My intention was never to write a book. But toward the end of our nine-month journey, I began reflecting on all we had seen and experienced. More importantly, I began understanding what we had learned – as a family, as parents, as individuals. It was much more than checking off bucket list items. Our travels revealed our weaknesses, our fears, our triumphs and our gifts.
Our hope and prayer is that this book inspires everyone who reads it. If you love to travel, I hope it gives you practical advice and feeds your wanderlust. If you are a parent, I hope you are encouraged to slow down and enjoy the simple, unscheduled and precious time with your kids. For your family, my wish is that the book prompts you to step out of your comfort zone and experience new things together, in your own zip code or across the world.
Above all else, our greatest prayer is that each person is encouraged to know and trust the One who made them. God’s faithfulness and love are the greatest of all gifts. We discovered that, as we went out on the ledge and trusted, He would never let go.
So, here’s a peek at “From the Rut to the Ledge.” Enjoy, share and find your ledge!
From Dubrovnik we traveled via overnight ferry to the Southern Italian region of Puglia, known for a rich agricultural heritage and slightly grittier, less-refined atmosphere than its northern neighbors. Puglia was a region we had never explored and the lack of tourists and plentiful farming opportunities led us to study the WWOOFing options there. After culling through listings and narrowing down the choices that allowed children, offered a separate sleeping area for a family, and did not require a month-long stay, I reached out to Le Fattizze farm down in the heel of Italy’s boot. Through a broken English/Italian conversation over email using Google Translate, I learned we were graciously accepted and the Rolli family eagerly anticipated our arrival at their farm for a week’s stay.
The mystery of what we would encounter at Le Fattizze had me restless one night.
“I’m pretty sure they don’t speak a lick of English,” I told Mitch, lying beside him in a quiet farmhouse outside the Puglian town of Lecce. We had arrived a few days before our scheduled workweek to explore the area and found it to be as charming, authentic, and untouched as we had read.
“Don’t worry,” Mitch replied with a smile. “They’ll show us what to do and we can practice our Italian.” He and I had attempted Italian lessons many years before but I still couldn’t form a full sentence when under pressure.
“Besides,” he continued, “the whole reason we are doing this is to experience something new and different. It’s OK to feel uncomfortable. We know we aren’t farmers and that will be hilarious and fun. But we are the kind of people who like to help others, and I’m pretty excited about eating home-cooked Italian meals!”
I could always count on my husband to see the bright side of the challenges set before us, and he never failed to remind me that these conscious decisions we made were all part of our intended adventure.
It’s not about me, I reminded myself for what seemed like the thousandth time. It’s about opening myself up to others and being uncomfortable so that I can grow, too.
The next afternoon we pulled onto the long dirt road that led to the farm and I braced myself for the unknown. As we exited our car, we were met by a large clan of beaming Italians hugging us and welcoming us to their farm. We reciprocated and thankfully everyone’s welcome was universally understood because there was not much deep conversation or understanding after that.
The Rollis are a precious Southern Italian crew—a quintessential, multi-generational family living and working together every day. Papa and Mama come over each morning to the farm where sister and brother, Alice (that’s Ah-LEE-chay in Italian!) and Marco, live and run Le Fattizze, an agri-campground. There are many different aspects of the farm that earn the family a modest living. While their main source of income, the gorgeous olive oil, was not being harvested in the season we were there, they had many other jobs that needed our help.
All of my language gap anxieties were laid to rest when we were introduced to the other WWOOFer staying on the property, Diego, whom we dubbed our Argentinean angel. Diego had been volunteering at the farm for several weeks and not only did he speak English, Italian, and Spanish, but he learned his English while living in Roswell, Georgia, as a child—just a few miles from where Mitch and I grew up! Diego served as our translator and became a close friend of Mitch’s as they worked side by side on several projects.
Luke was thrilled to see that the Rollis had goats, chickens, rabbits, and a few dogs who followed Papa around faithfully, an Italian version of Old McDonald. The property was also home to a campsite, which we were told was filled to maximum capacity with holiday campers in June, July, and August. Since it was early May, we had the task of cleaning the grounds, picking up litter, and pulling weeds in anticipation of a busy summer around the corner.
Mitch and Diego built a goat shed to protect the mama and her new babies from the intensifying sun. Luke and I gathered eggs each morning and we all helped cook and clean up each night. It was eye opening how easily we fell into a simple daily routine and these strangers quickly became like family. When you sit around a breakfast table with someone, even if you can’t speak their language, you begin to know them intimately. We would arrive to the kitchen for breakfast bleary-eyed after a warm night in our rustic room. Alice would always have strong coffee waiting for Mitch, and Luke and I would fill our bellies with homemade scones, bread, and jam made from the nespola fruit hanging from the tree outside the window. The Rollis grew a large percentage of the food they ate. There were various fruit trees dotting the property and a large garden that produced greens, fresh tomatoes, and herbs by the bushel every day.
Mama settled herself into the kitchen when we all began our outdoor chores and by lunchtime she created a feast of handmade pasta using fresh eggs from the coop and sauce from vegetables in the garden that we enjoyed on the long outdoor picnic table. The food was unbelievably fresh and flavorful and I snuck in the tiny galley kitchen a few mornings to watch over her shoulder and try to learn her recipes. I’m not sure I could ever duplicate them but I was reminded that cooking was a universal language of love and friendship as we stood quietly cracking eggs and exchanging smiles.
Joining the family meals and experiencing a true Italian table was one of my greatest joys while WWOOFing. The conversation—while stilted in English—was more enjoyable when flowing in Italian among our hosts. We would sit back and listen to the melody, not understanding a single word. Diego and Alice pulled out their guitars after dinner and serenaded us with slow Italian songs; harmonies warmed the small living space. Luke laid his head in my lap and whispered, “I love Italy.” I nodded in agreement and said a prayer of thanks for the experience that wove us into the fabric of another family on our journey.
Our week at Le Fattizze, which was meant to push us once again, ended up being a triumph and treasured memory. Don’t misunderstand—it was a stretch out of the comfort zone in more ways than one. The mosquitos took their toll on our exposed limbs, I didn’t wash my hair for days, and my back ached from a paper-thin mattress and marathon weed-pulling sessions. But those small setbacks were nothing in comparison to the unique experience and heartwarming gift of embracing friendship and family in a country we adore while stepping into their simple and beautiful lives for even just a few days.
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