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15 March 2019

Discovering Agroecology and Interpreting in the Basque Country

Last week I travelled to Durango, Spain, for a week of interpreting during some conferences on agroecology and farm visits. It was a wonderful experience - from the locations, to the food and the language practice, I loved it all!

I left Florence in the morning and flew to Frankfurt, then to Bilbao, where I met some of the delegates from Norway, Spain and Romania. We went to Durango by taxi, then I got to know the other interpreters: three interpreters were from Spain (Brian, Laura and Abel), one was from France (Mathieu) and one from the UK (Becky). I realised I was the only Italian interpreter there but I have to say many of them spoke some great Italian! Most of the time though we spoke in Spanish or French, as they were the most commonly used languages during the meetings. 

We stayed at Ibaizabal (also the name of Durango's river), a local hotel, hostel and language centre. My roommate was Laura, one of the French interpreters, who also did yoga in the morning (yay!). In the morning and the evening, we would have long conversations about interpreting jobs and private life, and found we had quite a few things in common besides yoga. 

In the morning, we would all have breakfast together - baguettes with jam and butter or tomato spread and olive oil (so Spanish!) and local yogurt from one of the farms we visited. After breakfast, we would go to a cultural centre and the delegates would speak about themes surrounding agroecology and peasant agriculture, and a new agroecology tool, which we then tested during farm visits. To sum up, agroecology is an eco-friendly approach to agriculture supporting local, organic production and prioritising quality rather than quantity as is done in monocultures and industrial production. Though this is a very general definition, I found these were the concepts that kept coming up during the conferences, even though agroecology encompasses a very wide range of approaches and views. Most delegates were farmers and representatives of peasant agriculture associations from France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Romania and Norway. Therefore, the languages spoken were mainly French and Spanish, with a bit of English and Italian occasionally. In the evening, we would come back to the hotel and have dinner together, then go to bed early to get recharge for the next day.


On the second day, we had a general introduction of the mentioned tool at the cultural centre, then split into teams and went to an apple cider farm in Amorebieta. A farmer explained to us how cider is made from their apples, then we had a little tasting session. I'm normally not a fan of cider but really liked this one! After the tasting, we had lunch in a mountain jantokia, a dining room in Euskeda. The food was great, and, following the Spanish tradition, rich with proteins: a fish omelette was served first, followed by steak and salad. Then, it was time to get back to interpreting. We visited a local farm that produced vegetables, eggs and bread, and Brian and I translated for the Romanian and French delegates. A farmer explained to us the functioning of the various parts and told us about vegetable boxes, a new trend that's very fashionable in the UK and France. Instead of going to supermarkets and choosing products (which might be out of season), consumers can have a vegetable box delivered at home by a local farmer, hence supporting local production and fresh, seasonal products. With vegetable boxes, consumers don't get to choose what they will have for lunch and dinner, but they will always be able to have fresh products, which is why the farmer insisted on a mindset shift rather than a shift in consumption. I would love to try this method, though I'm not sure where to start and whether all that weekly food would be too much for me.

On the third day, we went through each team's findings. Then, we had lunch at a tavern, a rustic restaurant made of white walls and wooden panels and furniture, similar to the previous day's. We had beans and sauerkrauts, then fried chicken and, for dessert, yogurt with small bits of lime (super tasty!). In the afternoon, we visited a dairy farm, where I found myself interpreting among cows and cheese-making machines. My fellow English interpreter Becky and I stood and took turns. We found it really fun to translate explanations of cow pasture and making of cheese and milk.

On the fourth day, we had a chance to visit the centre of Durango, a typical Spanish little town with perpendicular streets, a main square with a beautiful cathedral and a few cafes and shops. Even though I'm not a fan of coffee, I had a café con leche with the other interpreters - I felt one at least was mandatory during my visit to Spain! Then, it was time for food... again! We got to a tavern in Amorebieta that was also a cooperative hosting refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. We listened to and interpreted the family's and the migrants' stories. The latter had travelled from their home countries to Spain and had been lucky to find this tavern; some helped at the restaurant, while others ran a small knitting workshop and made clothes. After, we went to have lunch - this time carrot soup and chicken with potatoes (the food was such a big component of the whole experience that I felt like describing all meals!). After lunch, it was time to visit another farm where vegetables and bread were produced. We found ourselves having to translate some fairly technical bits on the vegetables harvest. Before heading back, we were given a huge gift by the events organisers: a bag full of local products such as cheese, wine, cider and orange juice... which I sadly had to leave behind! I'd come with a light suitcase and definitely couldn't bring all of that back. On the last evening, we had dinner standing and talking to each other, then went for cider at a local pub. 

On the last day, we had a general meeting to conclude the week events, and I could only stay for a few hours. I said goodbye to the interpreters - which was sad as we made such a great team! - then went back to Bilbao airport with the Norwegian delegates. At the airport, I had a look at the shops and decided to buy myself some Spanish reads. First, I got myself the daily issue of El País and the novel Como fuego en el hielo by Luz Gabás, the author of Palmeras en la Nieve (I've only watched the film and feel so sorry for not reading the book first, as the movie was just fantastic!). 

Then, it was time to say adiós and fly back to Germany then home. I had a fantastic time and really hope to be back soon! 

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