If you don’t fit in, chances are you stand out. So stand up and be proud that as an expat you leave one country behind and enter another with a set of beliefs, values and ideals that are worldly in origin.
It isn’t crucial and it certainly shouldn’t be expected to blend into traditional customs as a foreigner. Attend ceremonies and events with an open mind, show respect for the new culture you are immersed in, but it is not necessary to replace it with your own. Locals may or may not be interested in your history, knowledge or thoughts – that is no reason to keep quiet or blend into the shadows. Perhaps there is a lesson inside of you that your heart is ready to share.
To be different may be considered novel, take it in a good or bad way. In our case my husband and I happened to raise eyebrows on the southeastern plains of Hungary by bringing with us our deeply-rooted love of nature and the realized importance of organic farming in the region we chose to homestead.
After two summers of drought, watching the water level drop in our well to just the height of our bucket and the farmers around us pumping thousands of gallons after gallons to irrigate their polyhouse crops, we thought to ourselves there has to be a better way. Not that we found the perfect way by any means, but we did find a solution that fits in with the hot, dry summers of the puszta.
Putting in a multi-species grassland was the best thing we could do for the land to minimize erosion of the sandy soil. It was met with skepticism, of course, as most locals are growing a rotation of corn, wheat and oats. The kicker for on-lookers was that last year, in the worst drought in seven years of our life on the homestead, we didn’t scythe the pasture twice, in fact we did not scythe it at all! We let the grass seeds ripen on the stalks so they could fall to the soil when the time was right. Come fall, some seeds would germinate, filling in the gaps and continuing to grow the sparse pasture. Traditional custom says to harvest twice, once in late spring, the other in early fall, but this does not take into account the off season or the changing climate. Weather does not keep the same schedule every year and neither shall we. Next year the pasture will be lush and ready for grazing, simply because the land was allowed to rest during its time of stress. Challenging agricultural customs is a difficult situation to tackle the world over, yet we must keep returning to it until we find patterns that work with the unfolding of each year.
Slowing down to the speed of nature often keeps our reality in check.
Adding even more value to the landscape, we built a living fence over the course of many months and years. It was called “flancos” (meaning ritzy) by our neighbor and a worker of his said outright that “it doesn’t belong.” It didn’t belong to where and to whom?
The concept of a “living fence” or hedge exists all throughout the world, yet it is virtually unknown in the region we call home. It provides not only artistic beauty, but a haven for insects flying from flower to flower, season to season. It provides birds, hedgehogs and small mammals a place to seek refuge and perhaps even a safe place to nest. Lilacs blossom, currants and black thorns bear fruit – the fence is breathing life. It attracts a much needed wildlife to the local community that conventional agriculture often suppresses.
Catering to some open-minded local individuals, my husband and I have hosted a cooking class from our farm to introduce hearty and healthy dishes from other nations far and near. At weekly meetings we cooked everything from moussaka to barbequed ribs to spicy borscht and back again. To give things a spin we even included two weeks of gluten-free recipes, something that defies the Hungarian cuisine all together. Think breads and pastries, pasta dishes and breaded meats, all things floury and good. There are so many alternatives to a wheat-based diet, we had not the time to explore them all!
Last summer we also hosted an afternoon workshop in our garden about eating from the wild. It was meant as a teaser, an eye opener to introduce the many native plants that go unseen, walked over or that are plainly called weeds. From our organic garden and around our home we identified and collected thirty-five kinds of plant leaves, flowers and stems to include in a harmonious wild salad to be shared by us all.
We must all learn to think in patterns if we are to live well with the native environment and with one another.
As we live and as we travel in a sustainable fashion, we hope to change minds, to make people thoughtful – if even for a moment – about how life could be different, more fulfilling and definitely happier.
Cheryl Magyar is a sustainable life designer and expat who homesteads on 13 sunny acres with her husband Roland and their cheerful daughter Csermely. Find them on handcraftedtravellers (http://www.handcraftedtravellers.com) blog where they share their tips for simple living at home and away, as well as on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/handcraftedtravelers) for inspirations on simplicity and living a natural life.