catalonian chaos, with a side of perfection

so when i say that i was "in the mountains of girona" i mean that i was in the district of girona, not the city. i was actually on the outskirts of a tiny village called la canya, which is much closer to the border of france. so close that i could see the snow of the pyrenees out the window of the little caravan i was sleeping in. go ahead, google map it. i'll wait here ;)

my host's home had enough room for me to stay inside too, but a couple of the rooms were being deep cleaned to get rid of a nasty case of head lice that the girls picked up. so, although the caravan was even more run down than the rickety things brad pitt's gypsy character sold in the movie snatch, i was super happy to have my own little private space to retreat to. it got pretty chilly at night and there was the occasional bug, but with the right amount of blankets and that view in the morning, it felt like waking up in heaven. and yeah, so what if the door to the caravan had to be slammed and then taped shut? at least i had a door! after not knowing where i was sleeping each night for a week in barcelona (and that one time i slept in a park), this set up felt like pure luxury. 

also, when i first arrived, there was another volunteer staying in the basement bedroom of the house. it was a young guy named emmit--emmit from austin. he was helping ernest (the father of the house) knock out the stone wall of their living room. the wall originally separated the living room from the chicken coop, but the family decided to make the chicken coop into an office (naturally). so when i arrived, emmit was knee deep in broken stones and there were chickens roaming about as they pleased.  

emmit unfortunately left two days after i got there, so i didn't get to know him very well. but i did learn that he was originally from ohio, and that he worked in the bar that the black keys first played in before they got famous! 

after emmit left, i was given the option to take the room that he'd been in. but after experiencing the noise and chaos of a household with four children under the age of 7, i opted for the quiet of my caravan.

the day i arrived, my bus got in late and i didn't get to the house until about 5pm. so i expected to meet the family, get a tour of the house, and maybe get to know each other over dinner. but i had no idea what i was getting myself into. i walked into chaos. i was immediately put to work.

as soon as i got to the house, delphine gave me a run down on what was going on in their lives, and what needed to be done. from our email correspondence, i got the impression that i'd be doing some gardening and helping them plan an upcoming party. turns out, this ambitious family had many more projects already underway. 

ernest was starting an online dj company of some sort, and was super busy getting things ready to present at the sonar music festival in barcelona that weekend. so he wouldn't be there at all. delphine worked weekends at a restaurant in the village and also for some job that required her to answer the phone multiple times a day and pretend she was in an office in northern france (she tried explaining it to me, but i have no idea). also, they were wayyy behind in planning this huge yearly party that they throw at their house celebrating the summer solstice. it's a whole weekend long party for 100+ people, which they usually start planning months in advance, but the day i got there was exactly two weeks before party time. also, they had a huge garden which they neglected. so that consequently got dominated by 4 foot weeds, which really needed to be pulled. also, delphine's parents were coming to visit THAT weekend and she wanted the house to be spotless for them. but that task was made exponentially more difficult by the minor fact that THEY HAD A HUGE HOLE IN THEIR LIVING ROOM. sand, rocks, dust, EVERYWHERE. did i mention they have four children? ages seven, five, three, annnd a nine month old!

...and chickens pecking about the house.  

in short, there was a LOT to be done. i was immediately overwhelmed, because it sounded to me like this family needed an army. but i got to work right away and cleaned for 4 hours while all of the children took turns crying for mom's affection.

my first reaction was dear god, what have i gotten myself into?!  haha! but it probably sounds much worse than it actually was. the dust eventually settled (literally) and i got into the swing of things :)

the most peaceful part of my days there were the early mornings, after the 3 oldest girls had been taken to school and before i started my work. i was able to sit and dip nutella toast in hot chai tea while looking out at that incredible view. complete peace and quiet.

and then delphine would hand me the baby and start going over what she wanted done for the day... the main thing i did was a lot of deep cleaning. delphine never got around to her "spring cleaning" (and i don't blame her!), so this was her first priority. i did about 4 1/2 hours of cleaning a day, before the girls came home from school. and after they got home and settled, i usually played with the girls and helped delphine cook dinner. delphine was an incredible cook, so i got to learn a thing or two (which is a thing or two more than i knew before!).

i've never worked with children before, and i've never thought of myself as being particularly good  with kids, but perhaps because i still sort of consider myself one

so it was really intimidating to go from not having any experience with kids, to all of a sudden needing to look after four---three of whom don't speak english (and one of whom doesn't speak at all yet).

there was a 9-month-old named Kali, a 3-year-old named Gail, a 5-year-old named India, and a 7-year-old named Laia. Gail, India, and Laia all spoke french and catalan. Laia spoke spanish and english as well. and Kali was still working on growing teeth (pretty hard work, honestly).

i bonded with Laia on day one, when she took me to the spring to fill up water jugs. we were both hesitant about communication, so we started by making music with the empty water jugs on the walk there. by the time we got to the spring, i had her laughing and she felt comfortable enough to speak english with me. that sweet girl stuck by my side from then on. 

Gail and India were really shy at first, and sort of looked at me like I was a weird teacher or a dentist or something. but they soon opened up and would randomly smile at me or grab my hand. i MELTED. 

all four girls were constantly bursting with very different, beautiful personalities. needless to say, i fell in love with all of them. 

after about a week, i decided to tell the family i was leaving for paris. it was a very spontaneous decision, and now that i look back at it, a pretty dumb one. a dumb decision that i don't regret one damn bit.

the house, the family, and the view were all aesthetically perfect. i loved interacting with the girls and watching them play together outside. i loved that there were no televisions or videos games, and that the kids had to use their imagination. i loved that every meal was shared around a big table, sometimes outside in the sun. i loved talking to ernest about his travels through india. and i loved watching delphine turn into supermom every day. 

but, the constant chaos of it all was pretty exhausting and didn't leave me much time to be creative, or to write, or to even think very much... which was somehow simultaneously stressful and therapeutic. the agreed 4-5 hours of work a day inadvertently turned into about 8, because the girls were constantly needing some sort of attention. and i couldn't not  help after i finished my work. i knew how many things needed to be done, so i felt guilty if i were ever idle.

but i can't complain. i went to the mountains seeking solitude and found so much more. i found the most charming little girls imaginable. i found a well-traveled married couple who lived very busy lives, and still managed to stay very much in love. i found a family that made me feel like a part of them. and i was completely part of them, if only for a week.

i'm so grateful for the experience. it provided the perfect contrast in between big cities. it wore me out in an entirely different way--a sort of mental exhaustion, which was sandwiched by the physical exhaustion of barcelona and the upcoming awakening i'd soon experience in paris.