Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Uncertain About the Future

It has been a difficult few weeks for many people, and frankly I don't have much of a right to complain, although I'm going to do some grumbling anyway. At least I didn't have to deal with earthquakes, like my coworkers in the Philippines, or furloughs, like my federal friends in Oregon. Just frustration, and a lot of time spent being unclear. About what was and is expected of me, about what I can expect, and about just what the hell I am doing here in this school program, and what I will get out of it in the end. I can hope for a lot of things, but this has also been a time of alternately raised and dashed hopes, and that has added to the frustration.

Sometimes it seemed like everything was going really well. After being told by one school department that I didn't qualify for the work/study program under which I would be reimbursed for the work I'm doing because as a student I can't work full time, I was told by the immigration office that I could get permission to work full time since I'm enrolled in a work/study program. Yay! Except boo, because in the end the work/study program decision makers in Bordeaux overruled the immigration officials, and I am not going to be paid for my work here at the pig farm in Oloron-Sainte-Marie, which is where I currently am.

But I'm finally through the school enrollment process, weeks ahead of everyone else thanks to the secretary's help, though that only came about because I needed to submit my visa documents to the prefecture. Assuming I get the visa for the school year, my next paperwork hurdle is to reapply for health insurance, which I do qualify for as a student, but which takes a bit of dossier-juggling to accomplish. I'm getting to know the location of every administrative building in Pau.

On the other hand, I really am enjoying working and living with this family, the Bergeras - I'm rooming with the daughter at her house for the three-week periods I'm on the farm, since I can't easily get back and forth at the right times to be here to help.

We eat lunch and usually dinner at the farmhouse, and it's all good (if meaty) with fresh garden vegetables, or vegetables that the mother canned the year before, plus all the pork you could possibly want. Today it was vegetable soup to start, and then a salad of tuna and peppers and tomatoes, then slices of pork loin with peas. I'm hungry again already just thinking about it. And since they're not paying me they're being flexible on hours, and if I need to take time to do freelance stuff then I can.

I've been elbow-deep in raw meat, and then gone out to smile at the piles of snoring pigs fattening in the concrete pens built onto the old cow barn. They're fattening a dozen or so for local families who still have the tradition of buying a pig every winter, though most of those families don't kill their own any more. Those pigs are raised to an even greater slaughter weight than the ones the Bergeras process every week. So far my delight in the fact that pigs snore hasn't made it harder to eat meat from said pigs, but I wonder sometimes if my attitude towards meat animals will change over time. I made dinner for myself and Florence tonight, a big salad of endive and carrots, and raw zucchini that I presalted and then rinsed and squeezed dry, which turns out is a really good thing to do with zucchini, especially if you're eating it in salad.

And school is interesting, most of the time. I've had to miss most of the macroeconomics classes because they coincided with appointments in town, but since we have a test on it in a few weeks I'd better be at all the rest of the classes. I've got a mental block about what to do with the end-of-year changement du stock numbers in a ledger but I think I have a grasp on the rest of it. Marketing is still silly, but the environmental quality class is giving me some good information.

We're supposed to write a 60+ page analysis of the business we're working in, for the final project, including problem areas we see and suggestions for correcting those problems. I'm going to be looking at the amount of product that seems to be piling up in canning jars. As well as making fresh sausages, and cured dried sausages, and selling hunks of meat for people to cook, and sending massive hams out for curing by a third party (because there's not enough room on site here), and making boudin, they also put up jars and jars of pâté de campagne (a little too liver-y for my taste) and têtu, which is another type of pâté using more of the head portions. Some of the boudin mixture gets canned, too, and tomorrow we'll be making pork loin confit to can, and skimming off the bits that fall off and canning those too, along with the fat, to make a spread called chinchous, also called grasserons, the local version of the rillettes I feasted on in Tours. Only with more fat, if you can imagine that. Anyway, at the end of the day there are lots of jars, and they're getting to the point, nearly two years into this value-added business, where some of the jars are reaching their sell-by date. So that's my project, to help them figure out how the finished products move, where they stagnate, and what might be some avenues to fix any problems.

There's also a "personal project" paper to do, length unknown for the moment, that sets out what we plan to do after the program is over, and what we'd like to accomplish in the agricultural/business world. I'm going to look into becoming a cheese-business-house-and-farm-sitter, offering my services for small-scale cheesemakers who need a vacation for a few weeks. Since every cheesemaker I have worked with has greeted this idea with enthusiasm, it's definitely something to work on as a five-year plan.

It's not an original idea, however. There's already this type of service in France, as I learned from a young woman named Quitterie, who's planning on setting up her own small-scale goat cheese business. But whether I can get hired by one of the regional offices, I don't know. I do know that in order to set yourself up as an independent business here in France, you need a lot of money, and can expect to deal with thousands of times more paperwork than I've been handling to this point, which rather puts a damper on my enthusiasm for that route. It seems unlikely, given how difficult it is to integrate myself into the French administrative system as a student, and the state of unemployment in France in general, that I will end up being able to stay here and work.

I am not certain that I can build up a stash of 6,000 euro and find and be accepted into another school program, nor that I want to do that. Much as I love living here, I'm thinking another country might be fun for a while. I'm also thinking that I probably need to get a paying job for that while, because no matter where I go or end up, a stash of cash in whatever currency is likely going to be required at some point.

I'm looking for inspiration, for guidance, for help (some of which I have already received, for which much thanks). Somehow this will all come into focus, somewhere down the line. It's still clear that I am happy when I am making cheese; the work here processing pigs is interesting, if bloody, but it's not giving me the same deep sense of satisfaction.

I am still waiting for the final word on whether my visa extension has been approved for another year. I'm here legally now, at least through mid-January or until they say I have to leave, so I can't make any plans. I'll just concentrate on school, and work, and getting over this cold I just developed which unfortunately is starting to feel like strep throat, but I really really hope not. Another reason I feel like grumbling.

/end grumble/

Photos: In the bus, crossing over the Gave de Pau, on the way to school; the Hôtel Continental in downtown Pau, built in 1900 and now run by Best Western; a nice day in the Jurançon vineyards; near the school in Montardon; a pig who is also uncertain about his future; one of the 18th-century carved wooden figures in the Cathédrale Sainte-Marie d'Oloron, which itself dates back to the beginning of the 12th century

1 comment:

  1. Strep throat, what - STREP THROAT! It's those pigs, isn't it. That's why they snore. Take care, get to a clinic sooner rather than later. When you are healthy, you can put everything else in better perspective.