If you’re like us, or if you’re not like us and just independently an idiot, and you rush headlong into a WWOOF’ing setup without reading all the small print both real and metaphorical, you might find yourself in a pickle at some point. A not very organic pickle.
The dark path you stumble blindly upon has been tread many times before. At least once, or even twice. Rife with the awkward snares of culturally-sensitive issues regarding money and hospitality, you are bound to suffer unspeakable mild discomforts and torments as you descend ever further. For whatever respite it may bring you, we have assembled here a map to the netherworld of backfired WWOOF pursuits…
Layer One: In Which You Find Yourself Actually Having to Pay To Be There
You’ll be sat beneath a lush pear tree with your buddy, chopping mangoes and chatting on the tenth day of your stay on the farm, when The Owner (of the farm) with a blast of white pajama-based light suddenly coagulates before you. Lapping at your ears in friendly, exotic tongues, he will query you on your health, your happiness, your fondness for chopping mangoes. At the end of a declaration on something menial, the following sentence will slide conspicuously from his lips: “So… you know, you can pay us whenever you like.”
In this first of many tests you will face, he will stipulate a price for you to pay — which has never been mentioned once before, whether in person, on the phone, or on the farm’s WWOOF description or the farm’s own website — which is relatively fucking ridiculous. This price is not quite your soul – but it’s high, given the prices of nearby guesthouses and the fact that you have been working up to eight hours a day under the premise that you were earning your room and board. Shocked and confused, you will tell him that this fee can’t, and shouldn’t be paid.
- With demonically deftful rhetoric, The Owner will suggest, “Well, then you can mail me the money when you get home”. You don’t take kindly to this idea either, and try to negotiate a lower fee, if it’s absolutely necessary to pay one.
- After a dramatic flourish in which The Owner claims you are absolved of payment, or that you can “pay whatever you want” and you inform him that you’ll think about it and get back to him, there will follow a lengthy and hot, burdensome silence, perhaps while he is waiting for you and your companion to think about it, using telepathy to discuss the situation. Following a minute or so of this, The Owner will engage in pleasantries with one of you (the one of you named Steve will be resentful and silent) about the news.
Suddenly the pear tree will sink into the ground, and you and your friend will quickly follow, plummeting into the distressing void until you reach…
Layer Two: In Which Everything Gets Really Uncomfortable
For the rest of the afternoon, you will be forced by your sudden urge to avoid speaking to The Owner to construct a squash-holding structure – the second you have made – deep in what is known as the Garden Realm. Building the house for this oddly shaped squash patch will be vexing, and besides, your heart won’t really be into it because you realize that you’re paying to do this. Meanwhile, the jovial wife of The Owner, normally extremely warm, will skitter away from you at any opportunity. The one called Uncle Hungry, silent and unpredictable, will make an indecipherable gesture to you that you interpret as “you’re dead”. The very air you breath will be awash with uncertainty as you are forced to decide whether you’ll continue your stay at the farm, and whether the family might kill you. Nobody will want to eat dinner with you, and The Owner will, due to a guest’s arrival, be indisposed for the entire evening so any further price-negotiating is rendered impossible.
Somehow, nobody will have informed Sanju or Puja the Servants of your presence in WWOOF Hell, and they will continue to either sexually harass or make faces at you throughout the night.
Night falls and you lay yourself down to sleep in your room, which, you comment quite a few times on, is extremely expensive considering its lack of a true roof and the enormous population of enormous spiders sharing it with you. You will have to kill one of these before you go to sleep, and it will be super gross, and as your consciousness flutters away you will be transported roughly into the next stage of your journey.
Layer Three: In Which You Break Out In a Hideous Rash And Make Things More Uncomfortable For Everyone
The next morning you will arise to find one of you has been transformed into a Mongolian baby with Down’s Syndrome.
You had decided to attempt an escape this morning, but now your plans – and your skin’s ability to stop being puffy – are for naught. The sight of The Swollen One’s face will make the old Swiss lady staying on the farm, who is preparing to leave for the airport to fly to Calcutta, shriek with horror, and The Owner will become very embarrassed and tell the Swollen One that he should have come to him earlier when he had a rash merely on his legs. After The Swollen One changes his mattress, which was probably full of bedbugs, the Owner and Swiss lady will vanish, and you will be alternately fed, given medication, and avoided by the wife of the Owner. At one point in the day The Swollen One will be engaged in an informative “fix-up” chat with the Daughter of The Owner, learning the true value of labor in India and the actual justification for The Owner’s stipulated price. Suddenly, The Big-Nosed Moley One (everyone needs a nickname) will interject by saying, “Awkward conversation?” at which point it will definitely become one.
During the indefinite absence of The Owner you will be tasked with:
- Figuring out among yourselves a price to pay him
- Not having anything to do so going to cut down a bunch of pot plants and taking pictures
- Breaking one of the tools of The Owner while performing task #2
When The Owner returns from the airport with his Swiss companion due to her flight being canceled, The Swollen One will be stung twice by a single hornet as he carries kindling to a wood pile. Seriously, it happens right as The Owner returns. It’s perfect. Everyone is still acting totally weird around you, and this just makes it worse. While hornet stings are nursed, you both will be sucked into a vortex that deposits you into the next phase of your wretched wayfaring.
Layer Four: In Which You Try To Rebuild Bridges
Finding yourselves sat down beside The Owner on his porch, you will present him with your monetary offer. You will feel that this is a generous offer, given the circumstances. This gesture will unleash the following, final torrent of awkwardness:
- The Owner will immediately boggle your mind by simultaneously denouncing the importance of money while strongly hinting that you can pay him the rest of his original demand from America. You’ll go, “Yeahhhh…. maybe”
- Continuing on the money-deprecating path, he will speak to you for probably the ninth time on the subject of him being just a humble farmer (who happens to have three guesthouses, high speed Internet access, satellite TV, two kids in college, and more land than anyone else in the village), and will demonstrate this point by showing you termite damage in his spacious bedroom.
- The one of you named Steve will respond to this lecture by rolling his eyes, loudly sighing, saying “Sure… shhhhhhhure… mm-hmm, we know. Yeah, we get it.” Finally, he will pick up the newspaper and begin reading it as the Owner prattles on, the Sun snuffing itself on the distant rice fields. Though indeed scathed, you have managed to pass the test of The Owner, and your probably still-awkward passage into the next realm and beyond has been assured.
At night, you will both pack your bags and prepare to leave the next morning. There may or may not be another huge spider in your bedroom. It could also be a mouse, or a newt — you can’t tell in the dark.
Layer Five: In Which You Leave on a Good Note That May Have Actually Been Bad
It becomes clear as you break fast that the Servants have been informed of your impending departure, and have suddenly turned cold towards your previously gleefully-met gesticulations and butcherings of Hindi sayings. The family of The Owner shall assemble around you for a final photo. As a token of gratitude, the Swollen One will bestow gifts of novelty pins from distant Nevadan lands upon the family, and in return you shall both receive gifts of jewelry, and a jar of honey. On a cloud of high spirits, you will ascend out of this domain into the Purgatory of Dharamkot.
Later that day, you will realize that the gifts you gave to the family – a family dedicated to a Free Tibet, eschewing Chinese made products, and especially polyethylene bags – were in fact souvenirs that said prominently on their backside “Made In China” and were individually wrapped in polyethylene bags. You will also notice that the more generous and conscientious Swollen One has been unfriended on Facebook by both of The Owner’s offspring, but the rude one named Steve remains their digital chum. The mystery of WWOOF Hell thus reverberates into your new existence.