A few months ago, we came across a program called “Workaway.” It’s an online organization that allows people who need help to find those people who want to help. Or conversely, people who want to help, can find someone with an engaging project. The idea is simple. If you want to spend time in Norway, then find a project and volunteer. How about New Zealand? South Africa? Peru? Just send them a message and see what happens. You might be surprised. We were.
We’ve always done renovation projects together, and have lifelong interests in historic preservation . . . basically we love anything old. We also wanted to help someone pursue their big dream—one they can’t manage on their own. In some small way, contribute to make it a reality. That’s how we ended up in France to work on the conversion of an ancient water-mill into a center for yoga, fitness and health. A noble endeavor. The creators of this bold idea are a wonderful young Dutch couple. First, we had a Skype call to meet online. Eventually, on a late Friday afternoon, we finally met them in person . . . along with 10 other volunteers from around the world. Even more were scheduled to arrive within the next day or two.
The old abandoned mill had literally been buried in dust, cobwebs, weeds and everything else you might imagine. The four buildings were in a state of minimal readiness when we drove up, thanks to the hard work of a few early arrivals. But our idea of what the experience would be like, and the reality were worlds apart.
Our romantic hideaway for the two-week-work-stint ended up being in our own personal tent in the barn loft, along with 3 other tent-city neighbors. Access was through a large wooden barn door, around some assorted transitional items, over the hay-strewn dirt floor, and up the rickety narrow rail-less stairway. The trick was to bend down under the 3’ high wood beam at the loft floor while still balancing on the top step. Or maybe, rather than bending down, a modified limbo could work as well. Not quite what we had imagined. Dexterity during a late night bathroom run was definitely a valid concern.
The complex of 4 buildings was fully equipped with one tub/shower for up to 18 people, sporting one inside toilet and sink, along with the new dry toilet (we used to call it an outhouse at Aunt Polly’s farm) as the centerpiece in the courtyard between the buildings. It was also raining which didn’t help matters. Anyway . . . you get the picture.
So, we had one great vegetarian dinner with everyone around the large kitchen table on our arrival night. We talked about why everyone was there, where they came from, and debated on who was the best James Bond over the many years of 007. But despite the wonderful people, camaraderie, and sincerity of the project, we climbed out of our loft tent on Saturday morning, shinnied down the rickety steps and told our hosts that we were sorry, but our energy just wasn’t there for the project.
We still believe that the project has a great future as the dream takes shape. However . . . the fact is, given the starting point of the project, we were overwhelmed. We’d “been there, done that,” with a variety of similar “start-up” projects of our own. We simply weren’t equipped to deal with the hardships and conditions of another project in that early phase. We mistakenly thought things were further along. However, our hosts were very gracious and invited us back after more of the early work is complete. How sweet is that? We hugged everyone goodbye, and loaded our backpacks into the car. It was a bittersweet departure.
As we drove the winding country road away from the Mill, we confirmed to each other, “Know when you’re finished.” We reminded ourselves that sometimes no matter how hard we try, or how carefully we plan, we know in our gut when something isn’t right. So stop. Just walk away gracefully. Move on.
We moved on.