A few weeks ago Rotary took 50 of us exchange students to an organic farm on the outskirts of Taipei. After taking a tour of the farm, we sat down at stone tables, four to a table, and were taught how to dye cloth naturally.
By this time we were all tired.
We were taught how to do many things “naturally” at this organic farm, and many exchange students did not appreciate it fully. We were given a smoothie made of pineapple, apple, and five types of green veggies (all organic), plus a mysterious juice that the farmers said would help digestion. There was a very solid layer of green foam on top of the juice when we drank it, and I think most of the exchangers thought it was ok. Then they gave us yams, sweet potatoes, and half the exchangers did not eat it because it was very starchy and sweet and yellow (I’ve seen mostly carrot-orange yams before).
Anyways, to naturally dye cloth, we put leaves and their flower buds on one half of the square cloth, folded it triangularly, and hammered it with a rubber mallet.
Once you saw the leaf juices showing through the cloth, you could unfold the cloth and see this:
The next activity we did was try to build a traditional sweet potato oven. Things became very surprisingly messy now.
A rotarian began digging an open spot in a field of weeds and then we knew we would be building a mud oven for real. A farmer asked us to walk over to a small creek that looked stagnant and pick up slabs of river dirt to make into an oven.
I was hesitant to help (so were 45 of the other exchange students) at first because my thinking was that river mud could be manure or the excrement of local animals or people. And all sorts of things live near the river (a very tiny crab, white but covered in mud, once crawled out of a block of the mud once). Why did we need river mud?
The very small number of helpers found it easy to grab the river mud once their hands had gotten dirty once (once your hands are dirty, you might as well continue transporting the river mud). I joined in a few minutes later because a Canadian rubbed my hands dirty with her nasty muddy hands.
We were supposed to put the sweet potatoes inside the fire, and then collapse the walls and let the heat from the walls cook the sweet potatoes, but we didn’t get that far. Once the walls of the mud igloo had gotten about 10 inches high, it dawned on all of us that we would not be able to complete the top of the dome because it would just collapse. The mud just didn’t stick together as well as it needed to. We put some pieces of wood inside the half built dome, lit it on fire, and let the smoke rise up around us for the effect. The exchangers, the ones who hadn’t helped with the mud and still had energy as a result of standing around looking at us, began dancing to pop music in the blowing smoke.
We left the farm early, maybe because of the failed “natural” sweet potato stove. I was happy, because two other exchangers and I were rushing to catch the 5:50 showing of Interstellar. It turned out to be a very awesome film.