Monday, March 26, 2012

Farm dreams

Back in the States, I led a pretty healthy, organic life. Whole Foods was my peaceful sanctuary during my lunch break and farmers' markets made me incredibly happy. I loved chatting with the farm owners and finding out when kale or asparagus would be in season again. I knew which fruits and vegetables needed to be organic, and which ones you could get by with buying regular. If I bought meat, I knew where it came from and made sure he was a happy cow before… well, you know. I was strict about buying organic, fair trade, shade grown coffee. I enjoyed this lifestyle.

My sister-in-law, who has similar thoughts and beliefs, suggested that I read Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle". It is a true story about the author and her family living off their land for one year. Everything they ate had to be grown either on their land or purchased from another farmer within 50 miles. Each chapter covered one month and she went into detail about what they planted that month, what was in season and even included a few recipes for creative dishes they made. I was shocked to find out how much of the food we eat is entirely out of season or worse, shipped in from South America  not to mention how many animals have been genetically altered.

That's when I decided... I want a farm! I want to grow organic food and gather fresh eggs from my backyard! I want to pick my own fruit! I want to make my own cheese! I want to browse gardening magazines and seed catalogs! I want a donkey! Yes, this is the life I want. I had even gone as far as looking at real estate online. I found some great farms for sale (and by farm, I mean a house with 2-3 acres) in Kentucky, Upstate New York and even Costa Rica. This was my plan post-Peace Corps. I had no idea how I was going to pay for this or maintain a job while simultaneously milking my cows, but I was going to figure it out. 

And then I moved here.

At first it was cute… the cows, pigs and chickens meandering down the dirt road, the roosters crowing outside my bedroom in the morning. I remember one day during training, we saw a few pigs rooting around the school. My boyfriend, who happened to live next door, looked over at them and casually said, "Yep, those are my pigs." Another morning there was a donkey in the schoolyard, just hanging out, minding his own business. Like I said, it was cute. We were doing the Peace Corps thing! But after a year of being woken up by these crazy animals, I'm kind of over it. 


I was in Tbilisi all weekend and when I got home yesterday afternoon, I opened the gate and noticed we had some new members of the family: four white chickens, happily clucking around the yard, along with Steve and Henry, our roosters. I smiled and went inside, not thinking about what this meant to my peace of mind.

It was 5:38 this morning. Something must have riled up the chickens because all four of them were right under my bedroom window, clucking like they had just heard the craziest gossip. I guess the roosters wanted in on the action, so they started crowing. And, little did I know before coming here, when one rooster crows, they all crow. First it was Steve, then Henry, then the rooster next door, then another rooster slightly farther away… so on and so on, until at least 7 or 8 of them were in competition with each other. Then the turkey got all twitterpated, so he started gobbling. And to top it off, the neighbor's giant dog started barking, I think telling them all to shut up. It was pure chaos. Crowing, clucking, gobbling, barking… and it lasted for 45 minutes. I tried to cover my head and go back to sleep but it didn't work. At one point, I wondered if there was such a thing as an animal hit man. Or maybe just a kidnapper. Either way, I knew right then that my farm dreams were officially over. 

I still want a small organic garden, but never again will I have chickens, turkeys, cows, pigs or roosters anywhere within a 5-mile radius of my home. I like my sleep entirely too much, and will happily let someone else gather my eggs, pick my fruit and milk the cows. But maybe I'll still get that donkey...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

4 weeks without water

From what I've heard, this has been an unusually cold winter for Georgia – one of the coldest in years. Awesome! This is, of course, following one of the hottest summers in Georgia. Hmmm... the hottest summer and the coldest winter? But global warming doesn't exist, right?!  

Winter in Kvareli
Sorry, back to winter... this year's first snowfall came in November, which was unseasonably early. It snowed again in December, then dumped on us in January and the flakes kept falling well into February. As a February baby, I love wintertime. I love the cold, crisp air. I love bundling up. I love watching the fat flakes fall from the sky, whether I'm out walking in it or curled up by the fire with a cup of hot tea. I love snow-covered trees. I love skiing and sledding. I love snowmen and snow forts. I truly love winter.

But I've had enough.

One day in January, I woke up to find we didn't have any water. It wasn't a big deal though; we typically lose water every month for a day or two. So I did what I could using the water from my filter and headed into work. My office didn't have a water issue, which was nice, so I figured once I got home the water would be on again. Well, it wasn't. And it didn't come back on for 4 weeks. FOUR. WEEKS.

Turns out, our water pipes had frozen and burst – and to top if off, we couldn't have it fixed because the ground was frozen and the pipes were buried under 3 feet of snow. Great, we'll just wait until it gets warmer… no problem! But it never got warm... it just kept snowing and then freezing overnight. I remember thinking that we might not ever have water again. It was depressing.

A lot of my friends and family have asked me how I managed without water for so long. At the time, you just do what you can and get on with your day. What other choice do you have really? But it certainly wasn't fun or easy, that's for sure. So here's how we did it...

We have wonderful neighbors who have a well, so every other day the mother would come over to get these 3-gallon plastic jugs from my host grandmother. She would take them home, fill them up and haul them back over. And she did this in her slippers no less! We had 6 of these jugs which we kept in the kitchen and used for cooking. 

Our wood-burning stove
We also had an 8-quart pot on the stove that always had hot water in it, in case you needed to wash your hands or do the dishes. To do that, you would scoop out some hot water with a mug, mix it with cold water and then wash your hands or the dishes in a shallow metal basin. That was easy enough.

But cleaning the house? Forget about it. Laundry? Nope. Toilets? Well, we had a big galvanized bucket that we filled with snow and melted on the stove. Once it was melted, I would carry the bucket upstairs and leave it in the bathroom. There was a ladle that you could use to scoop out water and "flush" the toilet. For me, this was the hardest part of not having water. It was so not awesome.

Showers? Um, I just didn't shower. I happened to be in Tbilisi twice over this four-week period, so I made a point to stop by the Peace Corps office to shower. We have a lounge in the office that is just for Volunteers, and the shower in there is incredible. Nice pressure, hot water… it's divine. We also had a Peace Corps conference during this time, so I was able to shower in a hotel – what a treat that was! The rest of the time I just went without bathing. Oh, except for the one bucket bath I took. I had the 8-quart pot of hot water, another pot of cold water and a plastic bucket. I would mix the hot and cold together until I got the perfect temperature, and then use a scoop to dump the water over me. Normally I don't mind bucket baths… they get the job done and use a lot less water than a shower. But the problem in the winter is... you get SO cold when you're not pouring water over yourself! A freezing cold concrete bathroom does not make for a pleasant spa-like experience. 

But somehow, we managed to get through it. A few weeks ago, we had a group of men come over to replace the pipes. Previously we had old metal pipes (mmm, I love drinking lead!) and thankfully, they were replaced with nice, new plastic ones. Since then, my water has been clear, cold and fresh. And most importantly, consistent! 

Like I said, being without water for an entire month wasn't fun or easy, but that's what the Peace Corps is all about... learning how to adapt to situations that are completely out of your control, learning how to be patient and most importantly, having a sense of humor. I mean come on… not showering for 8 days is kind of funny, no?!?