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Sweden: Fika, farming, and tales of general incompetence

Yet another few weeks have passed, and I am one trip closer to the end of this adventurous year.  In Sweden I was once again lucky with a farm choice.  Our host was an extremely friendly man named Pär (after much debate and struggle, we learned that you can’t really pronounce this name correctly without have a Swedish accent, but most English-speaking people call him Pahr).  He has three kids, but they were away at their mother’s house for the first week we were there.  The oldest, a sixteen-year-old daughter named Saga, helped with the farming when she was around, and she was nice and seemed quite artsy.  There was a ten-year-old girl named Ingrid who mostly watched TV, and an insane five-year-old boy named…something very Swedish…who ran around yelling in a very, very high voice.  Pär’s friend Paul also came over to help on the farm and brought his son David, and Paul was extremely friendly too.  They all started teasing me about my fear of worms, etc. (predictably), so the banter was good quality.

During the first week there were three other WWOOFers – a hippie Swedish couple (Sweden seemed quite hippie in general, actually – it reminded me of Maine in landscape and culture) and a French girl named Charlotte.  They were all great – Anton, the Swedish guy, was really tall and had a deep voice made extra epic by his Swedish accent, and he and his girlfriend Kajsa (pronounced like “kaysa”)were both very nice.  Rosie and I had more contact with Charlotte, since she lived with us in the little four-bed bungalow while Anton and Kajsa lived in their caravan.  We joked about her in good nature, because she was quite thin and soft-spoken but a few days in we found out that she was a rugby player.  She told us a story about some girl who’d yanked on her ponytail during a rugby match, and how she’d fought her off and everything.  She also ate SO MUCH – like, more than Rosie and me, which is saying a lot.  Whenever we couldn’t find food we’d always say “CHARLOTTE!”, even after she left, but we were just messing around.  Did she make meals feel like competitions?  Yes.  But she was still great.  She, Anton, and Kajsa all left on the same day, and Scott, a 20-year-old American, arrived only a few hours later.  He was basically a stereotype of a California surfer dude, though he had a lot of Oregon hippie in him too.  He was obsessed with living in the middle of the woods and eating plants and worms.  On our last day he BIT INTO A WORM.  In case you aren’t aware, this is SO MUCH WORSE than eating the worm, because after you bite into it you then have to watch the REST OF IT SQUIRMING as you CHEW.  He even said “oh look, its guts are hanging out” as he ate it.  AHHHHHHHHHHHH

Moving on from that horrific memory…the work was very chilled out.  It was almost exclusively planting and weeding, since Pär doesn’t have any animals or anything, and it usually seemed to go by really quickly.  I think we worked almost as much as I’ve worked at any other farm – it was probably the daily schedule which made it feel quick.  At the English and Irish farms we’d always worked all morning with a quick break for tea and biscuits, and then have lunch and then work some more.  But in Sweden we’d get up a half-hour earlier than we did at the other farms, work only a few hours, have an hour long coffee break, and then work two more hours before lunch.  There was no work after lunch, which never failed to be surprising.  Oh yeah – that “coffee break” was really “fika,” a Swedish cultural tradition where you drink a hot coffee out of a normal glass (therefore burning your hands…go figure) with people who you want to get to know better.  That sort of thing is the reason I like WWOOFing – it was cool to experience a daily event like that with Swedish people.  Also, Pär was an INCREDIBLE cook.  He made everything from soups to salads to meat dishes, and it was all amazing, so lunches were consistently fantastic.

Ah yes, I almost forgot to write about the two days during which we worked with some neighboring farmers instead of Pär.  It sucked.  Not only did they make instant coffee for fika and not have milk for my tea (!) but our first task was shoveling sheep poop.  We’d heard horror stories about this job from Anton, Kajsa and Charlotte, who’d done it before we got there, but it didn’t turn out to be SO bad.  It wasn’t fun, though.  And the other task they had us do was hay barreling, which entails standing in a huge crate attached to the back of at tractor, which is picking up hay and launching it at you in the shape of a square.  We were meant to stack the hay in the crate, and it would have been quite fun if it hadn’t sent Rosie and Scott’s allergies wild.  Scott even had an asthma attack and had to go to the hospital!  I didn’t wear long trousers so I got a rash, but nothing worse.  Needless to say, we missed Pär after a day and a half of those people.  The dad of the neighbouring family was a bit odd, too – he was Scottish but raised in Africa and he sounded English, and he is apparently quite a famous Cambridge archeologist.  He found out that Rosie went to Oxford, and without knowing that I did too (sort of) he got very chummy with Rosie in a pretentious way.  One day we were walking to the bungalow down the path and he pulled up his car, asked “do you like Magnum ice cream bars?” and gave us a bunch of sweets and Coke before driving away.  We never really spoke again.  Odd, but I was happy to take the sweets.

Rosie and I experienced many failures in Sweden, to put it gently.  The one time we had to make lunch for ourselves we basically ate untoasted bread with jam and uncooked vegetables.  It was pathetic.  We also managed to mess up making our pasta dinners (which were our fare every work night) almost EVERY SINGLE TIME, whether it was a spillage of water, pasta, or uncooked tomato sauce that was the problem.  Once I even created some sort of snot-esque goo out of the pasta by overfilling the pot, being unable to stir it properly, and overcooking everything at the bottom.  Rosie and I also consistently tripped, got on the wrong trains, failed to speak Swedish, planted crooked vegetables, and got lost.  To be fair, our living situation at the farm was only a step above camping, so it invited accidents.  The bungalow was one room, and while it was cosy in a way it was quite buggy.  You also had to walk through a path of overgrown weeds to get there, and there were stinging red ants swarming it.  They seemed to love the suede on my Birkenstocks.  t was so weird – they’d just sit on it, almost seeming stuck there – and then they’d bite me.  So often.  There were also several electric fences you had to leap over to get to the bungalow, and I zapped myself three times over the two weeks.  We had to come and go from the Bungalow constantly, too, since all of our refrigerated food was in a creepy cellar below in which two unidentified dead animals hung from a line.  We needed to walk up the drive to Pär’s house a lot, and then there was the bathroom.  It was across the road in a barn, and the toilet was a compost thing.  I’ll leave it to your imagination to come up with what that entailed.  Right now in Wales, I am VERY grateful to have a bathroom right next to my room.

Rosie and I didn’t have many concrete ideas about what we’d do on our days off; on the second Sunday we did basically nothing at all.  On the first Saturday we went to Stockholm, which I thought was a very unique and interesting city.  We saw the royal palace but didn’t know what other sites to see, so we spent a lot of time wandering around – especially in the Old Town.  The streets and buildings kind of reminded us of Italy, but of course the climate was very different and the whole city is really an archipelago.  The islands and relatively small population gave Stockholm a very clean, relaxed feel that’s missing from all the other international cities I’ve visited.  It was very beautiful – it seemed like a great place to live.  On the first Sunday we tried to go swimming in a nearby lake because the weather was nice, but it got cloudy RIGHT when we got there.  Charlotte and I still went in, and now we can say that we’ve gone swimming in Sweden!  …yayy!  Right as we left the sun came out again.  Figures.  On the second Saturday Rosie and I went to Uppsala, a university town north of the farm.  It was nice too, though a lot of places seemed to be closed and quiet without the students.  Again, we spent most of our time wandering around the university buildings and local gardens (and graveyards), though we did go into a ruined castle.

I think that’s pretty much all I have to report from Sweden.  It’s a unique place – for example, it didn’t ever get darker than dusk- and it was very fun to go WWOOFing with a friend rather than by myself.  In a few weeks I’ll write again – from America!!??

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