Part 1: 6 six weeks at the farm
It has been about 7 weeks since I left Lima, returned to Nova Scotia, and arrived in Barbados! I am very happy to be here. I mean I am in a tropical island paradise with sunshine, sandy beaches and aquamarine ocean waters. Who could ask for anything more.
Alas, it was a very challenging time during my 6 weeks back at the farm. What was supposed to have been a time to decompress from the grand adventure in Lima, rejuvenate and enjoy once more quiet rural life, and then prepare for Barbados, turned out to be 6 weeks of completely unanticipated hellish hard work.
Our ‘caretaker’ or as someone said undercaretaker turned out to be a pig in every sense of the word and I have absolutely no qualms about saying this. We walked into our home being in a disgusting state late on a Saturday evening after having left on a 3 a.m. flight from Lima to Toronto (so not sleeping the night before), with a 4.5 hour layover before flying to Halifax, and then a longish drive to our home but thankfully we were picked up at the airport by a good friend.
The filth and stench was palatable: the place reeked of cat shit thanks to the cat litter box ‘being used’ with cat shit in various spots on the floor nearby the litter box. It appeared to have not been cleaned out for months. I have been wondering if it was ever cleaned out because I seem to recall it was in place when we left in January which was 9 months previous. I don’t know why it was being used in the 1st place since our instructions were clear not to use the litter box unless there was deep snow surrounding our house which then would not enable the cats to get outside from underneath our home. There was no snow to speak of as it was still October, and of course there had been no snow for months, and I know for a fact that 2017 had been a mild winter with little snow. Our friend told us a few days later that she would have walked right out of the house and found a place to stay with friends since the stench was so overwhelming.
I remember just being in a state of numb shock. I could barely react. I did go to bed thinking I am going to have hire someone to clean the place since I just couldn’t bare to face doing this job. Fortunately after much needed sleep, I was ready to get er’ done as they say and so the cleaning began and continued for the next 6 weeks.
Besides the stench of cat shit & piss, there was that of grease. The kitchen cabinets above our stove and our fridge that was beside our stove was covered in a thick layer of grease. The dishes in the dish rack were so filthy that I couldn’t believe someone could consider them as washed. The counter tops were filthy, the floors filthy. The small guest bedroom in the back of the house where BZ slept had a layer of mold covering most surfaces. I believe he kept the door closed the whole time (to keep the pets out) never allowing an airflow so that his perspiration (you know humans do breathe out quite a quantity of moisture during our sleep) never dried out as there were mold stains on the pillows, the pillow cases, and other bedding, on the mirrors, on the lower outer walls, on various food storage containers.
I knew I was going to have to do some cleaning – that was a given. I imagined doing a fall cleaning, you know dusting all the surfaces (our surfaces collect a lot of dirt thanks to the pet hair and the dirt we are surrounded by simply because we live on a farm), and a more thorough cleaning of the floors since my standards seem to be higher than the average person and the dogs do track in a lot of dirt. I remember BZ actually emailed me not long after we left asking how was he keep the floors clean. I was like really?! Get down on your hands and knees and wipe the floors or use the bloody mop. He eventually emailed me to say the vacuum cleaner was broken, after I had just had it repaired. Well I soon enough discovered that the problem was that a part of the vacuum hose was clogged with pet hair, something easy to clean out if a person had bothered to check.
After 3 days of scrubbing, my knuckles on my fingers were so raw that I had to stop cleaning since it was just too painful. Now I can say that I know what it feels like for the women who were and still are in many parts of the world forced to do laundry by hand. It took about a week for our place to be almost back to a ‘normal’ state. However the cleaning did not end there. Each day I tackled another small section. The cleaning continued until my last few days when I finally tackled the top of the fridge – the last worst bit and I have to photos to prove it – my future evidence…continue reading. I would like to know how do you get the sticky grease off of flashlights and other items that you can’t immerse in water unless you want to ruin them.
Throughout this 1st week, I never set food in our garden where my asparagus beds were as I was terrified of seeing what state they were in, knowing that BZ would not have done a 2nd weeding of them since he never did the 1st weeding early on in the growing season – I actually had to find someone to do this work after I had a friend go to the farm to borrow a piece of equipment of ours and I asked him to take photos of the beds. That’s when I discovered he had not done any of the work. Alas I only found out when I was back that this person only weeded one bed so the other bed had never been weeded at all.
I finally did go check out the beds and was so demoralized and upset I thought I can’t face doing this alone (Ross was kept busy on other chores thanks to daily discoveries of BZ lack of care for our things, e.g. tools left to rust in the area where he kept his horse) so I got some help but of course I was going to make sure he would cover this expense since he signed the contract which stipulated his responsibilities in black and white.
One other disgusting thing was when I took a look in our chicken coop and saw 6 inches of chicken shit with no hay to speak of (we use hay as the bedding – that explained why there were still plenty bales of hay still nearby). I again couldn’t believe it but by this time I was not surprised. At least he admitted to only having cleaned out the coop twice in 9 months. When I cleaned it out I found a desiccated adult chicken. This explained why we didn’t have any young chickens as each season we always have a few chicks born. BZ said there were some but he had no idea what happened to them but he had the gall to suggest that one of our dogs killed them.
Every time I asked him about something via email well the excuses and lies kept coming. Oh well such is life – shit happens eh!!
Well this was all more evidence for … I have decided I will be taking him to small claims court. I found out that the statute of limitations will not be an issue as I can only take him to court when I get back, and that earnings can be withheld to pay the fines. He is in for a big surprise.
If all this wasn’t bad enough we learned about his behaviour with several of our friends and other members of the surrounding community. For example he was a pig when it came to interactions with women. I was so embarrassed to have brought this miserable ‘man’ to our region. Demonstrating how these folks are good people, they were actually more concerned about what was going on at our place.
On the positive side it was a lovely warm fall (thanks climate change and all you gas guzzling wasting north americans and natural resource extraction industries and other corporate polluters!) and so I was able to do the work that was needed to try to restore/recover my asparagus beds. I was working up until the last few days before I was heading out to Barbados. I did suffer at least a 5% loss, possibly more, but won’t know until the next season, but you can be sure I will be seeking compensation for these losses.
I am just glad that I kept the signed copy of our agreement, what is in effect a contract which specified his obligations, and I am collecting witness statements and I have plenty of photo evidence as well.
On another positive note we have found what I think will be an amazing new caretaker – although anything would be better than BZ), but I have such confidence in this person. I know it will be a difference between night and day.
Part 2 – The adventure in Barbados begins
Now for some good vibes and news about beautiful Barbados! After some hiccups in the process of getting a work permit visa for this volunteer gig (not a tourist visa like I had in Peru), having in the end to take my original university diplomas with me to BBD which I was not happy about, and attending a training in Montreal in early November, I am finally in this tropical paradise with an uneventful journey to get here.
I was met at the airport by a colleague which is always nice, especially coming to a new place, and after a previous night of not much sleep as I had to get up early to catch my flight to Toronto. I had expectations of the heat hitting me upon disembarking from the plane and was not disappointed.
For me as someone who just loves heat, the weather is of course divine. There has been some heavy rains but no biggie since it is warm although there is temporary flooding in some of the roads (and I have learned that there is a stinky sewage problem on a part of this one major road in a tourist area and where I have been walking this first week to get to the project offices – the gov’t was to have done infrastructure work to repair the problem of raw sewage coming up to the surface and not just because of rain, rather due to the geology of the area – gross eh? – but as is usual the gov’t didn’t do the work and recently announced that outside funds are needed to get it done…hmmm I am thinking that the island nations hit by the hurricanes of September are more deserving of outside help).
As my accommodation is on the beach – sweeeet eh!!, each morning (I am an early riser) I have the pleasure of taking long walks on the beautiful sandy beach and then having a refreshing dip in the ocean before I head off to work. And this part of the beach has no resorts, only a few restaurants & bars empty of course at that time of the day so it is peaceful. I have a suite in a modest tourist apartment complex, absolutely perfect with full kitchen and separate bedroom, except for the iffy internet, thankfully away from the very touristy area (I am on the lower west coast as opposed to the south coast, on the south side of Bridgetown). Each morning I pass several folks doing their morning walks and as I have learned having their daily sea bathes. I also pass the young men who set up beach chairs and umbrellas which when I asked are provided by the state for tourists and locals, and they are employed by the government (not sure which level). Fortunately private beaches are illegal, and everyone has access – at least up the high water mark, as is similar in Canada. I have heard that a stink is raised if someone is told they are not allowed to use such and such portion of a beach. I have been doing the polite Canadian thing and saying hello to those I pass. Only occasionally does someone not reciprocate.
This week I have met my colleagues in the WUSC (World University Services of Canada – similar to Cuso) PROPEL (Promotion of Regional Opportunities for Produce through Enterprises and Linkages – talk about a mouthful – if that isn’t a crazy project name I don’t know what is) office including one other volunteer who is on her way home at the end of the month; met the staff at the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS) to which I am seconded; done grocery shopping and fortunately not being in complete sticker price shock thanks to the prices I was accustomed to in Lima (at the supermarkets, large grocery chain stores, not the local markets); visited a few rental places – my main priority at this time, and simply orienting myself to the area.
As you can imagine, on the walks on the beach is a time to reflect. Each day I walk a bit farther just to get the lay of the land. I have to say I have been quite amazed to see the tourist hotel complexes and associated businesses, e.g. restaurants& bars, alongside abandoned & derelict properties. There was a tree growing out of one of the top stories of one crumbling hotel. Quite the contrast. A thought that popped into my head was the juxtaposition of the amazing tropical experience of aquamarine ocean and soft ‘white’ sandy beaches that locals and tourists alike can experience and enjoy, with the often incredible disparities of wealth between the two that just cuts into this beauty. It was both a thought of beauty and peace but at once painful and shocking.
I had made the decision for this first month to be one of recuperation from the situation at our farm. I had been sitting in such a state of anger for more than a month, only in the last 10 days being able to process how much of an impact it was to come home to our home in a state of disaster. As my sister said to me, it was as if I/we were violated because our home was violated. This really put it into perspective for me, acknowledging how awful it truly was. I knew that when I left for Barbados there would be nothing more I could do so I would in effect be forced to let it go – out of sight out of mind. I worked so hard these past many weeks; I just needed to take care of me – my mental and emotional state – and this is the perfect place to do so.
I start work with BAS this week and will be moving into a 2 bedroom apartment, the top floor of a two story house. I am so relieved that I have found a great place to stay so quickly, only a few blocks away from the beach I am currently taking my daily walks & swims. Yippee!! Despite my title, I am really a capacity development advisor, helping BAS to be a more effective organization.
I have to say that I am very happy to have had the Cuso/Lima experience since I have more realistic expectations and can better anticipate the challenges. Now I just have to master a bit the manner of speaking which tends to be very quiet and lacking in articulation so am forced to continually ask “what” in a polite way of course.
So I have a spare bedroom – come and visit!! You can actually check out my place. It is Jude’s hideaway on a i r b n b. Till next time.