Waking to the Horse's Breath: A Visit to the World of Work Trade

Living without money is more fun! Work trade is where you work in exchange for room and board while you travel. In essence, it’s probably the cheapest way to travel the world, meet people, and eat real good local foods. Every situation is different and there are cool and not so cool people to work for, as in the alternate capitalist Babylon world. This is something that everyone should experience. I did receive some government assistance through food stamps, and knowledge from work-trading in the New Orleans area that, if the emergency ever arose, to go to the emergency room without identification (at least in America) and they will treat whatever your condition may be. You may just need to play the character role of a mean person from back home, or just an imaginary friends name you know.

I won’t say which Hawaiian island I was on when I got this dream position. I had previous knowledge of a local plant on the islands known as Kava, with the plants’ name known as Awa (pronounced ava). It is a stress relieving drink that you make by taking the root of the plant and drying it in the sun. You then grind it into small bits or cut it very small, (some stores sell it as a powder or extract) and then put it into a cheese cloth, sock, or old t-shirt; basically anything that will strain it. You take some good filtered water, and pour over the kava into a big bowl, portions vary, but you’re supposed to dip the kava into the water in the bowl and squeeze many times also. The water will turn a tan dirty color but obviously, the darker the color, the more strong the kava will be! Native Hawaiians, before Captain Cook screwed everything up, would have political meetings, where everyone of importance would drink a coconut cup filled with Kava before meeting. Nobody fought, but issues were heard and complaints addressed. Sounds like we could all use some more kava in our lives right?

I took care of between 200-300 awa plants on a plot of land of about 3-4 acres in the middle of this wild valley known as the Valley of the Kings (hint hint). I had a mountain view in front of the plot of land, where the sun would first hit around 6:16am. The valley floor we were situated in had about a mile wide mouth at the black sand beach at the ocean, and grew wider as you went further back into the valley.

My camp/situation was about a two-mile hike into the valley from the entrance, which was a long crazy super steep mile you needed four wheel drive for. I walked down many times, but only walked up a few. I went on many adventures just exploring the area, just as you should, explore your area.

I was dropped off on this amazing solo adventure with a shovel, an axe, a saw, a machete, a propane tank, stove hook-up, a box of dried food goods, two bags of my stuff (clothing, chess, soccer ball), also a bunch of matches, two lighters, a big straw hat, an army cot, and three blankets (one from the airlines). At the site, I found five five-gallon buckets and two spools of metal wire.

My mission that I chose to accept was three fold. 1) To work solo to keep the plants weeded and watered. 2) Plant keiki (baby) awa plants (80 in total) and 3) build tri-pod tee-pees to protect the awa plants from the wild horses trampling feet.

Sometimes I would wake up early in the morning, or late at night, to hear the horse breath through their mouths… if you’ve ever been around horses, you know what I mean. I’d slowly put on some shorts and slowly unzipped the tent and sneak outside. It’d be dark sometimes, dusk maybe, and I’d sneak up very slowly, as slowly as possible towards the horse(s). I’d move a bit faster than desired most of the time and the lead horse, or only one sometimes, would just stand and stare in my direction, or possibly right at me, for a long time, and I’d just stay perfectly still… and even more closer when they went to graze again. When I was close enough, or felt it was the right timing, I’d sprint towards them with a scream, flailing my arms around and they would bolt! There’s nothing like scaring a large wild animal that you know is not going to attack you. A wild boar on the other hand… well it’s another story.

We had no barbed wire fence around our plot to keep the horses and boars out, but we also had wild cats and mongoose in the valley. Mongooses were brought here the island to deal with the rat problem. The problem is rats are awake at night, and mongooses are awake in the daylight. So they both just live separate lives, and now there are two problems instead of one. There were a bunch of awa plants areas with rocks around them that needed weeding, as well as there were individual plants scattered around the forest, as a forest planting. This specific farmed land had started about three years ago as that’s how old the oldest awa plants were I was told.

There was an awesome section that had been planted by some kids I knew, one plot was in the shape of a peace sign, the other was two ovals in the shape of the moon two-thirds filled I guess; placed opposite each other, it became a vagina, their plan all along. It felt good to weed and water those plants. I had plans of building an earth oven as there had already been an existing L shaped rock wall I could have turned into a C shaped structure with a space in the back for exhaust. All these plans were great on paper, but not practical for the amount of time I spent there vs. exploring and basic living. I used the fire pit under the bamboo structure for most of my cooking needs. I actually prided myself for not turning on the propane stove for the first week I was there… and I only turned it on when I got the tea kettle as the propane didn’t burn the sides of the kettle as the fire had. Although I am an omnivore, the need for the kettle was there because all the water I boiled in the pot I brought tasted a bit like hot dogs… no good.

Another crazy thing that happened was the discovery of wild coffee trees in my back yard! It was tree dried (meaning raisin) in the month of May. And I just took these black dried berries off the trees from a bunch of neighbors places, in the understanding of course that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness sometimes than permission (same with the bananas, mangos and papayas). You had to break open the black berry and you’d have two pods, and in each pod was a green coffee bean! At first I picked what I thought was a dosage of coffee for a single coconut cup, and roasted it over the fire in a pan, constantly moving it. It popped and crackled, and I believe I burned the beans on two occasions that I made cowboy coffee. I ground the coffee in a plastic bag bashing it with a rock, and it was some of the best tasting coffee I feel I ever drank.

All these experiences, while suckling on the teat of federal assistance, made me a better person. If you’ve ever worked for a job for over a year, you’ve paid your dues and deserve this sort of work-trade situation while getting food stamp benefits. Living also on lots of bananas, papayas, granolas, and other healthy food, including going prawn (shrimp) hunting was a blessed experience of an adventure. Yes I dug holes in the ground to do my business, but now I find peeing in a bowl of water not only wasteful, but also highly impractical… GO WATER A TREE or some other plants, and if you’re stuck in a metropolis Babylon land someplace, until you break free… if it’s brown flush it down, if it’s yellow, keep it mellow!