More than a year ago: Baking whole grain bread on a camp fire needs a bit more practise. It takes me 20 kilometer to find a supermarket selling rye, barley and spelt and see who I make happy with it! No better face than a happy face! And I get to see more happy faces: I exchange goat Emma for a human person.
Having no connecting with the former young couple volunteering at the farm, things are about to change. As often the case with people, within a few seconds clarity beholds. Geo is a charismatic German man who shows natural authority without being arrogant, he conquers a place into the group, just as I tried. Since he too has converted to Jewish faith he is seen as a long missed brother by Andreas, who seems to take him on a lead to about everywhere; pretty much the way I am treated when invited by locals. He gives off a feeling of capability in nearly everything, a high level of reliance and talks slowly and paced. I can easily tolerate this fellow.
Then, another German enters. Within the first 7 seconds I disfavor Bärbel. In my eyes, she takes on the stance of a man, impatiently needing coffee. She gives off a feeling which I find haughty, avoid eye contact, or any contact for that matter. She seems to choose not to go along with me. Maybe that is because as soon as I am told to lead her to my own private distant little house, I involuntarily fire off signals that I do not want my space to be invaded.
And so we share the premises of my not so own private distant little house without sharing an overflow of words.
Being a volunteer worker means that the group dynamic can change with the flick of a lambs tail, and for a solitary-loving person this means a lot of energy. Then, being high sensitive doesn’t make for a tranquil farm life. In order to regain some privacy I block a corner of the living room with a bunk-bed, to have my own space. I feel like a child building huts in the attic. I feel rather ridiculous. Yet after a week sharing my little house I feel I could have no better roommate, as Bärbel is more quiet than I am.
After a few days, stabilization have taken place once again. Yet, from moment to moment my mood changes. Having breakfast with 5 other people makes me want to fled to my solitary camp spots. Alan whose energy is never at a low conjures up nervousness in my early morning system. When everyone speaks German, seemingly having a good time, I want to tell them: ‘We, Dutch people, never exclude someone by talking our mother-tongue!’ My silence is not a sign of disinterest, rather that of feeling excluded.
A week later Bärbel and I have adjusted to each other, I sort of like her, and for a few minutes we sit together at the porch, the hobo stove between us, trying to figure out our hosts believe system.
Another week later we camp together at an artificial lake, trotting around in underwear. Our two-women-force is trying hard to exclude 7-year-old boy-kid Alan, eager to build fires with us. At night heavy dives in the water are to be heard, loud calls and a party of multiple full-fatty animals is going strong.
Bärbel is strong, she might be disquieted when striking lightening hovers low over the estancia, she travels from farm to farm, for already 10 years on end. She found out one doesn’t need much money to enjoy a travelers life. She works a few months a year in a farm where she get paid and this allows Bärbel to travel the rest of the year.
Long term traveling can make a person rudely impersonal and unloved. They may lose their sense of social codes, abilities to interact, recede value over other people’s properties and can make them feel invincible, outstanding or superior. And the fact that we are all long-term travelers who have not sought the other by own choice, we had to calibrate hard. Once that is done, we fit like a new pair of stretchy jeans.
Magnetic Geo, a retired policeman having operated in war zones, is a man who gave lectures to police men subjecting psychology and technical matters, he has lived in several far-flung, unusual places, different continents, warlike situations. As with me and Bärbel, he seems to be an introvert with specific personal treads, almost mirror-like similarities. Over a week of group work, where we never work close together, his smile is something I can’t get enough of.
Bärbel opens up too, just as I melt away my initial barrier. It’s not that either of us, travelers, think we are superior, more likely we feel shy or uneasy. After all, we are all solitary people, not being able, or willing, to return to a crowded society anymore. Bärbel saw the wisdom of life when her dad died a few weeks before his long cherished pension, and she took off. First for a few years on a bicycle through Europe, then by public transport farther on. Always to travel and work from farm to farm with a few sightseeing tours in between.
Bärbel is not the kind to use too much words, I feel she’s quiet and comfortable. Enthusiastic when certain buttons pressed, that is: goats, cheese, food and experimental cooking. Her strong physical being does the work I thought I would like, but turns out not.
I am helping Elvira in the household. I am doing typical women’s work. The kind of work proper conservative woman do, which keep their skin white. After the hardship of cycling for 5 years, I start to enjoy the relative coolness of the kitchen, kneading large amounts of bread, feeding the chickens and lambs, cutting salads, and keeping the kitchen clean. Dishes are a never-ending occurrence, and with my care, not yet bordering phobia of cleanliness and order, I try to free Elvira from this task as often as I can. Shuffling cow shit, milking the cows and tidying up the garden is work Bärbel enjoys. It didn’t come as a surprise she carries a workman overall in her backpack.
The life on the farm, which doubles as a hotel, is managed by Elvira and Andreas. They are happily married for over 10 years, their love flows between them, to be witnessed openly for those who become their friends. It’s the kind of marriage I admire. They have adopted Alan, who intentionally does not attend school. They might be called conservative, though I refer to them as simply normal and no-nonsense, Elvira dressed in ankle long, wide flowing dresses with fluffy sleeves. They are born in religious, and big families. Elvira’s parents are Mennonites who traversed via Russia, now living in Bolivia. Elvira and Andreas have chosen to live in Paraguay, instead of gloomy Germany. Elvira wears a scarf around her endless blond hair and she never wears sleeveless shirts, and Alan comments on women who do so as being ‘very naked’. He also has let us know that women are of a lesser importance than men, perhaps his Paraguayan macho inheritance in action?
We, all of us liking our solitude, seem to feel quite good as one evening I hear a voice saying: ‘This is such a nice group, we should play a board game!’ and indeed it is a nice group as Geo, Bärbel and I share quite some similarities, besides all being volunteers who came here on our own arrangements, we all need space, silence and are allergic to group structures. We all roam the world on our very own terms, not feeling home in the place where we were born, and Andreas and Elvira could not make me more happy than not to celebrate Christmas.
I feel a fresh being as I move around in a group of people who have practical knowledge in fields unknown to me. Elvira teaches me how to make sourdough. Bärbel tells me how to make cheese. Marilyn explains how to make marmalade. And Alan makes me feel like a mom, something I do not want to be. But when Sabbath arrives I am the only one in the, always messy, kitchen, trying to keep my domain quiet and clean, while presented with a bird whom Santo wants to amputate a leg from. Santo is a young boy from a troubled family where Marilyn takes care for. Extra people, more noise…
Never have I been in such a large group, for so long, minimal seven on a daily base including a child not being able to sit still, most of who have a religious belief and yet I again avoid the obligation to be social. Last year I was blissfully happy along the Peruvian coast dotted with cacti and now I feel I am exactly where I need to be.
The strongest feature of our group is that we praise and complement each other. We listen to what the other has to say and we are interested in the other his or her stories, about life, past, travels and feelings.
As the group knits closer, Bärbel teaches me how to make cheese, I praise her vigor and farm-knowledge, something I fully lack. I feel utmost comfortable with Elvira, as she never shows signs of being fed up with so many people in her home. I notice the easiness of Andreas who leaves us free to find our way at the farm, even if that is fiddling about the importance of their goat Emma. I learn that Alan still likes me when I tell him to leave me alone, after he follows me to our distant little house. I feel huge admiration for Geo when he is inspired by me and sets off by bicycle.
When Geo cycles out of the farm, on his single speed bicycle, we are in tow. At the start of his 400 kilometer trail through a most uninviting part of Paraguay we stand in a close-knit circle, where Geo utters a beautiful prayer with which I could not agree more: thank you for sending us these beautiful group of people.
The plastic containers Geo bought to store 10 liter water, were not meant to hold food nor water and thus it made his intestines reacting. In his first day he had cycled as far as 65 kilometer in harsh conditions with loose sand, mud pools, shoveled road surfaces and a 40 degrees heat, in the shade, if their would be shade, only to meet with an evening meal of a fistful of dry peanuts and repeated throwing up of water.
When Andreas heard of it, he let no one stop him and sped off to pick up Geo, who was, at 8 o’clock, deep asleep in his hammock on an abandoned farm. Next day Geo was fresh and full of new ideas, inspired by the police officer who told him why he tortured himself so much by cycling, he bought the motorbike the police officer mentioned as a better mode of transport.
‘Take me for a ride, Geo’, I enthusiastically call out. And off we are, a bit further and further. Until we decide to show the motorbike to the police officer who brought the idea to Geo’s mind, 50 kilometer farther into the Chaco. Once there we are having an appetite and drive yet a bit more to stop at ‘Kilometer 17’ to eat Milanese with two fried eggs on top.
Meanwhile Andreas is energized by his sweet wife her worries about where we are, and not before long Marilyn is informed and the police has sent out a ‘missing person’ message all around the Neuland, Lomo Plata, Filadelfia and ‘Kilometer 17’ area. Besides Geo, The Missing Person turns out to be a freshly arrived Frenchman.
In the meantime Geo and I indulge our food, our faces blanketed in sand, making us 10 years older, while we play with little bugs who are propelled onto Geo’s shirt by the huge fan behind me.
The drive back is heavenly beautiful, sweetly adventurous, dangerously exciting. The stars hover above us while the sand of passing trucks makes us temporarily blind. Fog arrives and the view becomes as if covered in clouds of sand, through which we slide, loose grip, topple almost over.
Ten thirty we arrive back home. A soft yellow light shines through the white-painted windowsills, cold water to wash awaits us, a bed ready to rest, and a head full of happiness.