My New Normal
First, let's get acquainted. Getting to know someone better starts with discovering where they are 'coming from'.
Therefore, I am posting here a blog post from my blog Daphne Drinks Tea, published on 5 December 2021.
When I consciously chose change in 2019, it turned out to give us exactly what we needed. Indeed, at a time when we all had to search for a new normal, I discovered my Own New Normal and what that is, once you know me better, will not surprise you.
From my chair, I can see the door through which we will carry the boxes of our stuff into the house next week. I lived in a caravan with my love for almost two years, but now we are moving into a tiny house that I designed myself and we built with our own hands.
It all started with the idea of him packing our backpacks again and moving on. It was August 2019 and at that time I was still looking for a place and a way of life where I would really feel 'at home'. After years of wandering, I had been stuck in a small town in northern Spain, but intuitively I actually knew that was not the end point of my journey. Despite having friends and a nice job there, it didn't feel like my home. So when my love indicated that he wanted to seek his fortune in southern Spain, I could only say yes to that.
We decided to go.
After a few weeks of picking grapes in France, preparations began. We cancelled the rent of our room and shipped boxes of what didn't fit in our backpacks to a friend. At the end of November, we left for Granada via Barcelona and Madrid. We stayed with a family for whom we were volunteering, while my love was looking for a job in the meantime. But there, with that family in that anonymous flat in the middle of the city, something began to gnaw at me: I missed a green view, I missed the mountains and nature.
When looking for work didn't work out, I once again browsed the Workaway website looking for volunteer places in a small valley towards the Sierra Nevada. We had hiked there once on the recommendation of the family and had quietly fallen in love with that cute white village at the foot of those mighty mountains.
It was late December when we met Laura, a woman our age who was looking for help with the upkeep of her estate. 3 January 2020, we moved into the caravan at the edge of her small vineyard.
There was a lot to do. For her alone, maintaining the field alongside her other project was too much work and we noticed it. The animals were on their own, the weeds were rampant everywhere and the vegetable garden had not been walked on for years. The work did not stop, but to still get some money in, I had meanwhile found online work as a copywriter and my love was selling his homemade empanadillas and cupcakes in a 'grupo de consum' in the village.
Despite stories of a virus in China slowly seeping into our world, I still wanted to move on. I wanted more luxury, less work on the land and a place all to ourselves. So I went looking, this time for a real cottage on a piece of land where we could stay in exchange for taking care of the animals. A place where we would have a proper oven and a normal bedroom.
The moment I made arrangements to look at a house, COVID struck in Spain. The country went on lockdown and by mid-March 2020, regulations said we were no longer allowed to leave the house. For us, that meant we were not allowed to leave the estate. Laura could no longer go to her other project and suddenly she was home whole days and started teaching online classes to her groups.
In one of the first weeks of the quarantine, friends asked her for help. Before the lockdown, a couple from Poland had ended up at their campsite who could now not travel back to Poland, but the police also did not allow them to stay at the campsite in their camper. Laura decided they could stay at our field and the following day the Poles, with their two cats and a dog, drove down the small mountain road to her estate.
There we were, in a small caravan, in a small field, with people we didn't know at all. Although I felt happy that we were in the open air and not cooped up in that cold building complex in central Granada, it was still quite an adjustment. We saw each other all day long: we worked together in the field, went to the same toilet and sat at the same table. You could say we had entered a small social pressure cooker. This caused stress, tension and the occasional explosion of emotions and clashes of conflicting interests.
But there have been so many more beautiful moments.
We organised full-moon meditations, we discover the culinary delights of the different countries and we watched Cirque du Soleil together on the sofa while enjoying a pizza. Young people from the village helped with work in the fields, while vegetables and latest news were exchanged with neighbours. The overwhelming nature around us was liberating, the solitary walks with the dogs in the mountains taught me to appreciate this special part of Spain more and more. The change from winter to spring, with an abundance of flowers, gave me hope that eventually everything would return to its normal course. I felt like I was in a warm nest and slowly I began to call this country my home. The idea of leaving slid further and further away.
For three months I didn't go into the village, but the 'grupo de consum' kept running. During the lockdown, the group even grew: more and more people joined, preferring to buy local vegetables rather than go through the whole hassle at the supermarket. My sweetheart was working overtime; during these 3 months, I think he sold the most. The orders rolled in and I prepared the box for him, which he delivered to the group in the village. With each order, I put a thank-you card and I coloured the paper bags full of hearts. Every week, I saw the names of strangers passing by. These names became regulars and their wishes my only connection to a village I didn't really know well.
After three months, sanctions were eased. It was permissible to go back to the village and meet on the terrace. I would never forget the first time I went along to deliver the orders. I finally saw the faces behind the names and noticed how much pleasure the home-baked products and the hearty packaging had given the people in those last months. It was as if every week they received a little gift from which love radiated.
Without any physical contact, we had apparently created a group of friends. A group that assumed we were in it together, that we were strong together and we would get through this period together. After years of searching for a place I wanted to be, I felt at home in a village that had chosen me. She had embraced us and taken us in at the most difficult moment.
We decided to stay.
And so the idea of a small house in a corner of the estate grew. Laura, too, did not want to lose us and so we sat down with her. We wandered from tipi to yurt to an ecological tiny house. In January 2021, a year after our arrival, we single-handedly started building the tiny house in a place where I had laid down my roots without actually realising it. And now, almost a year later it's there. After converting the caravan from bedroom to living room about 700 times, there stands before us a place with a little more luxury: a cottage just for us, not yet with a proper oven, but with a normal bedroom.
It was not an easy road, especially financially it was sometimes turning every euro three times and making difficult choices. But we managed and that mainly because of individuals who lent us money, the groups of volunteers who happily stuck their fingers in the mud and the friends who gave us second-hand windows, furniture and tiles. But also through our ingenuity, by making do with what we have. The kitchen furniture is made from pallets found in the rubbish, the kitchen worktop is a mosaic of pieces of tiles found in the field and the staircase is from branches tied together with rope.
Despite the world being turned upside down and us having to search for a new normal, I have found my new normal precisely because of the lockdown:
I feel part of a community that I am sure will be there when hard times come again.
I live with the nature around us which, while the world seems to be getting scarcer, actually gives me a sense of abundance.
I live ecologically in a way that does not have a major impact on the environment, by using what is around us and not buying everything new.
But above all, I have discovered that I can do a lot SELF. When it comes down to it, I can even build a house, it turns out. And all this together gives me an enormous sense of independence and strength.
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