September 24, 2012 § 2 Comments
I arrived in Châteaulin via Quimper yesterday.
I greeted my new host, who had driven all the way from his farm to the train station to meet me, in French. He then attempted to strike up a conversation in French. I communicated in spurts of broken, deeply enunciated French on the drive to the farm.
I didn’t say much else during that drive because I was too busy racking my brain, attempting to recall everything I’d ever learned in eight years’ (give or take) formal study of French.
How would I receive commands for standard farm tasks, like milking, cheese-making, and construction work in a language I only partially understood?
My host pulled into the farm, and we went inside the main house. There, I met my host’s mother, a cheerful , feisty old woman who can no longer stand up straight and moves with the aid of a walker. Her back bends at a near-perfect, ninety degree angle. She doesn’t speak a word of English. Not even “OK.”
I met my host’s wife. She always has a soft smile on her face. Her English is actually quite good.
My host lead me upstairs to my bedroom. He helped me make my bed. Then he ushered me to another, smaller house on the property, where volunteers take their meals and typically spend afternoon breaks.
I learned that I’m the only American here for now. I chatted up people from places as far-flung as the Czech Republic, Japan, and Singapore. I also learned that although most volunteers here claim to speak only “un petit peu” of French, everyone sounds extremely competent compared to me.
I sipped a cup of tea made with fresh lemon balm from the garden while a Belgian girl–who, sadly, left this morning–and I discussed many things: travel, cooking, writing.
An hour or so later, it was time to finish up the day’s work. I didn’t want to give the wrong impression, so I tagged along.
I’d only been on the farm for an hour or so, and I was already out in the field helping search for the goats. I wore the same outfit I wore to milk when I worked in Denmark.
I looked in all directions. No goats to be found. Then the herd emerged seemingly out of nowhere. Over a dozen of them, with shaggy hair and big, coiled horns.
“Allez! Allez!” we all shouted. We rounded them up and lead them to their pens for a second round of milking. At least I was spared this chore. I settled for a grand tour of the facilities, followed by preparing a dinner that consisted of salad and nettle soup.
Twelve of us gathered for dinner. This is when I learned that bread and rounds of fresh goat cheese, both homemade, appear at every meal.
I was presented with a single piece of left-over, Breton apple tart at the end of the meal. They’d saved it for me to try.
I still have a language barrier to straddle. I feel vulnerable and confused in that respect. But I’ve found a place full of kind, patient individuals willing to take me on.