Jess is an Awkward Farmer

[This was written on February 7, 2015 while in Argentina.]

I want to grow plants. I want to learn about organic gardening. I want to work on a farm. And hey guess what! I’m in South America, with farms aplenty. But I’ve been here for five months already and I haven’t yet. Why not? I don’t fucking know.

I decided it was about time to do something about it. We’re in Mendoza, the land of wine. And grapes and stuff. And other things.

I looked up something like “organic farm Mendoza”, and after sifting through all the WWOOF pages, found one listing. Yeah, only one. Well I didn’t go to the second page obviously cuz who does that? But still, strange that only one was listed. I click on it, an organic vineyard! And they are looking for workers!

They get an email from me. He passes me on to an organic farmer guy. He gives me three wonderful suggestions of people to contact. I write them all. One replies: The Pagliafora’s farm, aka Finca Pagliafora. They are excited to have us!

The Pagliafora’s are on the WWOOFing website, and their response includes general rules. Two weeks advance notice, stay for at least two weeks, etc. We’ve done none of those and we haven’t contacted them the “proper” way. Oh well.

I also find a blog that talks about a girl’s experiences on the farm and it all seems swell.

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I later found out they also have cats.

It gets confusing and we end up being a day late. We find another volunteer on his way there too and we all show up together. When we arrive we meet Sandra and introduce ourselves but get no hugs or cheek kisses or whatever, or maybe I should have done it? I don’t know. I’m awkward.

They point us to a cabin where the volunteers stay, so we drop our stuff off and go eat with them. They are having their big daily meal. Good timing.

We say hi to everyone and they look confused. It’s a quiet table. One girl asks about us, she is from England and her name is Zoe. We ask their names and they start going around the table. It gets to Sandra’s mom and she introduces her.

I remember her mentioned in the blog I read, and what I want to say is “When I looked up your farm I came across the blog of a girl who has volunteered here. She really liked it and mentioned each of you warmly and talked about how everyone does a bit of everything, but some people have particular things that are more their own. She said Sandra manages the farm, Ruben I don’t remember but I do remember he likes playing guitar, and that you’re a wonderful cook.” But of course, what comes out is “Oh, the to cook!” Everyone looks at me like I just ate a goat and what I want is for them to forget I opened my mouth but instead they all wait patiently for me to try to find the real word for cook, but when I say “you’re the cook” it’s just worse, because to them I’m sure it seems as though we’ve gotten to the older woman of the house and I assume she’s the cook because she’s a women and obviously that’s all they’re good for and she’s old and can’t do anything else. Suddenly I am a dumb sexist ageist Canadian who can’t show up on time or follow their reasonable time guidelines and who has been here for nine months and hasn’t learned a lick of Spanish. We carry on eating and I am mostly quiet, adding to their ideas I’m sure that it’s very weird I can’t speak Spanish. But perhaps I’m projecting, and I’m just nervous, and everything’s fine. I tell myself it is.

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Afterwards Ailen shows us to our cabin, I have a quick nap, and we head to the fields to work. Today’s task is weeding, and I’m guessing every day after this will be the same. Lots of weeding in organic farming. I spend most of the time speaking Spanish in my head, responses to their questioning eyes about why I can’t speak Spanish better, alternating between wondering why I need to defend myself, wondering why I think I need to defend myself, and listing all the reasons in concise, perfect Spanish. Want to read them? Cuz I gotta tell someone, amiright.

Why I don’t speak Spanish better:

  1. I do. I’m shy and everyone was looking at me and I felt pressured. Also where’s the wine?
  2. It hasn’t been nine months, it’s been just over five.
  3. I did not take a Spanish class when I arrived here like most travelers do, and before five months ago I couldn’t say anything in Spanish.
  4. I’m not travelling solo, which means I talk to Spanish-speaking people less in general, and when we do talk to them I’m not forced to figure stuff out.
  5. I’m travelling with people who are better Spanish speakers than me, so it’s easy for us to default to the best speaker to be the most efficient as a group. Adam is fluent. When he’s not here, Jesse is second best.
  6. The other people in conversation also default to talking to the better Spanish-speaker, especially when they’re not feeling patient or understand that I need to practice.
  7. I can be pretty shy in general, especially in the contexts of how we’re doing this trip, so I don’t talk as much. “What do you mean you want me to ask them if we can have some free ice cream?! We don’t even need ice cream! Ohmygosh I want ice cream.”
  8. I’m traveling with a guy and everyone here is fucking sexist. “Does your women enjoy the food?” a very otherwise polite and sincere guy asked us at dinner the other night. I used to brush this off as people not understanding that I could understand them, but this time I kinda poked fun at him asking Jesse for me, to which his response was genuinely apologetic. “I’m sorry, it’s just… it’s my culture.” No shit.
  9. Jesse doesn’t like speaking Spanish with me. Probably cuz he has to speak it with everyone else and it’s exhausting.

However, despite all of the above, I should be fucking better at Spanish, really.

So we weeded. I’m slow. I was regular speed at first but apparently I was doing it wrong. But by the end of it my speed didn’t bother me and I was having fun rolling around in the dirt.

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Afterwards I washed mounds of dirt off of myself and went to the kitchen cuz apparently there is leftover food we can eat. Sandra and her mom are there. I wonder if I should explain myself earlier. They mostly ignore me which I can’t tell is weird or not seeing as I have no idea what I’m doing. I wander aimlessly for a moment, Sandra leaves, and I work up the courage to explain to her mom what I meant earlier. It comes out sufficient enough for me to feel better at least for saying something, and she seems to think so too because suddenly she is all smiles and helpfulness. I wonder if I made sense or she just liked that I was finally talking. Oh well.

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[Photos by Jesse Houle]

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