Volunteering – Social experience at a farm

  • Post category:Travel / Volunteering
  • Reading time:12 min(s) read
View from the farm house

I had a good summer in Tuscany. I enjoyed visiting the less known places (at least to me); Lucca, Siena, Montepulciano, Perugia and other small villages. It does not mean that I did not  like to see the big places, finally in person. Be it the leaning tower of Pisa or Duomo of Florence or the big city of Rome with its Forum, Colosseum and many other places, it was an experience to see them for the first time. The experience at projects and interactions with people made it a life experience. I was looking for projects near Napoli area for my next destination. There were not many around the area and the few I contacted, either did not reply or just could not decide. That made me search in wider area and am so glad I did. I contacted another project with farming about an hour east to Napoli. I got an immediate reply to my message. This in itself somehow gave me a hint that it would be a good experience. I said goodbye to the area of Vino Nobile, spent few days in the big ancient city of Rome and took a train to this small place. What was going to happen there, I could not imagine.

Place

Around the house, comfort volunteering

This place, San Salvatore,  shares train station with few other villages nearby. About 5 km from the station, at the edge of the village is this beautiful simple farm. The usually open main gate, leads you to a big, old, two story long house to the left, while a parking, garden, meal and relaxing area on the right. Beyond that the passage leads to the vegetable garden, vineyard and open farm behind. On the path one would also find a compost area, tools section, storage area and a chicken coop. This common area is generally ruled by 6 young cats. With the table for meal, under the shade of a tree, hammocks and chairs, this is a very cozy area to relax, read or even sleep; if one can manage with cats and summer mosquitoes.

The vegetable garden contains a big mix of vegetables. Tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkin, salad, chilly, pepper, carrots, aubergine, green beans and much more. One would also find trees for figs, apple and other trees that I cannot remember now :). Apart from the standard row based farming, the center stage of the farm is taken up by a big spiral for the vegetables. This, I learned helps to get more plants to grow together in the same area compared to row based farming. The whole farm is grown organically without any use of chemicals. Even when the grapes were going bad, the lady did not put any chemical for solution. She would use natural and organic ways and even wait for next year for better yield.

The house is old, which was built by the host’s grandfather.  Of course, with time it had some re-adjustments. The place where a lot of meat production was happening, now stands a veg dominated kitchen. The place for animals, which was outside the main house, is merged together and now host an oven, where a lot of bread and pizza’s are made every week. It also act as a storage for lots of big utensils, cat food, tools, temporary food storage, before it is cleaned and moved further for processing. The kitchen is very active place and a lot of the activity happens here with a background of one or other music. If not music then it is filled by the vibes of the people moved by the host herself.

People

Friends you make on the way
Smile please

The place is run by a lady and supported by her son apart from the volunteers who keep on joining at different times. My host was supposed to pick me at the station. When I reached there, I did not find anyone. After waiting for few minutes, I called the host and realized we had confusion about time. While waiting I was thinking about what I heard from people before, that how the definition of “being on time” becomes flexible as you move south in Italy. My train of thought was disrupted by a storm; a car approached at full speed, stopped quickly, hello and welcome, before I knew things were in the car and we were heading towards the house. It was like I was swept away by a wave.  When I reached, the place was full of people with friends and volunteers. After some games and food, I got an overview of the place from another volunteer and later added by the host as we moved along.

Host is a very active and warm lady who seems to be filled with unlimited amount of energy. It is not just the energy that she puts in her work; what makes her special is the amount of energy that she puts in the people who are in her contact. She meets a lots of people and somehow she makes all the varieties come together. Unless you are just a big heavy rock, you will be happily flowing with her waves. She works in the farm every day, makes breads, tomato sauce and pulp, chillies, sells her vegetables, arranges and goes to local markets to sell her products, maintain the house, organize meetings with many people in her contact, socialize with friends around the nearby villages, be an activist, be a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend and more. In between all that, she organizes and aligns work for the volunteers as well and make them feel at home.

Local visits around villages were beautiful
Local visits

We had lots of discussions at work, at lunch, dinner, while driving to the different places, by the lake, by the waterfalls and every place wherever I got involved in her life. She might be working at the farm, but she tries to be aware of the current affairs, at least in the areas she is interested in. While she is a very idealist in her ways e.g. for organic farming or her perspectives on the general political systems, she is very well aware of the challenges of the idealistic views as well. We discussed on various topics including Lord Shiva’s destructive powers and role of female Gods in Hindu mythology.  I even learned some popular names from India that I did not know before.

Her son is a young, active boy who despite his age is very well aware of his responsibilities and activities around the world. We had different discussions, while working together in the farm or playing ping pong or over the game of pool. It was very interesting to see the young and fresh perspectives on different aspects. I also met other volunteers there. We worked together and even made a trip to Napoli together. One guy was a young philosopher and master of sleep while another was champion of slackline. He showed us and helped us practice some slackline walking. With some songs, some music, some jokes, we had an amazing environment.  I also got a chance to meet host’s mother and her sister. Did not have much discussions with mother, but it was nice working and talking with the sister and learning little bit about Spain and Sweden.  Many friends who came home or the others we met in the markets or at their home, were all warm and friendly people. We all had good discussions unless it was limited by the language barrier.

Activities

Baking time
It’s baking time!

This is a very confusing section to write for this project. Today, when I reflect back, I would say that the main activity was to share your life, your experience and thoughts. To align on different cultures, different perspectives, ways of working, different mindsets, situations, backgrounds, social environments. Philosophy and psychology were kind of on a daily work list. The background music was based on who is in charge of the computer. Who is in charge depended on who needed a special kick to his or her mood. But, whatever music you put, there is no place for Yoga/soothing music here, atleast not in the kitchen. The vibe is too strong to listen to it. Then comes visiting different places. We went to a small waterfall and natural place nearby. With hosts, friends and volunteers together, mixed with food, music and songs, it is a setup to just be there. As the host keeps on going to different villages, she would always invite to join. The important thing is that it is not just an invite to take and drop you at some place. She would be with you, giving the special details of the place and bring to spots and connect them with stories that otherwise one would probably not come to know.

Whatever time is left after all these activities, then we would work in the garden. We picked the vegetables for selling or fixed the support lines for tomatoes or other plants. We planted new crops and also put water lines around spiral. Tilled the soil, while cleaning the area from the weed. We pruned the trees and prepared wood for fire. We cleaned the bushes and arranged the flower or pots. We prepared the earth with compost and cleaned the place around. Helped to make the tomato pastes, pulp and prepare chilly cans. Once a week there is bread day, when the over starts and a lot of bread is made. Most of the work is done by the host with a little support from volunteers I happened to be in the time when we went by cars to bring the grains from another village and store at a “rat-free” storage room at a friend’s place, followed by a beautiful dinner. At the end we also did a cleanup of the back yard at the mother’s place and put a new order of arrangement.

Experience

This was the most energy pack experience so far. I do not mean in the physical activity perspective. It is mostly the energy involved in social interactions and daily communication of life. Host is like a wave of energy and you can just flow with it. Some how other volunteers and all the network around is also like that. While the work is important and one need to give attention, but it is not at the cost of social bondings. I was amazed at the energy, commitment, passion and also patience of my host. With volunteers, she would try to explain as much as she could. Even if someone makes a mistake, like me taking out plants along with weed, she do not go nuts over it. She had to do extra work, but she just did it. She told me what I did, but she told me in a way that it is almost impossible to take it serious. She joked around it, while taunting me for some time. It was just amazing and it is just one example. However, on the hindsight, one may just not get the message and same would be repeated endlessly. But then, even if you are serious and create a grim environment, it can still be the same. So, better be joyful.

One can learn also with help of friends
Fun and lessons

She also hosts Airbnb guests. With friends and guests, I got a chance to meet a philosopher and a psychologist. It was interesting to have discussion about reality vs matrix, selling of shoes vs paintings, individual and group freedom and many more. The host told me about her experience on  adjusting to different people who come to stay or for volunteering. Thankfully during my stay, somehow only those people came here who are open enough to share some good moments. The food is amazing, a lot of it is fried as well, including fried pizza. I had great food at the main home, at mother’s place and also at friend’s place. As an exchange of cooking flavors, I cooked twice and luckily it came out just fine.

Night walker

I got the nickname “lazy” there. It was soon replaced by “Shiva the destroyer”, because while taking out the weed, I took out some good plants as well. So many stories were shared in that month that it is hard to consolidate in a small blog. From the beginning till the end, we walked on the rope between two ends, back and forth while enjoying the air touching our bodies, the sky above us and the river stream below us. While being on that rope, some birds also flew by and share their songs and travel stories with us. Be it going to the village of public paintings, or watching cultural event or public ceramic making, it was all a beautiful journey. At the end, we all went to have an ice cream. Unfortunately, the famous one was closed. So, we went to the 2nd best. However, when u enjoy the jokes, conversations, the company of people around you, then it is the curves of the smiles that you remember than the taste of the ice cream.

Love
Arundeep

One day Lord Shiva decided to visit the earth and try some alcohol. So he changed his get-up and went to a bar in New Delhi and asked the bartender, “What all do you have”.

Bartender, “We have whiskey, rum, vodka, gin, beer…”

Lord Shiva, “Let’s try whiskey first, give me five bottles of whiskey.”

After having five bottles of whiskey, Lord Shiva decided to try Rum.

Bartender was shocked, “Who is this man, after having five bottles of whisky and he is still on his feet.”

After having five bottles of Rum, Shiva decided to have beer. After having fourty bottles of beer, he asked the bartender for Gin.

Bartender couldn’t stop himself asking , “Sir, who are you?? I have seen people getting drunk after having four glasses of whisky, and you’ve almost had fifty bottles and you are still on your feet, who are you???”

Lord Shiva, “Oh my child!, I am the Lord Shiva!.”

Bartender: smiling, “FINALLY!!!”

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