I think an English-language post for my family is well overdue. I know there is only so much that you can procure from Google Translate.
The last six weeks have flown by at a speed that I cannot begin to understand. It always happens like that when I travel. I feel like the days barely crawl by, then suddenly I am standing at the edge of a month, wondering what happened. Where did the time go? Story of my life…I have never been good at telling time. I think that might be the feeling that I am addicted to, truly, that wibbly-wobbly strange feeling of twilight and calm before a storm that I always feel while travelling – that feeling that something could go wrong at any moment and probably will. Are you wondering how that could be a positive thing? I am sure you will understand that feeling if you have ever travelled haphazardly before. There is an excitement and curiosity that is unmatchable. I will share the link of the song I am listening to as I type. It encompasses that feeling very well, to me at least. Radiohead – Bloom Maybe it will help you feel what I feel.
My mother thinks that I should keep a blog titled “Travelling for the Timid Soul”, and she is right in realizing how completely different it is to travel as an extremely shy and anxious person. The experience itself teeters on the edge between dream and nightmare. Your body tells you in every way that it can to “STOP, IT ISN’T SAFE”, but if you ignore it and step outside the tiny box of your comfort zone, the feeling is enough to send your head spinning and your heart thumping out of your chest. In the cities, I challenge myself to order food in German, to ask the opinions of the people in the shops. As I do, my heart beats so hard that my voice often catches in my throat. From their concerned faces, I can tell that they are wondering if I am crying or upset. I smile and try to look as normal as possible, and the concerned look passes. I have no control over the sensation, strange as it is, so I power through; I ask anyway. I do my best to conquer my fears. I wonder how many people must conquer a thousand fears every single day. Sometimes everything becomes too much, and I retreat back into my shell, gloss over my eyes, meditate in the middle of the street, trying to make my racing heart be still, but it gets better with practice…though my travelling companion might not agree.
Maybe you are wondering what it is like here, so I will do my best to explain. Here on the Hainerhof, the days blur together. I wake up early every morning, between 6 and 7 o’clock. I walk to the kitchen and bathroom that are upstairs, one building over, and there I make my coffee and enjoy my (only) quiet alone time. At 8 o’clock, we feed the chickens and ducks and let the ducks out to play in the yard. We then feed the 15 rabbits and guinea pigs – one armful of hay and enough chopped up carrots to fill the lid of a bucket. Next we feed the 3 goats and the 3 mini-sheep, who always seem very excited to see us. The 11 horses are next – 2 mini, 7 medium, and 2 very big. Morning and afternoon we feed them 3 bags of hay or roll hay bales to the 2 separate feeding areas in the corrals…which is not an easy task, I might add.
After feeding, it is time for the first muck-out…this usually takes us a little under two hours, more if there is snow and ice and less if it is dry. After muck-out we work “around the farm”, which includes, but it not limited to – working in the broken natural sewage system (yeah…), painting, installing doors, fixing fences or feed nets, and anything else that may happen to require attention. Kodie does this from 10:30-12:30. I do this from 10:30-11:30, and at 11:30, it is my job to cook lunch for the 4 of us – me, Andrea, Anke, and Kodie.
Cooking for 4 people, 2 of which are total strangers, in a foreign country is a terrifying experience. The food, the oven, the measurements, the language – everything is different, and it takes some major adjusting time. One of my hosts is very grateful. She smiles and says thank you after every meal. The other host is a little trickier. Originally she told me to cook whatever I would usually cook at home, so I began to do just that…to the best of my ability with the few ingredients at hand, but as I am cooking she always seems to appear behind my shoulder and let out a disappointed sigh. Following the sigh, there is always something wrong. “Oh, are you using those potatoes?” “Oh, if you cook in that pan, you don’t need butter.” “What are mashed potatoes? Like the things that babies eat?” “I don’t like mushroom.” It is disheartening after a while. My throat always tightens when I hear her walk into the kitchen behind me.
After lunch we are responsible for cleaning up the kitchen and dining room, as well as sweeping our hosts’ entire house. If the garbage is full, we must empty it, and the wood baskets in the hallway must be filled up morning and night. The fire must remain stoked all day, and the old dog, Bonsai, should be walked when Anke and Andrea are busy. Oddly, all of these chores were added on to our original work plan and do not seem to count towards our hours. In the evening, we work for another 1.5 hours – mucking-out for a second time, feeding all of the animals again, and checking water supply, and I am to unload the dishwasher and fill it with their dirty dishes from the day. After these tasks, we have thirty minutes left to do another task that they assign us. This would be fine, but the task is usually something that require much more time, and our evening usually runs at least 30 minutes late. The farm is beautiful, and I will never ever forget the animals I get to care for every day, but the feeling of being taken advantage of begins to poison the experience very quickly.
One day, while I was scooping horse poop and hay in the corral, I had a great idea for my senior project, the final project of my college career. I had gotten the OK from my professor to do a creative writing assignment with historical connections, as opposed to a formal research paper, so my mind had been filled with ideas of all sorts. This particular idea made me very happy…historical fiction from the perspective of a young girl growing up in the GDR. Reminiscent, perhaps, of the original American Girl dolls and their accompanying books, but with stronger historical implications and intertwining story-lines. My hosts here at Hainerhof are two women – Anke and Andrea.
Anke grew up in the GDR and Andrea in West Germany…the differences in their personalities are incredible, and knowing the history of the regions, I believe it has everything to do with their upbringings. I know very little about these two women, only their names, that they have the same birthday, drove the same car upon meeting, and the fact that they run a horse farm together (specializing in therapy for special needs children). My plan is to loosely base my characters on the lives of these women and intertwine their lives, using their stories and fictional perspectives to show the stark contrast between East and West German life. The characters will reach my age (about 25) by reunification and meet very soon thereafter. My project is to be at least 12 pages with a 20 minute presentation and strong visual aid. I am excited to see where it goes from here, though nervous about the idea of beginning a fictional novel in another language.
As my post is now more than 1,000 words, I think it is time for me to bring it to an end.
Liebe Grüße aus Deutschland und Hainerhof,