In the south of France: getting away from my Workaway

I saw a moth the other night, and it reminded me of my mom. Specifically, how terrified she was of them, and how she would shriek if she happened to find one trapped inside our house, helplessly beating itself against a lightbulb, trying to escape.

They often remind me of her, but this night I stopped and said hello; not to the moth, but to my mom.

I’ve never done this before. In the 14 years since she died, I’ve never once “felt her presence.” And I wouldn’t say that I felt it then, but it seemed nice at the time to think about her as someone I could still talk to.

“Hi mom, it’s me. I’m in the south of France!

Who would’ve guessed this – teaching English in Morocco and summering in the French countryside? Not me.

But I hope you’re proud.

I was for a while, for a lot of my life, but I’m losing it now. I’m getting closer and closer to thirty and I’m not getting any closer to where I thought I would be.

I feel like I’m just treading water.

And yes, Mom, I know there’s no point in thinking about the things we cannot change, but I really wish I had studied something else at university. I wish I had taken a year or two off before I started, so I could have maybe gone in the right direction from the beginning. So I would have something to show for the last 10 years,” I thought.

I mean, I know what I’m doing is ‘cool’ and all. I know that I’ve had so many experiences which wouldn’t have been possible without courage and bravery, and for doing those things, I would be happy to know if you’d seen me do them.

I’m sure it looks like I have my shit together from the outside; it even sounds like I’m “on the right path” and “headed in the right direction.” And it all looks pretty glamourous; Facebook friends and Instagram followers probably think I’m living the dream!

But it doesn’t really feel like a dream, Mom, and I really wish you were around to help guide me through this, to give me some direction.”

Cause, guys, the truth is, yes I’m here in the south of France, taking a summer vacation from my life on the beaches of Morocco. It sounds like it could only possibly be incredible, but I’ve discovered that there is actually plenty of room within that scenario for discomfort to appear.

It’s not in any way unbearable. I’m doing a Workaway: what’s supposed to be an exchange by local hosts and a traveller; 20-25hrs of work per week for room and board, and ideally, some hospitality. Some concern about whether or not your guest is taken care of, and getting what they need out of the bargain. Not just a free maid.

The work is totally fine (when I’m actually able to just do something on my own without the one host helicoptering around me, disagreeing with every suggestion I make, painfully demonstrating how I should do simple tasks, such as properly wipe a countertop (I’m an adult, lady, I think I can handle it), or passive-aggressively (not always so passive) asking me to finish tasks I’ve already completed (aka redo them). 

But it doesn’t get any better off the clock. She’s so stuck in her ways and has basically no regard for making sure her volunteers are comfortable. Oh, we locked you out of the house last night?  That’s nice. You didn’t have blankets? Too bad. We built you a makeshift bed and put you in a room full of our crap? Yep, we did. 

… Oh, you like peanut butter? I’m going to hide this expired jar that I’ve been hoarding for years, just because I don’t want you to have it. 

It’s bizarre, really. I feel like I’m a teenager again trying to dance around an adult who’s impossible to please. Though it’s not that bad. I’ve been here for a month already, and it feels like it might be getting better. But the fact that it’s unpleasant enough to have to decide whether or not I can bear it, means that it’s not that great, either. And since I only have three months in France, I should damn well be loving every day of them.

I keep being reminded of my beautiful friend Kristi, who in our program at UBC, was always the one we could count on to speak up and call our profs (or maybe just one in particular!) out on their shit. I thought that was just how she was, and that she must have always been exactly just like that. And quite likely she always had some fire, but I’m finding that these days, I have a much lower tolerance for bullshit. So maybe it’s a thing that just comes with enough years spent biting your tongue, that eventually you grow tired of it. Don’t fuck me around, don’t waste my time, don’t skirt around the truth. Just get to it, be fully transparent, and we’ll get along just fine.

But I keep running into these people (specfically, the director at my last school, and now, this workaway host), and I keep asking myself if it’s just me; if I’m not as easy to get along with as I thought. But if it’s actually just my decreasing tolerance for bullshit, then I think it’s probably healthier to have a spine instead. And in that way, I keep thinking of Chad, a friend-of-aforementioned-Kristi-turned-awesome-roommate, who always deals with things as they come up, instead of silently agonizing over them (à la the style of yours truly). I may have developed a lower tolerance for crap, but I don’t seem to have gained an increased capacity for confrontation!

So after much deliberation, I’ve arranged a new workaway placement, and I’m moving there this weekend. I had another host nearby offering to pick me up anytime in the last few weeks, but I didn’t have the courage to leave. But I have now collected myself, made a plan, let them know, and am on my way out!

I’ll be back to the front desk of a hostel, but none of this 10 hours a day, 7 days a week business. Official workaway placements are typically a maximum of 25 hours per week, which suits me just fine! I’ll be in a city, meeting people and speaking French, just as I had planned. So cross your fingers that I don’t run into any other hiccups!

In the meantime, on to some of the positive notes 🙂

First of all, the south of France is beautiful. I mean, stunning. And the other workaway volunteers here have been amazing; we have done tons of driving, eating, wine-tasting, and exploring. We made a friend at a cafe in Mirepoix, who is super lovely. And did I mention that it’s gorgeous?

Click on photos to see gallery

Also, while I haven’t had much opportunity to practice my French in depth with anyone here, I have made progress in my language learning: I’m in the habit of watching French TV (hello, Marseille on Netflix) with closed captioning, often re-watching each scene with English subtitles after to compare my own translations; I listen to French with Michel Thomas and various French podcasts (any recommendations are welcome!!) as I do the housekeeping; I got a new copy of Le Petit Prince, which is going much smoother than the first time; and I have been working my way through the Assimil books for French and also Arabic!

So here’s hoping that my next post contains nothing but fun and smiles and falling in love with France.

À la prochaine!

5 thoughts on “In the south of France: getting away from my Workaway

  1. Room for discomfort…… looks like living the dream…. 30 and still not feeling I’ve done much….

    Could not have said it better.

    Just so you know…. i think we live with this tension for life. My 30s were a blur… a time of transitions.
    20,s was thinking i was going somewhere (In Africa at the time)
    30’s wondering where I went… and how or where I fit in. (Working in Canada with 5 or 6 trips back to africa)
    40’s half time in Canada and half in Africa each year. Finally at peace with the fact that I’m not at home anywhere…. but no longer trying to earn anyone approval or pat on the back. Just living for monents and memories and loving the people in my path. That leads me to age 48.

    You are slowly becoming bi if not tri-cultural. And tgat sense of unsettled is probably there for life. Never quite at home anywhere. It manifests as a background lonliness that seems to be just under the surface.
    I know a dozen internationals who all have the struggle. You want to oh so be there, to do oh so much, but this life is oh so conflicted at times, snd i ferl oh so small, do i do any good? You love the place, you wonder why you do this. You love the place, then hate the place. You wonfer should I go home. But home does not fit your soul so well anymore.

    All I’m saying is. It’s ok, it’s normal, it’s you, and you are ok. What you do is enough… it’s always enough. You don’t have to prove or justify where you are or how you feel. Just feel, let the feelings and emotions wash over you… the joys, the fears, and especially the tears. Feel.
    You are doing alright.
    You, for the person you are- YOU are alright too.

    Thanks for sharing your story on paper your moments, with us all.
    (Ps… married or a relationship does not change the feelings. I mean i am happy and in love after 28 yrs of marriage. But life internationally changes you forever. And these emotions are no different, or less vivid just because you havd a special someone. Wonderful to gave them in our lives. But we still feel the rawness of it all.)



    1. Andy,

      Thank you, thank you, thank you. I always appreciate your thoughtful responses and support. It’s always so nice to know that I’m not alone.

      Hope things are good on your current side of the water xx


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