Monday, May 21, 2012

Off to give dairy farming a try.

I have a dream. I want to be a nomad. I want to travel somewhere, spend a month or two or twelve, travel off to some place else, and repeat. Such a life can be expensive. Establishing oneself in a new city it's not easy, especially since I'm a bit on the poor side. Travel to foreign countries becomes more complicated with visa requirements. My dream seems somewhat impractical. One reason I was a cab driver for ten years. I was too scared to give it at try.

David's offer of a trip to Europe took me by surprise. He offered to pay my way, and I accepted happily. He originally planned to fly me back to Bellingham after the trip, and I asked for the cash instead. I am in Europe. I want to stay. I want to so something completely different. I want too live my dream.

The cash from David was enough to live for a week and a half staying at a hostel. I didn't have much time, but I had a plan. Go door to door, asking for work at every bar, restaurant, café, and coffeeshop I come upon. I figured someone would hire me eventually. I was wrong.

I first seriously considered moving to Amsterdam seven or eight years ago. I checked with the Dutch that hopped in my cab. They all agreed. Go, have fun, finding work will be easy. I checked with the Consulate's office about work and residency visas. I was told to just go, find a job, then apply.

I hadn't done any new research since then. I should have been a touch more proactive, but I also wasn't expecting the tour with David to end quite so suddenly. I came here blind, with eight year old research, a foolish dream, and absolutely no exit strategy. But, being in Europe, no idea when I'll be able to return, I needed to stay and find a way to make something happen. I was terrified coming to Amsterdam. I knew I was taking a gamble. But, I have no wife, no kids, and no job. If I'm going to be penniless and homeless, it might as well be in Amsterdam.

Things have changed here. The conservatives are trying to take over. They have had some success. The Netherlands have passed strict new laws to discourage illegal immigration. The possibility of arriving, finding work, then applying to stay is no more.

I checked so many places. I asked so many proprietors, and they all turned me down. "You have to be Dutch." "You need a Sofi number." "We only hire students."

I was getting discouraged. I needed a new plan. I googled communes in Amsterdam. The only one I found is some new age yoga meditation religious place. I skipped them. I wasn't that desperate yet. I did more research. I discovered that communes are now called intentional communities. I know, that sounds silly.

In my googling for an answer, a way out, a roof over my head, I found two websites that gave me hope. WWOOF and workaway. WWOOF, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is a group that brings volunteer workers to farms and gives the workers room and board. Workers volunteer to work on an organic farm, learn something about farming, and are given room and board in exchange. Workaway is similar, but does not limit itself to farming. Bed and breakfasts, hostels, farmers, artists, and people needing pet sitters all advertise for volunteers. It's the same deal. Work in exchange for room, and maybe board.

I checked every host in the Netherlands. I applied for a dogwalking position. I applied at a couple of communes, sorry, intentional communities. I applied at a number of farms. I applied with one group that wish to convert a twelfth century monastery into a peace and meditation center. I applied with an artist couple looking for help finishing their home.

I have skills, and I have some experience in this type of position. I recently spent six months living with my sister and her wife and helping them renovate their home. I can do carpentry, plumbing, and electrical. I have a technical theater background. I used to build scenery and hang lighting for a living. I've replaced sills, put in toilets, wired this, and rewired that. I paint. I do windows. I'm a jack of all trades, and a master of none, or a very useful volunteer for an organic farmer or someone renovating an old monastery.

On the afternoon I found these websites, I sent out a dozen inquiries. I received responses from all except the lady looking for a dogwalker. The artist couple responded first, and they were my main choice. They live in Amsterdam, and they need some help finishing their home and on various art projects. We met for breakfast and had a delightful conversation. Unfortunately, they are not yet ready to host someone. They responded to me because I mentioned in my email that I'm already in town, and looking to start immediately. I was in a bit too much of a rush for them. Perhaps a later date.

The lady did give me the tip that led to the extra gig with the TV show. Details in a later post, I promise.

In the end, I had two farmers and a commune, er intentional community, discussing a position for me. I chose an organic dairy farm only about an hour away from Amsterdam. I will have the freedom to come back to town to party or try another extra gig (I applied for second), they seem like decent people, travel there is only €15.30, and they were the first to give me a definite yes. I'm going there as soon as I finish this post and get some breakfast.

I'm hopeful that WWOOF and workaway will give me the chance to travel all over Europe, meet a lot of interesting folk, and help others with their dreams. It will be a good way to live for a year or two or twelve. We'll see what happens.

Volunteering won't provide an income though. Tobacco costs about €2 or 3 a day. Not all hosts provide full meals. Some provide one or two a day. Some provide none. Travel from place to place will be on me. I have some cash still, enough to last me a month or two at the farm I'm heading to. But, I'll run out eventually. Depending on the distance to the next gig, I might not have enough to get there.

I'll try to pick up side gigs here and there. A local farmer will need help with haying. I can mow lawns. Someone will need a bookcase built. Something will present itself.

I'm on track to have one hell of an adventure.

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