Wednesday, February 20, 2008

cooking (and cooking and cooking and cooking)

So there's a fieldtrip that goes to the east coast every year to teach the little second year students all about the marine ecosystems and the stuff you find living there. As well as basic ecology and systematics and experimental design. That's in 10 days! 8 if you don't count travelling days. It's an awesome trip and I really love it, you get to go to all these incredible places and look at things that are so interesting and so different from the usual stuff we do at university that it feels like a break in another world. In the previous 2 years I went as a taching assistant, which was awesome because I got to do all the cool stuff without the stress of the exam at the end. This year I wasn't invited. Rather, I was not invited as teaching staff, but rather as 'caterers assistant' by the caterer who has become a good friend of mine after I spet the previous 2 trips helping her in every spare moment. The cooking facilities are really bad and feeding around 50 people is a big job!

So I agreed. I figured that I would still have time to help students, plus I love the trip so much I thought it would be worth cooking (something that I hate) just to be there. I was wrong.

Firstly, I had no idea how living in the middle of nowhere for 3 months had affected me. I've actually become somewhat antisocial and having 45 people around all the time drove me crazy. I actually started taking breaks where I would go and walk on the beach for an hour or so and just take some 'alone time' to breathe!

Secondly I hate cooking. The facilities consist of microwaves (in separate cottages. I did a lot of runing from cottage to cottage) and stoves the size of microwaves with a hot plate on top. Either the hot plate OR the stove could work at one time, and if too many cottages were using theirs our food didn't cook. Often I would have pots going in adjacent cottages and just sprint back and forth to stir and so on...

Third, we had load shedding. That is where our infrastructure can't handle the electricity requirements of everyone using power, as well as power stations needing maintenance, so random areas have power cuts that last up to 2 hours, often twice or three times a day. If that happens just before dinner, you're in a lot of trouble! One day we had to make 45 individual pasta salads,and we had a power cut, so when it came back on I sat until 2am cooking pasta (the caterer was feeling sick, and I let her sleep through the whole saga). To this day I can't eat pasta without feeling ill!

Fourth. It's hard to say this without sounding egotistical. Basically, I know the work. I really really do. I loved the course and worked really hard, to a point where I very nearly left my current university to go to the coast to study Marine biology. So as much as I enjoyed the fact that I was making their lives easier and making it possible for the kids to work without worrying about anything else (and for the record, they were the nicest group of students I've ever encountered on a fieldtrip, always volunteering to help, and nice to chat to), I came to resent to people who were there to teach, and I also resented the fact that whenever I wanted to participate I had to cook. There was even a day when I came down with heatstroke on the beach and went to lie down, only to be woken up half an hour later to make lunch. Yes, it's why I was there and I was happy to do my job with a smile. But it shouldn't have been my job.

It was possibly the hardest 10 days I've had in a long time. I had to think through my priorities and my rationalising being there. Fortunately I have some really supportive friends (on and off the trip) who were always willing to listen, even when I just needed to complain to get the nasty thoughts out of my system. I realised that I was holding onto something that ended when I wasn't invited back. And as much as I love the trip, I don't love it that much. So, unless I get invited as a teaching assistant again, that was the last time for me and the fieldtrip. I'm glad I got to spend it with such fantastic kids, and sad about the politics going on amongst the staff that very nearly ruined it for me. And at least every time I cook now I can rejoince in the fact that it's only ONE tomato! or one cucumber. Not 10 or 500!


Jeff said...

Do you ever watch Hell's Kitchen? Your saga sounds just as stressful, but in a different way.

Helen said...

I haven't... have heard of it though! I'll definitely try to watch it now!

Jeff said...

Yes, misery loves company. Or at least taking it out on company.