Monday, November 28, 2005


Hi there

Wanted to let you all know I am fine. I am in Essaouira, Morocco right now. This keyboard is rearranged for Arabic right now so this email may be short but I am going to see how long I can stand it.

So... Bill, our farmer, drove us to Torvizcon on Friday, where we caught a bus to Granada. Then we got another bus to Algeciras, the Spanish port city. Next day; found a place to leave most of our belongings, made arrangements, and took a ferry to Tanger, Morocco. Catherine barfed a lot and oversolicitous men tried to help us fill out all our forms. When we got to Tanger we had a 6 hour wait before our bus to Casablanca. So went and walked around and bought some groceries. Then a 5 hour bus to Casa; then a 2 hour wait, then 7 more hours to Essaouira. Then we got off and wandered around blindly fending off people begging to put us up so so cheap and yes there is a hot shower madame! We ended up with a beautiful room for 3 dollars apiece per night and our hosts made us pots of hot mint tea just like Catherine learned in Mali. That was yesterday. Then we went to get something to eat and went to sleep for 13 hours. Jesus Lord! Or should I say, hamdullah.

It is so shocking being here. I don't think I've ever received a greater cultural shock I have in our first 24 hours here. I am so humbled. I thought I knew a lot, but I know nothing. Everything qbout this trip up til now seems like a joke in comparison. I have no idea how I am perceived here. We had a little incident in Tanger where Nicci and I got grabbed on the street. It was pretty upsetting. But why did it happen? Because we are female? Or white? Or unaccompanied? Or out after sunset? Or in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or dressed weirdly? Women here wear hijab, a floorlength tunic and a head scarf. Men wear a different kind of tunic with a pointy hood and sometimes a turban. We just cover ourselves from head to toe in what ze have.

Leaving the city was another kind of shock. The cities are surprisingly cosmopolitan but the countryside gets increasingly bootleg as we go south. The landscape looks like what I would imagine in the Middle East: dry and scrubby. Although in other places it is lush and looks like I have always imagined Africa. In the small towns no one even speaks French. I am learning to recognize the Arabic writing for "Women" (for the bathroom), "Coca Cola," and "Essaouira." But I still have the linguistic abilities of a three year old. In Arabic I am limited to one word statements. For exqmple, a conversation that transpired at the bus station yesterday:

Me: (in Arabic) Hello sir.

Man: Hello:

Me: (pointing at bread) Three. Please.

Man: (in French) You....speak.... is... French?

Me: Uh... espagnole?

Man: Ah! My brother... marry... with Spanish.

Me: Um...

Man: (smiling, in Arabic) garble garble! blah blah!

Me: (smile, shrug)

Man: blah! garble! hfdgjkhdfqgljk!

Me: (laughing helplessly, take bread, smile more) Thank you.

Man: You're welcome. garble garble!

Me: Good. Bye.

Man: Goodbye

:::me fleeing back to the bus:::

Meanwhile, in French I can embarrass myself more thoroughly. I am capable of entire sentences of gibberish:

Me: And the street of our hotel, what does he call himself?

Man: Rue alAttouane.

Me: Ah! I me am an agreement of where our hotel is!

Man: Uh...

Me: Are we wanting to go there now.

Man: (smiling uncertainly)

Me: It is good! Thank you! Yes! Goodbye!


You can see it is rather exhausting being here. We have a lot to learn. I have rarely felt more stupid, incompetent, or out of place, but so far it is ok. I am deeply grateful to be here with Catherine and Nicci of all people.

I also really want to keep going. I want to go to West Africa.

Ok. That is all for now. I can't stand the keyboard any more. Will write again soon.



Saturday, November 26, 2005


I just saw the post below (in purple font) on the forum on

It's a good question, b/c a lot of people don't like beans.

Im a new vegetarian and im worried about not getting the right protein. I hear peanut butter and bread have it but I dont wanna have that every night. I also hear beans do, but, i dont really like beans. Confused

So I thought I'd answer it here. I think about protein and calcium every day, every meal. In addition to over 100 vegetarian/vegan recipes, our book Veggie Revolution has a very very thorough coverage of vegetarian and vegan nutrition and cooking tips. It's not hard at all to get enough protein without eating beans. And you don't have to be a gourmet cook. The only times I spend more than 15 minutes cooking are Thanksgiving morning and Christmas Eve.

So here goes:

One cup of soy milk has 7 grams of protein. I drink 4 cups a day, or at least 3. That's 21 to 28 grams of protein a day right there. There are so many flavors of soy milk now - it's much more tasty than cow's milk to me. I like Enhanced, a variety of Silk soymilk. Sweet, full of calcium and vitamins, yummy.

If you're into convenience, there's a big variety of soy-based fake meat products, from companies like Morningstar, foods that are really good. Chik 'n Nuggets are great, my college-age kids love those. Four little nuggets have 12 grams of protein. Morningstar and other companies make a variety of plant-based burgers too that are really good, in the frozen foods section. My kids like the Pizza flavored ones or the Philly Cheese Steak ones. I don't have any in the freezer at the moment, but I think they have 10 grams of protein per burger. There's also a "Smart Ground" product that's very much like ground beef but is plant-based, has several grams of protein per serving. YOu can use it anywhere you would use crumbled ground beef, like in chili. My conventional grocery store has all these products. The Smart Ground is with the tofu and salad veggies at Harris Teeter.

A cheaper product to use in chilis, soups, and casseroles, with just as much protein or more, is TVP or textured vegetable protein. It costs pennies per serving. You can get it at any health food store, in bulk. It comes in dried little pieces sort of like oatmeal flakes that you rehydrate by soaking in water. Or you can just put it directly into any soup or chili and and it'll soak up the broth. It's a soy product, loaded with protein.

If you drink cow's milk, don't forget yogurt and cottage cheese. If you're vegan, soy yogurt is pretty good these days. Both kinds of yogurt have several grams of protein. I have yet to find a soy cheese that I really like, but would love to hear suggestions from others.

Tofu is a favorite in our house. 40 grams of protein per package. You can dice it and heat it in your favorite tomato sauce, it soaks up the flavor of the sauce. Then put the sauce over noodles. My teenaged kids love this and ask for it. For a lot of tofu recipes, see our new book Veggie Revolution (amazon). I eat tofu for lunch with a little broccoil almost every day. I slice the tofu (2 slices) and put some frozen broccoli florets or frozen cut okra on a plate, sprinkle it all with powdered ginger and tamari, and heat it in the microwave until hot - 4 or 5 mintues. Hardly any calories and very very good.

Then there's tempeh and seitan. Tempeh is a soy product that can be substituted for meat in recipes, it has a tougher texture than tofu.

And seitan is a popular meat substitute in vegetarian restaurants, chewy and flavorful. It's actually a wheat product, not a soy product. There's a nice little vegetarian restaurant in Greensboro NC that serves seitan dishes that are wickedly good. I have only seen tempeh and seitan at health food stores. Of the two, I like seitan better. It is very meatlike in texture (not that I like meat, but I do like the chewiness of seitan). Just like tofu or tempeh, it can be sauteed and mixed with a variety of foods.

There's more about all of these foods in our book Veggie Revolution. If you have any questions about nutrition or cooking, post them here and I'll answer them.

Sally Kneidel

Friday, November 25, 2005

New Endorsement from Heather Mills McCartney for Veggie Revolution

We're really excited to have gotten a new endorsement from Heather Mills McCartney for our book that came out in October, Veggie Revolution. She gave us a personal statement earlier for the jacket of the book, which was great, and we used it. But it didn't actually mention the book. This one does endorse the book directly, now that she has a final copy of it. Her new endorsement will go on the book jacket for the second printing.

Heather's words about Veggie Revolution:


Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation and co-author of Animal Factories, also wrote us a nice endorsement that's on the book jacket now. But there's no link to his comments on our blog homepage, so that's why I put it here.

"Veggie Revolution takes us into places that very few of us ever see: the factory farms where most of America's chicken, pork, eggs, and milk are produced. Read it, stop buying factory-farmed animal products, and use the helpful advice and great recipes to change your life and make a difference." Peter Singer


photo by Alan Kneidel

There's a good post this morning on VeganFreaks about pets and hunters roaming in the woods. Along those lines, take a look at these links:

Housecat predation on songbirds and small animals

National Wildlife Federation on protecting birds from housecats

Well-fed and healthy dogs and cats can really do a number on wildlife. Especially cats. Cats kill millions of songbirds every year. I think housecats are the first or second leading killer of songbirds (after habitat loss). The other leading killers of songbirds are collisions with glass windows and radio towers.

Last year in my hometown there was a stir in the media about roaming housecats killing wildlife. Our misguided mayor’s official position was “that’s nature. Let nature do its thing.”

The thing is, that’s not nature. House cats and dogs are not native animals, are not part of ecosystems,and they’re not controlled by the factors that keep animal populations in balance in natural ecosystems.


Hi friends!

Well, we are headed to Morocco this afternoon, where I hear they have Arabic keyboards. So my emails may dwindle in number from here on out.

We've spent the last two weeks on a wonderful and weird and totally different farm near Granada. We had a very funny Thanksgiving yesterday in which we made the family a Thanksgiving dinner and tried to explain Squanto and Puritans to them. Then we had a dance party in the kitchen because we were too full to eat dessert.

Rather than try to summarize our time here in this place of almond trees and Rottweilers, I believe the attached picture speaks for itself.


Sara Kate


Sara Kate, Nicci and Catherine have been working on a WWOOF farm near Granada Spain, are leaving for Morocco today, Friday. SK wrote this Thurdsay. WWOOF is the WorldWide Organization of Organic Farms.

Hi there,

We haven't served Thanksgiving our dinner yet. We'll have it when Scott and Bill get home tonight. We're going to dress up as pilgirms and Indians and teach them about the origins of the holiday. I taught Nicci to make sweet tater casserole last night. :-)

Alan sounds lovely, I bet his hair is longer than mine. Here’s another picture of mine.

I do like Rufus Wainwright. Carra likes him very much. Have you heard his song Hallelujah? It sends chills down my spine.

yes, we are planning to stay in Morocco til the end. We'll be coming back to Spain on the 18th or so. The itinerary we're thinking of is Essouaira, Marrakesh, Merzouga, Chef-Chouen, although that could change. I'll let you know all the details I have as I find them out.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Below is Sara Kate's Nov 23 email from southern Spain. She's headed for Morocco on Friday.

Hi there!

We're eating lots of nice food. It's interesting because this family is not vegetarian, and they've been a bit puzzled as to how to best accommodate us, but they're doing well. We help out some. Tomorrow we're going to make them a big Thanksgiving feast. Yum! Actually, in relation to that, could you possibly type me the recipes from our book for Veggie Stuffing and Sweet Potato Casserole? I would really appreciate this.

Yesterday we made an actual figgy pudding from figs we collected on our afternoon walk. It was delicious!

Catherine sometimes talks of moving here. It is a nice place.

We are leaving for Morocco on Friday. I will tell you what I know of our plans: on the night of the 25th we will be in Algeciras, Spain. The next day we will take a ferry to Tanger, Morocco, and then a bus to Essouira, a town on the Atlantic coast. We plan to stay there a few days before continuing to Marrakesh.




Our extended family has demanded that we bring this every Thanksgiving and Xmas for the last 10 years. It's almost like a dessert, it's so good.

Sweet Potato Casserole

Mix first 5 ingredients and spread in oiled 1 and 1/2 quart casserole:

4 cups mashed sweet potatoes
4 tbsp soymilk (or organic cream)
4 tbsp melted margarine or organic butter
3/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground cloves (can substitute nutmeg or allspice)

Heat over low heat, stirring constantly until margarine or butter is barely melted:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 margarine or organic butter

Spread topping over potato mixture, cover with 1 cup of pecan pieces. Bake in 350 degee oven 1/2 hour or until topping is bubbly.

About 8 servings. You're gonna like it.


After watching the traditional stuffing being scooped right out of the turkey's rear end, you may want to take this vegan stuffing to your family's Thanksgiving dinner. It's from our book Veggie Revolution (see amazon), pg 197.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Tear 10 slices of whole wheat bread, crusts and all, into small shreds. Place the shreds in a large casserole dish and bake for a few minutes, until the bread is well toasted.

3. Meanwhile, thinly slice

1 medium onion
3 stalks celery
2 large carrots, peeled

and saute in 2 tablespoons oil until the onion is translucent.

4. Remove the bread from the oven and add the onion mixture, as well as

3 tablespoons raisins
1 diced Granny Smith apple (or other tart apple)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup chopped pecans

and stir.

5. Sprinkle with

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon thyme
2 tsp sage
1 tsp marjoram
1 tsp rosemary
1/2 to 3/4 tsp salt (to taste)
1/4 tsp black pepper

6. Drizzle with 1 and 1/2 cups vegetable stock and toss gently.

7. Bake uncovered for 25 minutes. Toss and serve. Serves 12.


The Humane Society filed a lawsuit Monday against the USDA, saying that turkeys and chickens should be unable to feel pain before they're slaughtered.

A spokesman for the poultry industry called the suit "a publicity stunt" for Thanksgiving.

Is that they best response they can come up with? So what if it is a publicity stunt? Good idea to file suit right now, as most Americans prepare to chow down on the basted birds.

The lawsuit says poultry deserve the same rights as cattle and hogs. Although the process is not exactly a picnic for the latter.

Upon entering the processing line at the slaughterhouse, single file, cattle are typically "stunned" by a captive bolt stunner that shoots a 7-inch bolt into their forehead. This knocks most of them unconscious. Both Fast Food Nation and Michael Pollan's excellent article "Power Steer" describe the slaughter process for cattle. I've read that hogs are stunned before slaughter with an electrical stun gun of some kind, I'm not sure exactly how that works. Although the factory hog farmer we interviewed for Veggie Revolution said that captive bolt stunners are used on hogs sometimes.

Anyway, I know that chickens are strung up perfectly conscious by both feet along a conveyor line that dunks them into electrified water, which causes them to empty their bowels. So the bath is essentially fecal soup, which the poultry then inhale. The conveyor line then pulls them out of the water and moves them along to machines that decapitate them one by one, then dunk them in scalding water. All done by machines.

Humane Society Sues USDA in Behalf of Turkeys and Chickens

I called a Tyson plant to ask if I could have a tour of the chicken "processing" floor. At first the plant manager told me yes. But when I called back a week later, I was told that "after the Sept 11 attacks we can no longer give tours." Right. Well, I haven't given up.

So how would you stun a chicken or turkey to make it insensible? In a humane way, that is. Can't use drugs, they would be in the meat. I don't see how that could work. Jeez, time to move on to a different subject.

Meanwhile I'm glad I don't have turkey on the menu tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Turkeys have it bad, no doubt about it. But at least we don’t eat their eggs. If we did, they’d be living in battery cages like the hens that lay our table eggs. I visited an egg factory for a major Southeastern grocery chain last spring while working on our book Veggie Revolution. It had more than a million hens living in battery cages, spread out over about 10 warehouse-sized buildings. All the hens had bare red patches on their chests and butts from friction against the wire cages, and their feathers were stripped of fluff. Their beaks were all "trimmed."

In the first building, the hens were deathly quiet - our guide said they were in a "forced molt" to make them lay eggs faster. A forced molt is induced by depriving them of food until they've lost 30% of their body weight. First their feathers fall out. Then when food is returned, their egg production picks up.

United Egg Producers guidelines to forced molts and beak trims

In the next building, the hens weren’t as limp and silent. But they still weren’t exactly sprightly. Our guide said that after a couple of years in the battery cages, the hens are so depleted, "we can't give them away." No wonder, the air was thick with fecal and feather particles, like it was snowing. The cages were arranged in vertical tiers so the crap from each cage rained down on those below. Many of the hens had gray splats on them. Under each row of cages was a deep trench filled with an 8-ft-deep pile of feces, like a long gray mountain range. The pile is removed only when the hens are replaced, every two years. That explains the stench. For more about this charming tour, see Veggie Revolution.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Here's a great vegetable dish to take to a pot-luck gathering of family or friends for Thanksgiving, or any occasion. It's one of the more than 100 recipes in Veggie Revolution.

Nancy's Time-Saving Green Beans

1. Crumble 1/2 to 3/4 cup of tofu into pea-sized pieces, then marinate them in enough Italian dressing to barely cover them while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

2. Snap and string 2 cups fresh green beans.

3. Steam beans for a few minutes, until tender but still slightly crunchy. Remove from heat.

4. Meanwhile, slice in half
3/4 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup black olives

5. When the green beans have cooled, mix the vegetables together. Dress with marinated tofu crumbles and Italian dressing to taste. Chill before serving. Serves 4.


Sara Kate and I went to interview the other day another farm family, one that raises a few hogs "in the woods." This was not for Veggie Revolution, which came out in October, but for our new book in-progress about how American's spending choices have more influence than our votes. Because our consumer dollars empower the corporations that increasingly shape our world and the future of our planet. For example, Tyson chicken factories and Smithfield hog factories are flourishing because many Americans are buying their products by the gazillion. And Wal-Mart, as we now all know, pays its sweatshop workers (women and children) less than 20 cents an hour, because many of us love those low, low prices. Hard to resist. And so on, you get the picture.

Anyway, we went for the interview, and the farmer dad and the teenaged son led us out into the woods, for real, to find the hogs. There they were, all stretched out, snoozing in the underbrush. We talked for a while, then left. I accidently left my bookbag there, so I had to go back later to get it. While no one was home. This gave me a chance to creep back out in the woods to try to get some close up pictures of the hogs, unencumbered by spectators. I got real close and sat there for a while until the hogs ignored me. I just watched their behavior. I was thinking about the hogs we wrote about in Veggie Revolution, on the factory farm for Greenwood Meatpacking Company (think Gwaltney and Jimmy Dean sausage). Those Greenwood hogs were in metal stalls with wire mesh floors, unable to take a single step forward or backward or sideways. Unable to lie down normally. Nothing to do for amusement day in or out. Sitting in their own crap, breathing fumes that give most of them pneumonia before slaughter.

But the hogs in the woods, they had it easy, as hogs go. They had chosen to lie in the loose dirt under tangled vines. They seemed to like having the vines lie across their skin. They liked the underbrush. The dirt was loose because they had made it so. One of them spent 10 minutes, as he lay on his side, poking his snout into the loose dirt and tossing it up so that it fell across his face. He wanted the dirt to lie scattered across his skin. He was very particular about it. When he finally had the vines and the scattering of dirt just so, he fell asleep.

And yet, the county extension agent I interviewed in Veggie Revolution told me "If you give a hog a safe place to sit [in a cramped metal stall] and enough food to eat, she's just as happy as can be." It's scary that the government officials in charge of animal comfort are so oblivious and indifferent to reality. The meat industry is big business for the state. And that's the bottom line. If for some reason caging all dogs and cats in tiny metal stalls became a profitable thing to do, then it would suddenly become legal to do so. Farmed animals are currently exempt from the animal protection laws that apply to all other animals - pets, zoo animals, circus animals, wildlife, etc. Because applying protection laws to those farmed animals could put a dent in the huge profits generated by the meat industry, some of which wind up in the state's coffers. And the meat industry is a big source of jobs for unskilled laborers in many states, certainly in NC.

What can be done? As a society, eat less meat. Pull the plug on Tyson and Smithfield and ConAgra and all the rest of them.

Thursday, November 17, 2005



Howdy all!

We are working here, but not very hard. Today I've been working at clearing a garden terrace above the house, tearing down pampas grass, rose bushes, and assorted other plants. It's actually quite enjoyable work just to let go and tear something to shreds. Therapeutic, really. I just wish we had better tools - it's hard to decimate a 10-foot bush with a pair of hedgeclippers. I'd give anything for one of the scythes from our other farm.

Yesterday I took a hike up into the mountains with one of the dogs, all the way up to the main roads. There are grape orchards everywhere and I stopped to pick the sweetest grapes I've ever tasted, as flavorful as apple cider. From the top of the vista I can see the sparkling blue Mediterranean in one direction and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada in the other. Scampering down the rocky road I heard myself say out loud, "I'm so happy right now it ought to be illegal!" It surprised me to say it but I thought about it and it was true, I was very happy. Writing in my journal last night I came to a realization: that my moments of most greatest happiness almost always come from interactions with people I love or from intense experiences outdoors. So often being outside brings me a moment of overwhelming joy or emotion. It's exciting to realize that. Now what to do with the knowledge?



Unfortunately for turkeys, it's almost Thanksgiving. I see Bush did his usual "pardoning of the turkey" ceremony - a chance to pose for photos, make jokes, and look ridiculous. How did such a farce get started - pardoning one turkey while a gazillion are being plucked and butchered? A distraction from the ugly reality, cooked up by corporate meat-packers no doubt. Or schmoozing politicians, wanting to make their president look charitable and kind. Hah!

For a riveting description of the real lives of turkeys, read this:

Jim Mason's description of working in a turkey breeder farm

Jim describes his illustrious job (lasted one day) that involved artificially inseminating a building full of turkeys, work performed by a staff of ill-paid and surly laborers. You can imagine the tender loving care applied to the males, and the delicate handling of the females. Read it and see.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


I went to interview a farming family a couple of weeks ago for our new book in progress.

The family is struggling to get a financial toehold using humane and sustainable practices. They sell their organic vegetables and the meat from their pastured livestock to the local community.
The dad told me about a job he had a few years back, before the family got rolling with their organic farm. He said he had worked on a turkey farm. He went on to say that, in summer, it was quite common for a whole building of turkeys to die during a heat wave.

"What happened to the dead ones?" I asked him.

"Oh, same thing that happens to all dead poultry and poultry parts, all the feathers, scraps of skin, bone, sick animals, everything."

"What's that?" I pressed, not sure I wanted to hear the answer.

"All the carcasses and waste get melted down in a big vat, into a thick, sticky oily soup."

"Oh....and what happens to the soup?"

"Well," he continued, "it's used to make lifestock feed. See, the corn or soybeans for the feed are ground up into a dry powder. They need the melted waste to bind the powder together, so it will form pellets. Look at the feed in a Tyson plant, or any big livestock operation. It's pellets. Greasy pellets. Or pick up a handful of dogfood. It'll leave a greasy feel in your hand. The melted livestock waste is used to bind dogfood and catfood too."

I know he's right about livestock feed being pellets. I've seen the pellets on the factory farms Sara Kate and I toured for our book Veggie Revolution (

Tyson pellets that pour out of the automated feeders for broiler chickens are yellow-gold. I asked a Tyson farmer what they were made of, he said he didn't know.

But anyway, the real point of this story was to say that the farmer told me that one day one of the pipes carrying the melted swill out of the vat clogged up. He was appointed to get in the goop waist-deep and unplug the pipe. He said it clung to him like glue. When he got out, they couldn't clean it off of him. Wound up having to scrub him down with gasoline.

So....the chickens and the pigs and the cattle and all the animals that provide the meat at our standard supermarkets, those animals are all eating that glop with every bite. So if we eat it...then...

As I got ready to leave the farm family's lovely acreage, I was patting their little collie and I mentioned that my dog recently died of cancer. The farmer said, "Is that surprising? Think what the dog's been eating." Whoa. That was a totally new thought. Waste soup.

So I guess my conclusion here is, folks who want to eat meat will be making a healthier choice if they eat pastured meat, or organic meat. You can find out who your local providers of such meat are if you check out Or shop at a natural food store such as Whole Foods Market or Earth Fare.

Gasoline. Yuck.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Hello everyone!

I bought a new hat last night, and with it came a jaunty sense of adventure. It is a very European hat. I could be Maria Luz, a Spanish anarchist, or Lujka, a Polish university student, or Sara Kate, an American weirdo. Who knows! We have all been immensely enjoying the amount we blend in here. In contrast to Mexico, when I speak Spanish here, no one does a double take. Well, sometimes they ask me if I'm from Guatemala. But usually they just accept that I am both white and bilingual. I can't describe what an immense relief it is not to feel like a freak all the time. I can walk around in the streets without feeling hunted.

Our haircuts help. The European Fashion Mullet is rampant here: I have not seen so many mullets since the Wal-Mart on Eastway. It is the new hip thing here, to have a massive mullet and bangs. Fortunately, Nicci got a haircut before we left with bangs and a shaggy part in the back... it is just weird enough to pass as a pseudo-mullet. And since my hair now stands straight up, I look just weird enough to fit in as well. Yesterday the two of us were walking around and people actually asked US directions - twice! And one time we actually knew. I've never felt better about my Spanish abilities or my ability to fit in in a foreign culture.

We're taking a break from farming this week. Our last few days on the farm we actually got a paying job working on a construction site, believe it or not. Rory and James were working with a construction team to restore a crumbling farmhouse so its owners could apply for a certain permit by a certain date, and had only 10 days to finish. So we got paid 25 Euros a day each to whitewash our brains out, but also to have the unique experience of being women on an all-male construction crew. It's really changed my perspective on manual labor. When I pass people doing construction work now, I notice what they're doing and whether I could do it and what it would be like to do it. It's hard to accept that some of it I really couldn't do, physically. But a lot of it I can, and it's powerful to feel that capable.

It was also interesting that all of us workers spoke English, being from Britain, and our supervisor spoke Spanish and had to use a translator to give us directions. It was a confusing inversion of most construction sites in the US, for sure!

Since then, we've been on the go. Our last night with on the farm we spent in the tiny nearby hil town where Rory and Felix live during the week, home to 800 people. We wanted to buy them a thank-you for being so kind to us, and decided on a nice bottle of wine. So we set out, asking directions to "el centro," which turned out to be 3 stores. One of these sold wine. So we chose the nicest bottle they had, and also 3 loaves of bread and 6 eggs. The women toted this up and said, "That'll be 3.10." "Plus the bottle of wine?" I asked, confused. "No, no, with everything!" she beamed. Befuddled, we paid, and stumbled out in the street and examined our purchase. According to the receipt, the bottle of wine had cost 80 cents. Uhh.. what? We decided it must have been a bottle of cooking wine. So we went across the street and tried again. This one cost 3 Euros. The woman explained to us that that's the most any wine costs here. They produce so much wine that it's as cheap as water. So, our fine thank you gift turned out to be cheaper than a bottle of soda. Great. Oh well, Rory thought it was funny anyway.

Since then, we've been in Granada and Sevilla, having a taste of the cosmopolitan life. And when I say cosmopolitan, what I mean is that our "hotel" is actually an extra room off the courtyard of someone's house. The senora is very accomodating to us, but likes to tell her husband what to do. "Could we have an extra blanket?" I asked. "Pepe!" she barked. "Pepe, get them an extra blanket. A big blanket!" Pepe got us two.

This afternoon we're going to go to either a 10th century Muslim palace, or an art museum. Or we might just wander around in the labyrinth of tiny streets and alleyways until we're totally lost and bewildered, and then sit in our hotel room and eat beets and olive oil in bed. That's what we did yesterday.


Sara Kate

Monday, November 07, 2005


Hello friends!

I hate to send a group message, but contact with the outside world turns out to be quite precious. Somehow I never imagined that we would be somewhere this remote. Fortunately, everything has gone more smoothly than we possibly could have hoped for... but it has still resulted in us being in the middle of nowhere for the past 10 days. I just used a flush toilet for the first time in quite a while!!

Basically, I got into Malaga, a town in Andalucia, southern Spain, at 10:00 at night last Wednesday. I got a taxi to the hostel where Nicci was waiting for me on the front porch. We had a joyful reunion, went inside and woke up Catherine and sat around talking about how stinky we were. Just like old times!! The next day we got a bus to Ronda, a little town up in the mountains. The scenery is unbelievable. First we drove down the Costa del Sol, the Mediterranean coast, with sparking blue waters and seaside resorts. Then we curved up into chalky limestone mountains scattered with goats and tufty heather and pinsapo trees... it was incredibly remote, like northern Scotland but polka-dotted only occasionally with tiny hamlets of whitewashed buildings with red roofs, like Italian hill towns.

In Ronda we were supposed to have to ride an ass-buster bus to a tiny village of 800 people called Jubrique, but fortunately our farmers picked us up in their land rover and drove us to the farm about an hour away. Our farmers - ha! They’re great. We were so scared they were going to be creepy weirdos but they’re not. James is a young guy from East London who has lived here for 3 years, Rory is an Irishman from Dublin who has lived here for 23 years and is raising his 6 year old son Felix after being abandoned by his exwife who left him for a crazy Spaniard. James is very chatty and likes to swig the ol' Cruzcampo, but has taught us to identify wild mushrooms, herbs, and fruits, not to mention how to brandish long-handled scythes and whitewash a building. Rory is very quiet and softspoken but very, very kind and interested in hearing about our lives. Felix is a crazy little kid with a very interesting upbringing. He went around for 2 days with soot smeared all over his face before Rory finally made him wash it off using rainwater collecting in a rusty wheelbarrow. He's going to be the hearty type. As are we.

The farm!!! I wish you could see it. It is like Heidi times a Mexican rancho meets Laura Ingalls Wilder. An 1800s farmhouse set in the hillside, white stucco and terra cotta... the hillsides are so steep they have to be terraced so you can climb up and down. You drive about 45 minutes on a dirt track to get there. One solar panel which works occasioanlly... other than that we cook over the fireplace, drink and wash with water pumped out of a spring on the hillside. Our kitchen looks like a kitchen in one of those educational houses you go to in 3rd grade to learn "this is how the pioneers lived!" A rough hewn table, hand jarred olives on the table. The farm was abandoned for 15 years, and then Rory was putting it back together but now he has to live in Jubrique so Felix can go to school, so it is falling apart again. So basically we are being paid to live there and keep it from falling apart.

As it turns out, Rory and James are working on a building project at the coast right now so we are on our own. James stayed with us for the first few days to teach us how to survive, and now Rory comes down to check on us and bring us provisions every few days, but other than that we are on our own. Our day goes something like this: wake up. crawl out of sleeping bag. Build fire, put on water for tea and breakfast. Wash up while water is heating. Eat breakfast while heating more water for dishes. Wash dishes. Go to work: slash briars off the hillside, unearth broken fences, fix abandoned vegetable beds. Restoke the fire, reheat leftovers for lunch, drink tea and rest. Back to work: whitewash the house, haul dead logs off the hillside, chop firewood, harvest wild fruit. There are apples, figs, kiwis, grapes, chestnuts, olives, carrots, persimmons, and all kinds of herbs growing untamed. The persimmons are as big as half my fist!! The sink, which is outside, is overgrown with a mad tangle of kiwi vines.

Anyway, at 6-ish we stop working, restoke the fire again, put supper on to cook. As it gets dark we sit outside and watch the sun setting against the opposite hillside and listen to the constant jangling of goat bells. They belong to Jose, our nearest neighbor, who grows hashish and comes by occasionally selling pails of goat milk, which is fine to buy but you have to boil it first so you don’t get Maltese fever. So then we eat, and then is the nicest part of the day, sitting around the fire drinking wine and laughing like maniacs. It feels so good to be with Catherine and Nicci!! It feels like we were never apart.

So this is what we have done every day pretty much, except last Sunday, our ‘day off’in which we climbed up a huge mountain and got lost in the pinsapo forest, but we could see out across the Mediterranean all the way to Gibraltar and we could even see the distant shadow of Africa across the water. And on the weekends it’s slightly different because the guys all come down.

We’re all dirty as sin. I have 65 scratches on my right hand alone from the stupid brambles, and most of them are deeply encrusted with black dirt, as is my face. This morning Rory came to drop off a load of fresh veggies from James’ parents garden, and he proposed that we come down to Estepona, a town on the coast where he and James are building, for the day. We got ready in 2 seconds flat, throwing on our "fancy clothes" but I forgot to wash my hands and I think they may offend people. I think I probably smell offensive as well... Also, we cut my hair again a while ago. But we did it by firelight, so the result is that I now look like a rat with a buzz. Awesome. At least there is no one to see it except the goats.

So that is a hysterical recounting of events. It sounds idyllic and amazing but it has been really difficult. Physically, yes, but also emotionally, because it’s such a different lifestyle and I really want to like it but I can’t force myself to if I don’t. At first it was so novel it was easy to like. Then we hit a slump where we were exhausted and filthy and confused and we hated it. Then we pulled out of the slump and now we are feeling really good. All the things that are difficult at home just aren’t here. I don’t eat crappy junk food because there isn’t any to be had. I don’t sit around slothfully indoors at a computer because there isn’t one. I’m active and outdoors all day long and it feels good. We come in feeling tired and well used, but not as torn down as on the Appalachian Trail. Of course there are also bad moments that are vexing and trying but not nearly as much as I thought they would be. Actually, the only really difficult thing is being SO isolated... it would be a day’s walk to the nearest town, and our phone doesn’t work at all, really. If we need something, we are out of luck.

Adios to all
Sara Kate