I am at a big farm, 20 kilometers away from Filadelfia, the capital of the Chaco, a province far from where the action of Paraguay is. In this town I met Marilyn previous year in the supermarket where she asked me whether I wanted to stay at her house. I wanted that, and we have kept contact. Now, when I am tired of cycling, in need for some good rest, I can work on a Work Away basis for as long as I want, on her farm. ‘Let’s start working!’ is every’s Mennonite motto, this means no rest whatsoever. I start working the day after I arrive.
I am used to getting spoiled, as a mythical being with the blue unicorn; me and the bicycle upon which I move through the world. People invite me, I may sometimes stay as long as I like, I can eat all I want and there is nothing I have to do in return, other than being social and somewhat normal.
Being a Work Away person, the magic unicorn has no more effect than being brave and crazy. I am not getting spoiled and I have to work for my daily bread, which I may have kneaded myself. Gone is the princess alike attention, the admiration and feelings of a special female knight.
Five hours a day, 5 days a week on a 600 hectares farm cum hotel where work never ceases. I feel one of the very few who has a strong sense of duty. It surprises me after 5 years of mostly continuous cycling that I am still punctual, to the point of exact minutes. I still feel responsible and I can not handle the fact that others don’t have a strong sense of duty. It dawns on me that living in a community might not extract the best from me.
Another exercise of minding my own business, and not comparing myself to those who work a lot less. I still haven’t learned to be flexible if it comes to work, rather strict. It troubles me that the woman of the house, Elvira, works tremendously lot, and others sit and watch. It actually disturbs me that there is so much work to do, because one of my dreams was a self sustainable lifestyle, and that doesn’t come easy.
For long I believed I wanted a little farm, I am not that sure anymore. The animal’s existence is purely for human benefit, meat is served in large quantities, useless animals are not desirable and live production must flow, forever and abundant. Though one hardly see the 400 meat cows on the estancia, their grazing pastures are immense.
At the farm, the feeling of Paraguay has mostly gone and instead it has become a universal joint. The couple running the farm is a very kind German Russian woman married to an equally kind German man, who both have converted to Jewish faith, and I try to figure out what that exactly is? Their adopted child is Paraguayan, and the owners of the farm Mennonites with German Canadian background born in Paraguay, who turn out not to be exactly Mennonite, I hear months later. Mennonites, just as with all religions, have more than just one stream.
My neighbors are indigenous Indians who always keep to themselves and the Work Away guests are Germans, French and Dutch. I don’t leave the farm-ground, instead take goat Emma out for walks. I bask in silence, except for the sounds of an insect called cicada, exceptionally loud and ongoing shrieks.
My precious rest and continuity has been disturbed heavily. Where nine o’clock would be bed time, it has become dinner time. Where the tent-cloth gave me coolness, the powerful industrial fan does that job now. I have to learn to listen to chit-chat, small talk and backpackers advice & stories without giving my own opinion. Though I think small talk is a waste of time, I quickly learn that my experiences are not those of the average backpacker blend anymore.
Things like: ‘You can not travel from East Nigeria to Cameroon, it is too dangerous,’ says a guest who works for UNHRC. Or: ‘We think you are not thoughtful and irresponsible too’, says Gerd, the owner of the farm, who has a hard time understanding my cycling lifestyle.
The way the converted Jewish are is pleasant, non interrupting and calm. On Saturday is Sabbath. I don’t exactly know what that is, but learn it quickly, that is, if the never-ceasing talkative 21-year-old German Work Away guest her newly learned knowledge is true. We, the Work Away people take care of the guests in the hotel, including 5 o’clock breakfasts, mountains of dishes, feeding the lambs and serving the food made the day before for Elvira, Andreas and Alan, who are firmly against any work on a Sabbath and so they do not touch any work related thing. And all that under circumstances where communication is absent: when lunch is ready to be served for the guests, it suddenly ceases to exist and becomes dinner instead. Again, flexibility comes in handy.
I have to laugh at myself, as I am serving the German guests their dinner. Dressed in my cycling outfit, clean from a jump in the green water-pool, not superficially taken care for, speaking Dutch in a twisted German manner, I serve the guests food we have prepared: to collect empty plates as if they were licked clean.
Rural and small town tourism in South America can be unprofessional, done by immature-certificated owners, volunteers or people like us. And I think that has its charm. Though I do not think so when a paying guest suddenly shares my little house!
Where I am the one who cleans like a true Cinderella, the other may ride horses, partly as her 5 hour work-task. Another works all day, as if he’s still the contractor he was. A Frenchman stands in the kitchen mainly to watch (except on the photo above, a mistake of me to make him work in Elvira’s kitchen where men are not welcome), he is a person who loves lounging, smoking, drinking coffee and sitting in his room. I remind myself it is my problem I am so dutiful and stiff-necked, not being able to handle idleness when mountains of work surround me.
The morning sounds around the little house I occupy are marvelous, somehow more abundant than when camping. Big black birds knock the only glass window there is. Half wild cats, foxes and Chaco rabbits move around. There are no sounds of unnatural occurrences, apart from a tractor or scooter now and then, when the indigenous Abelino and the owner Gerd are going to check the fences of the estancia.
My dreams at night while I sleep are of a different kind now I am among youngish backpackers. In those dreams I am forced to socialize while the mornings are festival parties where things get so rough I can not handle them and start sobbing frustratingly while I try to find things in fridges so deep I can stick my head in, after which I quickly try to fled to my safe heaven.
Being among young backpackers and many people in general with whom I have to socialize is different from being in a hostel where I pay and thus can go to my room any time I want. None of the Work Away persons would be my self chosen friend, yet I have to cooperate and be nice. It dawns on me I have not become more flexible in those years sitting on a saddle. I think of Elvira and Andreas who have 4 very different kind of people in their house, one of them (a certain Frenchman) not remembering why he is here?
For me it is an interesting process where I watch my thoughts, notice my disturbances and simply accept them, or explain them, or let them pass.
Part 2 follows…
8 replies on “The Solitude’s Big Opposite (Paraguay Farmlife 1)”
thank you for showing us this “settled” part of your journey, interesting to read about the Mennonites, their volunteers and your attitude about work,which is not seen by everybody, I’m looking forward to hear how you live now in Spain
Angela, Germany,not travelling at all but admiring others like you
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Hi Angela, thank you for saying so. I am glad you enjoyed the post, more to come about living on a farm. My attitude towards work may seem good but later on this weakens remarkably. I have tremendous admiration for the couple running the farm: German Andreas and Elvira! They work more than they have to/should. Hats of for them! What they do is not of this time anymore.
The life in Spain is mostly about running an Airbnb. An unforeseen happening made us be in a house, where we now try to make the best of it for as long as it last. Spain is better/nicer/warmer/sunnier to me than Germany or the Netherlands.
Have a good day, and thanks again for showing your admiration : ))
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Dear Cindy, thank you for answering. I’m looking forward to catch up with your new life. Between the Mennonite farm and Spain are just 1,5 exciting years now. You won’t miss pouring rain in Germany or NL right now, hopefully you will host enough guests to run this house and live from it and not to many to feel exhausted. Best wishes for the new year together Angela
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Hi Angela, I am not going to blog(much) about what I am doing right now, I keep it to traveling only. A new post about the Mennonites on the farm I stayed is out by the way : )
Oh no, I defenitely don’t miss Germany or the Netherlands. That weather in the Netherlands and the smallness and crowds and closeness of everything there is something I dislike. Germany is already way better in climate though, and in natural abundance too.
What are you doing in Germany, do you hike or cycle or travel? Anyway, I am glad you like reading my blog. Enjoy the new post.
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Dear Cindy, I’m very immobile, working as a pharmacist in our suburban pharmacy, just me, my mother and a part time assistant, which means 60 opening and working hours a week. So I like to read about other peoples experiences. Before I slaved into the family business and with a few years job experience I worked for about 2,5 years in a hospital pharmacy with the Benedictine Mission in rural Tansania. Even there I didn’ t travel much as there was more than enough work . Sometimes I felt very foreign there, most staff and all patients were local, the german brothers,fathers and sisters comparativly old , luckily they occupied several lay Europeans in the hospital and workshops to talk to in the evening or go for a sunday hike. Between 1992 and 1994 we had no social and no other media, instead of blogging we wrote ordinary letters weekly home, for emergency or internal communication the Benedictines used radio call, nowadays they all have mobile phones . I’m still old fashioned living without a smartphone, I talk a lot with real people in our shop and enjoy a quiet evening reading books or browsing the internet. Weekly choire rehearsel and singing with church related choirs in my own catholic parish and church songs from Ghana I enjoy instead of just chatting and meeting with friends. So, now you know that even a non-traveller looking for a wider common knowledge is reading your blog, at least the last few chapters about the farmlife and your return to Europe. Thanks Angela
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Hi Angela, how wonderful to read some background information about you. This makes it easier to reply because now I now a little bit who I have in front of me. So, thank you for taking the time out to do so, especially since you work quite a lot.
What a great work experiences you have, in Tanzania, although perhaps not much traveling, being there are often the best experiences. I find traveling a great way to understand and learn, but to live somewhere is another thing, and then you learn much better how the people of a country are (in fact not much different than where ever you are).
Did you miss the social connections, through a computer back then? I was living somewhere where they had no cellphone tower, and I was very very glad with that. I would connect with my parents through email some 2 hours away from where I lived. Writing letters is such a beautiful connection, hardly any one does that nowadays. To tell you the truth, having no cellphone is not old fashioned, but a wise decision! Mine is broken and I do not want to replace it any time soon. All the Facebook and Instagram are showing off, gathering likes and its a crazy race where one needs to perform… and for what? I don’t really know? Temporarily ‘fame’ and ‘likes’.
That is one reason I like being away from society. No cellphone towers, no pressure. But in the long run, this also became a missing part, not to be able to blog, as that was my only outlet for creatvity (other than photography and embroidery).
I am still too busy with catching up what I could not do while cycling, all creative stuff. Loads of blogposts are still coming and changing of happenings, otherwise I would read a lot too. Now I read only in the mornings (C.S. Lewis ‘Mere Christianity’ at the moment).
I think more non-travelers are reading my blog, as travelers are often very busy and they can not read that much online.
I am glad to get to know you a little, Angela. One thing I remembered from Ghana are the… most artistic coffins! Nigeria is big on fantastic singing church-goers, always liked to pass a church on a Sunday there.
Well, I am off for a trek behind our house, and a trek in the only ‘desert’ in Spain with my husband. Looking forward to.
Was good to hear from you. Have a nice quiet evening.
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[…] ‘The Solitude’s Big Opposite’: I am glad I can stay at such a cattle farm in the Chaco. I end up at farm Iparoma, working with young backpackers, full board for working. […]
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[…] A big thanks to Marilyn, once again. She took me into her house when I was sick a few years ago, when I cycled through Filadelfia. I met Geo on her husband’s and her farm. […]