We all know that living with another family can be an ‘interesting’ experience. So travelling in foreign lands and living with families from different cultures with different customs, traditions, religions, foods and languages can be a real challenge to all the senses. As Westerners travelling in poorer nations there are a whole new set of factors that one will experience on the journey, politics, bureaucracy and poverty to name a few. In the following article I have set out to address some of the factors worth considering while you contemplate and plan your WWOOF experience in a developing nation.
Firstly lets tackle the big issue when WWOOFing in developing nations;
Should I pay for my stay? You cannot avoid the fact that you will generally have a lot more money then the people around you. Even as a penny-pinching backpacker the shoes on your feet can be worth more then some people see in a year. The continual issue with WWOOFing in these nations is the concept of paying a host for your stay. This concept seems to fly in the face of what WWOOFing was set up to achieve.
The concern in paying for a WWOOF stay is that it then becomes an assisted cheap holiday or another form of eco-tourism and not a true work exchange. The WWOOFers attitude toward their work input may change. It may also be that WWOOFers do not get the true work and lifestyle experience they signed up for as they are treated as paying guests, rather then “put to work to pay for their board” so to speak.
The matter of paid WWOOF experiences is something currently being discussed among WWOOF organisations around the world. If you have any thoughts, ideas, experiences to add to the discussion we would love to hear from you.
However if you are going to WWOOF in poorer countries you need to be aware that living as the locals do will mean that you have to go without many of the things you may consider daily requirements; electricity, showers, meat, coffee… If you are wanting to enjoy something of your usual daily luxuries a good idea is to take them along with you, or purchase them as a gift for your family during your stay.
A common concern for ‘Western’ WWOOFers in developing countries seems to be the drop in their usual daily calorie consumption. I have heard of many WWOOFers buying and sharing the odd meal with their host family, thus making everyone a little more comfy. Another option for contributing to the comfort of your stay is to arrive with a box of candles, bag of sugar and rice, perhaps a sowing kit or toiletries. Think of it is a small gift from you that makes everyone’s life a little easier.
Knowing that you do have so much more then your host family you may find that you would simply like to give a gift as a way of helping out. Be mindful that in some cultures giving money for your stay may be taken as an offense, see if you can feel this out before hand. There are other options such as those above. I have also read of WWOOFers buying their hosts chickens, some supplies for installing rain-water collection or repairing some part of their home. In the end it is better to give something that contributes to the long-term benefit of your host family rather then short-term gains.
Food – are you prepared to eat new and unusual foods? Yes. Great, read on. Are you prepared to live on meal portions that will be significantly smaller and less variable then those you are used to? Meat may only come to your plate once a week, if you are lucky, cheese rarely and coffee possibly not at all. Be prepared to live on simple daily meals that consist of rice or legumes with some variation of vegetable sauce/curry type topping and perhaps a bread type substance on the side. You will have the opportunity to enjoy new, exotic fruits and vegetables and I guarantee you will go home with a new recipe or two.
WWOOFers have spoken of the need to eat more then their family was able to supply. In these instances it is not unusual for the WWOOFer to purchase meat and other foods locally to share with their host and boost everybody’s nutritional input. This type of WWOOF/Host sharing of resources allows everyone a more comfortable and enjoyable WWOOFing experience. If you want coffee in the morning it may be that you have to bring it with you and learn to share all things.
Water – a precious resource the world over. Many hosts in developing nations will not have water on tap, nor will the local water supply be safe for your Western stomach to consume. If the local water is not drinkable for you then you will need to provide yourself with safe, drinkable water – do not expect the host to buy bottled water or boil/treat water for you! If you are buying bottled water remember to always CHECK THE SEAL IS INTACT when you purchase it. Your other alternative is to boil the local water or treat it with a chemical disinfectant. This site is full of helpful information on water treatment options, http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/water-treatment.htm And remember, if you can’t drink it you can’t brush your teeth with it either!
Washing is another water issue. If you were having to carry water into your home each day do you think a shower every evening would be feasible? Probably not. A sponge bath every other day or so is adequate. If you are someone who has to shower daily then you may need to think about WWOOFing elsewhere. Remember too that this washing schedule will apply to your clothing and you will have to do this by hand, yourself. It is amazing how much skill it takes to adequately wash clothes by hand. But you will forever be grateful of your washing machine when you return home. Do not expect your host to supply soaps and shampoos for you, bring these in yourself.
Many WWOOFers talk of helping their host set up a rain-water catchment system. Wouldn’t this be a wonderful way to leave a little bit of yourself with your host when you leave?
Electricity is another resource that you will probably not have at hand like you do at home. You need to remember to take head lamps with you, batteries if you need and perhaps some candles to share with your hosts. If you are travelling with other electronic equipment consider solar charges, or just leave them at home and enjoy the freedom! If your host does have an electrical outlet always ask before you use it – power costs can be exorbitant in some nations.
The other matters that spring to mind when travelling in developing nations are hygiene, clothing and security. Lets look at them one at a time.
Health and Hygiene – If you are squeamish about health and hygiene standards or find yourself unable to use public toilets because they are ‘dirty’ then travelling in a developing nation may not be your cup of tea, or it may just be the challenge you need. Expect long-drops instead of flush toilets, the odd bout of diarrhoea and flies on your food. It’s all part of the fun. Be sensible, wash your hands, drink bottled water where you need to, carry your own wee first aid kit(don’t forget the Electrolytes) and ENJOY the ADVENTURE!
Modesty - The other matter that is often overlooked is clothing. Bikinis, singlet tops, and shorts may not be acceptable in your chosen travel destination. Check with your WWOOF Director or host and make sure you have adequate clothing. Women should always carry long-sleeved shirts that come up to the collar bone and long trousers or skirts. It is also handy to have a scarf in your pack as there may be occasion for you to cover your head. Think modesty. Men must do likewise, in some areas a man must wear long trousers and shirts that come to the elbow at least. You can save your bikini and mini’s for the tourist resorts.
Personal Safety – Lets not bury our heads in the sand, while reading this article you’ve been thinking about the matter of your safety and security. We’ve all seen it on the news and read it in the papers, some countries suffer from periodic outbreaks of war and civil violence, foreigners may be harassed or abused and things can turn ugly. One must also consider the possibility of a large scale natural disaster, such as tsunami, earthquakes, tornadoes or flooding etc.
If you have reason for concern then check the security status of your chosen destination before you leave. You can do this with the local embassy or consulate and there are sites online that will keep you up-to-date.
Your second port of call is with the countries WWOOF organisation director(if they have one), or your host. In some developing nations the WWOOF director will do the job of placing you with your WWOOF host as a part of ensuring your safety. Some WWOOF organisations will arrange for you to be picked up from the airport and taken to your host, or put you on the necessary transportation system with adequate directions to your host, for your safety. If you have any concerns talk to your host or WWOOF director about entry into their country and transportation to and from your host.
It is also helpful to ask the Director or host how much you should expect to pay for a taxi, matatu, tuk tuk etc to your destination. Do remember that because you are a foreigner you will always pay more then a local, don’t be offended, it’s just the way it is.
Most importantly use your COMMON SENSE! Don’t wander around alone late at night, don’t talk back to border guards or try to take photos when near or crossing borders, don’t flash your money around, keep your passport safe and have copies, be respectful of cultural practices and traditions and if you can let your local embassy or consulate know you are there.
A few other points to consider:
Travel Insurance - something every traveller should have, especially when travelling in developing nations. If you were to develop malaria or break a leg you will be wanting to have the best treatment possible, this can be expensive and difficult to come by in some countries. Don’t forget loss of luggage, passports etc is a costly and frustrating experience. Make sure your insurance will cover you for this. When WWOOFing you still need insurance as neither your host, nor the local WWOOF organisation, can be considered responsible for your care if you fall ill or require medical attention.
Check out www.worldnomads.com, they have an insurance policy specifically for volunteers. Their website is also full of helpful travel tips and advice, safety updates and places for you to chat with travellers who have been there and done that already.
Visas are a big one. You need to give yourself plenty of time to find out what is required, assemble the paperwork and get it off to the right department. For some nations it is easy enough to get a visitors visa stamped in your passport at port of entry. In other countries you must apply for and be granted a visa before you enter the country.
When travelling by train or bus through a country it is important to check whether you need a transit visa or not , you may be surprised to find you need a visa just to travel through a country.
The final visa requirement I have seen others caught on is the need for an exit visa. Very few nations still require this, but it is something to be aware of.
Never assume it will all be fine! Check out what visa requirements apply to your nationality before you head off on your travels.
Vaccinations are another big one when travelling. Different countries on one continent, and even different provinces, can require quite different vaccinations. Your local doctor should have a list of these and there are numerous websites to help you out. This one in particular is quite good,
Some countries also require you to present your vaccination certificate on entry so remember to pack it with your passport.
The fact is that WWOOFing in any country is about learning to contribute more then just labour, or making sure you “get your fair share” out of the exchange. WWOOFing involves a lot of give and take, understanding, patience, flexibility and willingness to experience and learn about how others live. One must learn to share all things while WWOOFing, and even more so when travelling in countries where resources are scarce and costly. If you go into WWOOFing with an open mind and heart you may just find that it changes your thinking(for the good) for the rest of your life.
Ben from WWOOF Nigeria has written an interesting and informative article(from those who live it each day) covering various topics discussed above. You can read his article at this link http://www.wwoofinternational.org/news/?p=199.
If you have Hosted, WWOOFed, or are currently WWOOFing/Hosting in a developing nation then we would love to hear from you. Send your stories, photos and insights to us at firstname.lastname@example.org