As I said before, we left the school with shiny happy faces and (mostly) our spare shoes and snacks. We went by coach (bus) and had a jolly 1 hour drive with everyone singing and laughing (and the occasional person vomiting in a sick bag.) We arrived with clean boots and clean hearts to do our bit for the environment. But then things got sticky.
The mud did, rather. Because of
’s glorious rain the mud was really--muddy. Not the sort that you just wipe your feet on the mat and it’ll all be fine, but the thick, gooey, sticky, clay like sort of mud that stuck tenaciously to our boots. And after digging a few trees everyone was ankle deep in mud. You could try scraping it off with the spade, but after a minute or two it was back, thicker than ever and now seemed to be glued to the bottom of your trouser leg. In order to see if the hole was deep enough you had to get down eye level with the hole to see if the roots of your tree would stick out--and if they did, bad luck to you, dig it deeper. This meant that soon knees and elbows and coats were soon covered with the brown sticky earth. Mine too. My coat looked like I had rolled in it--which I had not (Some of the earthier children did though) I did slip once and fall on my bum but so did many others so I didn’t feel too embarrassed. Many of us (particularly those with glasses) had mud on their face. The rain kept making my glasses slip down and every time I pushed them up I got mud on my nose. England
About 10:30 we all stopped for a snack. We kindly asked the instructors where we could wash our hands and the reply was “Water? There’s no water out here, love. Tell them just to eat with dirty hands.” So all the training we drill into them about hand washing went out the window. We all had to eat with mud caked hands. Those with cereal bars fared better as you could hold a muddy hand on the wrapper, but those with fruit struggled. Have you ever tried to eat an apple without touching it?
At last it was time to go home. With no water to even wash hands we were a mess. The coach driver looked like steam was going to come out his ears. Every child who had brought a change of shoes had to balance perilously while taking off their muddy wellies and putting them in a plastic bag whilst trying to put on their clean and dry shoes whilst standing in the mud on the side of the road. So even our clean shoes got dirty quickly. Those who had forgotten theirs had to get on the bus, take them off and pass the shoes to me where I could stow them in the luggage compartment (the driver refused to let us bring them on board) and they had to go home in sock feet. The driver took one look at our grubby hands and shouted “Nobody touch nuffin!” to which one smartarse replied “Then how are we meant to do up our seatbelts, sir?”
It was off home we travelled, less laughter, same amount of vomiting in sick bags and smelling like the back end of a farm. We arrived back at school and the children with no shoes had to wait on the steps of the coach and point to the wellies that belong to them--which was a wee bit difficult as they were all the same forest green model from Shoe Zone. I had to at one point say “Emily which green ones are yours?” Blank expression. “The large, the medium or the small ones?” Blank expression. “ Right, these look like they’ll fit. Off the coach. Next!”
When I got home I looked like I had been mud wrestling. If I lived in the sort of house where you could take off your clothes outside, I would have. I ran in and popped everything in the wash and then went to work on cleaning my wellies. Easier said than done. I had cleverly brought some paper towels from school (we don’t use paper towels at home) and had wiped off as much of the exterior mud as I could manage. Then I figured I would just give them a rinse under the tap and it would all be over with. But no, no, no. This was not to be. This was the mud that stuck like glue and so I ended up naked in the tub trying to pry the mud from the deep grooves at the bottom of my wellies with an old toothbrush. In the end the wellies were clean, but I and the tub were not. I was covered head to toe with mud. As we don’t have a shower this was difficult to rise away but I finally managed to get myself and the tub reasonably clean. Whew, I thought to myself. But clearly I spoke too soon. I turned to get my towel and noticed that everywhere was splattered in mud—the toilet, the walls and the sink. I dried off and went to scrubbing up everything—using enough towels to require a full load of laundry in the process.
Then I sat down for a snack and only then realized that the rocks were still in my rucksack. Sigh….And you may ask why I had a bunch of dirty great rocks in my backpack, but I assure you there is a reason. I am working on a storytelling for World Book Day—an Armenian version of Snow White called Nourie Hadig and one of the props needed is something called “the stone of patience” which is a stone that swells until it bursts when you tell it your troubles. Now I had racked my brains as to how I was going to come up with 3 similar rocks all in different sizes and one that could crack open. I had resigned myself to building them from paper mache when it suddenly hit me as I stood covered in mud at the tree farm. There were tones of rocks here—kids were always digging them up with their spades. So I began to look and as soon as children cottoned on to what I needed they kept bringing me rocks until I had a set of 3 including a large one that was in halves that came together perfectly. So I reluctantly got out the old toothbrush and scrubbed all the rocks in the in sink and they have come up a treat. Perfect for my storytelling. But now I had to clean the bloody sink again.
So that is the dirty tale of me and the mud. I am still finding places in the house that have splatters or dibbles of mud—including fingerprints on the fridge that I somehow missed the first few times round. But it was worth it—the trees we planted will be a beacon of hope for those kids. But if you were to ask me again to go out in the mud to plant trees, the answer would not be no. It would hell no.