A Tale of WWOOFing in France: Part 1

This post was originally published on a previous blog of mine that no longer exists hence the different, slightly narrative style. I wrote it while sipping on a 4 euro bottle of wine, cozied up in the trailer that I lived in while working on a farm in Normandy, France for two weeks in June of 2015.  This was my second time as a WWOOF volunteer in France.

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Today makes two and a half days that I’ve been at La Ferme de la Saane in Normandy, France. My WWOOFing adventure started early Wednesday morning in Paris. After a semi-miserable night in Paris battling jet lag, the onset of a cold, and inconsiderate hostel mates, I waited in the windy weather in front of the Eglise St Augustine because that was where I would catch my ride to Dieppe to meet my WWOOF hosts. I had decided to try using a website called BlaBla car which I’ve since been told is what all the young French people use. It’s a rideshare system that in most cases is much cheaper than a train.

My driver that day was a Parisian named Maxime. He owns a restaurant on the port of Dieppe called le Quai Onze. Rather uncomfortably, we didn’t speak until the other two passengers got out at Rouen and I moved to the front seat. He asked what I was doing in Dieppe, so I told him that I was going to work on a farm for two weeks with a man who uses traditional Normand horses instead of tractors. This Parisian found it extremely funny. He explained to me that Haut Normandie (where we were going) is much less chic than Bass-Normandie. Many Parisians spend weekends at Deauville, but this area, according to Maxime, is rural and poor. He kept saying “Dieppe, ce n’est pas Paris. Il n y a rien.” I reminded him that I would not be staying in Dieppe, but in a tiny village called Saint Denis d’Aclon ten minutes by car from Dieppe. His face made clear that he thought what I was doing was quite odd and asked if my host would come pick me up on a horse and buggy. His final words as we arrived at the train station where he would drop me off were “bon courage.”

It was barely eleven o’clock when I got to the train station of Dieppe. Elisabeth, the wife of the farmer, Matthias, had made plans to meet me at the train station at 2:30, so I had plenty of time on my hands to see a bit of the city. I got lunch at a restaurant on the port (not Maxime’s). The city was modest but charming, and the beach had large cliffs in the distance. I would have enjoyed my time more if I had had a place to store my bags while I walked around. As I was eating outside at the restaurant, after seeing my large backpack, an old man asked if I was English. I told him I was American and he wished me “bonnes vacances.”

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Back at the train station I met Elisabeth. She was with her daughter named Lea who is about 16 or 17. We took a taxi back to their house since she apparently can’t drive for the moment. Lea led me to a small trailer with a painted sign reading “la chouette roulot” where I would be staying. It has bunk beds, several cabinets, a table, and a sink and stove that don’t work. Elisabeth gave me the basic rundown of how things would operate. I sleep in the “roulot” and have breakfast on my own in the nearby building which also has a shower and toilets. I have to keep that area very clean because it’s an area where visitors go on the farm. I eat with Matthias, Elisabeth, and Lea in the house for lunch and dinner. Elisabeth rings a bell when it’s time to eat.

At dinner the first night Matthias told me I should be ready to work at 8 o’clock the next morning. I prepared myself for a long day of physical work since that is what I experienced on the farm last year. That morning we had to clean the farm because a school group was arriving later that day as it’s a teaching farm. A lady named Pascale, who helps Matthias whenever he has visits to the farm, arrived and I worked mostly with her cleaning  a table, the rabbit cages, and the stables. When the group arrived I helped pass out grenadine and cookies to the preschoolers. Then I went with Pascale to show half the children the animals. There are chickens, sheep, goats, cows, pigs, rabbits, donkeys, and horses. I passed out pieces of bread for the children to give to the animals. After that I went with Matthias who was giving carriage rides pulled by a donkey to another group. He had me lead the donkey pulling the children around the field several times. At lunch he told me I wasn’t needed in the afternoon, so I could borrow his bike to ride to the beach and “profite du soleil” since it was an uncharacteristically sunny day for Normandy. I was really excited about this and asked if it was hard to find. He explained that we are in the Valley of the Saane, and if you head to the north and stay in the valley, you will reach a town on the beach called Quibberville sur Mer. I was amazed at how little amount of work I was asked to do that day, but gladly took my free afternoon. The ride to the beach, about 4 kilometers, was filled with beautiful countryside and many many cows. The day was indeed sunny and beautiful and of course I tried swimming, but the English Channel was still too cold.

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Today I had a completely free day since there were no visits to the farm and Matthias and Elisabeth were at their other jobs. I haven’t seen anyone today and they left me food for lunch. I rode to the beach again and then later went on a walk to explore more of the village of Saint Denis d’Aclon. So far I’ve only had one half day of work, but Matthias says next week is going to be very busy. It’s probably good that I’ve been able to relax since I’m still trying to get rid of my cold and speaking French is taxing on my brain. Living in the “roulot” is so peaceful and the animals are literally right outside of my window. The nights are really quiet and the only sounds in the morning are from the animals. The rooster is especially talkative in the morning.

I haven’t quite figured out Matthias and Elisabeth. They are nice, but quiet and distant. However, their distance allows me a lot of independence and exploring on my own, which is different from my last WWOOF experience where my host took my everywhere and was with me almost all the time. Both have their benefits. I feel like I don’t know this family yet as people, and I know they certainly don’t know me. I have to remember I’ve only been here for 3 days, and so much is going to happen in my remaining 12 days.

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