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Do you know where your chicken comes from? -A day in the life of a Berber family by Haruka Oatis

I was finishing up washing the breakfast dishes when Anir and Lina came excitedly toward me. Anir was holding a plump chicken by the wings and he exclaimed, “Do you want to see chicken killing? ” Although I had read accounts of chicken slaughters and seen photos of farm friends cleaning their chickens, I had never witnessed an actual slaughter before so I said, “Sure, why not? ”

We are staying a couple hours southwest of Marrakech at the Berber Culture Center in Imintanoute. We wanted to get first hand experience on how the Berber people live, so we signed up for a brief 7 day workaway stay with a Berber family. Mohammed, our host lives with his family of 9…a few aunties, an uncle, his wife and 3 kids, Anir, Lina, Asea, and another one on the way. Cooking classes, hiking in the Atlas Mountains and playing Berber music are just some of the programs that they offer.

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The beautiful courtyard at the Berber Cultural Center. Photo credit Jason.

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Dipping our toes into the Sahara

The Sahara desert, at 9.2 million square kilometers is the largest desert on the earth, spanning through 14 different countries in North Africa. The southeastern edge of Morocco makes up the western edge of the Sahara, and the city of Zagora is considered one of the gateways into the desert, from where it is proclaimed that one can reach Timbuktu in 52 days by camel. Unfortunately desert nomads are no longer able to take that journey due to tense political situations in the region that make it prohibitively dangerous. The indigenous people of North Africa are Berbers, who have their own language, quite distinct from Arabic, and this language has been spoken for many centuries throughout the entire Sahara region, but the Berber people have no nation of their own. Fifty-three kilometers south of Zagora sits the desert town of Tagounite, where we settled in for a 10 day workaway stay.

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Erg Chigaga sand dunes

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Hippie Homestay in Croatia

Long term traveling has it’s ups and downs. For the most part, it’s eye-opening, mind-expanding and an overall delight to the senses. There are also moments when circumstances are stacked against us, and it can be a real challenge to move through them. Then there are those mundane periods that rarely I write about, because they’re boring… waiting for a bus, riding a bus for several hours, waiting till it’s time to check in, blah, blah, blah. And these are all part of the traveler’s gig.

One thing for sure that separates a traveler’s life from “regular life”, is this ability to pick up and change scenes on a dime. If someone or something isn’t working for us in a certain place, then we can simply remove ourselves from that scene and beat it on down the line. Problem solved. When we have a home and a job and we’re locked into some sort of life routine, it’s much more difficult to just remove ourselves from undesirable situations. We have to navigate those challenging waters with others in order to achieve harmony in our life, and for most of us humans, that’s a full time job. For me, this seems to be one of the key differences between my life now, and my life before we started traveling. Of course Haruka and I have to consciously work at maintaining our own harmony, but that’s always come quite naturally to us, I feel. The travelers life, for all of it’s virtues, can sometimes lose connection with that aspect of life that involves developing meaningful human relationships, which is a void that we’ve found can be at least somewhat filled by workaway experiences.

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Secondo Piatto

Our second course of Italy took on a much different flavor than our run through the northern part of the country back in May. At that time we were traveling at a tourist’s pace,  checking out the tourist hotspots of Milan, Verona, Lake Garda and Venice. It was beautiful, delicious, enjoyable and all of those things that people generally travel to Italy for, but I still got the sense that the real Italy was effectively eluding us. This time around we were being lured in by the band, Morcheeba, who had also been eluding us for many years. We spent June and much of July in Slovenia, with the aim of spending a few more months in Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro, so it was going to take a considerable force to alter our course through the former Yugoslavia, back over to the other side of the Adriatic Sea, and Morcheeba was just that force, but more on that later.

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A Return to Life on the Farm

Fake news. Our Embarrassment-in-Chief would have you believe that this is something new, crafted by the media expressly to make him look bad. First of all, he’s doing a fine job of that all by himself, and secondly, fake news has been around as long as news itself. Certainly truth leaks into the equation from time to time, but the media in all of its various forms has long been used as an instrument to tweak the truth in ways that suits a certain agenda. The internet definitely hasn’t slowed that instrument down. In fact, it serves as a massive invitation to everyone on the planet to join the fun and twist the facts whenever it serves their purpose. Of course I’d like to believe that most of us humans are pure of heart and generally doing our best to represent the truth, but still, discernment is a most critical tool in this day and age.

We’re very much finding this to be the case in the realm of Workaway, a web-fueled mechanism for connecting travelers with hosts for work/trade arrangements all over the world. The arrangements vary, but a worker is asked to exchange his/her labor (typically 5 hours per day, 5 days per week) for room and board.  As Haruka and I get deeper and deeper into our travels, Workaway is proving to be a crucial tool for extending our travels while simultaneously giving us the opportunity to visit farms and permaculture projects all over the world. Free accommodation and food is obviously helpful, but our main motivation for doing Workaway is to expand our knowledge and skills, while physically engaging our bodies and minds in something productive. Workaway is still a relatively new adventure for us, as we’ve only been to four different spots, and while I’m certain that there are countless amazing hosts out there, false advertising is as much a thing in Workaway as it is in the rest of the world.

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Workaway in Valle De Bravo

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After nearly 3 months of staying in Airbnbs and guesthouses, we shifted gears into the realm of Workaway. Workaway is a global network that connects hosts with workers through its website. Each host has their own set of guidelines and expectations for how their arrangements are set up, but the generally accepted parameters for a Workaway stint are that the worker puts in 5 hours of labor per day, 5 days a week in exchange for accommodations and food during their stay with the host, with no money exchanged. Workaway is similar to its predecessor, WWOOF, but where WWOOF is primarily focused on placing workers on organic farms and other sustainable agriculture projects, Workaway is much broader in it’s scope. A Workaway host may request a wide variety of tasks to be performed, from farming to construction to language teaching to child care to helping out in a hostel, and any number of other odd jobs.

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This was our first Workaway experience of many to come. We have 3 lined up in Slovenia this summer, and we’re working on setting up a few more in Croatia and Montenegro. Besides being an ideal vehicle for sharing our skills and also picking up new skill sets, it’s an excellent way to extend our travels, as virtually all of our basic expenses are covered. And after 3 months of not working at all, it feels good to get our hands dirty again, not to mention the satisfaction of getting something productive done. A 25 hour work week with 2 days off gives us plenty of time to explore the area, which is why we choose Workaways in regions that are beautiful, interesting and ripe with exploration opportunities. And certainly Valle De Bravo fits that description perfectly.

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