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Farming for food 23.06.2002

This entry is the fourth episode of my travel anecdotes.

I wanted to do some voluntary work while away. Well, not completely voluntary, only to the part that I wanted to do something that'd make me a facsimile Kiwi for a while. I wanted to be like the Kiwi's, get to know how they thought and felt. Certainly, it would be a plus if I could find employment that would actually have a cash salary, which would help me extend the liquidity of my saved assets for my further travels. I knew this would end up being either not possible, or just a shady operation since I couldn’t get a work permit from home.

I had looked into the possibilities of doing some farm work before I left. I talked to friends and friends of friends, checked out travel guides and kept an eye open for the odd newspaper article covering the 'working backpacker' topic. Remember, this was before the web got so accessible as it is today [geez, I sound like my father (:]. As a matter of fact, I hardly even knew it existed when I left, I had only heard of email, and something called a search engine.

A distant acquaintant who had been living in Australia for a while, mentioned the possibility of doing voluntary work on farms in exchange for room and board. She talked about a network called Willing Workers on Organic Farms, or just WWOOF for short. They have a website too, quite good actually — the NZ branch resides here. I noticed that it now costs money to view the contact details for the farms which is a pity, but I guess they've grown since I was there in 95. Back then, I walked to a bicycle shop in the Auckland harbour area, bought a 100 page booklet for NZ$ 5 and in there were listed each and every possible farm willing to take on workers. On the last blank page of my booklet I've written 'Sunday noon'.

I ended up applying for a couple of them, which meant phoning them and telling a bit about myself, and why I wanted to go there. I got a couple of rejections (either because they were full, or they were no longer part of the WWOOF community) but I think it was around the 5th or 6th farm I called where my luck turned to the better. I had called the home of an older couple living in Mercer, an hours drive south of Auckland, on the major highway. Mercer was a two-horse town, really, it was one street, a cheese shop, maybe ten houses, and that was it. It was on the bank of a river there, I believe it was called Mercer too. They would pick me up in Auckland at noon on my birthday, the 10th of September — it was a Sunday.

In the WWOOF-booklet, they wrote that their activities were comprised of terrace growing system, windmill, water and power supply development and some recycling activities. They were also into poetry and drama, and they would go into Auckland once or twice a week for recycling duty, which would make it possible for me to check whether I had gotten any mail at the post office. In the booklet it said they were looking to purchase additional land for organic farming with biodynamic influence, and, as a footnote, that they were defensive drivers. It all sounded really nice.

And it was, they picked me up at noon as arranged, in an old lorry, which would explain their defensive driving attitude. He was heavily build [well, he was fat really], had his grizzled curly hair in a pony tail and a 6-pence hat on the top of his friendly face. He was a bit shorter than me, wearing a leather jacket and he was missing a handful of teeth. But it didn't seem to worry him, he smiled happily regardless. His Dutch origin accounted for his accent, while she had tribal Maori blood running through her veins accounting for her Polynesian features; long black hair, brown eyes — she was beautiful. They had both entered the autumn of their lives, they must have been beyond 60 both of them. They lived in a turn of the century wooden house, with four rooms. It was a really nice place, nothing fancy, but firmly build.

I stayed with them for approximately four weeks, and they were so intense those weeks, so many things happened. She had a heart condition which manifested itself in blackouts at unforeseen intervals. She moved almost in slow motion, even her facial expressions happened in slow motion. In spite of her condition, she was always happy, and positive. We went to the hospital with her a couple of times for her regular check-up, and her medication. The doctors didn't have a cure for her illness. They owned a shed down by the river which they rented to a guy bend on constructing a new way to transport things, the MyArk project.

They embraced an alternative life style. They didn't believe in monoteism, and would happily address Buddha, Christ, or any other God or themselves for things going well or the opposite. This was a big challenge for me, I am not sure what I am, whether I am an all embracer or an atheist, I don't give it much thought. But the references to numerous different gods and religions was new to me.

My uncle died while I was staying at their place, they comforted me, and showed respect for my need to deal with the grief my own way, while being 17000 km from my family.

After helping them out for 4 weeks, painting various things and cleaning their windmill, I bought an old car from a friend of theirs for $NZ 700 — a brown Vauxhall Viva, from 1972. What a car. Never seen anything quite as ugly, but for $NZ 700, it was great transportation. I took of for a week, to explore the Northland region, and to see Cape Reinga and the mighty Kauri trees.

I would have liked to stay in Mercer, but they had decided to move. They had an old tourist bus which they'd transformed into a mobile home, and now they wanted to tour NZ, and maybe even ship of to Europe and do some traveling there. They were selling the house, and for the moment moving the bus to the paddy of a friend — their new home, at least for a while. I visited them once upon my return from Northland, and dropped by some weeks after that, but by then they had left the place due to a "spiritual disagreement" with their friend. I never saw them again, and never heard from them again. It's remarkable how some people enter your life only to suddenly vanish into thin air — leaving no trace whatsoever of their existence. For all I know, they could just be a fabricated memory of mine, they newer returned any of the letters I wrote them, and they didn’t bounce with a 'return to sender' stamp on them. I hope they are OK, and that they know I truly appreciated the friendship we established and for their warm ways of being. They weren't big on organic farming, or a lot of the other things they wrote in the WWOOF catalogue, I think they signed up for the programme to meet new people, to get inputs from other cultures. I hope I didn't disappoint them.

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