An impressionable feeling of unimportance creeps in after our latest episode. At the end of the day a feeling of disillusion is overcome by the experience it offers. This is a life, an experience, another view of the world. A closed minded reality can be found in every corner, but there also are people in this world who show a unity, a community and an openness. It exists in so many of my past memories but feels like a slap in the face when you are confronted with the opposite, especially while exploring your neighboring country, Australia.
Free Board in Exchange for Domestic Duties!
After responding to an advert on Backpackersjobboard.com we found ourselves the next day with the keys to a home, 3 dogs to look after and a house to clean. The idea: we help around the home for a couple of hours a day in return for food and board. We had the house for 2 nights while the family was away for the weekend. We took the dogs for walks, cleaned the house, and did their washing. We were grateful for the the experience and even made dinner for the family to have when they got back from their trip. The house was big enough for extra people to stay with two living room areas, a great big kitchen with plenty of space, spices and appliances for a different style of cooking to VanLife Food.
After being with the family for a while, awaiting news on the job we had moved here for, we wanted to make sure that everything was alright with the situation. When we arrived to the Fleurieu region I didn’t think we would be there longer than 2 weeks, but 6 weeks later we were still there. One night over dinner we checked with our host, we mentioned that we hadn’t heard back about the work and would search for work in the area and stay for a while longer if that was okay. Her reply was that it was okay. It was slightly ambiguous but there was definitely no indication that we had outstayed our welcome or that the family wanted their home back.
We had stepped up with duties in the house while her husband was away and she had to work more. We cooked most nights (original deal was that they would cook for us, one night a week cooking turned into two, then turned into most night). We helped around the house where possible and even went into their business to help clean there (a few hours we were paid for but we had been there the day before as well). The husband fell off his bike and was home within a week with a strained knee. We continued to cook for the family, help out when we were asked and make lunch for the husband when asked. The living situation allowed us to work on some personal projects in our spare time so we were happy to lend an extra hand when it was needed.
A Slap in the Face:
We believed there was an ill air in the house as the husband rarely spoke to us. Our communication was with the wife and therefore as long as we were doing all she asked of us we thought everything was okay. Prior to moving in with the family we were in a situation where we were running out of money – we had always talked about doing WWOOFing or housesitting so when this opportunity arose we through it would be great, not only for our situation but for the experience with an Aussie family. Quite early in we realised that they weren’t interested in us – they were just making the most of the situation. As were we, we were close to the beach, with some dogs, and not spending much money. However, we attempted to communicate with the family as we sat with them each night over dinner. We played games and watched movies with the son, and attempted to prepare acceptable meals for the family. However, there was something off in the situation but we couldn’t quite place.
One day we made a breakfast of eggs and bacon and I left the house for an hour or two, as I left I offered to make the dinner that night and Juan prepared some sandwiches for the husband as requested by the wife. On return the husband who had been in his room all morning came out and asked to talk to us. He said that when we made breakfast this morning he hadn’t eaten and we didn’t offer him any. “I could fuckin smell it,” he said. Therefore we had outstayed our welcome and could stay another night but had to leave the next day. He wanted his house back. First of all, if he had said to us – “can I have some?”, we would have made him some, no problem. Second, if he had been on the couch and not in his room we would have offered some but we didn’t know what he was doing. Third, every morning the wife had made him breakfast and we had no idea he hadn’t eaten. Last, but not least, we are not some servants to a childish man who doesn’t say a word to us but expects us to sit at his feet serving him meals all day.
To the offer to stay another night, how kind, we refused. We realized we were only there to serve them and nothing more so were keen to move on. I called the wife and asked why we had outstayed our welcome when a few days earlier we had spoken to her to make sure the situation was okay. Also, I asked why it was her husband who told us when all our communication was with her. After everything extra we had done the week before she did not have the decency to say anything to us, but let her husband rudely deal with us. She did say thank you for everything but when she returned home she acted like nothing had happened and that it was better for us as her husband was going to be a nightmare the next 6 weeks – poor her. Another insight that us as people were so unimportant to the situation was that after spending 7 weeks with the family she didn’t even get up out of her bed to say goodbye. We were relieved to leave and not have to spend another moment cleaning up after an ungrateful family.
How Quickly We Were Replaced:
But after all of that, kicked out for not making breakfast and they want their house back – within days the annoncement was back on Backpackerjobboard.com. “Free Board in Exchange for Domestic Duties”. “1-2 hours a day – the rest of the time you are free to do what you want!” As long as you are ready to be a servant if you stay around the house. A real slap in the face.
If you want somewhere to stay for a while where you don’t mind being with people uninterested in you then this place is great, good location. But if you want to be an amicable environment and don’t want to be treated merely as a servant I recommend staying away from this family.
This is a rant about our experience, it was upsetting to be in this situation after so many pleasant experiences in other lands staying with families in exchange for hours of your time. If you are going to receive backpackers to your home there is an unwritten rule to share an experience. If someone opens their home to you, you also in return open yourself to them. If you are wanting someone just to clean plates and mop the floor then you should pay someone a few hours a week – not invite travelers into your home.
As we sit in our new flat, close to a beach north of Adelaide, with other Argentineans in the area and a relaxed environment we reflect on this experience. It was an experience that worked well for us and in theory was perfect for our situation but ended like a punch in the gut and a slap in the face.