Friday 21 July, 2017

“I’m Off to WWOOF in Paradise”

Little does the seasoned or first time wwoofer realize that wwoofing in the tropics isn’t wwoofing in NZ. Sometimes, when they first enquire about wwoofing in the islands they haven’t done their homework, i.e. locating you on the world map. A host is likely to wonder about their abilities and what prompted them to apply, when they say “I’ve always wanted to visit …..(island destination) during my stay in NZ”. Know something about where you’re going before you ask to go there.

010They come from as far away as Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Austria, etc. and even Canada. Many are young and come to NZ to learn the language, familiarize themselves with customs and culture and find a taste for the direction in their budding adult life. Life is different and sometimes slower (laid-back) than where they come from; for some it is climatically challenging; for many it’s freedom they didn’t have at home and for some it’s a learning curve they’ll never equal anywhere. Choosing an island destination is linked to thoughts of a holiday, relaxing in the sun, enjoying the ocean, mixing with the locals, take in the local colour and if wwoofing is available, so much the better. Going to the islands is frequently their last stop on the way home and in a way is the reward for wwoofing/having worked in NZ. A time “when I can relax from the hard work I’ve put in” is an often heard phrase. Hardships (less than private sleeping quarters, mosquitoes, unusual food, noise, alcohol and smoke restrictions, for example) at their dream destination, are not often factored in. When they are realized, it often leads to unhappy dissolutions.

An island destination is expensive and out of reach for the average wwoofer. Fair exchange must be the underlying motif between wwoofer and host. The host asks for maturity, respect, loyalty, commitment and some ability in this exchange. A willingness to communicate honestly is essential. The wwoofer expects nourishing food, clean accommodation, reasonable work hours and tasks and an integration into the family and its surroundings. To this end the wwoofer needs to consider what is being given in that exchange on an island where the minimum is $100 a night for accommodations, where food has to be imported (except for the tropical produce home grown) and where shipping charges sometimes equal the price of the item. The host, eking out a living through intense physical labour, relies on the wwoofer’s help. I’m sure most hosts are willing to give their all to maximize the helper’s experience. Can this be expected of wwoofers? Can one remain loyal to one’s host when more appealing and rewarding offers loom after one has become familiar with the local scene? Could one possibly see the privilege of apprenticing in paradise where challenges and rewards are unique on many levels?

Ideally wwoofers should attach a resume with their enquiry; mention their strengths and weakness and clearly say why they have chosen the location or you, as host. There must be “organic” interest and expectation of tasks and not simply “I can clean rooms in your hostel”. A handy list of what they are looking for to fulfill their island experience as well as what they are not capable of or willing to work in. If there are health challenges they should be mentioned before the expensive airfare is entered into. Hospital and medical services can be sparse and expensive, especially if you haven’t brought any medicines with you. Be clear of where you’re going and what you’re going to be giving, then ask about what you’ll be getting!

The big surprise on arriving in an island destination is the heat. No matter the time of the year, most likely it will be hotter than what you’ve experienced in NZ. Heat can be taxing and difficult to work in. Add to that countless bugs and mosquitoes, unfamiliar food and culture and the barriers of language, and you’re experiencing stress in paradise. If it’s during drought times, there will be less wash water; drinking water may be scarce and require special safety precautions – such as boiling rain water.

Communication difficulties due to language barriers need a willingness to clarify – slow down speaking, ask for clarification, repeat and explain with limitless patience until a common understanding is reached. Your host has asked for you to help and that requires that you understand each other, not only in language but in your common goals for learning from one another. Again and again wwoofers request to learn english – PLEASE SPEAK IT NO MATTER HOW LITTLE YOU MAY BE ABLE TO SPEAK IT – You came to learn english - please include the host in your conversations and speak english. Very often people from the same country will revert to speaking their language and ignore/exclude their hosts (even at mealtimes). Most often, it is this lack of consideration that causes grave misunderstandings.

Consideration and respect for your host must be evident. Abusing the hosts property and belongings as well as insisting on living your own lifestyle (i.e. clothes lying everywhere, toilets dirty, beds unkept, etc.) is very disrespectful. Especially where accommodations are part of the locale, for example, rooms inclusive in cafe, restaurant or for public access. Also respect the local customs explained by your host, especially about clothing in church, in public places and on beaches – nude bathing is not on, nor is using hotel facilities!006-Vaitangi-Memorial

Don’t expect the host to provide your sunscreen, shampoos, laundry detergent, soap, flashlight, etc. Clarify at the time of applying about transportation, hours and days of work, what work clothing is available; snorkels, working footwear, or other things you need. Don’t expect your host to provide what you yourself haven’t thought of.

The exchange between host and wwoofer is one of the greatest life experiences possible. Two people enter one another’s lives, build a bridge through sharing and learning and leave one another enriched. Treasuring what was learnt in organic farming on a tropical island can lead to sustainable food production and a meaningful life.

Kia Manuia


Aitutaki, Cook Islands

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