Monday, 9 April 2012

Rosie's House

I have been meaning to write this post for several days now, but I just couldn't seem to get it done.

It may be because I haven't had the time. When we weren't working, we were usually at the table having leisurely meals full of excellent food, wine and conversation with Rosie, our host. It may also be simply because I didn't know what to say. How do I explain this experience in a way that does it justice?

Someone recently asked me what has been the highlight of this trip so far, which got me thinking: what do I consider a "highlight" among a collection of experiences, sights, people and moments that are all memorable, whether they are good or bad? Trekking to Machu Picchu was certainly unforgettable, but so was the night in Sucre when we sat around our hostel courtyard with new friends and drank a case of wine, laughing and sharing stories until early morning.

Our most recent highlight falls into the latter category, that is, the experiences we have that are memorable because they are so human.We spent the last two weeks volunteering in the same region of Patagonia where we worked previously, but this time, at the home of Rosie, a middle-aged British woman who has been living in Argentina for over 30 years. Rosie lives by herself in a small wooden house on four remote acres of land and takes in a few backpackers a year to help her with gardening, fruit picking and landscaping. As "payment" for the work, she provides room and board.

But that exchange, manual labor for basic hospitality, isn't the point. Far from it.

Yes, we worked, but that part of the experience was largely forgettable. What made this place, and this person, a highlight of our trip was the exchange that went far deeper than work or meals. The true exchange took place when we would all cook together, Vincent and I clumsily learning to fold the dough to close our homemade empanadas, or watching as Rosie took yet another of her fresh fruit crumbles out of the oven. The exchange happened at the end of the meal, as one of us would serve the others another glass of wine, the conversation flowing easily. It happened when the three of us went out in town to watch a Spanish guitar concert at the small venue run by one of Rosie's acquaintances and then discussed the musical styles we like on the drive home. At those times, no one was counting work hours or making sure everything was perfectly equal. It wasn't a work exchange; it was a friendship.

And it was an opportunity for us to learn. We learned about a lifestyle that is far removed from our own- one of simplicity, little waste, sustainability and community. Rosie lives in a house smaller than our old apartment; a house heated by a fireplace enclosed in brick so as to radiate heat throughout the little area. She cooks on a wood-burning stove, which also acts as a heater, as well as an oven. She line-dries her clothes and doesn't own a TV, a dishwasher or a microwave. Her car is old enough to vote.

Rosie produces only one small plastic grocery bag of non-recyclable trash a week. Organic waste is composted, paper is burnt, glass and aluminum re-used or recycled. Her sink and bathwater are drained directly back to the land for irrigation. She and the neighbors in her small, rural community swap and share the various goods they produce: homemade jams, chutneys, juices and beers.

Rosie eats almost exclusively whole foods, often organic and mostly local, but not because it is a current trend. She doesn't buy these products to feel self-righteous about being a responsible consumer. She buys them because it's economical and ecological, and in doing so, she is supporting local producers, like herself, who are trying, often in vain, to live off the land. Her lifestyle is not easy, and part of its simplicity is a result of necessity, not ideology. Yet despite its perceived discomfort or inconvenience, there is something deeply appealing about the idea of only having what you need.

Witnessing Rosie's lifestyle and the simple comfort of her home has made us re-evaluate what we need in order to have a good quality of living. Do we really need a microwave? A dryer? Do any of us really need two or three guest rooms in our house? More than one car per adult, or a new car instead of a used one? It's so easy to confuse what we want, or what other people have, with what we actually need, and often, the more we have, the more unsatisfied we are.

While traveling, we have witnessed whole populations living with much, much less than what we consider necessary in our own countries. We have had a taste of living more simply just by backpacking with the bare essentials. But living with Rosie has been our first opportunity to experience the reality of it. It's the first time we have been able to ask about the benefits and drawbacks, to really understand what it means to simplify. And it has given us a lot to think about.

That's not to say we are going to go all Thoreau on you and go live an isolated life in the woods. It's not even to say that we will change the way we live or consume when the trip is over. It is certainly not to say that you should change your habits. I don't have the answers for myself, so I won't even begin to pretend that I have the answers for anyone else. But it has made us reconsider the way we live and the way we want to live.

Our time with Rosie taught us countless other things too. We have learned about Argentine and British culture, as well as how this particular region has changed over the last few decades. We have learned about the effects of tourism and immigration on a place, the tensions that run deep among a diverse population. We have learned a new style of cooking, which, I have to say again, is amazing. Rosie is truly a superior cook and after two weeks of eating her masterpieces, I have the thighs to prove it. We have learned the art of conversation from a host who is intelligent, funny, engaging and thoughtful.

But above all, above the endless conversations about politics, religion, environmental awareness, wine, Facebook, cooking and every other topic imaginable; above the cultural exchange and the appeal of the simple life; above everything else, we have learned that true hospitality, in its purest, most generous form, is possible.

Rosie welcomed us into her home in the fullest sense, making us feel comfortable immediately. Within a day, we felt like we were visiting an aunt or a family friend, someone whom we had known for years. Some days, when we would come in from work to find tea and cake sitting out for us or when Rosie would rub clay on my wasp stings to draw out the poison and soothe the pain, we felt like little kids at Grandma's house. It was comfortable, and comforting, and was the most "at home" we have felt since we started traveling.

To realize that this complete stranger opened her house and herself to us so readily was to witness a kind of humanity that one rarely, if ever, experiences. It is humbling and inspiring, and it makes us realize just how much potential there is by simply opening oneself to other people.

We could all stand to learn a lesson or two from someone like Rosie. I only hope that we have been able to share with her even a portion of what she has taught us.

Although if we haven't, I know she isn't keeping score.

Hard at work bunching lavender
One of our daily lunches in the garden (homemade vegetable tart and salad)
Purple Peruvian Potatoes (say that three times fast...)
The empanadas we helped make

1 comment:

  1. i like this latest post a million times over. thanks for reminding me of something I once knew. the pictures were soo gorgeous!