I sit outside of the hostel that Dario and Laura own in Cholila doing my laundry in a bucket of water situated between my knees. The dust encrusted on my socks from my morning runs here has turned the water completely brown. To match, what looks like a year’s worth of dirt sits underneath the toenails of my bare feet. I have rolled up my pants and the sleeves of my t-shirt to display the growing out of places that are usually shaven. I scrub my clothing to the tune of “My Heart Will Go On” from The Titanic translated into Spanish, which, along with a plume of smoke, emanates from the place where Cholila is hosting the national Fiesta del Asado. Vast, open hills, used only for grazing animals if at all, lead up to snow-covered peaks nestled back in the valleys beyond Cholila. It smells like the horses in the pasture across from the hostel; in fact, the entire town smells of horses. I hang my clean clothing on the line and walk inside to make some mate.
Sometimes I feel like an actress of sorts – playing the part of a woman living in the campo and then going inside to write about it on my MacBook. Past roles include the Nepalese trekking guide, the construction worker in Kenya, a cosmopolitan scientist living in Buenos Aires. Acting is the best I can do, because I won’t pretend that after a couple of months I completely understand what it is like to live in Africa or in the Argentinean campo. I grew up in Marin, for goodness’ sake. My job is to play the part the best that I can, and then to bring my understanding of it along with me as I move through life.
A day in the Argentinean campo begins at 7:30, for me, when I coax myself out of my down sleeping bag and into shorts and a t-shirt to run the hour, out and back, to the mirador/viewpoint above Dario and Laura’s property. Kimún, the farm’s dog, ran with me the first morning, and since then has been waiting outside my door every morning at 7:30 to join me again. On my first night here, Laura, Katie (a volunteer here from England) and I made bread laden with seeds and different types of flour, so we toast some of that and eat it with honey from some of Laura’s beehives for breakfast. Then, the work of the day begins, which does not have a theme or routine, but rather is based on what needs doing day by day. So far, I have put up fencing around a new garden area, helped to try to fix the pump that brings water up from the lake to the farm, and completely reorganized the downstairs of Dario and Laura’s house with Katie. We eat dinner around 10:30, since it doesn’t get dark until 9:30, and generally talk passionately about environmental issues with Dario for a bit before going to bed.
I’m still not sure exactly what my goal is here. The farm is a bit disorganized, so it’s hard to tell what project I could get involved with and actually be doing something gratifying and useful. Besides, the work they do is a lot of what I have done before: mud plastering here and there, a little garden work, a little work generally fixing and organizing things. Kaleuche (as they call it) is less of a farm and more of an experimental property. Things like fixing the water pump or checking out the windmill that provides energy for the entire property interest me most so far. I am starting to look at it as more of a homestay than farm work, which will give me a chance to speak a lot of Spanish and to fall into the routine of a family. Who knows… maybe something unexpected will come out of it.