Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Bunkhouse Diaries

So it's been almost a month here on the farm, I feel it's about time to go into a little bit of detail about my lifestyle here on the farm, to give you a bit of a feeling of just what life is like here.

As you may know, the guys I'm working with come up every year from Mexico for 6-8 months per year to work on farms here in Ontario. The guys I'm working with in particular switch farms about once a month or so, depending on what is being harvested. They'll harvest apples one month, asparagus the next, garlic the next, then more apples, and so on and so forth.

Workers from the same farm usually live together in a bunkhouse, which means different things in different places. Here, it is an old farmhouse with a kitchen/living room, bathroom, and three bedroomsfor six guys. This is relatively spacious; I've heard of 6-8 people living in a trailer, or a house the size of our serving for well over a dozen people!

The day starts about an hour and a half before we go to work—for example, if we start at 6, activity starts around 4:30. Breakfast is usually a combination of leftovers from the previous day, with some beans or eggs that the guys cook. I'm not a big breakfast person, so I usually just stick to my coffee and bread. Half asleep, we go about preparing a lunch to take with us to the farm, and then head out the door.

We're a good 15-minute drive from the farm, and as the only one with a Canadian driver's licence, I'm the chauffeur of our luxurious 1995 Dodge Caravan. Me being entrusted with a vehicle of any kind will obviously disturb anyone who knows how I drive. I'm sure no-one will be surprised by my new nickname, 'taxista' (cabbie), dedicated to my disdain for slowing down at curves in the road.

Dinner occurs right after we get back from work, and it is a communal affair, with everyone cooking and cleaning together. My creations are usually greeted with a mix of confusion and humour. Already my sauteed mushrooms have earned fame as 'ongos halucinantes' (magic mushrooms). The rest of the menu consists of beans, meat of all sorts, eggs, rice, and a mountain of tortillas.

I've been thinking a lot about what to put in here, and there's a lot to say, but I think I'll leave the rest for another time. I'm enjoying things a lot here; the atmosphere is not nearly as tense as I imagined a bunkhouse might be. Everyone gets along and people look out for one another. I'm assured that this is better than normal in a lot of ways—fewer people, less conflict, more laughter and joking around—so I suppose I've really lucked out!

Spanish Fails, parts 1 and 2

The season of 12-14 hour days has begun, which is good for my wallet but bad for my blogging ability. As a result, I've been unable to get to the internet for a while. This means a longer wait for posts from me, but because I've been neglecting you all so much, I've written two updates that I'll post today! This first one is entirely about my failure at communicating in Spanish, so if you a) don't speak Spanish, or b) are not as much of a language nerd as I am, you may not enjoy this post as much as I do. However, there's another one right belowthis one, so enjoy!

As you may have guessed, Spanish is the dominant language of the bunkhouse. My English classes are going pretty well, but we're a long way off from having anything approximating a conversation beyond 'Good morning. How are you?'

My Spanish is at a nearly-conversational level, thanks to my prior knowledge of Portuguese and an excellent Spanish professor. I've been feeling pretty good about getting on in conversations with the guys, and I'm learning a lot every day. However, that doesn't mean that I've been immune from a few memorable failures on the language front. And, as I am clearly a) shameless and b) a big language nerd, I just had to share some of them.

My first offence is a classic one, which makes it all the more embarrassing. When you learn about 'false friends' – words that sound like they should be right but are actually drastically wrong – this particular mistake just about tops the list.

The guys and I were working and talking about the weather, which has taken a turn for the better. One of the guys remarked that the farmer would be happy about the change in the weather.

“Sí,” I replied, “por que será caliente!” which I thought meant “Yes, because it will be hot.” However, having omitted a subject, I could have been referring to either a) the weather, or b) the farmer. Now, in English, it's clear that I was talking about the weather, but it's pretty ambiguous in Spanish. Moreover, 'caliente' has a fairly different connotation in Spanish. Basically, I implied that the reason for the farmer's good humour was because he was in heat.

And there you have it, folks. Always be careful with the word 'caliente,' because you might get burned.

My second offence is a little more pardonable but a lot more awesome. The verb 'mamar' is colloquially used to mean 'to speak foolishly, to bullshit.' If someone says 'no mames!' it means, roughly 'don't bullshit!' This is said roughly once every 20 seconds in Mexican Spanish, to convey disagreement, surprise, or as punctuation (though not as common as 'pinche,' which occurs every 5 seconds and is used somewhat similarly to our f-bomb).

Well, I decided to try using this new-found word, but I slipped in a little something extra, to show my Spanish prowess. In order to say 'don't bullshit me,' I said 'no me mames!' not knowing that actual meaning of 'mamar' is 'to milk' (as in, milk a cow). So, basically, I just ordered one of the guys not to milk me. I was assured that there was no danger of that occurring.