2011-12-13

A Cat's Life amongst Volunteers in our Organic Garden

Written by Sandy Rao
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A collection of volunteers, from all over the world, work in the 'Organic Garden' on the grounds of Hospital Borda. The garden is a place where the relatively well psychiatric patients can come to relax, in a tranquil environment, and get reaccustomed to socialising with each other, as well as with us visitors from overseas. The best thing about working in the garden is that there isn't much work to do... Iv found that my hardest job is trying to avoid eye contact with people so that they dont offer me a drink of maté! As well as being maintained by volunteers and patients, we are lucky to have 2 cats who help to staff the garden. Above, you can see Garfield. At times he is joined by another similar-looking but more slightly built cat. The other cat doesn't talk so much, but we assume that it is Garfield's cousin. The photograph below shows the 2 cats after arriving at work early one morning, as they wait for the gates of the garden to be opened

My working hours in the garden are from 10-2 Monday to Friday, something far more enjoyable than the timetable I have in England! My main job entails setting the table for the communal lunch which is shared by we volunteers and the patients. Lunch can take up to 2 hours. And of course we are permitted an extra 30 minute break, in accordance with the Argentinian guidance on safe working-hours. New volunteers arrive in the garden regularly, as others depart. Last week 2 new girls arrived from France, and were given their working instructions from one of the patients who studied agriculture at university. The new girls spent around 2 hours very keenly watering plants and weeding, and did seem a bit tired. Daiana (Swissa), Ralf (Swissa), Melanie (Canada), and I were instructed to head just outside of the garden gates to collect seeds/berries which had fallen from a tree. After doing this task for around 30 minutes, we returned to the garden to see the agriculture student instructing the girls to persevere with the heavy work of turning the soil over. It was another hot Buenos Aires day in the garden, and the sweat was dripping from these new volunteers. The patient was watching them intently, and barking instructions at the new girls. Daiana joked that 'this is not volunteering, this is slavery!'. She walked towards the group, and I assumed that she was so concerned that she was about to intervene and tell the new recruits to take a break. Instead she laughed and took a photo of the scene. And I am clearly so concerned that I am now showing it to you guys :-)

I clearly laughed too soon after witnessing the bossy gardening patient and his victims, because yesterday the French girls were not at the garden. Therefore, I became the new victim. I didn't think it was possible for somebody to manage you when they can only speak 7 words in your language, however it turns out that it can be done as long as you have the following words in the arsenal: 'Plants. Water. Seeds. Take. Quickly. Bring. Maté (being the drink similar to tea, not synonym for friend)' Back to our friend, Garfield. As you have seen, he is the first to turn up for work, and is the hardest working member of the gardening team. His efforts clearly take their toll on him by the end of the day   

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