“Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
– Gustave Flaubert
We were really excited heading in to our first work exchange experience. We left Copenhagen in the morning on a train, headed to the south of Denmark. We weren’t sure what to expect. We were going to a winery for a week and had hoped to participate in a harvest and learn a bit about the wine making process. Our host did let us know that unfortunately there was no harvest this year – it had been too cool and rainy. But there would be other work for us. And hey – we were headed to an island in Denmark…. how bad could it be?
Getting there was quite a process. We took a train, then another train, then a bus and then a ferry…..and our host picked us up and took us to his home in a car. He gave us a quick tour of the island. It is filled with fruit – acres and acres of beautiful fruit…apples, plums, figs and berries that are absolutely succulent and delicious. About 450 people live on the island and there is one church and one little grocery store.
Our accommodations were in a small trailer around the corner from the house. It was probably 40 years old or so and had 1 electrical outlet that was jerry-rigged. The family has free-range chickens and geese, with all that that implies. The birds liked to go up on the table outside or gather in the walkway leading to the door to the house. They did what chickens and geese regularly do…..We used the bathroom facilities and internet in the main house and our host said that we should make ourselves at home while we were there. They were truly as nice as they could be -- husband and wife and 2 daughters in 6th grade and 1st grade.
We went out on bikes to explore the island. The beautifully kept church is right by the sea. We visited a little harbor and got a feel for our surroundings. They fed us a great dinner and we settled into the tiny trailer for the night, waiting to see what our work would be the next day.
The first things we got to do was to walk the dog. Then Greg started helping put siding on a renovation of a sunroom into a bedroom. He used a handsaw to cut the wood and screws to fasten the pieces to the wall. Life on the island is simple. When Greg asked about tools he was told that electric tools weren’t really needed for a job this small – you save time but then you’ve spent a lot of money and have extra time on your hands. If you need lumber or nails or tools from the hardware store, you have to go to the mainland to get it.
I got to go to their orchard and pick plums, which was great. It is very meditative work and if you get hungry, you can just eat a plum! It was a lovely day and the plums were absolutely delicious. There’s nothing like eating ripe fruit right off the tree. Some of the plums were too high for me to get so I stacked fruit crates together and stood on them to reach as high as I could. I didn’t have a ladder.
In the afternoon, I painted the ceiling in the addition until I ran out of paint. They would have to go to the mainland to get more paint to finish the ceiling. We took another bike ride after we were done with our work for the day. Our hosts invited some musician friends over for dinner who were on the island picking fruit as it apparently pays reasonably well, for fruit picking. They were from Italy, Spain and Greece. It was a very international table and they are interesting people.
The next day I walked the dog and pitted all the plums I had picked the day before and did some painting outside. Greg continued work on the renovation but really wished that he had different tools. We figured out how to download House of Cards onto our phone and watched an episode in the trailer before we went to sleep. The next day it rained, which made it hard to do outside work. We did what we could and then ended up in the living room of our host’s house, working on the computer. The day we arrived, they had slaughtered a goose and on this night, which turned out to be our last, they served it for dinner. We downloaded 3 episodes of House of Cards and watched them in the trailer during a giant storm that caused them to stop the ferry for the evening.
We didn’t feel like we were contributing as much as we wanted and the rain made it even harder. Our hosts were as nice as they could be but our accommodations were not what we expected. We anticipated modest sleeping and bathroom conditions and don’t require much, but it became uncomfortable after a few days. We wondered if it was a cultural thing. We asked ourselves if we are just too accustomed to cleanliness or if that a reasonable expectation. We really wanted to learn about wine and that just wasn’t in the cards on this occasion. Our hosts were very very nice -- they even baked us fresh, delicious bread on more than one occasion -- but we decided that we would cut our time on the island short and head back to Copenhagen to see Chelsea and Sam. It was a very interesting first work exchange experience. It gave us a lot to think about as we move forward in this way of life. It will be interesting to see how things go from here……stay tuned.
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