It’s a strange feeling trying to acclimatize to a new culture, new meal times, new language, while also planning for our return to the states. For the past year, we’ve moved from one country to another and learned a new set of customs every month or so. Next week we’re returning to what we call our home, what is supposed to be normal, except it hasn’t been our home for a long time.
When traveling, you’re always planning the next step. In Indonesia, we were looking into how to get a SIM card in Nepal. In India, we were making plans for Turkey. You are booking flights and researching hostels, looking at exchange rates, local foods and significant cultural sights.
But planning for the next chapter of our lives is much different. Our planning involves researching health insurance, used car prices and reading profiles of cities in the US that might be our next home. We have been doing all of this from farms in Spain. In the morning we have been working outside harvesting beets, sorting dried beans, or cleaning out silos. But at lunchtime, I’m Skyping with Leticia at the Maryland Health Connection office and Zach is sending out applications for farm internships in North Carolina. We are returning to our country, but starting something new.
I have to admit, I have a whole boatload of feelings about coming home. I’m dying to see my sister and my niece that I haven’t yet met. I’m ready to have a living room again. There are bits of American culture that we haven’t seen (or eaten) in a year and a half: chicken wings and a Lagunitas IPA, Netflix and Midol and well paved highways. But every country has it’s pros and cons and spending time living with folks in other countries has helped me realize that there are more ways of living than the go get ‘em culture that is so common in the US. In New Zealand, we learned to slow down and have a chat with the neighbors. This often involves tea and cake. Nepal made me realize how easy and comfortable and clean we have it in the States, but also how many regulations we have (you’d never be allowed to take a sheep on a bus at home).
I’ve come to enjoy the small towns that we’ve stayed in and hope, as we transition out of our backpacks, to make our home in an adventurous place where kind people work hard and enjoy their lives. So though our trip abroad is coming to a close, our travels continue as we find a new hometown in the US of A.
Since I left the United States three months ago I’ve grown further and further from the realm of time. I haven’t worn a watch since high school, but I’ve had a cell phone and its clock strapped my hip – wait, I’m not quite that nerdy – in my pocket ever since. Now that I don’t have a “real” job, or any commitments that require time-specificity, I’ve abandoned the clock entirely. Take that, progress.
I still have a rough idea of the time: I know when breakfast, second breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea time, and dinner are. Hey, the blog is called “Bring a Snack.” What did you expect? Everything else just slots in somewhere between. Sometimes I have to be places, but my appointments are measured not in quarter-hour increments, but in approximate days. Jobs start “around the 15th” or “at the end of the month.” So I get up when the sun does, work until I’m hungry, and go to sleep when it gets cold and dark.
Slavery to the clock has been the latest pillar to fall. I used to perform the “phone/wallet/keys?” Ritual of the American Male every time I walked out the door. Now I only check for my wallet and knife. I suppose that in itself is indicative of how my life has changed. I wonder what’s next?
Saying things out loud makes them seems more real. And what could be louder than broadcasting something to the world via the internet? It’s probably obvious to those of you that have been paying attention, but for the slackers (and myself) I need to declare my latest and greatest revelation: I want to be a farmer.
No, not the conventional “rows of corn as far as the eye can see” farmer of yesterday, but the “self-sufficient 10 acre plot with a diversity of animals and plants” farmer of tomorrow. Or the day before yesterday, depending on your point-of-view.
When we left New York I was leaning in this direction, but I hadn’t admitted it to myself yet. So we didn’t plan to travel with any kind of specific purpose. We knew we wanted to try farm life through WWOOFing, but we weren’t sure that it would work, so we built in some flexibility to do other things – things like lay on the beach in Thailand for a month, sipping local hooch and sweating it out immediately.
But we were right, we want to be farmers. And now I don’t want to do other things. I want to do things that continue my education and development as a farmer. So maybe we’ll still go to the beach in Thailand, but we’ll keep it to a week then hop on a bus to a peanut farm.
In some ways, the best plan was not planning at all. This allowed us the space to explore and get more focused as we went. It can be difficult to set out into the unknown, but if we’d followed a prescribed pathway we never would have found the right direction for us.
Travel with purpose, but don’t let it determine everything. Maybe you want to learn to cook in Europe or build houses in Mumbai. Or you might just want to test drive life outside of your comfort zone. Vague purposes are the best of all, by nature they allow the kind of flexibility necessary to focus on something clearer later on. Take a step back, and then two steps forward.
In New York, eating seasonally is cool. It is a choice that food enthusiasts, myself included, make. Sometimes. When we feel like it. But when the only thing at the farmers market is turnips, cabbages, and onion, it is off to Whole Foods to get the rest of what is on the list. In New Zealand, eating out of season is a luxury. I first noticed this when we were grocery shopping in Auckland, and two red peppers rang up as $9.98. WTF?! I begrudgingly asked the cashier to take one of the peppers out of my bag, while I had silent adult tantrum in my head: But I waaaaant it.
I really should have removed both from my bag, but I was caught off guard and being stubborn, so I kept one. One stupid, $5 capsicum. However, this was more than just red peppers being expensive. This was cramping my dinner stye. I, like many people, express myself through food. I like to make good food for other people to say “thank you,” or “I like you, let’s be friends.” And most of us who enjoy making food have our go-to recipes and ingredients that are relatively inexpensive, easy to prepare and taste delicious. Red peppers, specifically roasted red peppers, are one of my staple ingredients. They make my dinner distinct. And now, I had to make dinner without them. (Wah.)
Well, we are on an island. Everything here is expensive. Especially things that are not grown or made here. And as it turns out, red peppers are summer vegetables and it is winter here. If you want them, you are going to have to pay for them to come over from Mexico. Or wherever they come from.
Which is how it should be, isn’t it? There is plenty of produce that I buy year round from Whole Foods and it doesn’t even dawn on me that it isn’t the season. I mean, strawberries are obvious because there is no replicating a perfectly sweet June strawberry. But how about eggplant? Or Spinach? Or bananas? They are amongst my staples, yet I am unaware of their growing season because I can get them for the same price and they have about the same taste, year round.
Until I came here and found that I can’t afford to cook the way I did in New York.
Another curve ball came when we found out that our WWOOF hosts only provide us breakfast and lunch. Usually 3 meals are provided, but we are only doing about a half a days work each day and therefore are only provided 2 meals. This makes sense, and the details of the work trade agreement do vary from host to host. However, making dinner each night was an unexpected expense.
We hit the local grocery store in search of ingredients that are equal parts healthy, hearty, tasty and inexpensive. In New York, I would find recipes and make my grocery list before heading off to the store, whereas here we are going sans list and searching for ingredients that fit our criteria. Our first haul included onions, bean sprouts, garlic, carrots, broccoli, white button mushrooms, pasta, pasta sauce, parmesean cheese, a pineapple, Tim Tams and a bottle of wine, all for $45. We have supplemented that with rocket (a variety of arugula), lemons and rosemary from the garden and the occasional butter, sausage or eggs left over from breakfast and stretched it for 5 meals.
$45/5 dinners= $9 per dinner, $9/2= $4.50 per person. Not bad.
Cooking here is a real lesson in back to the basics. No spices other than salt and what is in the garden. No fancy ingredients, just what’s in season and what’s cheap. The challenge then is to make it taste good. We have lucked out so far, with some hearty salads and pasta with veggies, with just one flop when I tried to incorporate some baked beans into a stir fry and wound up with barbecue sauce flavored bean sprouts, but we don’t need to dwell on that one.
So while it is taking some adjusting, shopping and eating what is in season, and what is affordable, feels a bit like an experiment, or a challenge. A challenge that we are totally dominating.
This morning was a traumatic one. Harriet, our cat, moved out. She went to Baltimore, to stay with our friend Allie, while we explore the other side of the world. Harriet is a great pet, but a terrible traveler. She yowls at the top of her cat lungs, foams at the mouth, poops all over the cage and tries to break free. This time around, I got kitty drugs from the vet. The plan was to crush them up and mix them into wet food, which is gourmet treat for the Hairball. If she ate the food at 9:00 am, the drugs would kick in my 9:30, and we would slide the comatose kitty into her cage for a 4 hour nap to Baltimore. No drama. Yeah right.
When I opened the can, she was ecstatic, all happy meows and leg rubs, but she knew something was up as soon as she sniffed her supposed treat. Maybe it was the hot pink powder, or the smell of meeds. She didn’t eat it. We cleared the kitchen, pretended nothing was up, and hoped she would eat. But, she didn’t.
It is now 9:15 and my parents were planning on leaving at 9:30. My sister had a flight to catch. Mom tells me this is where it gets tricky and unpleasant and I can tell by the tone of her voice that she knows way more than I do. She tells me to wad up the food, open Harriet’s mouth, put the food in, past her tongue and hold her mouth closed. Then to massage the food down her throat. Sounds unpleasant? The reality was horrendous. I held her body and paws with one arm and tried to get the food into her mouth with the other. Harriet’s agenda was quite the opposite of mine: squirm free and don’t eat the poison food. The result? Wet cat food all over my arms and legs, the kitchen floor, flung on the walls, and mashed in her pretty white fur. My kitchen looks as if someone turned a blender full of cat food on without the lid. The worst part though, is that she still hadn’t ingested the meds. And it was time to go.
My legs were shaking and the cat was miserable, but I could not send her without these meds. Right when I was getting frustrated that I couldn’t get food in the cat (though quite successful in getting it on the cat), Mom came through to the rescue. I held the cat as Mom opened Harriet’s mouth and wedged a pill in. She held her mouth shut and massaged her throat with the other hand, coaxing the pill down, whispering nice things to Harriet as we all sat in a mess of 9 Lives Chicken and Gravy. “Mom is the Cat Whisperer,” Clare said quietly as I held her and mom worked her magic. Thanks, mom. REALLY, couldn’t have done it without you.
Despite being freaked out, Harriet didn’t scratch or bite the whole time. The meds kicked in and Clare reported that she nodded off while they got on I-95 and headed south. Twas a rough morning, but necessary. Big things lie ahead, and with the cat taken care of, we can go get ‘em.
See ya later, Hairball. I’m going to miss you, but I shall see your little, squishy self on the other side!
I often ask myself why we’re doing this. Why leave solid jobs and great friends? Why dump the contents of our life out of this carefully constructed reality, with no guarantee that things will fall into better places? I have a great life, why change anything?
There are many answers, but the one that I keep falling back on is: if you don’t try something new, you’ll never accomplish anything great. Fear of failure is a healthy and normal reaction, but totally counterproductive. Do you think that Edison and Einstein got it right the first time, every time?
I don’t expect to change the world with our adventure, but I do expect to change myself — and I’m certain it’ll be for the better.