When WorkAway Doesn't Work Part II
So where were we? Ah, yes. Last we left off, I was detailing how uncomfortable I was beginning to feel at my first Workaway assignment. If you are just joining me along this journey, click here to read about it in detail. But in summary, I had decided to step outside my comfort zone and volunteer at a small farm to table restaurant in a small village outside of Jerusalem. While my host and his family were lovely, the conditions and my fellow volunteer were not. After getting off to a rocky start on my first day, I ate breakfast, completely unaware that everything was about to get much worse.
So, let’s pick it up from there.
After washing up, we all piled into the car and rode to what looked like the edge of a cliffside. I has no idea what the plan was for the day, but I knew for certain that I wasn’t dressed for it. By this time in my journey across the world, I had disposed of everything superfluous. That meant every ratty old t-shirt, pair of jeans with holes and/or anything else that would have been suited to working outside was long gone. The closest thing I could find that was even reasonably appropriate, was a polka dotted jumpsuit from Asos. I had bought it in a secondhand store in Brooklyn the day before I flew out to begin my final year in Spain. Suffice it to say, it was more suited to a brunch date with friends than chopping wood; but as I had few other options, I made do.
In contrast, Estonia looked like an ad for Patagonia. She was covered head to toe in the kind of multi-use active wear that all people with six-packs seem to own. She even had a pair of work gloves—which were more than a little handy as our first assignment for the day was to re-stack piles of wood. Or, more specifically, planks of wood that had been previously used as the flooring and structuring for two yurts. Yurts that no longer existed because, as Estonia told me haughtily, she had broken them down herself.
This meant that not only did I have to be cautious of splinters, I had to watch out bits of nails that stuck out haphazardly from the planks. While I am no stranger to hard work, as I have spent nearly the last decade in a classroom, working as a teacher or learning as a student, my hands are more than a little soft. And thus, highly susceptible to impalement. I tried my best not to be too precious about it, but I realized soon that if I were to stay there longer, I’d have to get a pair of work gloves.
The morning flew by under the blaze of sun as wind whipped by and cooled us off. By the time we finished, it was nearly 11 and I was beginning to worry. My first English class was about to begin and we weren’t even at the house. I needed time to look over the day’s material before presenting it to my students.
As a reminder, I had written in my initial message to my Workaway host that I would have to teach classes Tuesday-Friday from 12-4, but anytime other time I was at their disposal. This seemed reasonable to me, and clearly my host had thought so as well. He had accepted after all, but I was beginning to think that perhaps he had forgotten. Or, even worse, that he hadn’t fully grasped what it was that I needed from him in return for my labor.
When we finally made it back to the house, it was a little after 11 and I was starting to feel a bit relieved. That is, until my host dosed out the next assignment. “Wait, what?” I screamed inside my head, but being the true introvert that I was I kept my feelings of panic to myself. “Next assignment? I have to get ready!” But again, not wanting to rock the boat, I kept quiet. Instead, I resigned myself to get my assignment done as quickly as possible, so that I could begin my real work.
Luckily for me, I had been given a fairly easy task to complete. Estonia had been assigned the far more cumbersome and time consuming job of painting the bathroom, while I was given the challenge of cleaning off an old electric cookstove. One that the host hoped to use for the restaurant. “This will be easy.” I told myself. So, I cleaned it up and quickly and efficiently as I could before informing my host that I simply had to begin teaching. He seemed taken aback and slightly annoyed, but I didn’t have time to be concerned with that. My livelihood was on the line.
So, I gathered my things and came back up to restaurant to begin my real work. I tried my best, to be fun and engaging with my students while I battled the sun and wind and inconsistent wifi for their attention. I couldn’t understand for the life of me why, after I had articulated my needs plainly and clearly in written English to my hosts, they thought that this would be sufficient. What made it worse is while I was moving in, the wife had told me the previous year, during their family’s year abroad, she had to have weekly meeting with her job back in Israel. So, she understood the need to have a strong internet connection. At the time I took this as a sign of reassurance that things would work themselves out.
But after I was done teaching and walked back into the house, I was tempted to ask the wife, who was sitting in a corner with Estonia, if she had sat-in on one of those meetings while basking in the great outdoors. Of course, I was not impertinent enough to ask this. No matter how angry I was, I was in no position to be making demands. If they wanted me gone, I’d have no place to go.
But at the same time, I knew that I couldn’t stay there. In all the things that I had done in my life, all the places that I have visited, I had never been in a situation like this one before. Technically, we were volunteers, but I felt more like a servant. As nice as the hosts were, there was a clear distinction between the family and Estonia and me. The family had access to the unlimited access to the internet, the family used an indoor toilet, the family had interior central heating; which, as they lived in the coldest region of this tiny country, was essential.
While I on one hand my anger and frustration were growing, at the same time, there was a part telling myself to calm down. Despite my discomfort, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was just being a spoiled American? I couldn’t help but ask myself, as I always did when things weren’t going my way, if I was asking for too much. But as I sat there at their kitchen table slowly thawing and trying not to stare daggers into Estonia, I realized something—the only person who had to be okay with my method of traveling was me.
Why was I trying so hard to leave my “comfort zone” and embark upon things that I had no business doing? Why was I so convinced that when things weren’t going right that the problem was me? For those who don’t know, the whole point of WorkAway was to volunteer in order to gain knowledge and experiences that we wouldn’t ordinarily have. But at this point in my life, what did I really have to gain by freezing to death and risking my employment in some village in Israel? Surely there had to be a better way to stay in and experience this country.
Suddenly my phone went off, breaking me out of my internal dialogue. While my host was reheating schnitzel for me to eat as a late lunch, I scrolled through my email, stopping when I found my salvation. I had two invitations to volunteer at two different hostels. One was located in the north, in the town of Nazareth and the other was back in Tel Aviv in the neighborhood that I had just left. Not wanting to take another risk, I decided to accept reply to the one in Tel Aviv. I just had to find a way to break it to my host.
But as it turns out, I wasn’t the only on who had had a change of plans.
Tune it for the end of the saga next week.