Okay! So, to continue with our ongoing “How not to do normal ‘tourism’” theme, I have had Another Thought. (Whee!).
So – because we truly, truly aren’t even a little bit elitist, I was thinking – how can people without much money still come here and have a great experience, without gypping their host? WELL. As you know, we’re mostly interested in connecting travellers with real and authentic Tropojan life. Cause that’s what we think is interesting and precious here. And one of the things that defines Tropojan life is certain frantic times of year, when people just have to get SOMETHING done, and they’re usually desperately racing the weather, and it’s ‘all hands on deck’. Except, these days, there may just not be that many ‘hands’ around.
For example. Last year, I participated for the first time in the annual hay harvest. I’d rented two fields for the year – in a dreamy and peaceful place down by the river in Bujan, and thought to be clever by harvesting and baling the hay for my horses, thus ensuring a year’s supply of fodder without paying the staggering hundreds of euros it costs if you just buy bales from Kosova. I thought it was going to be all romantic and scenic – sort of Days of Heaven-y. And sometimes it was . . . a few long days of wandering around with pitchforks and rakes, and laughing under the sun while you watch the grass transform into life giving richness for winter. But what it mostly was, was frantic. Cause here’s the thing: First you cut the hay (still often done with scythes here). You leave it out to dry for a day. Then you rake it into long lines. Then you either pile it all into a truck and build some haystacks (super fun, especially the part where you have to rappel down the finished haystack at the end) or you hire someone with a baling machine to come and bale it up – also fun, because you have to skip along ahead of the machine, tiding up the rows and rescuing the odd panicked tortoise or lizard or whatever was trying to hide in the hay. THEN you have to move all the bales of hay to wherever you’re going to store them for the year and stack them there.
But the problem is: First hay harvest (sometimes the crucial only one, depending on the rainfall and grass-growth that year) is usually around the end of June. Which is not yet in the part of the year when you can count on it NOT raining for weeks. And, if it rains on your hay, during any part of this at-least-three-day process? You have to hope it stops soon, and spread all the hay out again (even breaking open the bales if you didn’t move them yet), to dry out. And then you start all over again. Of course if rains too much, your hay just gets ruined and then your animals starve and then . . . well, worst-case scenario? You die too. So basically all of Tropoja are harvesting their hay at the same time, and there are actually only 3 guys with baling machines, and all of the machines break down at the same time (of course) and everyone is running around screaming and calling each other, and the hay-baling guys are losing their minds, and if you’re me, you end up looking at two big fields containing several hundred hay bales, lying out innocently under an increasingly glowering sky as the sun starts to sink over the horizon and the guy with the truck tells you “It’s late now, I’m going home.” And THEN you, and a couple of friends, desperately race around, dragging the bales (which are heavy, and prickly, and the baling twine bites into your hands, and generally are becoming less and less picturesque by the minute) into a couple of sort of teetering ziggarauts, and rush into town to buy huge sheets of thick plastic to stretch over them, and JUST as you finish, the first drops of rain fall, which is just about when you remember that you didn’t put anything under the ziggeraut, not that there was anything to put there anyhow, so it might all just rot from the bottom up, and . . . . Eh. This is when you go home and have a raki. Or three.
Anyhow, this is all a precursor to say that while your average family here doesn’t really ‘get’ the concept of volunteering – I mean WHAT? You put a guest to WORK? No no nononono! And – if they’re thinking about ‘tourism’ – they’re not going to be super happy at the idea of giving up any income as a trade for work, which they expected to do themselves in the first place – and which, let’s face it, they can do better and faster than you can, anyhow. And no, before some 20 year old tells me they’ve studied permaculture, and could teach people here a thing or two – No. They know how to do this stuff, and in the end their lives depend on it. So while help might be welcome, innovation is not – at least not out of nowhere. But anyhow . . . I think we could probably get some people to agree to it. And if it works, we could start a trend!
After all, in the recent past, families still commonly had like 11 children, mostly to help with the work. Well, I mean, and because, you know, kids happen. But given the prevalence of ‘youth flight’ many families here are now faced with the prospect of having to do the same seasonal tasks, but without a dependable familial work force. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that anyone interested in participating in seasonal work should still plan on contributing something financial. I mean people here are still drastically cash-starved. And volunteer work doesn’t pay electricity bills, or buy school books. Because it’s not as if they’d be hiring someone, if they didn’t have a volunteer – they’d just be beating themselves into the ground to do it themselves. So if you’re thinking to finance a holiday here only by volunteering, well no. You’ll still be more of a financial burden on them than any work you could possibly do would offset. I mean, electricity rates are higher here than they are in NYC. So just heating water for you could put them under the hatches.
But if you’re willing to still contribute say 10 euros a day, AND help out with whatever they’re racing to do, which either makes what they’re trying to do possible OR helps them earn some extra income . . . Examples: Could be collecting wild strawberries, or blackberries, or chestnuts. Could be making jam (which we can then buy for our shop!). But again, PLEASE be prepared to follow their recipes. I had a pair of volunteers who swore they knew how to preserve fruits, and – like good hippies – they sniffed at the concept of sugar, so the blackberry jam all grew mold in a couple of weeks, and the apple sauce rotted and exploded its jars, which – since they had for some inexplicable reason hidden the jars in the back of the sofa – made a truly disgusting mess. But I digress. It could be harvesting hay in June, or collecting and stacking firewood in October. Except for November to March, there’s always something that needs doing here.
And let’s face it – most of it is actually pretty fun, if your life doesn’t depend on it. Plus of course, there’s no better way to bond with people than by working side by side. And there will for sure be epic meals. And probably lots of raki.
And yes, because I’m always playing the ‘hard-ass’ on behalf of people here, I’m going to say that if you can’t afford to pay 10 euros a day to someone – which is probably the price of a beer or a sandwich or something these days – out there in the ‘real’ world (I don’t know, because I’ve barely left Tropoja for the past 13 years), then I’m not sure what you’re doing travelling anyhow? Or is that mean?
So! What do you think? Good news is: a) I’m not the Queen of the World (YET! Heh heh) and b) our dear friend Emmanuel Malaj (Tropojan IT guy beyond compare) has added a ‘Forum’ to the website. So we can actually all have a nice productive discussion!