To improve my French and to improve my ability to concentrate I went to do HelpX on a farm in Southern France. An American psycho, some firewood picking and a stressed-out host later, I found myself couchsurfing my way back to Marseille, liking French people and thinking of Lisbon as home for the first time ever. There’s a lot to tell but I’ll have to keep it to a summary.
HelpX is a site where property owners offer room and board to people willing to work some four hours daily. I was (at first, anyway) lucky to be in contact with an American couchsurfer living in Marseille, who let me tag along on an assignment in Southwest France. I flew to Marseille and we drove together to the farm near Mount Bugarach, a place many believed to be the pick up spot for the spaceship that was to rescue folks from December 21st, 2012, a.k.a. the end of the world. Things were dandy at the farm until I had to inform the couchsurfer that I wasn’t in fact romantically interested in him, at which point the dude turned into a complete psycho, chasing me around the house and forcing my bedroom door open, to mention a couple of exciting events (ironically he’s left me a negative reference on couchsurfing stating I robbed him and warning people to stay away from me, among other things. The irony…).
To my relief – and to that everyone else on the farm – the psycho left, but he’d been the only one who spoke French all the time, even if not that well. Still, l needed to improve my concentration so I stayed on the farm a couple of weeks helping with the animals, cleaning and collecting infinite quantities of firewood. I got to practice quite a bit of Dutch with the host, who surprisingly was very stressed out – I think it’s the computer use, I’ve noticed it in myself too. Oh, and there was lots of French wine!
But my French! Well, I had to get on the road and find me some French couchsurfing hosts in France. First stop, cold Carcassonne, by way of the 1 euro bus/train offered in the region. My couchsurfing hosts were some super very really nice French people – yes, I just used “nice” and “French” right next to each other! This, my dear readers, ain’t no Paris I’m talking about (more about me and Paris: 1, 2, 3). One evening I asked one of the guys where the bakery was so I could get fresh French bread and pain-au-chocolat but I woke up the next morning to find he’d already gone out in the freezing cold and gotten me the treats! Oh, Southern French men… Then one of the girls just happened to be driving towards my next stop and she gave me a ride, declining my offer to contribute to gas. Ah, Southern French women…
Then I had a wonderful host in Narbonne who made me feel like I was visiting an old-time friend, and next a carpool to Aix-en-Provence, where I’d meet more nice French couchsurfers and eat more wonderful French bread – though I must say that Paris wins the prize for best croissants.
The kindness of the people along the way was heart-warming. French people, Iranian people, Dutch people, Portuguese people, other people – I was humbled by their generosity. Turns out people will be people, for better or for worse. I accepted the rides and dinners and didn’t insist on paying when people declined my offers during this trip, not for a lack of gratitude but because I accepted it all as good karma. I’ve been in their shoes before and now that I am a budget-conscious student I was grateful for it all.
A couple days before my trip was over I was ready to return to Lisbon to sleep in my bed and live in my little corner – I wanted to go home. Back in Lisbon I confused my friends when I updated my Facebook status to “Home.” “Amsterdam?” they wanted to know, since I refer only to Amsterdam as home. Well, there are at least two types of homes: according to Metallica, “where I lay my head is home,” and according to something I heard somewhere, “home is where the heart is.” It doesn’t matter. Thanks to everyone for their kindness. Now, if we can all just be kind to one another everywhere…