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Monday, October 8, 2012

Terrible Arsonist

I have moved on from the ill lack of security and trust of Johannesburg and have bussed it 6 hours to the tiny little town of Byrne in the Kwazulu-Natal region.  I am revisiting my New Zealand wwoofing adventures to learn more about South African culture.  Wwoofing (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) is essentially work in exchange for room and board with an added desire of cultural exchange.  The traveler/person doing the work is the “wwoofer,” with an expected work contribution of 4-6 hours per day, on average.  No money is exchanged, only work, room, board, and conversation.  As a wwoofer, I’ve restored native vegetation, sold fruit and veg on the side of the road, general house and yardwork, weeded yards, milked cows, dug potatoes, prepared and planted gardens, and now, worked on a small (mostly) self-sustainable family farm.

Almost exclusively, wwoofing hosts, which may be families or large- or small-scale farms, are located far from modern day conveniences of civilization, and this family of four is no exception.  Mom, Dad, and two girls live on a farm as self-sustainably as possible which includes milking goats and cows, chickens (for eggs and broilers), growing dinner piglets, a small citrus orchard and other fruit trees, and a healthy-size vegetable garden.  For income, milk, yogurt and cheese is made/sold, as well as breeding rights/puppies from 3 Great Danes of whom are generously doted.

My quaint studio
View of the Byrne Valley from inside my cottage
My donkey boiler fully alight

On the night that I arrived, I was asked if I needed a shower.  The question was followed by a remark that prompted declination: “there might be some hot water left.”  Satisfied that my bus ride did not render me in need of a potentially warm, potentially cold shower in the 45F weather, I made my way through the garden path to my un-insulated and drafty studio cottage sans bathing.

After a nice hike up the mountain the next day in the name of goat herding; however, bathing was not only an option, but obligatory.  My free-standing self-containing studio-like room has a room, toilet, and sink inside, and a semi-outdoor shower at the side of the building.  I was informed that to heat the water for a hot shower each afternoon, one must gather firewood and build a fire under the water cylinder.  The cylinder, a “donkey boiler,” is relatively small, has no insulation, and a small open block of space just below it to make flames to heat the water.  It was on my first day at “Overthere Farm” that I discovered one simply fact, Fact 1: I would make a terrible, terrible arsonist.  While attempting to make my first fire, I was also certain of another fact, Fact 2: I was going to take a very cold shower that night. 

I prepared proper wood-paper fire formations, or what I thought was ‘proper’, fiddled with matches, paper, more wood, more paper, match after match.  For a while, I thought I might go through the entire matchbox as all of my attempts to maintain flame were squelched.  Alas, after 15 minutes I walked away in frustration.  Fact 1 and Fact 2 above were contrived during those 15 annoying minutes.  Ten minutes later though, Fact 2 was questioned after seeing a medium-size fire still alight.  Much to my surprise, I took a warm shower that night in triumphant delight of my achievement!  Suddenly I became quite thankful for abundant available electricity and clean running water in my otherwise sparse cottage. 

Other Fact findings:
·        If the fire is built too robustly, one cannot take a hot shower, but instead a steam room is prepared; there is no cold water hook-up to this contraption.  A steam bath was accidently made on 2 painful occasions.

·        If it is a cold day below 45F, no matter the size of the fire, the shower will only be slightly warmed.  The outside temperature cooled the metal boiler faster than the fire heated it.  Brrr.

·         If one needs to take a longer shower for hair washing or shaving, be prepared to go outside mid-shower to re-stoke the fire.  (Oh yeah, lots of fun…)

PS- I roasted a few marshmallows on my donkey boiler fire on several occasions. J

WWOOF post #2 Farm Kid Strong
WWOOF post #3 A Cow's Life

This article also is featured in an online newsletter for WWOOF Independents.  Click here for the November 2012 newsletter, then click on "Reportage."

"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."
-John Muir-

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