Like the last post, this was originally published on a previous blog of mine that no longer exists hence the different, slightly narrative style. I wrote it days after 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.
I am a person that hates goodbyes. I always have. In traveling I find myself having to say goodbye often. It’s always makes me sad- even when its saying goodbye to the random person I bonded with in the hostel common room. Often, I say “à bientôt” instead of “au revoir” in hopes that I will see that person again, but deep down sometimes I know I never will. I had to say goodbye to my WWOOF host family on Wednesday. It wasn’t terribly sad because I actually feel like I will see the family again since the farm is an easy trip from Paris, and I’ll hopefully be spending more time in France in the near future. My time at La Ferme de la Saâne turned out to be an incredible experience. It was probably the most relaxing two weeks of my life, and I enjoyed spending time with the family. I also feel like I made a large improvement in French and Leà, one of the daughters in the family, boosted my confidence by telling me I spoke very well, although she did laugh at my mistakes every now and then.
My first week at the farm I was the only WWOOFer. I used this time to explore the area and catch onto how things operate on the farm. Matthias, Elisabeth, and Océane ran the farm visits. Lea was busy studying for the BAC the entire time I was there. The family didn’t give many verbal cues, so often I found myself wondering what to do with myself and how I could help them best. However, by about the fifth day I had fallen into the rhythm of life on La Ferme de la Saâne. On the days that there were school visits all day, we would start cleaning around 10 AM. I would clean the rabbit cages, give the rabbits water, clean out the stables, clean up animal poop, and sweep off the walkways. The children would then arrive and go directly to the tables where they would eat their “goûter,” a snack normally consisting of cookies and grenadine. Matthias would then explain to them the plan for the day. Normally, they would be divided into three groups that would rotate to different stations. One group would go with Pascale to visit the animals like the rabbits, chickens, pigs, and sheep. Another group would go with Matthias to see the smallest horse of the farm and then the biggest and learn how he cares for them. I would stay with Océane where the children would ride in the “petite calèche” or carriage pulled by the donkey named Venus. I learned how to lead the donkey around during the first school visit, so every visit after that I would help the children get settled into the calèche then lead them around. After the rides, Océane would teach them about two different families of animals on the farm: the guardian animals and the worker animals. I didn’t help much during this portion of the visit, but I always stuck around because it was cute to listen to the children answering her questions. Most of the children were in preschool and didn’t talk much to me. However, when a group of elementary students visited, they were extremely interested in me and kept asking me questions- How old are you? Do you speak English? Where do you live?
After the three stations were completed it would be time for lunch. The children would eat their picnic lunch, and Either Elisabeth or Océane would prepare our lunch. We often ate specialties of Normandy while I was there such as crème fraîche, moules frites, cider, and Neufchatel cheese.In the afternoon, the group would go for a ride in la grande calèche pulled by horses. Most of the time Mathias would tell me my work was complete for the day and I could do whatever I wished. Once he had me accompany them on the back of the calèche. This person is responsible for opening and closing the gates of the farm, watching for cars, making sure the children stay seated, and dealing with any problems that may arise since Mathias, as the coachman, can never step away from the horses.
Everyday at the farm was different which I loved. There were mostly school visits, but also visits with handicapped people, birthday parties, and a group hike with older people. One day there was a visit from people who work in the tourism industry. They viewed the farm and then ate lunch. Elisabeth prepared lunch for all thirty of them. Océane and I helped serve the meal. Despite being extremely self conscious of my French in front of thirty people as I asked if they needed anything else or if I could clear their table, Elisabeth said I seemed very at ease serving. The next day Matthias said the leader of the group emailed them to say they had a great time and would love to return. The lunch was a success! It made the piles and piles of dishes that took about two days to wash worth it.
Halfway through my stay, another “wwoofeuse” arrived. Matthias said he preferred to have two people at once since it would be better for me on days that no one was home. I had mixed feelings about the arrival of the new girl since I had been enjoying spending time alone and the “roulette” felt cramped already with only me living in it.
The new worker was a Korean girl named Kim Chaewon. In France she goes by Miela since it is much easier to say. The arrival of Miela turned out great for me because I found myself enjoying her company and speaking way more French than I was the week before. Miela is only 18 and traveling in Europe for 3 months alone. She didn’t have answers to most of my questions. Where are you traveling to next? What are you going to do when you finish your trip? Why did you decide to come to Europe? “ahh pour voyager,” she would reply. She had no plans, no expectations. She was simply traveling for three months on the other side of the world, practicing different languages and trying to figure out what she would do next with her life. I have to admit, I was jealous of her adventurous, laid back travel style. Miela could speak some English, Esperanto, and French. She started learning French only three years ago, so I was amazed by how well she spoke. While at times it was difficult communicating in French with our respective accents, this is the language we used.
I have so many great memories from my time at La Ferme de la Saâne. It’s impossible for me to sum up my entire experience, but some particular memories that stick out in my mind are making crepes for the birthday parties, talking with Leà after dinners about the U.S., helping Elisabeth learn English phrases to use at her job, walking through the streets of Dieppe with Miela and Océane, swimming in the English Channel, and cooking a Louisiana meal for the family.
On my last night at the farm, Matthias took me on a ride through the town in the calèche. I got to sit in the front seat and I’ll never forget the beautiful village and the sounds of the horses click clacking against the cobblestone streets. On Wednesday morning as I waited to catch the bus that would take me away from the farm, I didn’t want to leave, and I felt like I could have stayed there for longer and been very very happy.
I keep in contact with Miela over facebook and she went on to pursue her love of cooking. She recently won a “food styling” award and was accepted into a cooking institute in Seoul. See! It’s fine to not have a plan 🙂