I spent the first ten days of September in Tairua on the east coast of the Coromandel. A week prior to coming I spoke with Gina, owner of All Things Organic, about training on Thursday in preparation of the weekend.
The shop, cozy and scented like tea tree oil and patchouli was empty. The woman working the shop had long grey and white hair and was adjusting product on the shelves as I entered. Apparently Gina did not inform her one of two employees, Vanya, that I was working today. She was frustrated but it seemed as though this was a common occurrence – the lack of communication. We carried on for a few hours, meanwhile still unsure if I was in the correct place and if this information would be pointless. Suddenly this tiny, cheery woman bounded into the shop. We both looked at each other for several seconds until she says, “Are you our new WWOOFer?” I looked at Vanya like she would know my reason for being there. “Yes,” I say hesitantly.
With Gina’s kids, Lincoln, 7, Archer, 6, and Kiana, 3, we made it to the Easton’s lifestyle block at the top of Tairua. I later learned that a lifestyle block is like having a farm without all the responsibilities of a real farm. For instance, the Easton’s were in the progress of building their garden and had chickens that don’t lay eggs. There were four additional WWOOFers staying in the four-bedroom home. I slept on the bottom bunk with a young man from Tahiti sleeping on top and next to us was Elin, from Colorado. The bedroom over was Max and Alex, a German couple. Gina, her husband Lance and the kids slept together on three mattresses pushed together. One bathroom.
The next day I trained with Vanya again and made the ugliest ice cream cone in New Zealand. That being said, it was my first ice cream cone ever. And they eventually got better, in an abstract sort of way. It was Friday night and all the WWOOFers went to the bar, Manaia, but were exhausted after one drink. The next morning I was scheduled to open and worked the first four hours alone. I did all the tasks I remembered from the previous morning and was very anxious. I was expected to receive inventory and price it, handle cash (math!) and answer the phone, etc. This was the epitome of New Zealand culture and work exchange- trust and go with the flow. I signed no papers, there was no background check and Gina and I had never met before I started “working” in her shop. In America, even volunteers receive background checks. Of course there is the argument that this attitude differs from person to person. Even so, work exchange is built on the foundation of trust. It is always a lottery, and sometimes you lose the lottery.
For instance, the Tahitian guy, he’s 19, has been staying with Gina and Lance for nearly 3 weeks because he’s sorting out his bank account and passport (?). He doesn’t have the best work ethic or initiative, but he is friendly and curious. Gina would like for him to leave but doesn’t want conflict, and so he stays. There are also horror stories of ungrateful hosts. Thus far, I haven’t experienced anything worth scaring me away from future work exchange jobs.
The days spent in Tairua were generally the same, I would work in the morning then spend a few hours in the library writing and using the Internet. Elin and I visited the Pinnacles, which I wrote about in the previous blog post. It was nice to get away from the crazy house and breathe fresh, forest air. Often the WWOOFers would work more than four hours spent at the shop, from cleaning the house that could take several hours, to preparing dinner for nine people and washing the dishes afterwards. The house was rarely quiet, with the kids given permission to scream and run indoors. Gina didn’t believe in scolding, but instead giving appreciation when the kids did something nice or helpful. They were nice kids until they wouldn’t let you into your room without a password, or kick your shins or lick a spoon before putting it back into the communal honey jar.
On one of the rare sunny days I went to the top of Mt. Paku, actually a large hill, with Max and Alex. The view was stunning. I haven’t yet experienced an ugly view in New Zealand. One of the perks from working at All Things Organic was the free ice cream or smoothies for the WWOOFers. They even had yogurt for the cones! I am sure I gained a few from the daily chocolate dipped, real fruit yogurt cones. I was a kid again, legs pumping on the swing set with a dripping cone in hand. Happiness can be so simple!
I was anxious to get on the road again, ready to have some peace and quiet in my van. It was a nice change, though, to meet other backpackers and find solace in our adventures. On her way out the door, Gina gave me a reusable All Things Organic bag and a kiwi keychain. Pieces to remind me of the insane Easton home.
I apologize for not having better photos. This only proves how crazy every day was, there wasn’t a time to take a family portrait.