February 8, 2010: Up and down, up and down – my broken arm goes through the physio exercises. With only ten days to departure to Africa, I am motivated to get as much healing and movement back as quickly as possible. It’s coming nicely. Just don’t slip on an icy patch now!
A refugee woman from Eritrea sits beside me in church. Wistfully she remarks that the sun in Africa will heal my bone. Sunshine continues to be a rare commodity here – once every 7-10 days at best.
Last Thursday was one of those rare sunny days. It was a perfect day for the annual winter hike of the Schleitheim Landfrauenverein – Farmwoman organization. Eight women and six children hiked over the snow covered hill to the Hohbrugg Restaurant. That’s one of the great things of living in Switzerland – there’s a restaurant at the end of every hiking trail.
I took the opportunity to find out what has changed for the Swiss farm women since we left in 1991. Lots, I was told. At that time few farm women worked away from the farm. Their help was needed at home. Sugar beets were thinned by hand; women helped rake the hay down the steeper hills, fed calves and of course did the housework and childcare.
Any farm woman with an ounce of pride had a vegetable garden, preserved the fruit from the many trees, and wouldn’t think of buying a loaf of bread or bringing anything less than a home baked cake to a community function.
And now? I was told it’s a luxury for a young woman to be kept by her farmer man. Mostly there’s no need either. Sugar beets are seeded at harvest distance; sheep graze the steep slopes and the calves drink out of automated feeders.
A lawn with a swing set covers the vegetable garden and the Co-op bakery makes a fine cake. Only the older generation would comment on the weeds along the hedge. The young women have other priorities – jobs, time for their children and their activities.
One thing hasn’t changed much. Most farm houses are still home to two generations. That surprises me a little – I know too well the tensions that such close living arrangements can cause. Sure, there are always two separate apartments with their own entrances now. My mother-in-law still cooked and lived with her in-laws.
It has its good sides. Grandma is right there to babysit – a service many take advantage of. Two of the hiking women were Grandmas with their grandchildren, and they seemed to be enjoying every minute.