to run a restaurant, so he knows how to put together a meal that looks and tastes amazing! Yesterday was the mother’s birthday and we ate like kings: three courses (which I will not torture you by describing) with strawberry cake for dessert! Sometimes I wonder if they’re fattening me up like the pigs…
Over the meals we usually talk about the differences between our countries, about Obama and taxes and homeschooling and socialism and Islam. Denmark has a 50% tax, but their colleges and hospitals are free – in fact they get a stipend while going to school! You can definitely pick out good and bad things when comparing countries – they’re like people, with different strengths and flaws.
We all head to bed sometime around 12pm-1am then another day starts!
Like I mentioned with Anna, it does not take long for the romance to fade when you have to do the same chores, morning and night, sunrise to sunset (figuratively speaking, since we are so far north that’d mean we’d be working about 4am-11pm!). And for what? To feed your stomach and keep your body alive, is what it really boils down to.
With all my time weeding, I’ve been reflecting on homes we make and what/where I want my home to be. In some ways this family’s life could be seen as barebones. It is simple, and it is hard. But it is also a prosperous life, as they enjoy the bountiful (and delish!) fruit of their labor.
In same ways I never want to stop moving, never want to stop feasting my senses with new things. There is so much in this world! But in other ways I want to live like this family, and burrow my toes into the same dirt every day. Amazingly, and thankfully, God has created us in such a way that we get enjoyment from working, satisfaction from looking at a tended crop, so that repetitive work is still fulfilling to who we are.
Traveling takes courage. Sure, sometimes it contains the hidden motive of running from something, sometimes it’s driven by the searching inside when we do not know the One Who satisfies, sometimes we have a supporting friend or spouse by our side, but it always takes courage to leave the known and to chance. To travel is to play with higher risks that bring greater consequences and greater rewards. It can be scary, challenging, growing, and often people think of you as brave and strong when you do it.
But what I see, as I watch this family in the home they have built and keep, is that staying takes strength too. I will be with them another few weeks, learning from them and playing farmer, and then I get to leave this work and worry behind me. I pull up this round of weeds, but I don’t have to deal with the next one. Their lives here continue on. They’ll still bury seeds and tend plants and watch the sky, in a dependent dance with Nature. Every bite, every potato stored for the winter, is produced by their sweat and care. They are strong in every way, because they have to be.
We all live different lives, in different seasons, and from each one we learn a different kind of strength. I am watching and learning from this kind, happy, strong Danish family, learning for today and for the future.