Before I get into the primary story of this post, you should know that my transition back into the home of Christine and Alain Blancart was a complete success. After two different bus rides, several long waits, and a good amount of time to myself, I arrived yesterday to what felt like a real homecoming. Within minutes of my arrival, we were laughing like old friends, recounting stories just two weeks old, and planning all the adventures we will have in the next two weeks. Needless to say, all is well.
Before we start thinking about the Moulin Ruel, however, we have to address my departure from the Petit Ane Bleu. As you could probably tell from the tone of my last blog post, I spent a fair amount of time in the last two weeks frustrated by the farm’s environment, the constant flow of hiking customers, and the lack of progress I felt I was making. In the midst of all the work that had to be done, I often concluded that my hosts were oblivious or exploitative and did not fully grasp the exchange behind the WWOOF program. Since then, the planting of a tree and a long bus ride have drastically changed my perspective.
Unbeknownst to me, the tradition at the Petit Ane Bleu is that each WWOOFer plants a tree to commemorate their contribution to the farm. As the second to last day was concluding, Denis guided me to his collection of potted trees, encouraged me to pick one , and began thinking about where it could be planted. My choice, an unnamed tree that is supposed to grow tall and provide lots of shade, was rooted in my desire to leave a truly lasting and useful sign of my time on the farm. The next day, Denis showed me to a spot just behind his home where my tree will one day provide enough shade to keep the house cool under the hot, Ardèche sun. For an hour, I dug a profound hole, surrounded it with rocks, planted the tree, and covered its base with dried thorns (meant to dissuade the digging dogs…). In the end, the well-protected tree was a sight to make any landscaper proud and left me with mixed emotions about the following day’s departure.
Having said goodbye, I began thinking about the nature of the tree and how it represents something much larger than the shade it will one day provide. While I often concluded that the lack of guidance I received from Denis and Hind was rooted in a lack of care for my project or the spirit of exchange, the planting of my own tree made me realize how very much they appreciated my contribution to their farm. Sitting there alone on the bus, I began to see that the tree, with its majesty, longevity, and continuing contribution, is a physical symbol of my work (as I planted it) and a metaphorical representation of my contribution to a hardworking and struggling family. In the end, it was not really that they wanted to use my labor in exploitative fashion, but rather, that they were so burdened by each day’s struggle to earn a bit of money that my passing was hard to register.
This realization, that Denis and Hind were often uninterested because they were stressed by their work, led me to reflect on the nature of stress and how it changes the way people perceive others. For two weeks, I assumed that Denis and Hind did not care about my agricultural progress because they were uninterested. The truth, however, was that their stress forced me to wrongly perceive their motivations and led me to draw incorrect conclusions about their characters and personalities. Though the realization was a shock, it is actually a process that we all experience most days. Whether frustrated by work, an essay, family responsabilites, or relationships, we often let our own problems change the way we treat others and therefore, the way they perceive us.
Considering the effect that their stress and my blindness had on my experience, I think we can all conclude that it is easy to treat others poorly when we are feeling overwhelmed. Maybe then, what we should attempt instead is to see the situation from the perspective of other’s around us and treat them the way they deserve. If Denis and Hind had seen the situation from my perspective, the entire experience could have been different just as a quick assesment of my friends’ frustration at school would force me to see that my stress was bringing everyone down.
Thus, in retrospect, I think it is unfortunate that the last two weeks progressed poorly, but at the same time, there is no one to blame. I was confounded by my own frustration, they were consumed by their own stress, and no one grew as much as they could have. I hope then, that as I go forward, I can learn to see the effects of stress more clearly, and maybe through my experience, you can do the same. In the end, if everyone thought a little about the effect they have on others, be it stress-related or environmental, we could start to see our own faults and move forward with change.