During first work Jason, a long-term volunteer in his mid 40’s, asks Alexandra, a muscular yogini from Vermont, and me, to go see if any lemons are ripe and deliver them to the kitchen.
We think, Sure, no problem. That sounds like a sweet job.
It takes 10 minutes just to locate the lemon tree. Once we find it, we discover an important piece of information: lemon trees have thorns.
We bob and weave around the tree, trying to access ripe lemons without getting tagged by a thorn. Suddenly I notice mosquitoes are swarming around us. They are everywhere and they do not care about “Herbal Armor,” New York Times’ chosen natural mosquito spray. I’m wearing long pants and closed-toed shoes, but they’re all over my arms, my neck, and my face.
I look over at Alexandra. She looks positively miserable. Her body’s covered in new red bumps. We try to act brave and grab a few more lemons. Then we make a run for it. We spend ten minutes applying Tiger Balm to our itchy battle wounds.
“The lemon tree has thorns!” we tell Jason.
“Yeah, you didn’t know that?”
“No, and it makes the ripe ones pretty difficult to reach.”
“I just shake the tree, and whichever ones land on the ground, those are ripe enough to eat. I suppose I could have told you that…”
These kinds of miscommunications are a way of life here. We take a deep breath and let it go while drinking some freshly made sweat ginger tea.
At the start of second work, Stephanie instructs us on watering plants with a little bit of pee.
“You know those pee tanks in the bathroom? Just pour some pee from one of the tanks into a watering can. Then grab a few more watering cans and combine one part urine for every ten parts water. Oh, and you’ll probably want to do this barefoot. Washing pee off your skin’s easier than shoes or pants.”
Alexandra and I exchange looks.
“You two don’t look convinced. The plants love it. Think of it as fertilizer. It’s easier that way.”
We take a collective deep breath and go to scrounge up some non-leaky watering cans. As we experiment with which cans have holes, Sam, a long-term volunteer from England, approaches.
“Well you’re going to get wee all over your clothes anyway.”
“Why can try not to, can’t we?” I say.
“Sure you can try.”
“Last time I watered with pee,” Hannes, a long-term German volunteer, says, “I got pee all over Jason’s pants. He bumped into me and the watering can just tipped straight onto him.”
We muster our courage. We gather the watering cans; Alexandria takes the plunge and goes to fill the first can with pee. We designate a festively painted can as the “pee can,” because we are filling all the other cans from the water pump in the kitchen. A sign that reads, “Think Hygiene” hangs at the entryway to the kitchen – an important mantra in a large hippie community.
“How bad was it?” I ask.
“Pretty bad…you can even smell it when you breathe in. There’s no real technique. You just have to lift the pee tank from the bottom and pour…”
We continue to water the designated areas. It’s my turn to fill the pee tank now and I square my shoulders and walk into the toilet. I pour from the pee tank into the can, breathing minimally.
The thing is, you can’t really breathe normally at all, because you are still carrying a can full of pee with you everywhere you go.
Everyone that walks by squinches their nose. What’s that funny smell?
Hillary, another American volunteer, joins us for the pee watering session.
“Pee does have a lot of nitrogen in it,” she says.
“This pee looks fermented,” I say.
“Yeah. When I filled it last time the bottom of the pee barrel was…it makes you wonder how healthy everyone’s feeling.”
According to Kim from Ireland, it gets your “kitches” out. Anything that’s holding you back, it releases. Things like this keep you more in tune with the body. She explains this as she pours from an overly full pee tank into a pee pan (used when you need to do number 2 and number 1 at the same time). From the pee pan it’s easier to pour into the watering can, instead of accidentally dumping pee all over the place.
As it turns out, watering with pee takes some skill. We all made it through second-work, though, and I think we’re stronger for it.
Later, when I water my pineapples with pee, I don’t even flinch. Pineapples, as it turns out, can stand a higher volume of pee: you can water them with 50% water, and 50% pee. I mean, it’s not like I look forward to watering with pee…especially many month old man pee. But if the pineapples love it, and will grow bigger and stronger after getting fertilized with it, then no problemo. I’m getting my kitches out.