Normal, better, whiter?

Who knows why… but we find ourselves discussing toilets. We are volunteering with a schools project at a Greek refugee camp, a fellow volunteer, who just happened to be French, asked us what we call the style of toilet, where you squat over a hole in the ground. He was excited to tell us, he calls them a ‘Turkish toilet’. Both of us took great delight in being able to answer that we just happen to call this style of toilet a ‘French toilet’. The poor guy was shocked, slightly appalled and mostly confused……

Lucy often visited France as a child, staying at campsites and roadside aires which often had squat toilets. Claire therefore learnt to call this style of toilet a ‘French toilet’. The French guy was quick to tell us that French people certainly do not have this style of toilet in their homes!

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As volunteers working with refugees, many from Syria and Iraq; we had spent much time asking questions about life in a country we knew little about. Trying to gain insights into the culture, sounds, tastes and sights of the homes these people had left behind. What a culture shock Greece must be, let alone, living in a tent in a military camp, surrounded by mainly white skinned volunteers mostly from the privileged West.  Anyway, back to the important matter of toilets…we’d all noticed the signs in the camp’s portaloo’s showing cartoon images commanding users to sit on the seat and not climb up and squat over the hole. A simple way of indicating what was ‘normal’ in this culture.

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What’s normal anyway?

Well, “Normal” according to the Oxford dictionary means“Conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.” But at this point, for us at least, we hadn’t appreciated how much our language of ‘normal’ can have undertones of ‘better than’, or as the dictionary definition suggests a certain ‘standard’, with deviation from this perhaps being sub-standard?

Spending 5 weeks in India, and 2 months in South East Asia, was enough to help us appreciate the squat-style toilet. They are actually much easier to squat over than a Western style  toilet. And let’s face it hygiene wise, squatting can be the wisest move! Now, neither of us would exactly call ourselves expert squatters, and yes there have been some disasters, when stumbling of a bus at 3am in the morning, into a squat toilet with no light and a door that only covers your middle… But we have a new sense of appreciation that for those brought up using a squat toilet (therefore not needing to acquire this skill in later life) , this is a far more hygienic way, at least for us ladies to relieve ourselves.

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Double decker night  bus from Luang Prabang to Don Det, Laos

Often in a Malaysian shopping centre, there would be the option of both toilet styles. We both noticed ourselves asking out loud to the other one, “which one’s the normal toilet?” without even thinking about the language we were using, or the difference between ‘normal’ for us and ‘normal’ for Malaysia.

This was brought to our attention as sometimes the difference would be indicated by the sign ‘Western Style’ on the front of the door, or sometimes simply with a picture of what you were about to use.

Words are limiting, and the danger is that our brains use them to make short cuts (i.e. Normal=Better?). It’s exciting then that in this technological age we are able to use more pictures, which simply represent an object, without any connotations.

Often in this set up both styles of toilets would have a flush and be equally as clean. Yet we still found Malaysian women, helping us find the ‘normal’ toilet and ushering us into the Western style. Of course normal is just what you’ve experienced most, what’s typical or expected for you.  But the risk is that both the words ‘normal’ and ‘Western’ suggest to everyone ‘better’, its so easy to be West-centric and forget we are part of a global world with many different cultures and norms within in.

Maharaja Mac anyone?

Whilst in Cologne grabbing a 1 euro coffee from a McDonalds (#Walk the tight rope!), to sit and enjoy by the Cathedral, Lucy over heard a somewhat agitated father at the counter asking what meat was in the burgers he’d just ordered. The staff member replied ‘beef’ and went on to say, that if he had asked before ordering she would have explained this. Lucy looked over to see his two children, both with burgers they had taken one bite out of. The father told the staff member “But we are Indian, we don’t eat beef!”. I know, many of you might now be thinking  ‘well don’t go into McDonalds then’ or at least ‘ask if there is a non-beef burger before ordering’. And before spending time in India, we would have thought exactly the same.

 

But we have spent time in India, and whilst you can buy beef in India some places, sometimes, this is made a very big deal of. The fact that it is beef is shouted from the roof tops. India has one of the largest vegetarian population with 30% of the population  being vegetarian, and the majority of those eating meat not eating beef and pork. This is therefore reflected in the language, when ordering food your options often are ‘veg’ or ‘non-veg’, indicating just how normal vegetarian food is.

 

So when all you’ve known is McDonalds in India which does not sell beef or pork (and where it would be clearly indicated if a restaurant did sell beef) perhaps this is not surprising that you expect this to be ‘normal’ for the rest of the world too.

Doona, gum boots, thongs?

Whilst staying with a family in New Zealand in a small, very community-minded town, Claire explained to a beautiful little 5 year old girl, that in England, we call those rubber boots you wear when it’s raining outside ‘Welly boots’. The girl was not at all phased by this and simply told Claire that “in Little River we call them Gum Boots”. This child, was totally happy to have a word she could use to explain things to the people she needed to, in her local community in Little River, whilst at the same time being totally happy that this is not the ‘normal’ word for everyone.

Other ‘normal’ words we came across for common items included doona (used in Australia – especially confusing as I was reading an article about an event taking place in England when a British homeless person gave a stranded couple his doona!) Any guesses? I had no idea, but it means duvet. And thongs, at least I knew what they were the ‘normal’ word for in Australia, before I got into any embarrassing situations. (For those not in the know.. that’s flip flops to us British!)

All of these experiences, have inspired us to #BeInterested in the world around us, question regularly what is normal and how  we can #BeKind, understanding that the language we use affects the world around us.

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A map painted on the wall of a Cambodian community English School. Notice anything different?

Walking the tightrope in Primark

The map tells us it’s a 15 minute walk from the train station to our Airbnb room. We could take a tram, but that’s more money, and time, working out how to buy a ticket, and where to get the tram. And it’s only a 15 minute walk right?!                                                                        I have 20Kilos on my back and another 10 on my front, so we are taking it slow. We know 15 minutes won’t be 15 minutes. But we like a challenge, and we’ve no deadline, so can take all the time we need. About half way there, we’re chatting, moving slowly forward, and satisfied we are walking in the right direction, and then…. my shoe breaks! Not just any shoe, but my beloved flip flops, purchased in Australia; designed in such a way, they’ve been almost all my feet have worn the last 6 months, no matter what my activity. Other than my walking boots, 6 months is a new record for a pair of my shoes on this trip!

the beloved flipflops in action

The beloved flipflops in action!

I’m fairly calm. There are worse situations to be in when breaking a shoe. Whilst having 20 kilos on my back is slightly annoying timing, fortunately the 20 kilos does include, another pair of sandals. So I do a quick change and find a bin for my Aussie thongs.

 

                                      Getting a pair of shoes fixed in India, back in July 2016….

At the rate I go through shoes, I do not feel comfortable being down to one pair of sandals, so it’s fairly high on my agenda to buy a new pair. Having only done 2 weeks of paid work in the past year, and not having any plans to do more any time soon: buying a pair of shoes is not as simple, as it may have been once in my life. I am comforted by a recent piece of knowledge: Primark has arrived in Germany. I can buy a pair of flip flops without it costing more than it would in the UK. I can rest easy!

But then I remember…… I don’t want to be shopping in places like Primark any more…..

Don’t worry this is not intended as a lecture, for why you should stop buying cheap crap, if anything I’m promoting freedom of choice here…..

Many things have led to this ideal for me. I remember being amazed the first time I set foot in Primark in Luton, all those 12 years ago. And just like everyone else I spent more in Primark than I would have in any other shop, because everything felt like such good value. It took me a few years for the penny to drop as to how their clothes were so cheap. Since that time, I have flirted with the idea of giving up Primark (not that they are the only shop that employs cheap labour, but perhaps a symbol of this for me), but have always ended up concluding, if everyone else gets to benefit from cheap stuff why shouldn’t I?

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My travels have cemented for me, that I do want to take action that supports greater equality throughout the world. I see myself as a global citizen, far more than I ever did before; having now seen some of economic injustices around the world.

Whilst in India, I made the decision to commit 10% of my salary to organisations working to reduce global inequality. I knew I had to write it down and commit there and then. I knew once I got home, my desire to do so would reduce, and I would forget the importance. However, since that time, a lot has changed about what we are going back to: I’m not necessarily going to have the salary that I did. So if I never have a salary again, will I never give my 10%?  For now, I want to be able to keep travelling: which means I’m prioritising my money for this goal. How do I prioritise between my want to travel and my want for the world to have greater equality? I know which goal is easier to achieve!  I have now decided it will be 10% of my income, however that income comes in, however small… But then when is it going to start from, when does this new way of life begin? If we want something we have to be disciplined with ourselves. I chose that my ‘travelling stopped’ and my new way of doing life began on the 1st of June.

If anyone has any suggestions of organisations working towards this aim, please comment below! For more on can we end poverty- check out this cool video 

So what does this mean for Primark: I get to spend more money travelling if I buy cheap shoes from Primark, but am I letting another priority of mine slip……?

On the 1st of June, I walked into Primark in Cologne. It’s the first time I’ve been in such a big, discounted clothes shop in over 13 months. I’d made a deal with myself; I was only buying shoes. It was a Thursday, but the three floors of the shop were all packed. It took me a good 10 minutes just to find where the shoes were. My backpack is already heavy, so even though I was drawn to the pretty dresses, I was able to resist. It was slightly harder to avoid temptation walking past the bras, as the one I bought in Australia is losing shape fast, but I managed. After searching through the 10 aisles of colourful cheap shoes, I select a pair for €3 and make my way to the tills. As I queue, I enter into a new battle with myself; not to buy the android charging wire, even though it is so cheap, pink, and mine only sometimes works..!

All of this reminds me of the other reasons, I don’t like shopping in Primark. I find the demand on my senses to spend money, I haven’t decided to spend, stressful. I find the bright, colourful, endless things to buy, stressful.

I’ve always found it stressful; but when living in the UK and wanting to quickly buy something in my lunch break, without having the time to weigh up a more costly purchase, convenience always won out over the stress. Now I don’t have to live my life like that.

Our Guiding Compass point #BeKind, started off as ‘do no harm’, taken from Buddhist philosophy, which I’ve engaged with a bit, along our travels. ‘Do no harm’ has become increasingly important to me. A helpful way to think about each action I do and its effect on others and the earth we live on. However, when writing our Guiding Compass, we wanted them all to read in the positive (Do’s not Don’ts), so this became #BeKind.

Coming out of Primark that day, I thought about #BeKind, and how my actions that day had fitted in with this. We need to #BeKind to ourselves, at the same time as being kind to others and the universe. On some days it is kindest to myself not to shop in a shop like Primark. On other days I have more resilience against the attack on my senses and the kindest thing to do, is let myself have some cheap convenience. Okay, so my ideal is to shop-second hand as much as possible.  I see this as being as kind to the universe as I can be. But I’m also OK with the grey, and that I don’t have to make one decision for the rest of my life. I can #BeKind in whatever way feels appropriate at that time.

Which is where #Walkthetightrope comes into play. I want to be a positive contribution to society, and I am responsible for being kind to myself. I want to be myself and a part of wider society. To do all of this we have to make some compromises, sometimes. And that’s OK. #Walkthetightrope is all about tuning in, to how these compromises affect us, and listening to the choices that allow us to #BeKind to ourselves and others. We won’t get it right all the time, balance takes practice, dedication and the guts to know, you will fall off sometimes, but you can pick yourself up and keep journeying forward.

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What one year of travelling taught me about my need for maps, a coffee pot and ‘home’

I like maps. I’ve always liked maps. Claire and Gemma would regularly, but briefly, lose me as we walked around the streets of Asia. Probably 9 times out of 10, it’d be because I’d stopped to look at a roadside map, or the map on my phone.

lucy map on phone

I have realised more than ever my need to know where I am. I need this map of my geographical area, but perhaps also for my life. Geographically, I need to know where I’m going, and how I will get there ‘the most direct way’, but in terms of life maybe not so much. Of course, I’ve also learnt I also need to know where I’m coming from, and where I need to get back to, where is my home?

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By the way this app Maps.ME is an absolute must for any would-be travellers out there! Or just people walking in their countries; you can download maps for the country you’re headed to. It often has info on walking tracks, loos, cafes.. And it’s totally free. I’m not getting any commission honest!

My need for a coffee pot – At the start of our trip, after a few weeks of enviously, watching, our fellow continental-European campers, make fresh ground coffee each morning in their variously shaped coffee pots; I decided I wanted my own. So then comes the saga involving my, (less than successful) but very much deliberated purchase of my own ‘coffee pot’, which… turned out to be astronomically bad at making coffee. This was about half way through, our three months budget-camping around Europe, accounting for every cent spent. So it was a big deal.

It turns out after multiple cups of very grainy coffee, that I couldn’t seem to avoid, that it was actually a milk frother.. which may, just have been where the problem lay… So, needless to say, me and the (ahem) ‘coffee pot’ went our separate ways.

I hesitate to add that Claire had asked me why, when it said ‘Cappuccino maker’ on the box I thought it would be a coffee pot; but sometimes when you want something that much, you make it be what you want it to be. Claire obviously didn’t let me forget about that incident for a while!

Well jump to a few months later, and me and Claire are in South East Asia, coincidentally reading Committed. A follow up to Liz Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love , which in part, describes her and her partner’s journeying around the very same countries we happened to be in. Well, we both burst into laughter as she describes her and Felipe’s arguments whilst on the road, resulting in his conclusion “I need a coffee pot”. Now, I think I and Felipe shared a similar sentiment in the need for this; not just literally for the benefit of the good fresh coffee every now again, that’s actually affordable; but also the benefit of having something that is ours, a sense of our ‘home’ regardless of who’s actual home we are in, it’s our creature comfort.

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The kitchen sink? Well.. almost.

We essentially have ended up with a mini travelling kitchen. Yes, along with the mini coffee pot; comes a mug each, a mini chopping board, a washing-line, a higgledy-piggledy set of Tupperware, at least one bag of pasta/rice, herbs/spices, a lemon squash concentrate, that’s been going since we bought it in Perth in November, tea bags, a supply of biscuits, in previously stated Tupperware, and 2 forks (recently reduced from 3 to 2 by airport security, who only noticed one of them)!

This has meant, we are not travelling as ‘light’ as we would sometimes like to.  Especially when lugging your backpack on a hot sticky walk.. However, it’s meant we’ve been easily able to feel at home, wherever we are. It also saves us money; we can turn up somewhere for one night only, and be able to cook a simple pasta dish, without having to purchase expensive items from the small corner shop, or eat out, like you might do on a more typical holiday. Not to mention, it can be nice to know the hygiene state of the mug you’re drinking from! Thanks to fellow travellers, we’ve also, often ended up being given freebies (dry foods, tea, coffee, soaps, laundry soap etc), which again saves time and money, and we return this back to the travelling community when we can.

A home – Anyone who’s travelled for any extended length of time, will know about travel fatigue. Not just the actual tiredness from flights, lack of sleep or time changes, but the weary feeling of adjusting to new sounds, sights, places and faces day in day out. A certain amount of change is great, I think its vital. Whether we’re at home doing a 9-5 job, bringing up children or the other side of the world living our travelling dreams. But in any scenario, at least for me, I also need some stability and consistency. And this is where Workaways have really benefitted me. I write about the concept of Workaway and its rewards here: Travel for free? There is such a thing as a free lunch* (sort of!). It means I get to rest my head on the same pillow for 5, 7, 10 even 35 nights in a row, to call it home. Home for me has become having a favourite park or favourite walk, knowing where I can buy my necessities, and having time to hand wash and dry my clothes, or even use a washing machine if I’m lucky!

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So what I’ve discovered about my needs over this year, is, in part, why we have decided to find ourselves a camper! To have a travelling ‘home’, a balance of certainty and change is our dream. Watch this space!

What not working taught me about ‘work’ Part D: Conclusion by Poetry

After a week of work, setting off on foot, with her tent on her back, my Mum texted me, asking me if she had to go back to work tomorrow: I replied straight away with “no”.

After further thought, and reflecting on the previous day spent with a former colleague, who also quit her job, sold her house to travel, and our conversations around work I then replied with this poem:

We trade our souls for security,

To be successful in society

We trade our souls, and get the job done

Pretending busy and stressed in fun

 

We moan and complain, but never think to change the game

But we are all secretly hoping tommorow will bring change

 

We trade our souls and give our lives away

We buy lots of toys to make up for the mistakes

 

We never have enough

There is nothing left to give

Hide my stuff

What is mine is not his

 

We trade our souls for security

We think we are happy in society

 

We trade our souls for security

Quick a new job, will bring me a better day

 

We pour in what we’ve got, and get very little back

And forget to notice when we’ve run out

 

We trade our souls for security

We have what others don’t- we should be happy

 

We trade our souls for security

We get 25 days holiday

 

We trade our souls for security

Let go, let god and find your way

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What not working taught me about ‘work’ Part C: Redefining work, a movement?

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Fabulous film, well worth a watch!

 

I’ve already written about my  brave plunge becoming the travelling privileged, and how this helped me to rethink what I think of as my value. But what does all this mean for my future? Would it be totally irresponsible to not have a regular income, savings and a plan……?

                                   80% of people are unhappy in their jobs 

                                                                                                                                        Forbes

I didn’t know I was one of them.

So I was stressed, tired, felt under appreciated, but all that is normal right?

I mean, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. I’ve always liked the people I’ve worked with; I’ve mostly felt like I was at least making some positive contribution, and I do love new challenges.

Me and Lucy had thought we were conscious, we believed we were choosing to work 9-5 Mon- Fri now, to save up so we could both work part time in the future. Somehow, I knew working part-time was a good goal, even if I could not recognise I was unhappy in my job.pills

The truth is, I was aware of the idea you didn’t have to earn your living working 9-5, but I wasn’t ready, didn’t have the head space to really engage with it, and believed that even if others could do it, it wasn’t really an option for me.

But then.. I quit my job, I did have space, and I have engaged, with a lot!

 

The movement redefining work

Whilst doing a workaway in Airlie Beach, cleaning cabins for a maximum of 3 hours a day, 5 days a week (we never did 15 hours a week!- luck again!) for six weeks; I took a hot, sticky, uphill cycle to a library to print my Parkrun barcode  (How could I have forgotten such an important document?) There was a pile of old books, which I thumbed through and one called out to me, ‘I Could Do Anything, If Only I knew What It Was’  by Barbara Sher.

Sher believes what we are good at, doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with what we should be doing. The book has exercises to help people break through ideas they have absorbed from society,  early childhood and family expectations about the work they should be doing. I think she is brave to have attempted to fit all this in a book, rather than just suggesting everyone has long term therapy… but she pulls it off well. Many of the exercises have helped me to explore, what I enjoy and get energy from, and what I do not want to do for work.

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From Airlie beach, we travelled to another workaway near Cairns, and met an ex-monk (yes that inspiring guy again!). He shared with us, Live Your Legend, a programme encouraging people to “find the work they can’t not do”. He also gently suggested we start a blog. It’s been 3 months since we met him, but that ex-monk sowed the seeds for lessonslearntontheroad.com in many ways. He also gave us, possibly the best piece of advice anyone has given me: “Anything that you can organise better than someone else is of value“, he gave Subway sandwiches as an excellent example of this!

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Beautiful creature, climbing a tree in Cairns

In fact, Workaway has also enabled us to meet people earning their living by doing things they’re passionate about (such as organic farms, retreats, outdoor gear shops, cooking schools)

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Perhaps it was the universe conspiring, perhaps it was what I was choosing to engage with, or perhaps just Facebook tailored-advertising(!), but all of this helped me to notice a movement:

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It seems more people are wanting do make an income doing something they enjoy. Life Coaching has become a big thing, with people wanting to find their passions, and the number of new businesses in the UK reached a record high in 2015. 

However my book telling me I ‘can do anything I want to do’ was written over twenty years ago! She predicts, there will be a change in the work force, which will result in more people becoming experts and consultants in a specialist field, and that freelance work will become the norm. So these ideas – of doing what we love and making a profit from it – have been round for some time.

So… what happened to this ‘we can do anything we want’ movement? I remember at school feeling like we were the generation who had missed the IT boom, we weren’t going to be so lucky. We were also going to have to pay tuition fees if we wanted a university education and who knows what kind of pensions we will receive? Perhaps it was the recession hitting that made me feel that a 1 year contract at a job I wanted, wasn’t good enough; the goal was a full time permanent job, the scarcity made one even more desirable!

But maybe we don’t have to give up 9-5….

I want to acknowledge I know people who are very happy in their work. A good friend is a teacher, who after some time out rediscovered she loves teaching, and it’s totally what she wants to do with her life.

I also know people who have strong boundaries around paid employment. Their time at work is okay, they leave work at work, and have time and energy left for their real passions; choirs, rowing clubs, am dram, allotments, cycling, working a 9 day fortnight and travelling every other weekend!

When I was a sensible professional I remember a more senior colleague saying to me she used to love to cook, but doesn’t have the time or energy anymore. I should have heard this for the warning sign it was, instead I left this job for what I saw as a promotion, managing a team just as unhappy and undergoing as much change as the previous workplace.

About halfway through my travels, this ex-colleague got in touch to tell me she has a horse! You don’t have to quit your job and go travelling. Her horse has completely changed her life, she has to have a boundary on work, because her horse, the thing she loves, is depending on her. Her horse is her real ‘work’.

There are also some positive movements happening within work places, such as social enterprises, where employees are stakeholders and are more likely to have their individual value appreciated. Brene Brown is encouraging workplaces to ‘dare greatly’ and become more humane; by becoming workplaces that shine light on shame, rise to challenging conversations, are innovative and value individual’s contributions. If you are a manager, a teacher, a parent or any kind of leader I strongly recommend you give her book a read ‘Daring Greatly’ (we were already reading it, but the ex-monk also recommended Brene Brown to us!)

There are other conversations about work and value going on today, for example Finland has begun trials for a universal basic income, as a solution to fewer jobs and automation. But with all this noise about different ways to make money – and people even making money by promoting ways to make money – how do we know what to listen to?

And what does all of this mean for me? If my year out of work has taught me nothing else, it’s that I have the same options as anyone else. So if other people can make money doing what they love, so can I. But do I want to? and what do I love doing anyway? and how much money do I want anyway?

 

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Helping Lucy collate thousands of catalogues for delivery in Australia, getting her the sum total of.. 10 quid!

Can I make money from my real work? and is it my real work if I make money from it? Do I want to have my cake and eat it too?

Do I want to just make money doing what I can when I need to, like I did in Australia for two weeks?

 

Something in this tells me, we all have our paths. It’s useful to engage with other people’s stories, but these belong to other people. We are on our paths, and need to listen out to what is right for us.

I’ve always done jobs that are a bit jack of all trades, I like to learn new things and love engaging with as many ideas as I can. I’m OK that I may not have one thing I “cannot not do” but I’m also OK that I may, and if so I am already on my journey to finding it. But I do know I want to have time and energy to be creative. It may not always be ‘good’ but writing, drawing and making things, feel more like ‘my soul’s work’ than a salaried job, I was good at, ever did.

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Anyone who knows me, can now expect a hand made gift.

So for now I am going to redefine what I mean by work. There will be time, when I have to exchange, energy and time (amongst other things) for money or other things that meet my needs. But this is not my work, my work is when I feel inspired, creative and amongst all else free.

I’m stepping out of the norm, watching the ‘movement’ and exploring where I fit in, keeping in check what I’m happy to exchange for what value and what makes my soul happy. My lesson from this road, is that the most responsible thing I can do is do what I can to be happy. It’s one I may have to keep relearning, but it’s a lesson I am committed to!

Everyone has his or her own unique power. It is our responsibility to find that power and use it to the fullest capacity we can in the service of other people.

                                                                                                                                                Toan Lam

What not working taught me about ‘work’ Part D: Conclusion by Poetry is ready to read now!

What not working taught me about ‘work’ Part B: Thoughts on Value

So.. I quit my job, and have found myself travelling for over a year, read more in Part A: The travelling privileged.

This experience has led me to re-evaluate a lot about my life. But a major reoccurring question has been; what is the value I place on my time? and in turn, what is the value I place on myself?

value

‘Value’ first came into question for us, when wwoofing on a farm in Slovenia. This stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and basically in exchange for work on the farm, you receive food and board. At this stage of our trip, our main motivation was for a new cultural experience, whilst saving some money was an added bonus.

For more on work exchange see here for our experiences so farhere and here for other reflections on the rewards and challenges of work exchange.

The WWOOF website sets guidelines of 5 hours per day as being fair exchange for food and board. We’d read about Wwoofer’s not always getting what they expected, so before arriving I asked Lucy what she thought our time was worth. We eventually concluded our ‘value’ at around £5 GBP an hour, so 3-4 hours work a day would be about right, as surely it wouldn’t cost more than £15-£20 a night to put us up and feed us?

Well.. when it comes to farm work (it turns out) this was pretty inflated value!

We arrive around 4pm, and are warmly greeted by the Matriarch of the household, and a fellow Wwoofer. After being shown our room, given the materials we need to give it a quick clean, we are invited to a dinner of pancakes, fried beetroot and sour cherry jam. (YES, I said fried beetroot! This is one of the yummiest things ever, and healthiest of course… ) At dinner we meet the Dad and the adult son, who is our contact from the Wwoofing website.

The next morning, we are told we can help ourselves to breakfast; freshly baked bread and more cherry jam- yum! I then attempt to ask the son what hours we will be working. He is vague to say the least. He attempts to communicate that we are part of the family, and that this is a lifestyle, not work. It takes me a few days to really understand this answer. That day we work 8am until 5pm. It’s the first time me and Lucy have done any real farm work. It is hot. The day is long.

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We do, however, stop for the most amazing lunch, a starter of fresh noodle soup (made by Mum), the tastiest salad I have ever eaten (pumpkin oil; you will not regret trying this!), and a hearty pork chop dish cooked by Dad. There is also plenty of Dad’s homemade boar (wine) at the table. The lunch is a true event, and lasts at least two hours!  We are treated to wondrous fresh delights each day we are there. We are in food heaven.

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But, after lunch we are back to the hot, hard, sticky work. The parents speak very basic English; we use a lot of sign language, google translate and laughter to communicate. This language barrier results in, little or no positive feedback, and on occasions we are told “not good” or “work faster girls,”  and we do a hell of a lot of guessing!

The next day we start work at 7.30am and finish at gone 8pm, of course there is the delicious lunch in-between, but we are so not used to working this hard, for so long! In addition, the unclear expectations affect our ability to pace ourselves, which impacts us both physically and mentally.

 

Me and Lucy know we can leave if we want to; we have money, transport, our tent, and we don’t need to stay. The work is harder than we could have ever expected, but we don’t want to leave; we are gaining something of value. Even though we are giving more of our time than we initially planned, on a ‘feeling’ level we are getting back enough.

Our work included; weeding by hand and with special farm tools, breaking up the dry earth, raking, sorting chamomile, and the hardest task of all.. cleaning lettuces of slugs by drowning them in a bucket of bleach. (I would never do this now, but at the beginning of our trip my Guiding Compass was not so strong… #Bekind)

Towards the end of our stay, we learn the son has recently quit his graduate job to help at the farm, on the condition the farm is organic and implements Permaculture principles. This explained some of the contrast between his attitude and his Mother’s, and we talked a lot about us all having our own journeys.

Not everyone will understand your jourey

Us woofers and the son had a moment of recognition as he suddenly says, “shit, we have all quit our jobs!!” (to much laughter from us all around the table!). This leveller gave us the opportunity to give some honest feedback to the son, regarding the hours and expectations of the work exchange. We were leaving the next day, but this honest conversation led to our fellow Woofer having her first day off, the very next day.

Back to the question of value; reflecting on mine and Lucy’s conversation around what monetary worth we thought we had, we asked the son, what they paid the casual workers on the farm. We were not expecting the answer: 2 euros per hour!  Consider that these women were stronger than us, more skilled than us, and worked faster than us. We were gobsmacked!

So OK.. in our little world in England, me and Lucy took for granted thinking our worth was at least £10 an hour. But, we were slower, clumsier, weaker and needed more instruction and supervision than these women earning £1.69 an hour! This was a huge lesson for us!

So perhaps it was fair exchange that we worked 8 hours or more for our food and board anyways. But even so, we were also gaining so much more than just food and board:

  • learning about organic farming, living from the land
  • being treated so warmly and as part of the family. I guess families are allowed to tell each other to “work faster!”
  • eating the freshest organic food, picked straight from the garden. 
  • experiencing traditional Hungarian food (mmmm langoush)
  • we even got given leaving gifts; freshly picked cherries, home-made jam and boar

and let’s not forget…. the lesson we learnt about value!

The idea of work exchange has really changed the way we think. Before, I thought of salary as value, without even knowing I did. As I increasingly worked in jobs, with little feedback, I increasingly saw my salary as my worth. Whilst I didn’t need more money, a bigger salary was attractive, as feedback for my value.

But a salary is still work exchange, it’s just work exchanged for money. Right now I am work exchanging for a clean, comfy place to sleep, food and experiences I could not gain from anywhere else. 9 out of our 10 work exchanges so far, have been experiences of such warmth. Not only have we had invaluable cultural exchange, and learnt new skills, but we have been made to feel welcome in the world, just for being us! Three of our hosts in NZ even lent us their cars, a level of trust rarely experienced in our old lives. 

On our travels we have met (at least!) two inspiring people, who have lived lives doing long term work exchanges for a period of at least 2 years. One, who had the courage to leave his monastery, knowing he could survive by doing work exchange around Australia, after having given up his worldly possessions to become a Buddhist monk. Another, who work exchanged around New Zealand, living in a converted school bus, with her two children under 5. She learnt everything she knows about the land from these experiences, and went on to build the most beautiful cob house, in the Northland, with work-exchangers helping her to do so.

As I prepare to head to my little Island of origin, I know I need some money. I want to be able go for drinks with friends, celebrate loved one’s birthdays, and I am at that age of weddings….  And for these reasons, I’m happy to exchange some of my time, some of my energy and effort, some of my creativity and a lot of my friendliness for money.

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I’m even happier to exchange these things working on projects that are loved by their owners, in exchange for food and accommodation and time with inspiring people!

But I am not happy to exchange my work for these things. My work is mine; the activities that I choose to apply effort to, when I am feeling I have the right energy. It is my creation; it is something that gives back to me. Sometimes my work is private, and sometimes it tells the world something about me. Me and my work have value just as they are. A salary or job title is not the symbol of my worth.  And it’s great to know, through work-exchange I can have the things I need (food, somewhere to sleep, and being part of a community), and still have the time and energy for my own work.

Part C- Redefining work, a movement? is on it’s way.

What not working taught me about ‘work’ Part A: The travelling privileged

Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge the major privilege I’ve had in being able to quit my job, and have very little money worries, for over a year.

It was a privilege I chose to act upon, and it’s one of the bravest choices I’ve ever made.  In fact, before ‘that weekend’, it was a door I chose to not only keep firmly closed, but pretend  didn’t even exist, not for me anyways. I was a sensible girl, who wanted a family and craved security. That meant I would be happy if I had a steady job, and if it was one where I was also helping people, then even better!

even FB wanrs to know what job i do                                                 Even Facebook wants to know what job I do!

But I am grateful that choice did exist for me, and I acknowledge it existed because of some external luck factors:

  • I happen to have been born in a wealthy, high earning country (that said, we have met people travelling from countries, where they’ve had to work a hell of a lot longer to save a hell of a lot less, and they have managed to travel further and longer!)
  • I had access to an affordable education system. Whilst I did have to apply effort to attend (and then stay in) University, I had access to a graduate job.
  • Both me and Lucy have received inheritance money at some time or other
  • I have a saving savvy wife, which I don’t always appreciate, when I’m wanting to buy ice cream! Who enabled us to both to save whist earning. Left to my own devices, who knows what I would have spent my money on!
  • We both have supportive family and friends. Who after getting over the initial shock, encouraged us to follow our hearts. And whilst we haven’t had to use it yet, we know they have a safety net around us, should we need anything! So don’t all go quitting your jobs and living like mavericks!

 I am grateful for these things, but mostly I’m grateful I dared to take the leap. Because this was the thing that could have stopped me from ever actually living my life!

live me life

Not spending time at work has enabled me to:

  • Spend time with myself
  • Test out being creative. It took me a week to sit and write something in my journal, after we set out on our trip. This was the first time I’d written something non-work related, since leaving school!
  • Engage with ideas. Time to read all kinds of books, listen to podcasts and Ted Talks, and the freedom to really think
  • Meet people who are living their lives in all sorts of creative ways.
  • See some of the world and realise the world is not such a big place.

I also feel super lucky, that travel is easier than it has ever been before. The internet allows us to book accommodation last minute, find cheap deals, stay connected with friends and family back home, connect with other travellers and find work exchange opportunities (see no such thing as a free lunch). I was also raised speaking English, and whilst it is a mixed blessing, as I will always struggle to have the drive to learn another language, I do appreciate the advantage this gives me, when travelling.
I'm free

Travel provided me with an external focus, a level of routine and purpose, without being all consuming. I can see now, how I allowed my paid employment to consume all of my energy and much of my time. Perhaps I used work as a distraction from getting to know my true self.

Travel gave my time meaning, but the way we have travelled; slowly and flexibly, allowed me the time I needed; to be busy, to play, to think, to read, to write and to just be.

Alongside time, travel has opened my world up, geographically and metaphorically. I have been able to engage with many ideas, but I have also seen these ideas being lived out.

Of course, not everyone needs to be set free from paid employment to feel free, and not everyone has to go travelling to not give all of themselves to paid employment. But for me this was the right combination and at the right time.

So what has all of this taught me about work?

Stay tuned for Part B: My Thoughts on Value, on it’s way soon!

she travels to learn

Work exchange experiences so far…..

  1. Helping on a farm in Slovenia for 5 days. Our first experience of eating freshly picked food, with every meal! IMG_20160529_154005417
  2. Helping at after school English classes in a Cambodian village, for 5 days. Experiencing the children’s dedication to their learning and the fun they brought to it.20161006_145136
  3. Helping clean cabins at a holiday park in Airlie beach for 6 weeks. Having our own home in the most beautiful tropical surroundings.20170126_133715.jpg
  4. Helping with gardening and rainforest management at a raw vegan facility in Kuranda for 8 days. Meeting some truly inspiring people, in a very special location.P1040129.JPG
  5. Helping with a building project in the beautiful little town of Little River outside of Christchurch for 7 days. Being completely welcomed into the family and spending time with their vibrant 5 year old with such a beautiful soul.  20170311_095208
  6. Dethatching the lawn and building a fence in Christchurch for 11 days. Experiencing the best hospitality and having the opportunity to complete projects together.20170316_143212.jpg
  7. Helping with preserving food from the land and gardening for 5 days, meeting yet more inspiring people, learning new skills and having impromptu music sessions20170404_102758.jpg
  8. Helping on a garlic farm in Northland New Zealand. Learning how to ask for what we need, and recognising what’s a good work exchange experience for us, as well as meeting a lad from Japan with the most beautiful smile!20170410_130733.jpg
  9. Helping on an avocado farm in Whangarei for 12 days. Meeting yet more cool people, being taken on a tour of the most beautiful beaches, and being free roam to pick from the veggie garden.20170425_150959.jpg
  10. Helping at a cooking school in Penang for 10 days. Learning about food, buying food, prepping food, cooking food and eating food!penang cooking.jpg

To be continued….

Washing up in other people’s houses

Washing up is just one of those daily activities we all do, without even thinking about, a bit like brushing our teeth. Except, every now and again something happens where we do, really have to think about it….even if we would rather not.

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  • Perhaps, it’s the roommate that leaves their dirty dishes in piles in the sink. Or never washes up your favourite pan, in time for you to cook your dinner.
  • Perhaps, it’s when putting the dishes away, after a party, you notice someone has not washed up your things, to your standards.
  • Perhaps, it’s finding the dishwasher always full of clean items with dirty plates piled on top.
  • Or perhaps, its living with a partner for the first time, being very surprised that they leave the soap suds to drain, instead of rinsing them off. Because all the best people know, the proper way to wash up, is to rinse the soap off!

It turns out that washing up, is quite an intimate act.  Somehow, we learn how to do it, often unconsciously. Maybe from picking up on family clues, and being told when we’ve done it wrong… Then, we know how to get things clean, and of course our way is the best way to get the plates, forks and spoons clean. Otherwise, we would do it another way. The way we have been given by our families and cultures is just obviously best!

Of course, other than those who really can’t wash up (although I would put this down to effort rather than skill-it is never too late to learn! ) dishes do become clean, in all different types of ways.

So what does my Workaway host expect?  Is washing up ‘correctly’ so deeply entrenched in who they are, that they may just expect me to wash up the same way they do? Or are they one of those people, who have clocked onto to there being many different ways in life to get the same result? And how do I know where my host is on this scale, the very first evening I’ve met them, after they’ve just cooked me a delicious meal?!

Two hosts recently provided guidance on washing up in their home, before I even got to the sink. One in Australia where water shortages are a reality, and another in rural New Zealand, where water was heated on a back burner from the fire, and therefore more precious.

I appreciated the upfront guidance and clarity before I started the task, and it also helped me to think about my own water usage and the things I take for granted (like getting hot water on tap- literally!). In Australia, I was hosted at a raw vegan food sanctuary, and learnt that no chemicals are needed to clean plates, when no meat or fats are used (I also learnt this diet is very filling and yummy!)

Being hosted at a Workaway has many rewards and challenges; I want my host’s life to be made easier by hosting me, not harder (no one wants to re-wash up after the Workawayer!). But I’m learning that trying to second guess what my host wants isn’t helping anyone. I’m learning to trust that a host will either know they want something done a specific way, and tell me, or they’ll be relaxed about the approach, as long as the plates get clean. I’m grateful to all my hosts so far, for; welcoming me into their families, sharing intimacies, their open mindedness to difference, the clarity given around expectations, and for the fantastic conversations over the kitchen sink!

IMG-20170509-WA0005To see all the places we have washed up so far, see Work exchange experiences so far…..